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Realizing Our Self-Worth in the Midst of an Illness

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Every once in a while, I get down on myself. Falling into the trap of comparison, I become discouraged that I don’t look a certain way or that my body isn’t progressing in the gym for a period of time. As a former national level athlete, who first fell to injury, then infection, both tying into lupus, I find my peace and worth in the gym and weight room. Being that I can no longer be a competitive athlete, I force my competitive nature into what is supposed to be a healthy maintenance strategy in the gym.

On my good days when I’m less inflamed, I am so excited to get in there and get lifting. Some days, when I’m around others who may lift and work out multiple times a day, I become upset that I’m no longer that person who is able to walk around showing off my rapid progress. Granted, not everyone has an autoimmune disease. However being who I used to be before my illness progressed into something greater, I feel that mentally I am still that person trapped in this body that can’t expend the energy that these other individuals are illustrating so effortlessly.

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I was talking with my friend at work about the gym and realized from an outside perspective, I still look athletic. I still look like I take care of myself, and I still look like I have solid muscle to support my body. All these things that I thought disappeared since my diagnosis are still there. Sure, I’m not able to be that person in the gym that looks like a professional body builder, all because of lupus. But because I overcompensate, I can still have the satisfaction and appreciation for my body and all that it goes through to become what it is today.

When I get discouraged and flustered that I’m not able to go to the gym after work one day due to extreme pain and fatigue, I need to realize that it’s OK. My body is different from other bodies, and it goes through much more internally doing absolutely nothing that a healthy person’s body does exercising. I need to have this appreciation for my body, because it’s been through a lot.

I’ve dealt with my leg atrophying to the bone and being inside eaten by infection, and worrying about it’s appearance before and after many surgeries. It shrunk, it grew, and it shrunk, and grew again. I’ve dealt with building my body up from this dark time and had great success, soon realizing that appearance is the least of my worries. I got knocked down again by lupus. I learned how to compensate on the outside for what my body is doing to itself on the inside. I wanted to make sure this was an “invisible disease.” I’m learning again to realize how appearance is the least of my worries and say, “So what if my muscles shrunk a bit from muscle and joint pain?” and provide nutrients to fuel my body on the cellular level. I can’t let the autoantibodies attacking my DNA fuel themselves, I have to starve them and allow the rest of my body to thrive. This is my priority.

So when I can’t celebrate the big gains in the gym for a period of time like many gym rats do, I need to celebrate the little accomplishments that others cannot notice. Getting to the gym after a full day of work; days when I’m capable pushing through fatigue and throbbing pain, burning, and numbness in every joint and in my muscles; days when I feel like I don’t have 100 pounds strapped to my ankles; days when I don’t have to worry about the chest pain and palpitations lupus is causing me; days when I can think straight and don’t have brain fog; days when I am able to eat what I want without intestinal aggravation; days when I don’t have to worry about losing weight from not being able to eat foods that I want; days when I feel like I was never told I need a total knee replacement….I could go on. These are things I need to be proud of my body for, overcoming chronic inflammation. I need to celebrate these milestones and be happy I am even capable of going to the gym.

For anyone going through this type of frustration with themselves…realize your worth. I have finally realized mine. When your body isn’t cooperating with what you would like it to do for a certain timeframe, consider what may be going on inside or in your life. The gym is great, and promotes a healthy mindset with camaraderie and beneficial effects. But you’re worth much more than your gains in the gym, or a number you can bench press. The “I can do this” attitude is what matters, and is quite remarkable.

I have learned to love myself for the battles I fight every day, and that’s how I find my sense of accomplishment. My battles make me who I am, which differentiates me and makes me unique from the rest of the world. Realize your impact in society, realize your daily successes, have a great attitude; don’t focus on appearance. You are worth much, much more than you think!

Thinkstock Image By: Grandfailure

Originally published: February 28, 2017
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