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My Take on ‘Fitspiration’ When You Have a Chronic Illness

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I was at the gym the other day, and I noticed a guy with a workout tank that simply said, “One More.” The meaning was pretty clear: one more repetition, one more mile, one more fill-in-the-blank. Push yourself past your limits, and you’ll reap the benefits.

It’s a very nice thought for someone who doesn’t suffer from a chronic illness like I do with endometriosis. But when pain and other symptoms get in the way, “one more rep” isn’t always a great idea. So where is our “fitspiration?”

The one — and maybe only — benefit of being chronically ill is that you become very attuned to your own body. You know the signals that mean “Mayday. Mayday. Flare-up is imminent” or the physical indications that you aren’t going to get everything done you’d like to today.

So it can be really daunting to get to the gym and be healthy, especially if you see social media posts that say things like, “‘Wow, I really regret that workout,’ said no one ever.” Clearly, you’ve never irresponsibly worked out while flaring up.

Or a recent favorite of mine: “Your body isn’t telling you: ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I need to stop.’ ‘It hurts.’ ‘It burns.’ ‘I’m tired.’ Your mind is.”

Um no. That’s not good advice at all.

So it’s time that we get some trendy fitspiration quotes circulating that aren’t about hurting yourself at the gym! It can be tough just doing everyday things when you have a chronic illness, and you should be proud that you even made it to the gym in the first place!

So maybe you’ve actually dragged yourself out the door, but you’re unsettled by other people at the gym who make working out look like a breeze. I mean, there are women more than twice my age who totally rock it on the free weights while I’m like, Hmmm maybe I can manage the stairmaster today… haha nope!

But remember something: Other people’s bodies aren’t your body. They don’t have the same needs, problems or outlook as yours does. For that matter, they can’t do the same things you can do.

Whenever I catch myself envying someone else’s fitness, I tell myself, “Progress makes perfect.”

I am a work in progress, from my slow-to-develop core muscles to my scrawny arms. With endometriosis, my progress might be slower than others’ progress. But it’s progress.

That ties into my next fitness mantra. I often get frustrated when I think I’ve made progress at the gym, but then when I come back, it seems I’ve regressed a little. My body isn’t cooperating that day for whatever reason, or maybe I had to take a break because I had a three-day flare-up and I’m just getting back into the swing of things.

Or maybe it’s not even that. Maybe I’m doing quite well at the gym that day, but I think I should be doing better. I’m frustrated that I’m at a plateau when I want to keep climbing that mountain. So I tell myself, “Respect your limits.”

As I often say, you know your body better than anyone. You know what you can and can’t handle. Yes, it’s OK to stretch your limits when you’re comfortable with doing that, but there is no point in wearing your body to pieces and pushing yourself too hard. I’ve made that mistake and paid for it in the form of coming straight home, collapsing onto the couch and pulling a heating pad around me. Nope. That is not a good workout. Take care of yourself.

And of course, there are the frustrating days when I hurt so badly that the gym is completely out of the question. It’s not even a “Well maybe if I feel better…” No. It’s not happening.

Those days are frustrating because it’s rarely just one day. It’s usually, like, three or four or even more in a row. When I need to remind myself that I am chronically ill and not Superwoman, I say, “A bad today is not a bad tomorrow.”

And maybe tomorrow won’t be so great either. But you will feel better, and maybe you’ll get on that elliptical. Don’t beat yourself up over things you cannot control. It doesn’t get you anywhere, and in my personal opinion, it makes it harder to get back on the horse. Or elliptical. Or maybe you like horseback riding, I don’t know. Then that would apply to you. OK, moving on.

So whatever your personal situation may be with your chronic illness, go easy on yourself. You are absolutely doing the best you canand it’s OK if it doesn’t look like someone else’s body or workout routine or #fitspiration posts. Remember this: “You are right where you are supposed to be.”

It may be slow-going, but you’re going. It may not come together in the time you’d like, but it will come together. But the best thing to do is to listen to what your body is telling you and take things at its pace.

And if all else fails, go buy yourself an ironic, oversized bro tank. My husband got me one, and it immediately made me feel great.

Tracy wearing a black tank top with the words "The biceps are key to this outfit" in bright pink
Tracy wearing a black tank top with the words “The biceps are key to this outfit” in bright pink

Follow this journey on Still Sunflowers.

Originally published: January 5, 2016
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