I have always been proud of being a strong woman. Even when I was young I was described as “tough” and “no nonsense” (while sporting the most feminine of lacy pink frocks – I was born tearing down that juxtaposition it seems). I have been called “fierce”, a “shit kicker” and a “bitch” with both approval and disapproval in equal amounts. These monikers feel like a perfectly tailored cocktail dress – they fit me and I wear them well. They are family heirlooms and I shine that badge of not taking anyone’s crap with pride.

I equally take pride in my physical strength. I’ve been weightlifting for about six months and I absolutely love it. I can deadlift 20 lbs more than I way and that makes me feel like Wonder Woman and Xena had an amazonian warrior princess baby and that baby was me. My kids marvel at my ability to do pull ups. Friends ask me advice about lifting. It is all glorious and rewarding.

However, my body does not always live up to the “tough lady” persona. I have struggled with anemia in one form or another since I was born. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, it was not a struggle. My parents had to feed me liquid iron when I was an infant, I am told I eagerly awaited each metallic drop that hit my tongue (a fact my grown up palate can’t quite accept), but for the majority of my childhood and teenage years it did not affect me in any noticeable way. My parents were strict about the steadiness of Flintstone’s Vitamins that I took and occasionally I would have to take an extra supplement. I was a normal healthy teenager who played soccer and ran and swam. I did not think of it.

As I grew older and had my children, the anemia started to pop up more often. It was always mentioned and monitored during my pregnancies and I had to take iron supplements on top of the prenatal vitamins to keep my levels up. I was miserable, mostly because I am not what one would call a “glowing” kind of pregnant person, and I was tired, but I worked out of the home right up until the end of gestation without issue. I had to watch what I ate but with diet and supplements it was utterly under control.

In the past five years things have worsened steadily and the verb “struggle” is very real these days. When my levels are low I am exhausted – ran a marathon and then swam for hours level of exhaustion. I get dizzy if I push myself too hard. I have horrible stomach issues and I get muscle aches in my hips and legs. When it is severe sleeping is difficult and the act of eating soup is so physically draining I have to lie down afterwards. A few years ago I got the flu when I was anemic and I was bedridden for a week. My doctors thought I had mono.

Last week was a bit rough, my levels bottomed out. I took it easy, upped my supplements and skipped the gym. I had been feeling better, not quite 100% but better and I decided I could tackle arm day.

I looked at Fitocracy and saw that I had bench pressed 80 lbs before I was anemic. Usually I tack on five pounds every week, but since I am still recovering from feeling so bad I decided to keep it at the same weight. I loaded up my barbell and did one set of four. It was much harder than the last time I did it but I got through it. I took my normal 60 second rest and then went at the second set – off the rack, down and up “one”, then down and slight panic. I could not get the bar back up, my arms were too weak. The dude who was casually spotting me asked if I was okay as I dumped my weights. My cheeks felt hot and I muttered something about just not “cutting it” today. I sat there for a moment, remembering how I crushed it two weeks ago. I had even done an extra set for fun, with the same weights that were littering the floor around me. Memes about how your arms don’t give out, your mind does flashed through my head. I thought about how the people who write them have no idea.

Perhaps, because I have been gifted with such a strong personality it makes it more difficult to swallow when I am physically weak. I feel unbalanced, like I’ve accidentally gotten the wrong physical form.

It has taken a lot of time for me to readily admit that sometimes I am weak.

It has taken a lot of soul searching to accept my body.

And the most colossal effort to be kind to it and listen to what it is saying, no matter how much I don’t want to hear: slow down, take it easy.

Today, I physically could not do what I did with relative ease two weeks ago.

Today, I did something that took more effort than a bench press – I  listened to my body, took a step back and replaced the weights minus five pounds.

I did not give up. I did not feel defeated. I modified my workout, finished arm day and then ran intervals.

I did not get a PR today, but I have no doubt that I am strong.