This month marks six months of my being injured and unable to run. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was diagnosed with patellofemoral joint pain and told by my doctor that I would be better in four-to-six weeks. Back then, it was hard to imagine not running for that amount of time; over the summer, running had become my number one outlet for my anxiety, and I looked forward to waking up every morning, slipping on my sneakers, and starting the day with a run through my neighborhood. I never felt quite as invigorated and free as I did when I ran.
Then four-to-six weeks became two months, and then three, and I’d show up to my biweekly PT appointment with an achy knee and an ever-growing frustration at why my body wasn’t healing. It wasn’t until I realized that I was undereating and at a major calorie deficit, which had made it virtually impossible for my body to recover regularly, that I was able to make headway with my injury. With assistance from my dietitian, I gained five pounds, got my period back after a nearly five-month absence, and began to notice improvements in my knee.
Just as I was finally returning to running, the unthinkable happened: I injured myself again. This time, it was quad tendonitis, which took a little over a month to heal. The following week, while I was in California on my college graduation trip, I developed tendonitis in my other knee. That was over two months ago, and it’s still not recovered. For unexplainable reasons, my symptoms with this third—and hopefully last—injury are abnormally acute. It’s impossible to know when my knee will feel okay again and when I’ll be able to run without pain. The experience of being injured for over six months has been exhausting and frustrating and has tested me both physically and mentally in unprecedented ways. I’ve had moments of wondering why, after surviving an eating disorder that cost me most of my adolescence, I’m now having to deal with the chronic pain of injury and the mental angst of not being able to access my favorite coping skill. It simply doesn’t seem fair. But I genuinely believe that things happen for a reason, and while I’m not out of the woods with this injury yet, I’m in a place where I can reflect on the past six months and see the good that has come out of an otherwise very difficult time. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an incredibly impatient person. When I want something, I want it to happen on my time and struggle when things don’t pan out that way. Like with my injury. Not only has my patience been tested; but so has my need to be in control. In turn, I feel that I’m a more patient and grounded person than I’ve ever been. I’ve had to accept that the rate my body heals isn’t up to me; that all I can do is my very best and hope that the rest will fall into place.
Since I haven’t been able to run, I’ve been forced to find other forms of physical activity to stay healthy and active. This winter, I took up swimming, and now that spring is here in Connecticut, I’m enjoying biking around my neighborhood. I’ve also improved upon my yoga practice and am considering getting a certification over the summer. I’ve realized that as long as I can move my body, I can achieve happiness and peace of mind. Even when I return to running, I plan to keep at my new athletic pursuits so I can maintain not only the physical strength I’ve built but the overall balance I’ve gained as well.
My injury has also made it clear to me how incredibly important it is to advocate for myself in the healthcare system. My experiences with anorexia make me unique to other patients; thus, I have to be upfront about my mental health history so my doctor will have all the information. I’ve also had to stand up to healthcare providers who haven’t acknowledged the link between nutrition and injury and have dismissed that it was prolonging my recovery, even with the absence of my period being a big red flag. It’s instinctual to take a doctor’s advice at face value; however, there are times when we know what’s best for ourselves and our bodies, especially when there are extenuating circumstances like a preexisting mental health issue. In those situations, we must articulate and advocate for our needs so we can get the best quality care. It can be challenging to stay positive when faced with setback after setback. This is something I’ve struggled a lot with over the last several months. I’ve had moments when I’ve worried that I’d lapse back into depression or disordered eating; however, by relying on my coping skills, support from my family, my outpatient treatment team, and my own internal strength, I’ve been able to avoid that. From seeing my therapist more often to starting every day with meditation, to directing my focus to what’s in my control rather than what isn’t, to taking breaks from social media, to combating negative thoughts with positive self-talk, there are many proactive steps I’m taking that have enabled me to not only survive these past months but stay rooted in my recovery as well. As I wrote before, I don’t know when the discomfort in my knees will subside for good. I don’t know when I’ll be able to run without the pain of my injury and the fear of re-injury holding me back. I don’t even know if running will ever be the same as it was, although I sincerely hope it will. My life in general feels very nebulous and uncertain at the moment, and that can be scary. But if surviving anorexia has taught me one thing it’s that you just have to keep going. One day at a time. One foot in front of another. Pain fades, and hardship—even if it’s only temporary—subsides. I’ve overcome what once seemed like an insurmountable obstacle once before, and I’m optimistic that I can do it again.
By Julia Tannenbaum