Monday, October 26, 2015

The Knee that Broke the Camel's Back

It was during busy season. And all of a sudden, something happened to my knee. I honestly can't pinpoint an exact injury or specific something that happened. I just know that my knee was fine, and then it wasn't. I had noticed, about a month before my knee stopped working appropriately, that if I squatted alllllll the way to the ground, I'd get a little shot of pain. But I didn't often squat all the way down, so I didn't really think about it. Well, when my knee started really hurting, I couldn't squat at all.

I soon discovered that side-to-side movements were what aggravated my knee most. Even standing solidly, then shifting or pivoting just a small amount to the side would send pain stabbing through my knee. And once my knee was inflamed and aggravated, I literally would have a hard time walking. Instead, I'd do a shuffle-y hobble to get to where I needed to be. Sometimes I'd be totally fine, walking through the grocery store, then all of a sudden I'd move a bit wrong and then wonder if I was going to make it to the register then out to the car.

My dad is a physical therapist, and he prescribed ice, ibuprofen, and rest until we could get the inflammation under control. I followed this regime the best I could--rest is hard to come by when you're a mom of three young children and your husband is at the peak of busy season, not home to share even the smallest of household tasks--and after a few weeks, the pain started to subside. Then I would push too hard and the pain would come back. I constantly felt like I'd take a step or two forward, then three or four steps back. But, after a few months, I realized that I was definitely moving forward overall in the healing process.

When Ryan and I planned our great Tour de Utah, we were both a little worried about how my knee would hold out. But, blessedly and with a lot of preventive ibuprofen, my knee was sore and a little tired, but not sending me pain signals and generally fine to deal with.

My recovery progressed slowly throughout the summer. My dad finally got a chance to examine my knee in person and diagnosed me with a stressed MCL, the inside ligament of my knee. He told me to wear a knee brace and gave me two stretches, one of which I still couldn't do at all at first because it was too painful. The second counselor in the bishopric of my ward, who is also a PT, noticed my knee brace and after finding out what was wrong, gave me more stretches. I sloooooowly built up endurance with my stretches until I was doing twice the amount of repetitions I started with and experiencing less discomfort as a result.

Now, during this entire time--from late February until late August--I wasn't able to exercise. I tried a few times to do a gentle yoga routine, but by the end, my knee would be so stiff and sore I couldn't walk much throughout the day. I also found a few arm workouts online--but even those aggravated my knee, as they required getting up and down for various exercises. Even just standing and exerting my upper body muscles seemed to put more stress on my knee. Eventually I gave up all together and decided to just give my knee some time with no exercise in hopes that more rest would expedite the healing process.

As it turns out, when you've regularly exercised for years, then don't exercise at all for months, your body gets soft. I gained weight. I felt tired and slow. My clothes started feeling snug. My face looked so round to me. My self-esteem took a dive because I felt so awful about the way I looked, especially because I couldn't change it. I could not exercise, which was the best path I saw to change. I tried changing my eating habits, but after just a few weeks was so discouraged by seeing no change (or very, very small change) that I gave up on that, too. I was so, so self-conscious about my body--maybe more so than I've ever been. When I saw the pictures from my sister's wedding, I cried because I was so depressed by the way I looked. I've always been very self-conscious about my weight and had major self-esteem issues with body image, and gaining weight wasn't helping that at all. I didn't even want Ryan to see me or touch me, especially in the belly area. I felt awful.

I couldn't play the way I wanted to with my kids. I found myself saying, far too, often, "Sorry, baby, that will hurt my knee" or "my knee is sore right now, I need to rest it."Getting up and down off the ground to play with them was a struggle. Kneeling at all was a joke.

A little more time passed. I was diligent in my stretches, but felt like the end to this knee issue would never come. I was able to stop taking ibuprofen, first cutting back to two doses, then one each day, then none at all unless something happened to stress my knee. My knee was better, but not all the way better, which was so extremely frustrating. 

Then my dad gave me the green light to exercise--lightly. I was excited. Exercising soon proved to put me in my place. After months off, I was puffing and my legs were burning when we went on family bike rides. I couldn't run, so I walked. I've always felt lame walking, as if people are thinking, "Why isn't she running?" But really, I'm sure people think nothing of it at all. I found a fitness website with arm workout videos that I could modify enough to not aggravate my knee. 

Around the same time, my friend Nicole posted on Facebook about starting a Feel Great in 8 challenge. I decided to try it and even roped my mom and Mandi into joining me. As part of the challenge, I could earn points daily for eating a combo of five fruits or vegetables, sleeping 7-9 hours, not eating after 8, drinking a specified amount of water, eating up to 10 foods on the positive list, exercising, completing daily challenges, and reading my scriptures and praying. At the end of the week, extra points were awarded for losing weight. And points could be lost by eating foods on the disallowed list.

At first, the challenge was hard. I was grumpy from going off sugar cold turkey. I didn't eat enough fruits in vegetables in the mornings, so I'd be needing three servings of vegetables at dinner. I didn't buy enough fruits and vegetables to last the two weeks until my next shopping trip. Physically, I couldn't exercise long enough to get the full exercise points--that is, unless I wanted to send my knee into a tailspin again.

Then I lost three pounds in the first week. And I was sure it was a fluke. But I kept losing, little by little. Two weeks I lost nothing at all, which was super frustrating, especially when my mom, who has hardly any weight to lose, did lose weight. But I kept doing it, earning as many points as I could, doing as much as I could. It didn't hurt that my team was in first place throughout the competition.

Gradually, I realized that I looked better. And I felt better, not only physically but mentally. I was growing to appreciate my body again, even though I still felt like my knee was holding me back--because, let's be honest, it was. I couldn't work out as hard as I wanted to. I was trying to lose weight while doing arm workouts and walking, when I'd usually be doing full body weights and running. I was a little frustrated to think I could be losing more, but happy to be losing at all.

And now the eight weeks is up. The competition is over. My clothes not only fit, but they're getting lose. I fit comfortably into a pair of jeans that haven't fit well since before I was pregnant with Reed (consequently, they've stayed in great condition). I lost 6.25 inches overall, with an inch of that coming from my waist and another inch from my hips, my two biggest problem areas. I lost 10 pounds! Not as much as I dreamed after that initial three pound weight loss, but enough to help me mentally. 

My knee is still not 100 %. It's actually a little weak now, because I've been exercising so much. Now that I'm not in the middle of my challenge, I'm honestly going to exercise a little less until my knee feels stronger again. I still have some body issues, and would like to be a little smaller--but those issues aren't holding me back like they were. I don't feel down and sad the way I did. I'm in such a better place mentally, and I attribute that to this challenge. I love that it helped me establish not only healthy eating and exercising habits, but uplifting spiritual habits--I haven't missed studying my scriptures or praying for a single day in 8 weeks. I love that the challenge focused on full body health. 

And now that the challenge is over? I'll probably eat a few treats again. But I want to keep a lot of the healthy eating habits I established. I'm going to work out a little less until my knee is a little better. But I'm going to pray and study scriptures more, because I know that those two things were what really fostered the positive change for me.

Hurting my knee has been more of a molding and shaping experience than I thought it could be. I haven't always endured it well. And honestly, I think the mental and emotional toll the experience took on me was far greater than any physical pain I've dealt with. I'm not at the end of the challenge. And I know this trial that has seemed like a mountain to me likely looks like a molehill to others who have faced and lost so much more. But I am grateful for what I learned, and hope I'm better prepared to endure other trials I'll face.

**After I wrote this post, but before I published it: Yesterday was the last day of the challenge. I woke up as usual to go walking early. I got texts from my mom and sister right before I left and during my walk, giving a group virtual high 5 and telling me their results. I was so happy they'd done so well, but honestly it was a blow to me to hear that they'd both lost more weight and inches than I had--especially my mom, who doesn't look as if she has any weight or inches to lose. Comparison was the thief of my joy this morning. Just yesterday I was feeling so proud of my accomplishment, and today I feel let down by myself--not because I didn't work hard or could have done more, but because I couldn't do more. This fact was highlighted on my walk, that started with a sore hip that only allowed me to walk at a slow pace and was punctuated by a knee that twinged on the slightest uphill. I was having a little pity party for myself, when I remembered my scripture of the week from last week: "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (Philippians 4:11). Their success doesn't diminish mine. I didn't participate in this challenge to lose more than them or to be better than them--I did this challenge to change me and to be a better me. And truly, I think I've met that goal. So it's time to stop pouting and to remember that I am happy and proud of the work I've put into this challenge and of the changes I have made--because I am. And just the fact that I was able to pull myself out of this depressive state before it had me in it's grasp is a testament to me of the mental change that has taken place. Because I know now that I can do hard things, and that my body is something to be valued.

**One last thing. After I wrote my first ** addendum, I did my final weigh-in. Week 7 had brought along a weight loss of 0. I'd lost 8.5 pounds total and my goal was to lose 10. I honestly wasn't sure I'd get my goal after losing nothing last week. But I lost 1.5 to land me at EXACTLY 10 pounds lost, not an ounce over or under. Meeting my goal was a tender mercy and reminded me that I am valued exactly as I am by a loving Father in Heaven.





And because Lila wanted to stand with me, here's a few more afters :)


Nicole Finley said...

I'm sorry your knee has been giving you so much grief, I had no idea! You did amazing! I'm so happy to hear that this challenge was able to help you meet your goals despite the trials you faced along the way. You always have been and still are such an example to me!

Lexie said...

You look amazing Meg'