We seem to live in a culture that glorifies pushing our bodies until it hurts. Take the t.v. show The Biggest Loser for example. From watching that show, you might get the idea that a work out isn’t successful unless you puke at the end. Or fall of a treadmill. When in reality, pushing yourself that far beyond endurance just doesn’t make sense.
I got to thinking about this topic the other day. An old friend of mine, the kind that I only see on Facebook anymore, has been posting about her family’s journey to eating better and becoming more physically fit. Both my old friend, and her husband have lost a considerable amount of weight in the past year, and are very happy about it. They joined a local gym and began working with a personal trainer. Now here’s where I get totally confused. When I knew this girl in college, she had severe problems with her knees… bad enough that she had a handicap parking permit. Granted, I don’t have all the details, but it wasn’t exactly a short term problem. Now she’s posting about training for a half marathon, and made a comment about the pain of training. Her trainer responds by telling her that she’ll just have to get used to the pain. Um, WTF?! Isn’t pain supposed to be a signal that we’re doing something that is injuring our bodies?
I don’t know if this old friend has had some changes in her medical situation since we were close in college. I can only hope that whatever issues she had before have been resolved and she’s just talking about the general soreness of building muscle and endurance. But reading that interaction between old friend and her trainer made me stop and think about other ways we push our bodies beyond their limits.
I’ll give you an example. I have severe allergies to grass. I happen to live in the grass seed growing capitol of the world. When the grass pollen begins spreading like it did last week, I’m essentially confined indoors until the worst of it is over. At best I get uncontrollable sneezing fits, my eyes and nose swell, water, and run, and I have difficulty breathing. Though I dearly love going outside for a walk along the creek or to do yoga on my little patio, I can’t do those things for about 6 weeks every summer so that I remain healthy and able to work. Even at that, I still occasionally have days where I need to stay home passed out on benadryl until the pollen dies down in the evening. I have a coworker at my current job who is just as allergic as I am to grass. Yet she makes the choice to mow her own lawn. And regardless of how bad my symptoms are, she still gets annoyed if I make a mistake or I’m mentally fuzzy thanks to my meds.
It’s maddening for someone like me, who expects more of themselves than is probably sane, to suddenly hit a wall and have to accept that I’m going to feel “out-of-it” for a few weeks. I find myself carefully walking the line between just-enough-medicine and not-quite-enough. Now I’m stepping back and wondering, why? Why am I pushing myself when my body clearly has a limit here? Most of the year I have plenty of spoons, but why can’t I allow myself to accept that for a few weeks I have a small handful to work with? (In a nutshell, the spoons reference is a commonly known story about explaining what living with a disability can be like. Each spoon represents the amount of effort a single task takes. Those with “unseen” disabilities like chronic fatigue, have to make hard decisions about what they can manage to accomplish each day without making themselves sick.) I know that my difficulty will pass and that I’ll be back to normal in a few weeks. But I still can’t seem to accept that I have different limits, different abilities when my allergies are being triggered and pushed to their limits.
I’m lucky that I have choices. I’m lucky that I know (for the most part) right where my limits are. I can chose to create a fairly healthy environment for myself right where I’m at. I can chose to ask for help when I know I need it. I can chose to educate my friends so that when I do venture outside this time of year, they can help me keep tabs on my symptoms and even take care of me if I go into a major reaction. And hopefully soon I’ll be able to chose to work within my limits rather than constantly pushing the envelope.
For now, I’ve got to go re-stock the benadryl.
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