What You’re Worth

If we aren’t what we were, what are we worth?

This thought came to mind this morning after I listened to the latest episode of a podcast hosted by my college friend Tara and her girlfriend Julianne. In it, they mention Big Fit Deal, and talk about how I walk half marathons and work out every day.

Except… that’s not me anymore.

Interestingly, it was one year ago today that I had surgery on my calf and ankle. For years, I’d been suffering from nearly constant pain in my ankle — while I was walking, standing, driving, sleeping. I also had a chronically tight calf, to the point that if I did a lot of standing or walking, my heel would come right up off the floor.

I spent five years trying to fix these problems through physical therapy. I spent literally thousands of dollars trying to fix my leg. After one surgeon told me he “could” do surgery to help my calf, but didn’t recommend it because my calves would be asymmetrical and I would no longer “look good in high heels,” I finally found a surgeon willing to help. She removed a bone chip from my ankle the size of a lima bean, and also performed a gastroc recession to help my calf (basically make the gastrocnemius muscle longer).

Surgery recovery included this sweet purple cast!

Today I have zero pain in my ankle, and it’s still a wonder to feel this way! I can take walks, drive on long road trips, and sleep through the night without my ankle giving me grief. I’m still rebuilding my calf; some days it feels long and strong, and others it’s crampy and tight. Stretching is my friend!

So, as Tara and Julianne mention, I used to walk half marathons and work out basically every day. (Historical note: it was seven years ago today that I was fat-shamed by a personal trainer, which was what started my journey here! June 5 is apparently an important date for me.)

I’m not that person any more. My body isn’t the same, and neither am I. Some days I do a lot of physical activity. Some days I take a two-mile walk around town. Some days I lay on the couch and watch Avengers: Infinity War (yes, again). Some days I dream about another marathon medal being hung around my neck.

For a long time, I measured my worth by those medals. I measured my worth by the miles I walked, the calories I burned, by the rapid beat of my heart. I worked out compulsively for a long time, in the hopes of re-shrinking my body, and then when I began my BFD journey I worked out because I loved it and it made me feel good.

My marathon medals. Photo by Annette Lein, Democrat and Chronicle.

Since my surgery — and in the years before it, when I had to constantly push through pain — my fitness level has plummeted. I’m not the Big Fit Deal I was before. Does that diminish my worth?

I’m still the same smart, kind, funny, loyal person I was when I was 100 pounds lighter. When I was power-walking dozens of miles a week. When I swung kettlebells like it was my job.

It’s hard, though, isn’t it, to find yourself worthy when you’ve changed? It’s hard to find yourself worthy when society has expectations of you and your body. And even if you learn to stop caring about those expectations (because they are all about aesthetics and definitely not about health, despite what the hand-wringers — and companies that want your money —tell you), you still have your own expectations to contend with.

Every day, I recalculate what I’m capable of, reconsider my goals, and recalibrate my expectations. Those 13.1 miles give way to a slow walk around the neighborhood, testing the flexibility of my calf. The hours in the gym transform into hours in the yard, mowing and gardening. I adapt and adjust.

I don’t owe anyone — even myself — another medal. I don’t owe “good” health to anyone. Neither do you. Because health is not a measure of worth.

Health is not static. We suffer injuries and setbacks — physical, mental, emotional, financial. We get diagnosed with diseases and conditions. We are or become disabled. Our energy levels change. Our priorities change. Our bodies change.

As I look back on the past seven years — when I think about that fat-hating personal trainer, the 12 medals on my wall, the beautiful fall morning in Maine when I broke my ankle, the countless laps in the pool at the gym, the quickening beat of my heart, the slow decline of my endurance and ability, the pain of surgery and the struggle of recovery and the blessed relief from pain — I think about all that I’ve accomplished, all that I’ve left behind, and all that’s to come.

I’m not what I was, but I’m still worthy.

So are you.