The best before and after you’ll ever see

Occasionally, I use a popular fitness app to work out that’s definitely designed more for the younger set. The instructor, for example, sometimes talks about her new nail color for the day (can you imagine having time to change your nail color daily?), and I sheepishly look at my chewed nails and un-manicured toes and want to say to the peppy, chic instructor “Doesn’t she know that au natural is the new ‘color’ of the season? She also mentions things like studying and exams without nary a reference to potty training or sassy kids.

Nevertheless, the reason I keep the app is simple: The workouts are challenging and free (the app is free to download as well), and they also incorporate a lot of Pilates, something myriad health professionals have encouraged me to continue to do as I tirelessly attempt to rehab the injury-that-will-never-go-away*.

The app also comes with recipes, workouts, and a forum. I never paid much attention to the forum component, but a few months ago we were on a longer car trip and I started perusing through the “Before & After” section. I will tell you right now that if you struggle with your body image (or ever have), or you have suffered from an eating disorder in the past, this is probably not the best place for you. I’m not sure it’s a great place for any woman to spend much time, given how it’s so body-centric and gives girls a chance to compare themselves to hundreds of half-dressed women.

To be fair, there were some women who really seemed to be using the before and after photographs as healthy motivation.  They have lost the weight and/or toned up in a healthy, balanced manner. The community was also mostly very encouraging. There was one young woman who only posted a “before” picture along with the comment “my body is disgusting, but I’m going to change that.” Someone immediately responded, “Your body is not disgusting. It’s going to be hard to make healthy changes if you don’t love yourself first.” Agreed. There were also girls desperately trying to achieve what seems to be the Holy Grail of Beauty right now – the elusive thigh gap. But for every young woman lusting over one, there were two or three telling her this is an unrealistic goal for most women and is based more on bone structure than fitness.

So the “Before & After” section certainly wasn’t exclusively black hole of negativity. What’s more, taking a before and after photos as you embark on a healthy lifestyle makeover rather than fixating on the number on the scale can be quite beneficial, but I would recommend keeping the photos private. Of course, for some sharing progress with others helps hold them accountable. In fact, the idea of a “social media diet” is growing, thanks to websites and apps like My Fitness Pal and Lose it! to But like so many things in life, you have to know yourself, your temptations, and be vigilant about ensuring what may have healthy potential doesn’t morph into something that leads you to unhealthy comparisons, vanity, and/or obsessiveness.

Personally, while I could recognize some good coming out of this particular social media “Before & After” forum, I also saw a whole lot of bad. Somewhere in the back of mind, I started to look at one young woman’s enviable midsection and wonder why my efforts to strengthen my core were not resulting in that streamlined, muscled look. (Ironically, my “efforts to strengthen my core” have been successful even if you don’t see it based upon how long I can hold a plank these days without earthquake-like body tremors.) If you clicked on the username, you would learn that the “woman” was all but 15. A mom of four inching closer to 40 every day was actually comparing herself to that of a 15-year-old in a moment of absurdity. I wasn’t the only one making unwise comparisons. Many of the girls on the forum were asking questions like, “How did you get your thigh gap?” and “What can I do to have abs like yours?” All of these girls were looking to others for inspiration instead of looking within themselves and asking themselves, What can I – with my own gifts and natural design – do to live the fullest, most healthful life possible?

I don’t like admitting that I was actually on a fitness “Before & After” forum comparing myself to adolescents, but I can bet I’m not alone. Maybe most women don’t go so far as to seek out a forum full of fitness photos, but most of us fall prey to comparing ourselves to someone somewhere. Perhaps it’s someone in the media or on the cover of a magazine you glance at while checking out at the grocery store. Or it’s the fit neighbor who runs by your house every day. Or it’s the beautiful mom who doesn’t look like she just had a baby whom you meet at a playdate. Or it’s the “friend of a friend” on Facebook who posts her smiling, lovely face and her status update: “Soaking up the Mediterranean sun and getting the tan of my life.” Or maybe you’re looking at pictures of you – maybe it’s the “thin” you from that day long ago when you didn’t have varicose veins or maybe it’s the “current” you who’s just a bit too soft – and you’re comparing yourself to what you could be, once was, or should be.

Stop it. Stop it right this very second.

You are more than a paper doll to be dressed up, scrutinized, and criticized.

I wish all those young girls on that app knew this. I almost thought of leaving comments such as these after some of the posts.

I nearly did comment after a post that made me pause. There was a picture of a young girl with a lovely, round face. She wasn’t smiling. Actually, it almost appeared as if she was trying to make herself look as miserable as possible. Beneath her picture, she wrote, “I hate my round face. What can I do to make it thinner?”

I had an answer for her. “Age, my beautiful girl. The aging process will siphon all that collagen from your face, so that one day it’s no longer round and all angles, and you’ll realize your the face of your youth was perfectly fine just as your aging face is lovely as well, and its ’roundness’ was had everything to do with being young and full of life, and your wrinkles now have everything to do with living a full life.”

See, once upon a time I was a chubby girl who got teased and called names like “Miss Piggy.” Then one day some crazy hormones started finally coursing through through her body and – viola! – she slimmed down. She felt like the ugly duckling turned swan. The very boys who teased her started flirting with her; girls asked her what her “secret” was (once again, it was simply aging and hitting puberty later than others).  So the swan preened her feathers and flaunted them, believing all she had to offer the world was skin. She embraced a warped view that to be thinner was to be better and even more loved. She started to exercise rain or shine, sick or well. She started to eat shards of lettuce (hold the dressing, please) for her “big” meal of the day. She grew thinner and yet, she felt that her face stubbornly remained round.

If there had been social media in her day, she would have most certainly become obsessed. She would have seen the girls with hip bones jutting out and hollowed-out faces and wonder why she wasn’t as “strong” as them.

This girl was me. I hated my face. I hated how “fat” it looked.

Now I look back on those photos and I see nothing but youth. I used to sift through photos of my “chubby” self (my “before”) and compare them to my “after.” I was mostly pleased with the way my clavicle was a noticeable ridge and one of the first things you noticed when you looked at my photo, but that face of mine never seemed to change. I put so much effort into trying to change the outside of me while the inside atrophied and was consumed by thoughts of what to eat and what not to eat, how to smile in a photo or tilt my head so that plump face of mine wouldn’t look so full, how to get rid of those nasty calories I’d taken in, how to be thinner, and in my twisted mind “better.”

If I could turn myself inside out, what would my internal before and after look like? There would be a girl – a silly girl who loved writing in her journal, reading, drama, and horses – who was shutting out all the beauty that longed to radiate from within by becoming preoccupied with weight and changing a face that would one day change all on its own.

More recently, I was with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite awhile, and we started talking about what we were up to. I admitted that I was in a bit of a slump, but that I was learning something very valuable through it all. I noticed her new Garmin watch and complimented it. “I love it,” she said. “I use it all of the time.”

“I used to use mine all of the time, too,” I said just a tad wistfully. Just call me Eeyore.

“But you don’t anymore!” Madeline, the ever-eavesdropper, added.

Nope, I don’t, and for some reason I started to consider all of the time I’ve invested in trying to rehab my tendons and my lopsided pelvis, and I thought of my lackluster soul, how it’s been mired in what feels like an interminable dark night for too long, and in need of some serious rehab as well. I thought about how going to weekly Mass really isn’t enough to nurture a living faith or to resuscitate a flagging soul. I need to enfold myself into a stronger chrysalis to change: prayer, more confession, more hope.

“You know,” I told my friend. “What I’m going to focus on right now is just trying to be a better person. I’ve spent so much of my life achieving and trying to meet goals, but what if I just poured most of my efforts into being a better person? I know it sounds cliche….” I trailed off.

“No, it doesn’t,” she said. “Not at all. It sounds like something we all should do.”

And so I’m working on pursuing a different kind of before and after. Here’s my before: Here’s a woman who God just won’t give up on despite her doubts, her fears, her struggles that are suddenly resurrecting after years of peace and wholeness. Her soul is beautiful, but it’s in need of a makeover. It’s not as radiant and trusting and hopeful as it should be – or as it once was. But that’s okay. There’s no reason to despair or to give up or to compare herself to others who diffuse peace and kindness and unwavering faith.

Because after weeks, months, a lifetime of ups and downs and effort, and grace-seeking and mercy-begging, here’s her after:  This soul of hers is resplendent. It can’t stop shining. It is a grateful soul. It has a few blemishes, yes, because this is a soul of a human, but look at the way it sings and shines and gives and joyfully receives and loves.

That’s the “after” I’m going for. Hold me to it.

 

*I met with a new specialist yesterday and am very hopeful about overcoming this injury and getting back to running, but I am determined to find peace no matter what happens.

 

When being “healthy” isn’t…

A friend of mine passed along a link to an article every mom needs to read: “Moms, Put on That Swimsuit.”

It was most definitely an article I needed to read at that moment.

The author writes,

I refuse to miss my children’s high-pitched, pool-induced giggles because of my insecurities.

I refuse to let other women’s judging eyes at the pool prevent me from exposing my kids’ eyes to the wonder of the sun glittering on the water.

I refuse to let my self-image influence my children’s.

I refuse to sacrifice memories with my children because of a soft tummy.

Because at the end of the day, it is not just about me.

It is about my kids.

I want them to remember twirling in the water with their mom.

I want them to remember splash fights together.

I want them to remember jumping off the edge of the pool into my arms.

I want them to remember that their mom was there, with them.”

Her third refusal really jumped out at me: I refuse to let my self-image influence my children’s.

I thought about my own self-image right about now. Last year around this time, when I ironically was still logging in a lot of running miles (I tend to blame the dearth of running in my life because of my injury as the reason I’m feeling a little less comfortable in my own skin), I wrote a post about my struggle with the scale and how I felt like a fraud admitting I was suffering from “scale sickness” since I am supposed to be a healthy body image expert. I wrote a book making peace with your body, after all. I speak to women and encourage them to redefine beauty and to accept their God-given designs. Shouldn’t I do more than talk the talk, so to speak? Where was my walking?

Some days it’s there. A lot of times I am a super model for my kids and my fellow women. Not the Cindy Crawford variety (I am getting old; I don’t even know who the cool super models are anymore), but of the super ROLE model variety. I sometimes live a life that reminds women that in our efforts to be beautiful, we women must not limit that pursuit to sexual appeal. Our virtue is what begets real beauty.

But there are days when I’m not very kind, or I’m just plain selfish and that makes me ugly. Or there are days when I feel ugly and that makes me not want to be very kind. There are days when I feel lacking as a good human soul – and as a body.

Then there are the moments when I think that maybe I did a thing or two right. I look back on my day. I did something nice for a friend. I cuddled with my kids, read them books, put my husband’s socks away with nary a complaint. And, yet, my insecurities – they are so deep-rooted – still get the best of me.

Let’s tackle the pool first. I have been swimming with my kids this summer. I’ve jumped in, made a splash, and not worried that I don’t have perfect abs. But that’s because I’ve made sure to go to a pool that none of my friends go to, and we’ve visited at odd times. Or we’ve headed to my parents’ lake house where there’s nothing but family, love, and acceptance. I’ve avoided being seen by anyone other than those who will love and accept me no matter what. What will I do in July when we are on vacation, and there will possibly be those judging eyes the “Moms, wear your swimsuits” author mentions? Will I gladly accept the swimsuit and bear my skin all for the sake of my family? Yes. I will. But I would be lying if I told you it was going to be easy.

Recently, I’ve been whining to my husband that I’d like a pool in our backyard like I had growing up, which isn’t really a possibility with our given yard and home. Besides. I love my home and don’t really want to move. But, oh, how I want my own pool! I sound like a spoiled ninny. I use the excuses of a backyard pool simply being more accessible, a great way to fight the afternoon doldrums, a place for me to exercise and rehabilitate my broken-down body, and the fact that we ought to want to create a super-cool teen pad so that when our kids are older, they will want to hang out at our house with our friends.

These are all fine and valid points perhaps, but there’s another reason I am pining for a private pool that I haven’t dared to say aloud. I don’t like public pools. Again, not because I am a snoot. Not because I worry about my kids’ decibel-piercing “outside” voices disturbing the peace, although this is true sometimes. Not even because it can be overwhelming to keep a vigilant eye on four swimming children, but this is a reasonable source of reluctance for me spending every afternoon at a crowded, public pool. It’s exhausting, really. I can’t possibly socialize with friends I might see at the pool and make sure my kids, especially the two littles, aren’t on the verge of drowning.

But perhaps, sadly, the biggest reason and the unspoken one is that I want my own pool so others won’t have to see me in a swimsuit. Or really, I won’t have to be seen by others. I’ve wanted to avoid public pools this year because of the way I look – or the way I once looked and the fact that I don’t think I look that way any longer (my dear husband still says my body image can be a bit distorted and that I haven’t completely shattered that funny carnival mirror in my head that twists and distorts the way I seem myself as well as my body). Or maybe it’s just the way I think every other woman but me (we never see others’ faults as glaringly as our own, now do we?) looks in their swimsuit. I am afraid of those (probably non-existent) judging eyes. I don’t want an audience. I feel okay with just my family, but I don’t want any other onlookers to see my physical flaws or to see that I don’t possess the kind of self-confidence someone who fights for women’s freedom from the scale and the societal constraints of beauty ought to have.

I do also happen to have some really fit friends. I try not to compare myself to them, but it’s difficult when their bronzed skin is sparkling in the sunlight and their muscle definition pops out at me like an Andy Warhol painting.

I feel inferior, weaker.

My kids don’t know about my feelings. Yet. I haven’t complained about my swimsuit. I have taken them to the pool – just an unpopular one where we never see anyone else swimming. I jump in and swim and feel happy and weightless. I forget that I am sometimes still at war with my flesh.

But when I read the article yesterday, I realized me putting on a swimsuit and being confident in it – whether we are hanging out in our backyard patio kiddie “pool”side or at a public pool – isn’t about me any longer. Like the author points out, it’s about my children. It’s about showing them there’s more to life than looking “hot” or just “good” in a swimsuit. It’s not how you look; it’s what you do with your life. We can’t let our bodies or our feelings about them define our lives.

As I came to realize my own reluctance to slip into a swimsuit with ease, I started to consider the other messages I might be conveying to my children – all under the guise of pursuing health and fitness. I recently joked about how my 9-year-old admonished me for doing push-ups less than 24 hours after I’d had an impacted wisdom tooth extracted. At the time, I felt like I was sending her a positive message. Look at your tough mom who can show her strength even in the wake of surgery, albeit a very, very minor one. But this morning, I realized I was performing a precarious tightrope walk there between coming off as strong and healthy and just plain stupid and obsessive.

I am constantly teaching my children about healthy food choices. I don’t define any food as bad or vilify any one food group. Food is fuel. Some of it’s better than others. Food is also a conduit of community and even love. We break bread together. We don’t need to serve it with a heaping side of guilt.

Similarly, I don’t make exercise (for them) about feeling good in a swimsuit. We’re active because it’s fun! They feel great in their swimsuits because it means they get to cool off and swim! Nothing more, nothing less. With the exception of one persnickety child who doesn’t cope well with the occasional swimsuit wedgie, they have no cares when they show more skin. And, yet, I am still not always conveying the “right” message to my beautiful daughters.

There’s a fine line between the pursuit of health and an obsession with it. A relatively new eating disorder known as orthorexia has even been introduced. The National Eating Disorders Association explains orthorexia and those who suffer from it like this:

Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.

I’d add that a “sister” disorder would be those who become “addicted” to rigid exercise routines. The obsessive organic and the compulsive CrossFitter both have problems even if they appear to simply be making healthy choices. We need to ask ourselves: How attached are we to these healthy choices? Does our need to eat a strict Paleo diet or run a certain number of miles a week steal intimacy from our lives? The more attached we are to being healthy, the more we might withdraw from others. We might avoid a social event out of fear that unhealthy food might be served or because it interferes with our workout schedule. We might miss a child’s baseball game because we have to work out. We think we are gaining with these righteous, “healthy” choices, but we’re really losing.

I have often argued only treating women with clinically diagnosed eating disorders is rubbish. Just because a woman doesn’t have a dangerous BMI or drop a below a certain percentage of her weight doesn’t mean she’s not sick. There are women walking around at a healthy, average weights who are slaves to the scale and food or who purge several times a week after eating “bad” food. There are overweight women who are obsessively at war with their bodies and eat as a way to soothe their frayed edges and to fill the part of them that they feel is unlovable. And there are women with athletic, lean bodies who look like the picture of health but who wouldn’t think of skipping a workout even if they had a fever or a family member needed them or it was Christmas morning. All of these women have disordered habits, and I’m afraid performing push-ups because I feel fidgety and then thinking it’s funny or just a sign of my tenacity might be a wee bit disordered as well. Sometimes being healthy just isn’t.

Pray about the messages you might be sending to your children with your “healthy” or otherwise choices you make every day and your subtle and not-so-subtle actions.

Our daughters – and sons! – are watching. They see us when we duck out of a photo-op. “I’ll take the picture,” we say obligingly. “I don’t need to be in it.”

They read between the lines. “Mom doesn’t want to be in the photograph.”

Later, they will wonder why. Is it because she didn’t feel beautiful, good enough? Am I good enough?

“You go ahead and swim. Have fun! I’ll be watching!” we shout to our children at the beach or the pool as we stay wrapped up in a cocoon of flesh-hiding towels.

Mom’s always just watching instead of living. She’s watching the scale. She’s watching how her jeans fit and allowing it determine her mood for the day.

Or Mom is chronically on a diet or refuses to eat anything with gluten in it even though she’s never been diagnosed as being gluten intolerant. It just seems like the healthy thing to do and at some level, Mom feels superior because she can go without a food that others enjoy eating.

“I want to be strong!” Mom says as she squeezes in a few crunches or tricep dips at an odd time.

Kids already think their mom is strong; she doesn’t need to ban a food from her diet or obsessively flex her muscles when a doctor has told her to take a few days off. That’s not a healthy role model. That’s someone with an unhealthy compulsion.

Disordered eating, compulsive exercising – these are addictions. We turn to our addiction – whether it’s with food (binging on it or restricting it) or exercise or the scale – because we think it will give us something we need: Control, self-worth, value, a purpose, strength. All the while it’s robbing us. It keeps us from the pool. It keeps us from making happy memories. It keeps us from enjoying food and enjoying the movement of our bodies. It keeps us from loving our families fully. Addictions cause us to accept fear and anxiety as an inextricable part of everyday life. We should not have anxiety about wearing a swimsuit in front of others. Nor should we fear going to a friend’s house for dinner because she might not serve “clean” food.

A preoccupation with food, our weight, our health, and yes, ourselves keeps us from living.

Addictions always, always take far more than they give.

I see so many moms embracing Paleo diets or going gluten-free or running 5Ks, and I am proud of them for taking charge of their health. But be careful, Mothers. It’s not easy to hide your insecurities or distorted body image in a swimsuit, but it can be frighteningly easy to hide in the subterfuge of an ironclad dedication to a healthy lifestyle.

Consider those little eyes watching your every move. They are learning from you – for better or worse.

Once my most sensitive child was eyeing her reflection in the mirror as I braided her honeyed hair. “I’m not as pretty as [one of her sisters],” she said.

I looked at her sparkling, doe-like eyes. You could get lost in their dark, imploring beauty, and I wanted to gently shake her like a snow globe and watch all the white specks as they settle into their peaceful, beautiful form. Why would she think this? Why would she compare herself to someone else and feel like she had come up lacking?

Why…

Ah, yes. Maybe because her own mother fears the public pool because in her distorted mind it can become a contest of the fairest of the fair. Or maybe because her own mother is so afraid of losing a few days of fitness she ignores her doctor and her husband’s orders.

My daughter is beautiful in every way. So are her sisters. So am I.

I believe my children are nothing but loveliness and beauty personified. I can easily see glimpses of God in them, in their sense of wonderment, their peals of laughter, and the raw joy they exhibit at the most simple sights – a ladybug discovered on their bedroom windowsill, morning clouds gilded with the gold of the rising sun.

Indeed, it’s easy to see the beauty in my children. In me not so much. But it’s time to start working at it again.

So many of us are hungry for something more in our lives. We fill this void with food, or rigid, healthy habits, or we relentlessly pursue beauty or youth in an effort to feel better about ourselves. Many women know eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia – are bad. But exercise and eating clean? Well, these are just good for my health, we rationalize. And they can be. To a point. We must protect what is precious, that is the house – our bodies – that carry our souls. We must consecrate the desires of the flesh to sanctify the spirit within, and that means making healthy choices and sometimes saying no to the Doritos and Ben & Jerry’s.

But we’re no longer being healthy when we lose balance; when we feel overwhelming guilt because we ate one cookie or missed a workout. A desire for self-improvement can easily become self-annihilation if we can’t ever let go of our healthy habits, or we’re always focused on the person who’s more cellulite-free, prettier, or thinner than us. And she might just be sunbathing at the pool, so it’s best to stay hidden at home and keep doing those push-ups.

Then it becomes a compulsion, an addiction. We become a slave to it. And so do our children.

Meanwhile, life is passing all of us by.

Moms, put on your swimsuit. And swim. Moms, step in front of the camera. And smile. Those photos will one day be treasured memories and you might think you look puffy or old now, but a few years from now you’ll recognize the beauty that is you. Your children already see it. Take care of your body, yes, but not at the expense of your health or your family or as punishment for feeling inadequate or for mindlessly munching on potato chips. Don’t let being healthy become unhealthy.

Step away from the mirror and instead become a mirror for your children; a mirror filled with light, a mirror that reflects love, joy, and optimism. I promise that even if you don’t always, your children, your friends, even the stranger at the grocery store or the fellow mom you meet poolside will love what they see. You.

Me, myself, & my hamstring

I recently deleted Sitemeter from this website. A funny error related to it kept popping up, and I never check my stats any longer and don’t use this website to make loads of moula (but if anyone wants to send me a check to subsidize further sporadic, ridiculously long and meandering blog posts, go right ahead), so it just made sense. However, I decided to check one last time to see how people end up here, and it seems “Kate Wicker + hamstring” is a very popular search. It’s number one right now in fact, followed by searches like “Kate Wicker Catholic,” “Kate Wicker + nursing a toddler,” “Kate Wicker + body image + eating disorder,” “Kate Wicker + natural childbirth,” and “Kate Wicker loves eradicating hazardous waste from her home.”

I made the last one up.

Honestly, I’ve been trying to refrain from writing about my stupid hamstring and jalopy of a body for myriad reasons. First, I figured no one really cared to endure my whining and that anyone who isn’t a runner wouldn’t understand why on earth someone would be depressed about not being able to wake up at 5 am and run for miles and train for races that might lead to toenails falling off. Second, once upon a time this blog was simply about mothering, my faith (or lack thereof), and body image, so its target audience isn’t necessarily all that interested in a chronic running injury. Finally, I have a remarkable talent for ruminating endlessly about my hamstring and how frustrated I am, and it’s easy to get sucked into a black hole of negativity.

But here’s a the-glass-is-half-full kind of thought for you: Due to not running much at all this spring, my feet are looking prettier than ever, and I actually wasn’t embarrassed to get a pedicure a few weeks ago.

Pollyanna, eat your heart out!

On the other hand, now that I know that quite a few people are actually seeking me out to find out about my hammy, I’m all for prattling on about it and for pondering the bigger lessons that can be gleaned from a persistent injury.

High hamstring tendinopathy is a very stubborn injury, and there’s not a lot of research-backed treatment protocols. A lot of medical professionals aren’t really sure how to approach healing, or they have different theories as to why it happened and what will make it better. So a lot of sad, injured, and desperate runners seek out Dr. Google. I know I have done this more times than I’d like to admit.

{“Mommy, are you reading about your hamstring again?”

“Um, maybe.”

“You’re obsessed.”

No comment.}

In the online world of blogs, medical websites, running forums, etc. you’ll uncover some success stories but far more lamentations about how a runner has been trying to overcome this injury for years. Lest you think I am a pathetic freak of nature, complete hypochondriac, or just an obsessed weirdo as my 9-year-old seems to think, I stumbled across one blog that is about one topic and one topic only: an injured runner’s high hamstring tendinopathy. Yes, the blog is actually entitled “High Hamstring Tendinopathy: A Real B#$*@ [rhymes with witch], My Struggle to Recover and Maintain Sanity” (good news: She did eventually overcome the injury!).

If you’re anything like this blogger or me, in your desperation, you may even find yourself emailing and over-sharing to some stranger Dr. Google led you to who is running again and seems to have overcome high hamstring tendinopathy (yes, I did that, too), and the person kindly responds and offers her insight, but sadly you’ve tried most of the things she suggests.

Let’s see what exactly have I tried to get better? Here’s just a smattering (I’ve done a few other things as well):

  • Dry needling – AKA warmly accepting long-ish needles to be poked into my skin just below my butt cheeks multiple times. I also allowed said needles to be poked into my hip area and back and once in my Achilles’ tendon area. Usually, it produces only mild discomfort, but for some reason one particular treatment in the hamstring area caused me to break out in a sweat not because I was hot but because the pain was pretty darn intense.
  • Cold laser therapy – I only tried this once because it was not covered under customary physical therapy treatments, and I’ve already spent a small fortune on trying to beat this injury. Maybe this would have been my magical cure!
  • Acupuncture – Different than dry needling but also involves needles; not painful much at all, but it didn’t seem to help much either.
  • A cortisone patch on the injured area – no lasting relief
  • An anti-inflammatory cream applied to my hamstring and hip area four times a day – maybe helped my hip area a tiny, tiny bit but not the hamstring
  • Icing and heat – ice provides temporary relief; just numbs/masks the pain
  • Extracorporeal shockwave therapy – never really noticed significant improvement, but I never morphed into Frankenstein, so that’s good.
  • Active release therapy (ART) – a special kind of massage and by special I mean torturous. My wonderful ART therapist, who really was compassionate and seemed to care about my hammy and me, asked me at one point if I was sure I was okay. I told her yes. She then told me most men would be crying like a baby by now. Sorry, male readers, there’s a reason women give birth. Initially, I thought this was an answer to my prayer because I would feel significantly better after each treatment, but it wasn’t cheap and I had to pay out of pocket for each session, and the pain would always return in a few days post-treatment. The therapist was wonderful because she told me I needed to pursue other options because she wasn’t able to provide a more permanent relief to the pain.
  • Cupping – This is part of the practice of acupuncture and involves creating strong suction on the skin near the injured area with “cups” and is believed to encourage blood flow and promote healing. Note to self: Don’t try to get ART and cupping done on the same day right before you head to the beach. Your bum and thigh area will be polka-dotted with bruises. Lovely. I didn’t notice much improvement after this – maybe a little.
  • Scraping or Graston – From The Graston Technique website: Graston is an “innovative, patented form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilzation that enables clinicians to effectively break down scar tissue and fascial restrictions.” A friend who had similar injuries as I did (although she never had an actual fraying of the high hamstring as I did) swore by Graston, so I decided to give it a try. I was warned that it would be very painful, but it really wasn’t too bad for me. I feel like it really helped at first, but the pain just took a few days to rear its ugly head again.
  • Loads of rehab exercises my physical therapist provided me with, including core, glute, and eccentric hamstring exercises.

I know. This is a little ridiculous. It’s not as if I’m pining for an Olympic medal. I just want to run again – and walk again! – without pain! It would be nice to be able to sit without a bum ache, too.

Now here’s what I haven’ tried yet: Cortisone injections to the site, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or prolotherapy injections, and obviously surgery. I am very interested in hearing from anyone who has suffered from a partial tear of the high hamstring and/or high hamstring tendiopathy and what has or hasn’t worked to facilitate healing. Every person and every body is different, but I am very proactive (or obsessed as my 9-year-old says!) about researching my options and exploring further treatment. This coming week is a big one for me. I am getting a wisdom tooth cut out that decided to pop out when I’m nearing 40 instead of when I was a teenager. I’d call myself a late bloomer except the oral surgeon commented on the fact that I had “significant” arthritis in my jaw for someone my age. He asked me if my jaw hurt. “Only my hamstring and iliac crest,” I replied.

Okay, so maybe I am a little obsessed.

After the wisdom tooth exits the premises, I have an appointment in the big city with a sports medicine doctor who specializes in overuse injuries and ultrasound-guided PRP injections. I am hopeful!

The bottom line (pun intended since it is my bottom that aches all of the time): I still hurt, especially when I sit for too long, which is yet another reason this blog (and my novel) have been sorely neglected. If I sit for more than 10 minutes, I start to ache and have to lift my left butt cheek to the side, and it starts to look like I am a fan of flagrantly emitting flatulence.

There have been several points when I’ve felt like I could run again and have attempted to slowly ease back into running, only to experience a return of pain. What’s worse, is one day I was out for a slow walk/run when, lo and behold, my left hamstring wasn’t hurting, but the area above my left iliac crest started to ache and then became so painful I could barely walk home. I went to a doctor for the pain, and x-rays showed no fracture, but they did reveal that the right side of my pelvis was significantly higher – something others have told me and I also suspected since my shorts always ride up on the right side, and I’ve felt a little lopsided for as long as I can remember. So I was referred to spine specialist who asked me if I’d ever been in an accident or taken a fall from a high place. That would be an affirmative. Before the risk part of my brain was developed, I found it exhilarating to hop on wild horses and see if and how long I could stay on. I took multiple falls when I was younger, and this physical therapist believes that these shifted my tail bone and pelvis so that it’s now pulling on the hamstring and other muscles and tendons of my left leg. Basically, he said I’ve been like a car logging miles with my wheels out of alignment. It doesn’t matter how strong I am or how few miles I run or how slowly I cover them, I am going to get injured. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I am hopeful that we are finally arriving at the root of the problem and that the new doctor I see next week will agree and will be able to offer further insight as to how to get me better and out running again.

And, truthfully, it’s not the running that has hobbled me! It’s not even the fact that I might have over-trained a bit, not properly fueled my body given the miles I was running last summer and fall, or am a weakling. It’s just that my muscles aren’t working properly because my pelvis is all out of whack. Running doesn’t injure people, but running the wrong way – whether it’s because of a crooked pelvis, over-training, or covering miles in the wrong shoes – most certainly does.

One sports medicine doctor suggested I might make a good triatholon athlete, so my dear husband bought me an amazing bike that I can’t ride now because my hip hurts. I’ve had a lot of medical professionals tell me I just need to take it easy and be patient. Well, I’m approaching the 9-month mark since my injury and have only ran a handful of miles at a ridiculously slow pace when I once was running 30 to 40 miles every week. Walking and sitting causes pain, so this is no longer about running, and resting is not the antidote to it either.

Thankfully, a doctor also gave me a vote of confidence and said, “We’re not ready to retire you to the pasture yet.”

Wow, you really know how to build a girl up.

I shouldn’t be snarky. I am so thankful for all those who have tried to figure out why I hurt and how I can get better, and I am also extremely grateful that I have the resources to obtain medical care. I know this a pitifully small cross to shoulder compared to what so many others have to deal with, but it hasn’t been easy and based on all those search engine entries involving my hammy it appears that there are others frustrated with high hamstring tendinopathy and hoping that maybe I’ve discovered a magical cure and am back running.

I haven’t (yet!), but I have learned a great deal through this experience. First off, I’m not in control. I can religiously perform my rehab exercises. I can keep seeking out medical professionals who will help me to get to the bottom of things. I can cry, rant, and pray for my pitiful hamstring. But I can’t make it all better. Nor can I get angry at professionals who can’t make it better. I can, however, will myself to be grateful for all the good in my life as well as to cling to the hope that I’ll overcome this. I asked my husband the other day if he thought I’d ever be able to run and let alone walk without pain. “I do,” he said.

“What about Boston? Do you think I’ll run Boston someday?”

“I do,” he said. “I really do.”

God love him.

I’ve also learned that body image issues aren’t just about how your body looks. Sometimes you start to hate your body because of how it performs and because it can’t do what you want it to do. I remember when I wrote the aging chapter for Weightless, I felt very unqualified to ponder things like wrinkles. I couldn’t imagine being upset about aging. I’d only be thankful that I was still around and among the living with my friends and family. I wrote the book about five years ago, and in five short years I have abruptly become aware of my mortality. My body is not working like it used to. My pelvis has been crooked for a long time, but it used to not bother me. I have noticed the lines forming on my expressive face. I pulled out my first gray hair right around my birthday this year. I am inching very close to my fourth decade.

I told my husband I desperately wanted to be pregnant again because at least I’m good at growing babies and delivering them into the world. My midwife once remarked, “My dear, you were made to have babies.” As if that’s something I can really take credit for, though. That’s just a blessing I have. My body happens to labor very well (pregnancy not so much). As if it’s my fault that my high hamstring won’t heal. Clearly, these thoughts are further evidence of my control and pride issues.

Currently, I am working to make peace with my body – not because I’m unhappy with what I see in the reflection in the mirror so much, although not being able to exercise for mind, body, and spirit as much as I’d like hasn’t been easy – but because I’ve had to accept my body and to love it for its natural design, its limitations, and to not be so focused on my current age – or the fact that it can’t perform like I think it should – but on the age to come.

When I’ve become really down and frustrated with my inability to heal and my new aches and pains or increasingly creased face, I tell myself to shift the focus off myself. That’s something I wrote about in the Weightless aging chapter and got right.

Hey, Katie, take care of that amazing husband of yours who could care less how fast you are or how wrinkly you become (you’re growing older together!). Cuddle with those children who think you have the strongest arms in the world. Think of how that sweet 2-year-old boy says almost daily, “Mommy, you’re pretty,” because to him you’re the most beautiful woman alive right now. Be grateful for all of your friends who love you for you, not because of any of your accomplishments or how fit you are. Think of your running pal who walks beside you now and would do anything for you and will be your true friend whether you ever run another mile again in your life. Imagine your mom with ice packs on her burning face, whose eyes feel like they might pop out of her face sometimes, who has a debilitating disease that is frequently referred to as the suicide disease because its intense and painful symptoms can usually only be managed and right now can’t be managed very well for your sweet mama but will never be cured. She is a suffering servant. She has been for several years now. She chooses to see the blessings in her life instead of wallowing in pity and cursing her body and her fate. She knows that she is more than her pain.

You’re more than your hamstring. You’re more than a runner.

These are some of the lessons you’ve had to learn and perhaps because of them someday someone will end up on this little corner of cyberspace because they searched for “Kate Wicker + thy will be done.”

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