Mourning My Former Athleticism
Receiving an AxSpA diagnosis can come with a flurry of emotions, both good and bad. I received my diagnosis before my senior year of college and what was supposed to be my last year of Division I softball.
Due to the diagnosis and the damage that collegiate athletics had done on my AxSpA body, I had to medically retire from the sport that had been a defining part of my personality for as long as I could remember. I said goodbye not only to the sport I had loved so dearly for so long, but also to a level of athleticism I had been used to. My diagnosis also came with the discovery of several disc injuries to my neck and my lower back, which meant further movement restrictions.
I had always planned to run the Disney marathon with my mom when I graduated college. Now, my physicians were advising that I never run recreationally. I started lifting weights when I was in middle school and gained confidence from my strength. The lifts I was allowed to do were now strictly limited. In addition to the challenge of navigating my diagnosis, I had to now readjust how I defined myself. An important part of this process was mourning the athlete I had always been and accepting that my idea of fitness would shift.
Movement and exercise are an important part of maintaining AxSpA pain
It can take some trial and error to determine what types of movement are best for your own body. At the beginning of my journey with AxSpA, I would cycle between pushing myself too hard and being too afraid to try anything. Life with AxSpA can feel like a guessing game, where a wrong answer means several days in bed with intense pain and fatigue.
Health and comfort are now my priorities
My relationship to movement before my diagnosis had always been centered on preparation for competition. Now my focus needs to shift to maintaining health and comfort. I have tried a variety of exercises and have found a love for indoor cycling and pilates. I also try to walk and incorporate light weight and bodyweight workouts.
This continues to be a learning process and I still get sad occasionally when I think about what I am no longer allowed to do. I have always defined myself as an athlete and I still do to this day. I have found joy in movement. I still compete, but now just against myself to be the best version of me.
Some days my body cannot push as hard as others and this is ok. Reframing my body’s inconsistent pain and inflammation levels has been very helpful for me. As an athlete, I always felt that I could push through pain to perform and now I know that I shouldn’t always do this. I try to look at a spontaneous high pain day the same way I would if a rainstorm had canceled a softball game. Something unfortunate, but not anyone’s fault. I am healing my relationship with how I treat and talk about my body despite AxSpA being frustrating.
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