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Thursday marked one month since I underwent umbilical hernia surgery. Thursday also marked two weeks since the surgeon cleared me for any and all activity, other than moving pianos (I obliged) and going out and trying to win that snowshoe race (ooops.) At two weeks post-op, I felt physically great, mentally confident, and ready to get back to regular training. But I promised myself I’d wait one more week, just to be safe. At three weeks post-op, I felt even better, and was more than ready to get back to regular training. But I promised myself I’d take it easy for just one more week…better to err on the side of caution. Thursday, at four weeks post-op, I was feeling fantastic and completely motivated to get in a good, hard workout.
But instead of having a good, hard workout, I panicked.
It has not only been one full month since surgery, and thus one month since I’ve had an intense workout, but it has been a good four months since the hernia showed up in the first place, therefore limiting what I’ve been able to do. I haven’t done a burpee in four months. Planks and pushups have been completely out of the question. Heavy weights/low reps? Not a chance. I’ve spent the last four months with a limited amount of strength training solely based on trial and error. Back squats? Bad. Front squats? Good. Lat pulldowns? No problem, if we stay light. Lat pushdowns? Oh…there’s my intestines poking out again.
But now, the surgery is complete, the healing nearly complete, and it’s time to be able to do the things I couldn’t do for the last few months. FINALLY. Now, I am not foolish enough to think I’ll be lifting the same weights I was pre-injury, nor doing the same crazy exercises. But what is causing me to freeze up is simply the fear of re-injuring myself by pushing at all. And frankly, everything feels like a push at this point.
Further, I find myself anxious and feeling under the spotlight. I love social media and blogging, but the downside to living parts of your life publicly on the internet is that the world knows your business. Others watch from the sidelines, both in the gym and halfway across the world, either unapprovingly shaking their heads or nodding in encouragement. Everyone is an expert it seems, telling me to back off of or assuring me I’ll be OK. I know that realistically, the only opinions that matter are that of my surgeon, and of course of myself. My surgeon says I’m fine, just listen to my body. I on the other hand, don’t seem to be quite as forgiving over the fact that even though the surgery I had was routine, it was surgery none the less. I truly think the hardest part of this entire ordeal has been the mental aspect.
In other words, I’m frustrated.
Yesterday at the gym, a member gave me the exact same advice I often give other members, only packaged up in a different delivery. Nine times out of ten a new gym member will join with a fitness goal that is almost purely aesthetic. “I want to lose this (points to overweight midsection)” , “I want to tone up…but I don’t want to get too bulky” or in the case of many young men “I want to gain muscle mass. Now.” It’s almost always people seeking instant gratification for vanity reasons, and I am always the first to remind them that while those aspects of fitness are nice, they are merely the bonus. What we should concern ourselves is a lifetime of health. YES you need to lift weights, I promise you won’t get bulky. YES you need cardio, I promise you won’t eat away all of your muscle mass from 20 minutes on the treadmill. LONG TERM health, not immediate “wants”, should be our biggest goals and concerns. Your future self will thank you.
Yesterday, while venting my frustration to a woman who inquired about my healing, she told me that she understood my frustration, she experienced the same feelings years ago when recovering from a hysterectomy that limited her physical activity. And she reminded me…and encouraged me…to think LONG TERM.
Light bulb moment. Of course. It’s not about what I can…or cannot…do right now. It’s about what I will be able to do later if I listen to and respect my body now. And that truly is what is most important. So what if my bench press is currently sitting at what use to be my warm up, or the fact that my core work has gone from intense plank variations to the tiniest of physical therapy moves that I can’t even feel, but I’m assured are designed for diastasis recti and pelvic floor repair.
Focus on the big picture. The fear will go away in time.
The one positive that has come out of the last few months is that I’ve renewed my love of running, even if most of it was done on the treadmill. And I will celebrate this renewed love of running this weekend. With a marathon in Fayetteville NC (yes, it’s here already!)
Moral of the story:
CELEBRATE what your body IS capable of. Don’t stress over what it cannot do.
FOCUS on the big picture. Single, small steps add up to big distances over time. Or to put it more poetically:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tzu