What I’ve learnt from being Injured (and it’s not what you think)

Mountain biking in New Zealand about 6 months post-op. Probably wishing I was mountain running instead, but not a bad option B….!

We rarely come away from life’s challenges having learnt nothing. How we propel in the aftermath of major setbacks can be the major shapeshifter in our lives, and indeed in who we become as people thereafter.

I am finally at the point where I’m fairly comfortably through the trauma of what we shall call the “Everest” of my injury history. If I were to sketch a visual of my colourful history, it would look like a scattered flow of 13 stress fractures, starting at age 12 in relatively non-important locations and then escalating into some more heavy terrain as my eating disorder and distance running career progressed, finally reaching the peak at doing an Ironman with a stress fracture in my foot at age 29 and subsequently ending up needing major reconstructive foot surgery and a total of over 12 months off running. I can confidently say that that will be my peak, as I have finally, definitively, learnt how to respect my body. Which brings me to the 2 (yes, only two, but they’re BIG ones) things that this last 18 months has taught me:

1) Respect your body – you only have one (Yep That Old Chestnut)

Love it or hate it, your body is the only one you’re going to get. Sure, a surgeon can plate and drill you back together, but ultimately the bones and healing capacity that you have is still dependent on just that one body; you don’t get a new one just because you treated the old one like a rental car.

During the worst of an eating disorder it’s near impossible to comprehend or love your body, such a minefield is your brain at the time. And certainly, it’s something that I have really struggled with well into recovery – which is going on over 5 years now. It’s funny how it sometimes takes something so huge as threatening my ability to run and race – the loves of my life – to really “get it”. I guess in the aftermath of your eating disorder, those early months and years are spent just trying to survive the new life that you’re supposed to embrace – the daily climb of having to face food and weight gain, doctors, dieticians, psychologists….it’s all so much to cope with at the time. It’s often only years later that you can look back with some perspective and truly see what your body went through, and indeed how blessed you are to now still be standing here. Able to run. Able to love, and laugh. Able to grow a baby from scratch. It’s truly remarkable, what the body can come back from.

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Eventually the trauma ends, the memories get softer and we get back into our routines….and then along comes a “choice point” in life. I had one of those a fortnight ago. After having a good few months of pain-free and enjoyable running, I started feeling an all-too-familiar pain in the butt….well, my right sacrum (tailbone) to be technical about it. I’ve had two stress fractures there in the past, so I know what it feels like. The fact that I’ve had two, indicates I failed to learn from the first one, as with most of my injuries up to this point. However this time was different: I was able to use my “logical” (Physio) brain, take a step back and assess the pros and cons of continuing to run on this. For the first time ever, I was able to take a week off running, knowing that it was the best thing for me because I want to be able to run not only after the baby arrives in a few months, but also when I’m 60, or 70 years old. And my poor sacrum has already been beaten up enough. So even though I hated having a week off running now, in the long term, it was the best thing for me. And sure enough – my efforts were rewarded: I was able to go back to my 5km run yesterday morning with minimal butt pain. Seems so trivial, but such a huge step for me – in all my years of life, I’ve never yet been able to not just keep “pushing through”. I am finally confident that going forwards with training and racing, I will be capable of making the right decisions, rather than living in fear of what I know I can do to myself. The thought of training and racing injury-free seriously excites me. I have a plan, devised together with my “moral compass” aka my husband, on how I will approach training and racing coming back from this surgery and after the baby arrives in March. I know I have posted some awesome results in the past being tired, injured and generally unbalanced, so I am itching to see what the future brings. Bring on the post-baby running and Ironmans!

Hamilton Island - hiking up that hill at 7 months pregnant was totally worth this view!

Hamilton Island – hiking up that hill at 7 months pregnant was totally worth this view!

2) Enjoy the mundane routine of life – it is truly a blessing.

This is the big one. The surprise I got out of going through this surgery and the months of healing and rehab after was how much we take for granted the routines of our lives. Never before have I appreciated so much the simple acts of being able to walk, sleep, work, drive, cook dinner, do the washing up, hang out clothes washing, water the garden, and not to mention walking my dogs in the sunshine – that’s like ecstasy! The “daily routines” that I used to think got in my way of being…well…busy/productive/important/useful, I now see with a completely different light. Being in plaster and unable to do much of anything independently gives you a fair amount of time to think about these matters. The thing is, what we fail to realise while we get tied up in our own “busy-ness” and in seeming important all the time, is that the majority of our lives are, in fact, made up of us doing the daily routines. They are life. And if we can truly learn to appreciate how blessed we are to be able to have the health and the homes to do those ‘chores’ every day, then the daily grind suddenly becomes more magical.

As a pleasant secondary offshoot to this, this new appreciation for the simple things in life has translated into being able to be still, and just be with “me”, for the first time in my life. A big factor in eating disorders is that inability to relax and enjoy the quieter moments in life – for so long, I was fearful of weekends or holidays, and always had to plan every moment. I’m still not great at it, but I am much, much better. And it’s just so lovely to be able to take a big sigh of relief and know that everything will be OK with the world if I am just still for a little while.

Every experience in life – good or bad – can be a blessing in disguise if we can learn from our experiences. Sometimes this takes time, so be forgiving and gentle on yourself, especially in those early stages of recovery. You are a champion just for embracing the fight of a lifetime and let me promise you, it will all be worth it in time. Life truly can be a beautiful thing.

K xoxo

Even looking at this photo is hard....early days post-op.  Never again!

Even looking at this photo is hard….early days post-op. Never again!

About Ana To Athlete

insecurity blog

ABOUT “Ana To Athlete”

This blog has come about 7 years after I was officially “recovered” from Anorexia – you know, according to the medical charts you now have a BMI above 18, are menstruating and managing to eat.  You look pretty normal, you are expected to be a normal functioning part of society and to have the same normal problems that everyone else has….whoa hold up?!  What the hell is “normal” anyway!?

As far as modern medicine goes, you are now recovered, but every ED patient knows that this is where the really hard work starts and alas – there is no-one there to help you anymore.  You’re “recovered”, right?  So everything must be fine.  But no-one taught you how to live.  How to laugh.  How to enjoy food.  How to be OK with this new “healthy weight” body.  How to cope with the physiological issues that may remain with you for a while yet.  How to address the fears and coping issues that got sent you down the ED pathway in the first instance.  And not to mention the depression that is all too common in this stage.

WHAT THIS SITE IS, is a place for those of us who have been through the merry-go-round of “ED-Treatment-Recovery” (often with an addition or six of “relapse-recover-relapse” because let’s be realistic, no-one is perfect….) and have popped out the other side, now having our two feet relatively firmly planted in the healthy side of the ground, 90% of the time (what a mouthful!).  My mission is to TALK ABOUT HOW TO LIVE AFTER ANOREXIA.  And not just survive, but thrive.  With a healthy dose of humour, experience, success stories, epic failures and celebrations.  I don’t know it all, not even close.  But I do know a lot, and I’ve been through a lot, and I would love to be able to help others in an area that is sadly lacking any information – the bridge between “Recovery” and “Happiness”.  I would prefer they not be mutually exclusive anymore!  So first and foremost this is a safe place to come to, like a “guide to life after Ana”.

tottoo and coffee NZ

Secondly, hopefully, Ana to Athlete will provide a platform for development of better recovery pathways, so that we can one day aim for reduced relapse rates and reduced rates of depression and anxiety disorders in recovered anorexics.  There exists very little in research or practice to bridge the gap between leaving treatment, and achieving full participation in society (encompassing both health and happiness).  Too often, the patient goes from a full support network – typically including a dietician, psychologist, nurse, fellow sufferers, and the routine of either a day or inpatient program – and once they have reached their goal weight it is assumed they are “healed”.  But the mind is only partially healed, and the situation can be ten times worse because they now look normal – so they are assumed to be coping fine.  It can be a fast and slippery slope into relapse from here, or worse – the improvement might remain static, so the person goes on to half-live a life carrying around a sub-clinical eating disorder.  Too often, patients can hide behind their sport, “genetics”, or at times, their family network, and it never gets talked about.  I would like to see more research and subsequent resources into bridging this gap in the future, and welcome any input from all of you out there regarding ideas and resources based on your personal experiences.  In the meantime, I’m going to share what I have learnt along the way to becoming a successful athlete and happy adult following almost a decade of Anorexia.

And of course, as an extension of my recovery – the blog will delve into all that I have learnt about Ironman and in particular, female athletes. How best to train, eat, recover, race, psychologically prepare and generally celebrate life through the amazing sport that is triathlon. I don’t know many Ironman athletes who aren’t preoccupied with food and weight so to a large extent, the content is mutual.

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WHAT THIS IS NOT, is a pro-Ana blog.  It is not a “how-to-starve-oneself” manual, nor does it glorify ED’s – I wouldn’t wish one on my greatest enemy. Think of it more like a “how-to-love-life-and-become-a-kickass-athlete” guide: jump in and enjoy the ride.

Happy Training!