I've always struggled with self-esteem issues; in my head, my body was always too big, too slow, too round. I did not like how I looked and doubted I ever would. Strangely enough, it ultimately took major knee surgery on my ACL and meniscus for me to finally stop hating myself.

When my doctor told me I needed reconstructive knee surgery the last month of my senior year of high school, I cried. A lot. I had been having serious knee pain after dancing and cheering for years. It got to the point where I couldn't bend my knee properly while walking and I had major fears of it dislocating.

Two months before graduation, the MRI results spilled everything; I had torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus. It was a Grade II tear: a normal ACL is about 50 fibers of ligaments. I had only 5 fibers left holding my knee together. I needed surgery as soon as possible. It was senior season; prom, graduation, the last summer before everybody left. I was going to spend it on crutches.

Surgery (and Recovery) Sucks...

Sydney Jenkins

The surgery itself was totally fine; I had it the week after prom and two weeks before graduation. What I didn't realize was that surgery was the easy part; recovery was the real ordeal.

My mom had to help me shower, get up and down stairs, and drive me everywhere. I couldn't even sleep on my side anymore because it put too much pressure on my knee. My high school has a tradition called the "Boxer Run' where all the seniors run around the school in the morning in boxers and sports bras. It was something I had been excited for since freshman year and I  obviously couldn't participate. I later hobbled across the stage on crutches at graduation.

I was at an all-time low. Recovery was hard, I had major FOMO, and I just wanted a normal summer. I hated my knee for doing this to me and I hated that I couldn't do the things I could before.

...But They're So Worth It 

Sydney Jenkins

I was on crutches for a total of six weeks. By the end, I was hopping around on one foot to avoid using the crutches. I practically had biceps of steel. After I was off crutches, I immediately started physical therapy. I spent probably a third of my summer in my physical therapist's office and my nurse definitely saw me cry a few times.

However, as the summer went on, I could literally see and feel myself getting stronger. It was a big deal when I could bend my knee more than 45 degrees. Little things like walking normally and sitting cross-legged suddenly became a huge cause for celebration. I was so proud of myself for working at recovery and for making so much progress in a short amount of time. Time carried on. I wanted to be "normal" before I left for school and I was determined to make that goal.

As my physical therapy continued, my confidence increased ten fold. Instead of hating my body for what it looked like, I was over the moon for what it could do. Even though I wasn't back to 100%, my perception of myself had totally changed.

The first time I went for a run after my surgery, I was glowing for hours after. Never mind that it was the slowest mile time I had ran in months! I could walk. I could run. I was normal. And I was so grateful. My body wasn't ugly; it was a badass powerhouse that could carry me for miles and it took me way too long to realize that. 

The Aftermath

I still struggle with body image but it's not nearly as bad as it used to be. I appreciate what my body can do so much more than hating what it looks like. I'm still in physical therapy and working my butt off at recovery. And it's still hard—but my body is so much stronger than I give it credit for. And so is yours.