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Underestimating Strength with Chronic Pain

Barbell Pushup Smoke

Part of my gym membership includes two personal training sessions with the handsome trainer at the gym who seemed nice…until he tortured me for half an hour, that is.  I recently took advantage of one of my sessions with the trainer, whom I had spoken to on several occasions while working out.  He had given me tips before and he knew about my back and pain issues before the training session, so I figured “he will go easy on me, he knows about my back issues.”

I was wrong. And I was glad I was wrong.

He did not go easy on me, not by a long shot.  As a matter of fact, after the first exercise, when I was able to catch my breath that is, we had the following brief exchange, before he started counting and I started praying for time to speed up:

“Don’t overestimate my strength.  Remember, I had back surgery.”

“I know.  I have been watching you workout for months.  I know exactly what you are capable of.  I am not overestimating your strength.  Actually, Tracy, I think you underestimate your strength.  You are capable of a lot more.  You are a lot stronger than you think.”

And that one sentence spoke volumes to me.  Not just in the gym, but in life.  I took those words to heart and I really have been thinking about them.  This happened a few weeks ago and I had to process this for quite a while to be able to write about it.  This exchange and subsequent training session has changed my approach to exercise, as well as life.  When I stopped and thought about it, I realized…I am stronger than I ever realized.

In the past several of years my body has been through hell, and yet despite everything, my body has emerged in better shape than ever.  Yes, I live with pain.  I will always have pain, but, this body that was unable to move at 300 pounds 18 months ago is now considered “normal” weight.  This body can now move, exercise.  This body can walk, something I wasn’t altogether sure it would do after the last surgery.  My heart and my psyche have also been put through the paces over the last couple decades.  I have fought depression since long before I was old enough to comprehend what I was fighting.  I have suffered through bullying, heartbreak, divorce…but I am still here, I am still fighting and I am still smiling.

So, why did it take a stranger pointing this out to me at the age of 34 for me to finally see how strong I really am?  Why couldn’t I see that for myself?

I think there are a lot of reasons.  From a chronic pain standpoint, I believe that when you spend a long time being sick and/or in pain, you are emotionally downtrodden and no matter what you do, no matter what anyone says, you view yourself as weak, because the pain makes you feel physically weak. I also believe that chronic pain and illness also has a tendency to lead to the perception of weakness by others and therefore we begin to perceive ourselves in the same way. From a psychological standpoint, I think the years of bullying, depression and then marital problems had made me unhappy.  When you are unhappy it is very hard to feel strong because the tendency is to judge yourself for being sad, even if you are not to blame for your circumstances.  Ironically, it is when we are fighting through those most difficult of times that we ARE the strongest, we just can’t see it.

Regardless of the situation, everyone reading this blog is stronger than they give themselves credit for.  If you live with chronic pain and you are getting up every morning and still living, still fighting through the pain, you are stronger than you think.

When the trainer pointed out that I am stronger than I realize, he was referring to my physical strength…what he gave me was the insight to realize that my strength of character is what is truly strong.

Photo courtesy of Louish Pixel via Compfight

Underestimating Strength with Chronic Pain

Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”

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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). Underestimating Strength with Chronic Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Nov 2013
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