It was a Tuesday night, which could only mean one thing. Boot camp. That hour of pushing my body so I can enjoy a week of limping and groaning every time I sit down. Just in time to do it again the next Tuesday.
But that night felt off. The quad in my right leg was screaming from the very first squat. Who am I kidding? Simply putting on my workout clothes made it scream. After I would do a set I would pace, rubbing my thigh with the palm of my hand, trying to work out whatever was causing the pain.
During the burpies and squats and weights, I tried to breathe through it. Trying to push past the pain like I always did.
Push past the pain.
It’s my MO.
(Closely tied to “I’ll just ignore it until it goes away.”)
In exercise it has been a mantra of keep going. Keep running, keep moving, don’t stop. And sometimes, that’s what I need to do. Keep going until I feel the pain loosen. Let my body do what it knows to do.
But not always.
That night, as I limped to my car, a fellow boot-camper came up and asked if I was okay. I shrugged, gestured at my leg, and said I just needed to work through it. She nodded and told me about some stretches that might help. But then she paused, shook her head, and touched my arm.
“I think you might need to baby it,” she told me.
I thought of her words a lot over the past week. I thought of them as I lay in bed with a water bottle and some ibuprofen. As I applied an ice pack to my throbbing leg. As I lay in a steaming hot bath scented with lavender. As I lay on a table and stared at the ceiling, my eyes watering in pain, as I told my chiropractor I needed his help.
“I can’t do this,” I said as he pressed his thumbs into my leg.
“You don’t have to,” he said calmly.
You don’t have to. I thought of those words this morning as I sat in my car, texting a dear friend about a tough season I’ve been in. About feeling sad and defeated. About the pain that has come along with my perceived failures.
“I just need to get back on the horse,” I typed and pushed send.
And then the three little dots that told me to wait. That she had something to say.
In the next few minutes as I sat in my freezing car in the parking lot at work, I read her words. She told me that it was okay to still be processing. That the pain and sadness were normal. That I could give myself time to work through it.
Give myself grace to work through it.
She gave me permission to baby my emotions.
I could curl up in my bed with my favorite book of poetry.
I could sit with a friend with a hot cup of coffee and talk through the sadness.
I could give myself the time and space to heal.
That my tearful “I can’t do this” could be greeted with “You don’t have to.”
It’s a fine balance. Knowing when to push through and when to hold off. But I think you know. Sometimes the pain feels good and motivating. Sometimes it feels terrible and debilitating. There are times I will push harder. Times I will slow my steps.
The main thing, though, is to keep moving. Whether with gentleness or sheer brute strength, keep moving.