How An Injury To My Body Helped Me Heal My Mind

I decided I would run 1,000 miles in 2013. It was a respectable number, but one that would ultimately be more a test of my determination than my ability. I'd been getting more serious about running over the preceding few months, and I knew I could physically handle it as long as I was committed.

In order to hold myself accountable, I started writing my miles down on a calendar. Similar to a food journal, I could see how many miles I'd run and on how many days each week, and I kept a running total at the top of each month to track my progress.

At first, it was empowering to see my calendar littered with tallies. But then there were a few days of bad weather, followed by a few days I was on vacation, followed by a few days when I was just plain busy. I was slipping behind, and finding it increasingly more difficult to catch up.

So I ran harder. I was turning my rest days into run days, and even staying in on Saturday nights in order to get up early and log more miles on Sunday. I started to develop, by all accounts, an unhealthy relationship with my goal. In the world of mind-body connection, my ties to myself were becoming looser by the mile. I pushed through pain and fatigue, determined to reach my benchmarks no matter what.

Then one day, about two months ago, something happened. One minute I was fine, soaking in the early spring sunshine as I rounded the final corner towards home, and the next, just like that, I wasn’t. Within seconds, I found myself in more agony than I knew how to handle. And still, with tears streaming down my face, I ran. After what felt like an eternity, with pain radiating from my back, hip, and side, I hobbled into my front door, grabbed a pen, and logged my miles.

Within two days, I was limiting my movement to accomplish only the bare necessities. I felt mentally weak for not being able to push through the pain, but pretty soon I wasn’t really moving at all. Finally, when even the idea of moving brought me to tears, I called my family for help. My brother took me home to my parent’s house, which is where I spent two weeks laying on the floor, unable and unwilling to move.

I was finally diagnosed with Piriformis syndrome, a condition in which the piriformis muscle (a tiny but vital muscle located deep in buttock near the hip joint) irritates the sciatic nerve. It’s a fairly common injury among runners, but one that was made acutely worse when I continued my run that morning. Hearing the doctors explain the extent to which I had caused my own injury, I knew it wasn’t just my muscles that needed this time to heal. I couldn’t blame my injury on worn-out sneakers, uneven pavement, or a slippery sidewalk. I alone was responsible for what had happened to me, and that struck me than anything.

As a health coach and cooking teacher, I pride myself on being healthy. I know all the rules, eat a clean diet, and exercise regularly. But the need to be seen as a runner, to align my own self worth with a physically demanding goal, to ignore my instincts and body for the sake of putting numbers on a chart is how this happened to me. I wanted to believe that my body had failed me, but really I had failed myself, and there's no amount of physical therapy that can cure that. If I was going to get better, it had to come from myself. I quickly realized that the longer I beat myself up, the longer I was going to stay physically down. I needed to get better not because I needed to race again, but because I needed to love myself again.

It took two weeks and an injection in my muscle before I was able to walk again, and it was another month before I finally laced up my sneakers. Following the doctor’s advice on my road to recovery was a challenge. It was hard to force myself to rest when they said, and harder still to stop running even when my mind begged me to push through. Compared with the healing that needed to happen in my mind, healing my body was easy.

But now, rather than beat myself up for not running farther, faster, or more often, I'm celebrating myself for every step. I'm grateful for every minute I'm able to spend outside, pavement under my feet, slowly building my mileage. I know that reaching my 1,000-mile goal this year is out of the question, and I'm okay with that. But life is like that. Sometimes you reach the finish line, meet your ideal weight, or land your dream job… and sometimes just being able to put one foot in front of the other is enough.

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