Tiptoeing into Physical Therapy

A year and a half ago, I pushed my body too hard, too fast and I have the back injury today to prove it. I began physical therapy for said injury last summer, when I was most certainly not well enough to do so. My goal at the time was to run again. Yes. Run. I have to run. If I don’t run I will never stop gaining weight. My disorder was delighted at the idea of starting physical therapy, but my body knew better. I did all of the exercises, but my injury persisted. Perhaps because I was not eating nearly enough to repair the damage I had done to my body, much less build or repair any muscle for exercise. Thus, I was forced to rest and take my disorder’s goal of running off of the table entirely.

In the last year or so, the injury to my back has been a constant burden. It hurts to walk for extended periods of time, to bend over, and even to sit down for more than a few minutes. I started physical therapy again a few months ago, but I have had to proceed trepidatiously. I have had to make it clear to my therapist that my goal is not to become a marathon runner. My goal is the live the life I want to live without pain. This week, I noticed that walking the dog for extended periods of time was causing me immense pain. Because I want to be able to go on long walks in my life, this is a problem. Physical therapy may indeed be the answer, as long as I don’t let my eating disorder see it as a new way to sneak in more caloric expenditure, or a new set of rules to instill upon myself.

When I went to physical therapy today, one comment made by my therapist stuck with me. He remarked that it was surprising that I was so active and in such good shape, yet my muscles were relatively small. I didn’t have the courage to say, “Well, that might be because I starved half to death and could see my muscles diminishing under my skin as my body fought to stay alive,” but that is the truth. As I walked out of my appointment today with a new set of home exercises sent with me, a reality struck me. The fact of the matter is, I am not your average physical therapy patient. I am a patient in recovery from an eating disorder, and I will need to put recovery from this illness, the one that could have claimed my life, as a priority above completing my physical therapy exercises. Yes, they will help me to get strong and that is something that I want. But no achievement in physical strength is worth taking steps backward in recovery. Physical therapy should enhance the life I want to live, not limit it.

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