I Can't Run Your 5k, and That's Okay

3:20 PM

I bought the "bro-iest tank on the beach" this summer.
Let's face it. If you have endometriosis, your casual college acquaintance's "#fitspiration" Pinterest board probably depresses you more than it makes you want to go run a half-marathon dressed like a Disney princess. I actually like to tell people I do "marathon naps" to counter the barrage of "look how much I ran today" posts on social media.

But that doesn't mean I don't prioritize fitness. It's just that with a chronic pain condition, my fitness routine doesn't translate as prettily to Facebook. And that's not only because my overgrown haircut turns into tangled, sweaty mess after running for ten minutes...

Once I started feeling better from my pain-controlling antidepressant, Elavil, I committed myself to going to the gym five days a week. (If you're new here, Elavil also made me put on unwanted weight and then stopped working, so now I'm on Cymbalta. Here's the post about that.) Five days a week is admittedly a lofty goal for people who have trouble dragging themselves out of bed in the morning. So really, it's usually more like three or four days a week. Or, you know, less... But I figured if I aimed high, I would get to the gym more often than not. 

(**OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER** My fitness routine works for me, but it might not work for you. Whatever you do is awesome for you. Please don't take medical advice from my blog. Thanks, bye.)

I remember first going to my gym in my bro tank pictured above (because it shows off my cute sports bra duhhh) and joking to my husband, Andrew that I was off to "go get swole." This was around the time I knew I was putting on weight, and it was bothering me, but I wasn't aware it was because of my medication. I figured my way-too-kind metabolism had finally caught up with me at 25 years old, and it was time to get that in check.

I'd considered myself a fairly active person, having been very involved in a yoga studio for a while, but actually having a gym membership was a big step for my faith in my body. It had been a while since I tried anything that rigorous. The last time was after I felt I had recovered from my ER visit and confusing sort-of-diagnosis-but-not-really, but before I was officially diagnosed with endometriosis. I had decided to mark my progress with a major (for me), trendy fitness effort.

I tried to show everyone how carefree and full of life I was by running the Color Run.
"Whoooo yeeeeahhhh we can't see, and this might cause pneumonia!"

For those of you unfamiliar with the Color Run, it's when a bunch of millennials run a 5k and get colorful chalk dust in their eyes, thus making it impossible to actually complete said 5k. Okay, I'll admit. It looks cute and fun. And I was pretty jazzed about it, until Andrew was like "Umm how are you going to, you know, breathe with all that dust?" Leave it to the former triathloner to input some logic into my #fitgoals.

Turns out breathing would be the least of my worries. Having been a terribly tragic runner my entire life with middle school gym teachers giving me pity A's for my heartbreakingly valiant efforts, I was bound and determined to actually run the entirety of the 5k. And because my apartment complex's gym was shut down forever due to renovations that weren't completed until I moved out, I had to run around our parking lot like a weirdo.

But as I "trained" for the Color Run, I realized that I was hurting. A lot. In fact, I was pretty sure my left hip was about to peace out, and knowing my luck, this would happen during the run, and I'd be trampled by a bunch of hipsters with sweatbands named Chad. (The hipsters are named Chad... Not the sweatbands... okay, bye.)

All of this running was irritating my left ovary, which, unbeknownst to me, was where my endometriosis was chilling out. After pushing and pushing to work up to a full 5k, I decided this was not the right time to be part of the #fitfam, and I sold my Millennials in Pretty Colors While Sort of Jogging ticket to a friend.

So anyway, that experience made me a little wary to put much stock in my fitness abilities. Yoga was a nice, equally-opportunity fitness excursion, which did help me manage my endometriosis pain, but it wasn't as daunting as actually picking up heavy things or trying to run again. But I figured my mandatory gym classes in college (yes, my liberal arts college made me take gym) had prepared me enough to manage weight machines and a treadmill, so I started with a one-month membership.

Andrew and I live in a fairly well-to-do area, despite being broke brokes, and our community gym is surprisingly affordable but equally well-to-do. So fancy, in fact, that Andrew only refers to the gym as a "James." Upon entering The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Fitbits, it was clear that I was no match for the bizarrely in-shape lawyers and doctors on the cardio machines next to me.

But I climbed up onto an elliptical, set it to what I figured was a decent resistance and started running. Hey, this isn't too bad for someone who couldn't handle the endurance that Red Rover required! It's certainly not the most comfortable feeling in the world, but I don't feel too- ....okay uhhh that hurt a little, but I'm going to keep going. Owww okay, that hurt a lot. ....buuuuut now I feel better? ....annnnd now I don't.

It went on like that for the rest of my laborious "run." It's a good thing I pretend I'm super confident at the gym or else I might have noticed the side eye from the buff 55-year-old man next to me who needs to stop going to tanning beds, JOHN THEY'RE BAD FOR YOU!!! Once I crawled off the machine, I knew I was in trouble. My left side hurt again, so I pushed through some arm exercises and drove home to cuddle with my heating pad.

Hahahahaha SHUT UP!!!
That night, I thought about maybe returning to my yoga studio. I really did hurt, and maybe I was expecting too much out of myself. Maybe I was better off with very low-impact exercise like adaptive water aerobics or those bikes you have to lay down to use or whatever that old lady at the gym was doing...

But I had invested $35 in that gym. And if there was one thing I wasn't turning my back on, it was $35! So the next day, I went again. And I kept going. And I'm still going.

I won't lie and say I feel great every time I work out. Sometimes, I get up and go to the gym when I really should probably lay down and take a break. And other times, I probably push myself harder than I should because that's how I am with everything in my life. And even other times, I crawl home, put on pajamas and hide under my heating pad. I obviously need to keep learning balance but not be afraid to push myself, which is a weird dichotomy to manage.

But I will say that I've come a long way, and I'm very proud of myself. Typically, my exercise routine is running on the elliptical for about 20-25 minutes and using weight machines for the rest of the hour. I usually go at night, too, because I strangely feel better at 8 p.m. than I do all day. My body now has muscle definition, my medication-induced weight gain is almost totally gone, and exercise has honestly helped me manage my pain better than I ever expected. And yes, I have to take days off from the gym, and I have to take it down a notch when I do have flare-ups. But I'm glad I didn't just resign my fate and believe I could never be strong and fit, just because of my illness.

There may come a day when my disease progresses, or my medication stops working, and I'm in too much pain to work out like I do. I might have to scale back or stop altogether. There are women out there with more serious cases than my own case of endometriosis who are at that point right now.

But I'm going to keep trying until I can't anymore.

If you're trying to get in shape while you have an illness of any kind, I encourage you to understand and respect your limits and to not compare yourself to anyone else. Even when I was battling depression and anxiety, working out was an uphill battle, and it was hard to not look at the other girls in the gym and want to run as fast as them. But they weren't at the same place in their health as I was. And I'm not in the same place you are.

We're all fighting different battles, whether you have a chronic illness or not. And yours deserves as much respect and value as anyone else's, especially from you. It's sometimes hard for me to embrace that in a health-focused, fit-crazed culture that can make a person feel guilty for laying on the couch on a flare day. But it's important to remember that you understand your body better than anyone and to prioritize your physical needs, including the need to rest.

So fitness quotes like the one above may not resonate with me (that one certainly doesn't), and I might not be able to join you for that charity "fun run." (Running is literally never fun, and I don't want to hear otherwise.) And God knows I will never, ever try Crossfit again in my entire life. And I might not move off of weight machines to the section of the gym where men have a lot of feeling about heavy objects. And as much as I dream, I will probably never have U.S. women's soccer star, Megan Rapinoe's awesome abs.

But today, I am physically stronger than I ever have been. And with a chronic pain condition, that's more than I ever expected.

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