I neglected my body when I was younger – Now I’m paying the consequences

My left knee is so inflamed it hurts to walk. The pain has now wrapped around my leg, my thigh, and down to my ankle. It doesn’t feel better sitting than standing, and the ice only gives me relief for a minute or two.

It’s been a while since this happened, but I should have known it was coming.

I started working my way back to running last month. A couple of miles here, a couple of miles there. And most of the time, my runs are more like a run-walk because I value intuitive movement and I don’t like to force myself to do things that I feel terrible anymore.

But man, spring has sprung and I couldn’t help but put on my running shoes and get outside. Working from home has made me value movement even more.

Getting up from my desk and doing something – anything – is important to my mental health.

However, running is a slippery slope for me.

For what? For years I used running to escape my pain, purge my food, and manipulate my body in a certain way. I have struggled with something called exercise addiction in addition to other eating disorders.

People like to joke and say, “Yeah, but isn’t it good to be addicted to exercise?”

I do not know; you tell me

Is it good to prioritize burning calories over spending time with your loved ones? And is it okay to tell yourself you’re a worthless human being when you don’t exercise?

Is it okay to ignore physical pain, your mental health—and literally everything else—if it means putting your workout in?

I don’t think so.

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I’m in my twenties, but I feel like I’m in my sixties

I didn’t tune in and listen when I was younger and I was told I paid for it. The doctors and physical therapists made it clear that I would be in a wheelchair by thirty if I didn’t learn how to rest.

But he didn’t know how. All I knew how to do was run further and further away from my trauma and mental turmoil. I knew how to start running and only stop once the monsters in my head told me I had done enough – but only for that one day.

And even though my body and I are much closer friends than we once were, it’s still a grudge. It’s hurt and I’m not to blame.

I can’t do the things I used to do and I accept it. I have accepted that I will never be the runner I once was, and for good reason. My body can’t take it.

My hips and knees are weak and tired from years of running on bone and rejecting my intuition. My feminine energy came to say, Egood! We need balance and this is not the way.

But it’s hard. It’s hard because there were many things I enjoyed running before it became an unhealthy addiction and my eating disorder took over.

Now – even if I wanted to – I can’t run like I used to. I am 26 years old, but I seem to live in the body of someone much older.

I can’t even do simple core exercises without changing because my hips just can’t take it. I have little cartilage left from all those times my body screamed at me to stop, but I turned up the music and ran faster.

Nothing else mattered… not even my future.

Last year I got to the place where I could usually manage one or two runs a week and still be fine. A little bad here and there, but the good kind of bad. Running wasn’t something forced or planned, it was just a spontaneous decision that I felt excited about.

I didn’t track my mileage, and I didn’t beat myself up when I felt like walking. Instead, I celebrated my body and was grateful that even though I couldn’t run like I used to, at least I could still run when I wanted to.

And thank God I had and still have other forms of exercise that I enjoy, such as yoga, Pilates, HIIT, walking, hiking, gardening and swimming.

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My pain came out of nowhere

Like I said before, it’s been a long time since I felt this kind of knee pain and I’m not sure why it decided to start all of a sudden. I ran last week, but not anywhere near as much as when I first noticed my knee was swollen and twisted.

So far, I haven’t been able to make any kind of movement. Yesterday, I rolled out my yoga mat and even that was too much. In the first few minutes, I turned off the online instructor and went and got ready.

It hurt too bad.

And because I compensate with my other leg when I stand, now my right knee is also bad.

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I’m icing it non-stop, using the foam roller, soaking in Epsom salts, massaging, scraping, doing old physical therapy exercises, and using a TENS unit. I have all the tools, but my body rejects them all.

These moments and flare-ups always present the challenge of listening to my body. Will I be patient and honor what he asks of me, or will I go through the pain and resort to old behaviors?

This time, it’s especially tempting not to listen because I recently told my partner that I think I’ve gained weight and I don’t feel the best in my body.

“Well, remember, your body is the least interesting thing about you,” he told me.

That’s what I like to say to others who struggle to accept how they see themselves, but of course, the advice we give to others is never so easy to give to ourselves.

What I learned from my injured knees this time no matter how much I want to erase the past and pretend it didn’t happen, it’s still there and will forever be a part of me and my story.

It can hurt, frustrate, and sad, but we have come a long way – me and my body – and I have to remember that in the hard moments.

I made poor choices when I was younger because I didn’t know how to survive and still be okay. Now, I am older and wiser and I am asked to remember and honor the past with open arms.

Perhaps this pain is more than a casual inconvenience; Maybe it’s an opportunity to grow and heal even more… as corny as that sounds.

Whatever the reason, I’m sitting through the pain, reflecting and listening.

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Carly Newberg is a yoga instructor, photographer and non-niche writer passionate about authentic storytelling. Carly published her memoir, Good Enough, in 2020 and is now a regular contributor on Medium. He has had articles featured in publications such as Insider, Well & Good, and Dame.

This article was originally published on Medium. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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