Episode #34: Starting Again Isn't Starting Over

Runner at the starting block with hands on track

We may be conditioned to believe that life is an upward trajectory. And that if it isn’t, we are doing it wrong. But that construct just isn’t true. Often life feels like two steps forward and one step back. Throughout our lives, in the face of setbacks and detours and full stops, we have the opportunity to choose to begin again. But that isn't the same thing as starting over. We may not be where we thought we would be, or where we used to be, but there is a really good chance that there is a new block in our personal foundation of belief, knowledge, experience, opportunity or potential that wasn’t there before. 

TRANSCRIPT

Intro

Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode. 

Transcript

If you have been following/listening over the last year, you have heard/seen me share about the challenges I have had with one of my knees.

At one point in 2019 I had 63cc’s of fluid drawn off of my right knee and I could no longer walk without pain.

The ultimate diagnosis was a slightly torn meniscus, patellar arthritis and medial arthritis . . . in some places bone on bone.

TWO healthcare providers (one that I trust and one that I thought at least I should trust based on credentials) told me that I needed to give up back squats (one of my very most favorite things to do in the world).

In fact, I was advised by my ortho that anytime I bend my knee beyond 30 degrees, I could aggravate the patellar arthritis. Imagine my dismay as I considered the two flights of stairs that I walk everyday in my house. 

My ortho told me I was too young for knee replacement surgery, handed me some crutches (for the bone bruise I had developed under the medial), told me to use them for three weeks and . . .nothing . . . no game plan, no physical therapy, except to try to keep my weight down . . . not even a knee brace.

THIS WAS A MIND BENDER FOR ME

Because I have spent the last several years learning to listen to my body and to respond to the messages it sends me . . . And at the same time I have found great joy and self-efficacy by being able to lift weights again and to build my strength through consistently putting in the work . . . I will admit that my ego enjoyed the boost of being one of the strongest women in the gym . . . particularly for my age!!! 

Ironically, I thought I had no ego left after all I have been through . . . but it turns out that my ego is alive and well.

I went through all of the stages of grief; trying to accept that I might never back squat or lift heavy ever again. Even when I came off of the crutches, I couldn’t walk without pain. And stepping my right leg out to the side--even to shoulder-width--almost took me down one day as the I buckled under the surprise of the medial pain. Not only could I not back squat, I basically couldn’t do any movements that didn’t involve me sitting or lying down. 

On one hand, I was committed to the grief process (as much as it totally sucked) . . . trying to accept what my body, through medical professionals, seemed to be telling me . . . 

Now, I am not here to diss on medical professionals. My father was a medical professional and I watched him care for his patients. Despite all of his shortcomings as a father, he was an extraordinary caregiver to others. I also think the medical profession has its shortcomings and challenges. THERE is my understatement for the year. And medical professionals are human beings. 

But perhaps BECAUSE my father was a physician, I have a healthy dose of respect for physicians. My sister and I have talked about how demoralizing it can be for us to get to the point that we are in enough discomfort to say something to a physician and then to be told that nothing is wrong . . . or that whatever is wrong cannot be addressed. 

In my house, unless you were bleeding out of your eyes or vomiting or perhaps running a fever . . . no one took notice and you MIGHT even be punished for complaining . . . we were taught to deny our own knowing and whatever signals our bodies were sending to us in a myriad of ways as we grew up . . .

Even so, as I faced what seemed to be an unsolvable problem and chronic pain something in me also demanded more . . . demanded that I not settle for the answers I had received so far.

So, I sent myself to physical therapy . . . that was a fun conversation with the PT’s office . . . who is your referring physician? “Me. I said. I referred myself.”

MY PT, who is more interested in helping people retain the ability to do the things they love to do if possible, referred me to a doctor’s practice that does PRP injections. The purpose of PRP is to stimulate the body’s own healing response. And while they are not guaranteed, in the face of the choices I had been given so far (i.e., wait until age 50 and have my joint replaced), suck it up in the meantime, also permanently giving up on my most beloved form of exercise . . . a possibility was enough for me to try the injections.

My gym worked with me on a game plan to develop strength in the areas of weakness in my body that could be causing me to put more pressure on my knee than necessary during certain movements; while also developing areas of strength and helping me focus on goals that didn’t involve my knee.

I don’t know if I have joked on this podcast about the short distance between what I say I want . . . and what the universe provides . . . but one of the ironies in this journey was that I said early last spring that I wanted to develop my ability to do gymnastics movements . . . which require a different kind of upper body, shoulder, and core strength than I have had in almost all of my years of exercise . . .and in short order . . . HERE said the universe . . . have some crutches . . . walk on your hands for 3 weeks . . . and for that matter . . . maybe even the next 3 years since walking on your legs is now painful and you are too young for surgery. . . NOT FUNNY UNIVERSE . . .yes, you gave me exactly what I asked for . . . the kick in the tush I needed to step out of the movements that I loved and where I had felt so strong and capable and comfortable . . . into a whole world of movements that I am learning (thanks to my coach) not to hate. 

5 months after I was told I was not a candidate for knee replacement, I am back squatting again and my knee is almost the same size as my symptom-free left knee. Am I pain free? Not always, but often. And no, I am not back squatting through pain. Most of my pain, when I have it, is from walking. I am still working to regain the mobility in my knee that I lost during this process. It still doesn’t like to straighten out all of the way . . .which can put pressure on other parts of the joint. 

Believe or not, my knee and I have also had some moments where I, with the help of an intuitive friend, processed some emotions that I was holding in my knee. I remember when this friend said . . . you feel unsupported by your knee . . . and I burst into tears. Okay, so as much work as I have done in the last few years getting in touch with my own emotions . . . tears are STILL NOT my default response to pretty much anything. When someone asks me if I feel ___________ and my body wells up with recognition . . . THAT is something.

We tested our heaviest back squat in the gym last week. And I can only lift a fraction of my old personal best. I even said out loud to my lifting partners . . . “I will not focus on what I used to be able to lift. I will not focus on what I used to be able to lift. I will not focus on what I used to be able to lift.” 

I also had a moment of nostalgia . . . if I had known that my #225 back squat PR in of March 2019. . . probably one of the best back squats I have ever done . . . might be my last . . . what might I have done differently in that moment? But I still remember celebrating that lift, and I am so glad that I did. How many times do we over-achievers accomplish something and not even give ourselves permission to celebrate in that moment. I used to be really bad at this. I was always so focused on the NEXT thing, that I barely gave a thought to the win I had just experienced.  

One of the gifts of the journey I have been through is to be more present to NOW. To spend less time ruminating about the past and worrying about the future and MORE time being present to what is right now . . . such as my little boy’s head on my shoulder as I type this line. 

I have talked a lot about the fact that healing isn’t linear . . . and the truth is that our experiences in life aren’t linear either.

As I return to back squatting at the gym . . . I am reminded that this is not the first time I have “started over” at the gym . . . I was 40 years old when I figured out (through medical assistance) that my right leg is shorter than my left . . . which maybe explained my lifelong history of injuries in my right leg . . . I started wearing a heel lift and had to completely start over on all lifting movements because the position of my hips, legs and frankly the rest of my body were affected by a ¼ millimeter change . . . there were the fits and starts I had getting back into the gym between 2015-2018; peppered with illness and injury . .  my return to the gym in 2018 followed being completely out for six weeks with a dislocated SI joint . . . and none of that speaks to getting back to the gym after each of my 3 children . . . two of whom had me on bedrest for weeks. It was actually and injury to my right leg that put me on a spin bike and, ultimately, gave me the experience that made me believe that triathlons (something I had considered off and on for years but which felt completely unachievable) might be possible. 

As we go through life, as we learn, break, and heal again . . . we don’t start over from zero . . . and we don’t really even start where we left off . . . we start with a new baseline.

Each time I have returned to the gym over the years, I have returned with a new baseline. Often that baseline feels like a step back, and it is easy to get caught up in ruminations about what “used” to be . . . 

But what if we think of that baseline as a new beginning . . . we aren’t continuing to play out our past . . . and we may be challenged to let go of “what was” . . . but if we have given ourselves the space and time to notice the lessons we have learned along the way, we may find that while the baseline isn’t where we “were,” where we are now is full of its own lessons and possibilities.

Every time I return to the gym, I learn to trust myself again;

Every time I return to the gym, I have the opportunity to see results for effort (some more obvious than others);

Every time I return to the gym, I have the opportunity to learn more about my body;

Every time I return to the gym, I have the opportunity to internalize the lessons I have learned along the way; and

Every time I return to the gym, I have the opportunity to make my weaknesses stronger in support of my overall health and well-being.

And isn’t this true of life as well. We may be conditioned to believe that life is an upward trajectory. And that if it isn’t, we are doing it wrong. But that construct just isn’t true.

Often life feels like two steps forward and one step back . . . or during the years I was deep within mental illness . . . sometimes it felt like 20 steps back. 

The next time you feel like you are starting over or are tempted to ruminate about what was that isn’t now, I encourage you to pause and reflect . . . what is new in your foundation that wasn’t there before? What have you learned on your journey that you can take with you? What will you carry with you forever despite shifting circumstances? What possibilities are available to you now that weren’t before.  

This experience with my knee isn’t just about returning to one of my very favorite things to do. It has prompted me to continue to explore areas of my heart, mind and body that I would not have explored with the same perspective as before. 

As a result of this experience, I have been prompted to continue to explore my physical pain as perhaps an ongoing symptom of long-held trauma in my body and not just a physical manifestation that needs to go away as quickly as possible; despite the method . . . whether that be steroids, painkillers, or even surgery.

We may not be where we thought we would be, or where we used to be, but there is a really good chance that there is a new block in our personal foundation of belief, knowledge, experience, opportunity or potential that wasn’t there before. How will you use this new baseline going forward?

Outtro

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