I strive to be strong. I love being active and find joy in pursuing physical activity. As a result, the main definition of strength I connected with was about having increased physical power. This kind of strength is visible and something everyone can understand. It’s what every athlete strives to be.
However, life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome doesn’t always let me be the type of strong I want to be. I have athletic aspirations that I am not certain my physical abilities will allow. I want to run full marathons, complete an Ironman triathlon and ride my bike across the country. On my good days, these dreams stay alive while I train and and gain the physical strength needed to achieve my goals.
It’s on the bad days when doubt comes creeping in. These are the days I don’t feel strong. The days when I wake up with intense joint pain that won’t fade despite my every attempt. The days I come home from classes and all I can do is lay on the floor because its the only position that slightly eases my back pain. The days I’m exhausted and have barely eaten because it hurts too much. These are the days I grieve the life I wish I could lead. Even on these days, the athlete in me still yearns to get active even though it’s not possible. It’s hard to know when to push through something or just stop and listen to your body.
Once during a fairly rough string of days, I was telling my friend how weak I felt because I wasn’t feeling well, but still really wanted to get my workout in. I was frustrated of letting my body control my decisions and wanted to feel the strength of a long run again. It was then she suggested that maybe I just needed to redefine what strong meant to me.
It made sense, I was struggling with the mental aspect of the bad days because I felt like I wasn’t as “strong” as I would have been on a good pain day. So by default, I felt weak. When in reality, these bad days are actually when I am my strongest.
I’ve realized strength isn’t only about winning races or lifting lots of weight. Maybe strong is just being the best version of myself. Strong is knowing pain will accompany my life, but still setting high goals to achieve. Strong is accepting the bad days and understanding limitations. My life might not be “average”, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to feel strong. Strong is different for everyone. What’s your definition of strength?