The other day, I sent an #AWAPwednesday email (sign up here if you’re not getting them) about “starting over” when we have chronic illness, and I think the piece belongs here, too. Here it is, copied and pasted, for your enjoyment:

jenni at the gym

i’m back in the gym today for the first time in many months, and it’s ROUGH. like, tears started to flow while i was stretching.

i didn’t cry from pain after my 10 minutes on the treadmill. i didn’t cry from stiffness while i did 15 minutes of yoga. i started to cry from frustration, as i realized it felt so much like i was starting over.

i remember vividly what it felt like 6 months ago to hit the gym 4 or 5 times a week, doing 30 minutes of cardio and another 25 of yoga. it felt AWESOME. i felt like an athlete again, something that was a big part of my identity until i got sick 20 years ago.

today, i didn’t feel that way at all. i felt schlumpy; my gym clothes are extra-snug because i put on 15 lbs in recent months. i felt kinda pathetic; my workout was so short. i felt frustrated; why did i have to endure such a long flare-up, when i had been doing so well for a long time?

it felt like i was starting over.


the truth is: i’m NOT starting over.

as much as it feels like i’m brand-new at being in the gym, that’s not true. and i think talking this through will help YOU get some ideas for how you can reframe the newbie feeling when you’re coming back from a flare-up or a big life change. here are some realities:

  • i’ve been here many times before; i know the machines, how to use them, where they are, which ones aren’t good for me. this is not new.
  • while i was all quivery today, there were times in my life when i was strong, and i can get that way again. my experience has shown me i can come back over and over, as long as my head is in the game.
  • – speaking of my head, it’s okay to have emotions about coming back. no one cared that i was teary-eyed on the floor mat – no one was staring at me, judging me. it was all in my head. so i can tell that self-critical voice to shut up.
  • i’ve learned a lot from flare-ups. i’ve been reminded over and over that no matter how fit i am, nothing is completely in my control; keeping that in mind will help me as i come back. it’s not going to be a linear process; there will be hiccups, and keeping that in mind will help a lot.
  • even though my gym clothes are snug, they still fit – so i don’t need to buy new stuff. but even if i did, the thrift store a few minutes away is a reliable resource for cheap shorts and t-shirts.
  • in many ways, i’ve felt very alone with my flare-up, and coming back today, i was thinking “i have to do this all myself again!” but there were familiar faces at the gym, especially a woman whose locker is next to mine. she was SO happy to see me! and when i told her i felt extra-chubby and discouraged, she said “noooo, jenni, you look cute, and you’re HERE! that’s what’s important.” plus my husband, joe, also works out here, and he came over to kiss me when he saw i was crying. having people around who can encourage me during tough times is extremely helpful. (i also probably could have texted a few friends this morning for some cheerleading; i will likely do that in the coming days.)
  • i opened a fitness tracking app today, and i had to log in again, which felt like i was starting over. but then it loaded my workout history and i saw all those hundreds of workouts over the recent years, and felt some reassurance.

can you see how it’s not true that we have to start over when we’re coming back from a health setback? it may feel all brand-new, and in fact, we may be trying new things to get healthier again. but the core of us — that babe who cares about herself, who has tried before, has succeeded before — she hasn’t gone anywhere.

if you’re facing a comeback, i have a few more suggestions:

make a playlist of your favorite motivational songs. i have a monster mix of workout faves, which you can stream on spotify, called “get sweaty.” enjoy — and i also encourage you to make your own list, because music is so personal. my playlist really kept me motivated this morning.

rally some support. tell a few friends or family members that you’re feeling like it’s a fresh start, and that you could use some reminders of past successes as well as some cheerleading.

take a few moments to journal about your previous successes. what helped? what held you back? get clear about the things that do and don’t serve your best interests, so you can focus on success-boosting efforts.

don’t beat yourself up. our bodies will grumble enough; we don’t need our heads to grumble at us, too. be gentle as you ease back into a new effort, be it the gym or work or anything else.

pace yourself. i needed my physical therapist to remind me that small progress matters, and that overdoing it as i come back could cause another flare. even typing this is a good reminder to myself. so pace yourself, babe.

celebrate each success. i’m going to buy some nice fruit for a snack for later, like splurge-y pink lady apples (they’re like $2 each here in chicago) as a way to celebrate. find a way that’s low-cost but high-impact to celebrate each and every day.

journal every day. take a few minutes each day to write about what you did, how it felt, and what you can improve on for tomorrow. by keeping a log, you’ll be able to see that you’re making progress, even if you have some tougher days. #progressisnotlinear

i hope these tips help! these are the things that always help me come back from a big flare-up, and i’m putting them ALL into place this week as i get started again.

one final thing: share your #chronicbabe workout pics!

as part of MY process, i could really use your support. post your workout pics on instagram using the #chronicbabe hashtag so i can see i’m not the only babe doing a teeny tiny workout, wearing extra-snug workout gear, or getting weepy on the floor mats. and so i can see your beautiful faces! this way, we can really help each other. and if you’re not following me on instagram yet, get on it, babe! thank you soooo much!