When Not Quitting Is The Miracle

Thought I’d post a quick update on my mini-triathlon quest.  There’s good news.  Progress is now detectable.  The trainer who adopted me at the YMCA is terrific, enthusiastic, and more importantly has learned to scale back her ambitions where I’m concerned.  Her early training schedule with six days of alternating weights, running, bicycling, swimming, and stretching with a seventh of optional hiking has been revamped to three days of weights and running.

And I’m consistently hitting two of them!  To the outside observer that may not sound like much…and the trained athlete of bygone days in my head would emphatically agree…but to the shell shocked depressive inside who’s spent the last six years floundering between seclusion and creeping paralysis, two days of successful sports training is definitely cause for celebration!

Honestly, I’m a little breathless at my biggest achievement to date…I haven’t quit.  It hasn’t been easy.  This whole thing has felt a lot like sailing along a treacherous coastline littered with underwater rocks.  Each time I start to pick up speed, working out two or three times in a row on schedule, I think Aha!  NOW I’ve got it.  Now I can unfurl the sails and really fly! Then I hear that damn thud and scraping on my internal hull and suddenly, for the rest of the day, I can’t even leave the house.

Which means I have to keep starting all over again and it’s frustrating.  Early on these frequent stumbles really scared me because I thought if they kept up, they’d eventually make me stop.  But two months into the whole thing now and my confidence is starting to build.  I wonder if this is what it’s like for an athlete who suffers a big injury and has to learn how to perform all over again with a new and different body.  Only in my case, the injury was to my mind.  Everything I used to take for granted…simple emotional discipline, mental focus, and freedom from chronic fear and occasional panic…is kaput, so I’m having to learn a whole different set of mental skills and strengths to compensate for it.

It feels good though, even if it’s producing some additional anxiety.  The hardest thing by far is making myself go to the gym.  You may not know this but gyms are very social places.  Lots of active, purposeful, energetic people all striding and pumping and pulling on complicated, noisy, bewildering equipment.  It’s like a ten freeway interchange with heavy traffic flows and well-orchestrated on and off ramps.  Everyone else seems to know exactly what they’re doing and then here I am, an outed hermit dressed in frumpy, old activewear, newly sucked out of my hole and doing my best not to trip and fall off the treadmill (yes…I’ve done it once so far) or hold up the line of nice but impatient people waiting to work on the weight machine I’m currently tangled in.

So much for dignity.  But in spite of everything I’m actually starting to feel individual muscles once in a while instead of the more generalized trembling and collapse I started out with, and the length of time I can run without walking is definitely growing.  I even tried my hand at running on the track yesterday, instead of the treadmill, and I’m happy to report that I didn’t trip, run into anybody, or attract undue attention with all the extraordinary bouncing going on around my chest, hips, and behind.  (The complex physics involved with fat on a jogging person is really something to experience firsthand, let me tell you.) I’m still trying to get a handle on the whole fashion element involved and have yet to figure out how all these women are wearing what amounts to tights with no…I repeat no…visible signs of underwear.  Surreptitious observation in the locker room has only revealed one thong so far, so something else must be going on.  The anthropologist in me is intrigued.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you’ve got an extra ten minutes, here’s an ESPN awards video telling the stories of two, physically-disabled athletes who have been changing the world.  Jim MacLaren, who endured two catastrophic accidents that successively stripped him of his athletic gifts, but who went on to make his miracles anyway, died in August last year.  But his inspiring legacy continues to grow through extraordinary disabled athletes like Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboa of Ghana.  Seriously, if you want something that both puts life in perspective and inspires you to keep hoping, watch this.

Because sometimes just not quitting is the most amazing miracle of all.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

I have a secret.

I think I may want to do a triathlon.

There.  It’s not a secret anymore. (How scary.)  I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m firmly committed though.  Don’t go getting all supportive.  I can’t just come out and boldly state I’M GOING TO DO A TRIATHLON yet, because the only-slightly-open-to-the-idea part of me who’s standing there perusing the brochure would startle, slide to the back of the crowd, and head straight home.  No.  I have to sneak up on her.  I have to peek over her shoulder and nonchalantly say Hey, a triathlon eh?  Interesting idea.  Think you’ll do it? No pressure.  No energy on it.  Just detached interest and vague agreement.  I have to enroll her in this and it may not be easy.

To be honest, even just thinking about it as a remote possibility is surprisingly emotional.  It’s strange.  It’s like how I imagine a woman might feel who long since gave up trying to have a baby, but then suddenly considered trying to conceive again.  The idea is fraught with the possibility of a lot of renewed pain, so I have to approach it carefully.

I’ve been pretty lost where my body is concerned for about a decade now.  Long, long ago and far, far away, in a mythic land of youth and pre-depression, I was a finely-tuned athlete.  At various times in my life I swam competitively, played tennis and championship field hockey, and as a gymnast was once invited to a training camp for the Olympics.  (I chickened out.  I’m athletic but not terribly competitive which was always hard on my coaches.)  I used to run for miles every morning for the joy of it, do twelve hour day-hikes through mountainous terrain alone, and if the tiny college I attended had only had a dance department I would have graduated with a useless degree in Tap and Modern instead of the useless degree in Literature I have today.

But then the depression came along, and for the next nineteen years or so it relentlessly ate away at my natural energy and drive.  Then perimenopause jumped onto the pile, too.  For a while I still had the advantage of strength and sheer momentum to keep me staggering ahead but, with the other two double-teaming me, eventually my body gave in and collapsed to the mat.  The weight kept increasing, the fatigue took over, my joints started to hurt, and it finally just seemed easier to give up and put it all behind me.  The old activities became distant memories.  All that remained were my daily jaunts back in the hills with our gradual succession of dogs.

(I think anyone who’s ever been willing to quit on themselves completely, but didn’t for the simple reason that their dog…leash in mouth…wouldn’t take no for an answer, will understand when I say just how much I owe them and why I loved them all so deeply.)

Over the years I’ve tried to school myself to forget the natural athlete I was, (like I schooled myself to forget so many of the other things that I lost through the worst of the depression,) and I thought I was doing okay.  But now, all of a sudden, out of the blue, I’m thinking Hey, maybe I can do a triathlon and it’s stirring up a whole lot of buried stuff.

For instance, I mentioned it to the woman at the YMCA (I just joined) who was showing me how to use the weight machines and, as soon as the words came out of my mouth, to my horror I started crying and couldn’t stop.  I was aghast.  At first I tried to explain but it was too hard to talk coherently with my face beet red and my heart pounding and my stomach sinking the way they were.  She seemed to understand anyway.  She waited until I pulled myself back together again, then offered to help me create a beginning training schedule, which we did.

It calmed me.  It was a step.

So here I am today, ready to openly admit that I’m secretly contemplating trying to consider to see if maybe I might want to try and train for a triathlon, just in case I actually decide to do one at some point in the undetermined future.  We’ll see if it happens.  Frankly, right now it feels like declaring for the summit of Mt. Everest.  But then again, you never know.

This kind of secret, insidious desire…the type that comes out of nowhere and challenges all the low expectations one has settled for over time…can sometimes surprise to the upside.  I just need to be careful not to crush it.  It’s like a teeny tiny flicker of flame.  I can’t just drop a log on it, that would snuff it out.  I need to feed this little, precarious dream with tinder and twigs in small handfuls first, until it gets big enough to put on a branch or two.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll wind up with a full blown bonfire at some point.  Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, I now have to go buy a pair of tennis shoes.  And then tomorrow I have to go back to the Y to work on the weights and swim laps for half an hour.  I seem to be able to commit to that much.  The rest…well…the rest will just take as long as it takes.  And that’s okay.  Whoever the tenacious, secret person is down inside me wanting this, she seems to be nothing if not patient.

image from Wikipedia

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn