This may come as a huge surprise to you, but IÕm exceedingly stubborn. When I want to be, anyway. Or when IÕm right. Which is always.
ÒNobody gets to be the boss of meÓ has been my mantra since the day I was old enough to spit strained spinach right back at whoever was trying to shove it into my mouth. But thereÕs something even more stubborn than me: Life. And when push comes to shove, nobody gets to be the boss of Life. Not even me.
I realized this last winter, when a bone in my arch collapsed and yanked the tendon that runs from under the calf to the arch. The full name is Òpost tibial tendonitis,Ó which is a fancy way of saying there are shatters of razor blades where the bottom of your foot used to be. Or at least it feels that way.
My choices were to have my foot surgically rebuilt and spend months in physical therapy or spend months in physical therapy and see if my foot responded. And if not, it was back to square one. I took the gamble on the latter, because the thought of slicing away strips of my calf muscle and heel bone to build a new arch had way too much ick factor. Right after ÒstubbornÓ on my list of personal attributes is Òsqueamish.Ó
In the beginning, I couldnÕt walk at all without a boot cast. Without it, I had to turn my foot to the outside edge and hobble on it like a stump. I worked my way up to tolerating orthotics and a little walking, and eventually weaned off the boot cast. The day I was able to walk around the block without pain was a huge victory. ThatÕs quite a new perspective for a former runner. Yes, Òformer.Ó My running days were/are over. That was crushing to me. Nothing feels as good as that push, push, push into an endorphin rush and then coasting. You canÕt reach that heavenly biochemical plateau walking. You just canÕt.
Part of my physical therapy included stretching, which IÕd stubbornly avoided for the simple fact that it hurts and I donÕt like it. So IÕm not doing it. Nobody gets to be the boss of me. Except my foot, turns out.
IÕd rather run a mile than stretch for a minute. Ironically, thatÕs exactly what caused my injury. When that navicular bone collapsed against my short, hard tendon, well … ever yank on cold bubble gum or Silly Putty and snap it? You get the picture.
Through physical therapy, I was shocked to discover that I had extremely poor fine motor control in my feet. I literally had to learn how to control them. Which improved my balance. What do you get when you combine stretching, balance and zero impact activity? Yoga. Which IÕd tried before and given up out of frustration. But Life was forcing me back there. I decided yoga was better than nothing and DVRed ÒNamaste YogaÓ off the TV. That way, if I fell over in my living room while doing Tree Pose, no one was there to snicker at me.
And then the weirdest thing happened: The longer I was in physical therapy, the better I got at yoga. And then something even weirder happened. I actually started to like yoga. Without the foot injury, I never wouldÕve bothered with it. And in the second half of life, yoga is possibly more valuable to overall health than running. But I only discovered this by force.
Beyond the injury, the flooding and subsequent de/reconstruction of my house has also forced insights upon me. While living at the local inn, my whole morning routine is out of whack. I still wake up at 4 a.m. like some sort of neurotic over-achieving rooster, but thereÕs no TV there. I canÕt just drink coffee and watch news programs until itÕs light enough outside to go walking. And you can only Facebook until the very edge of sanity, which takes about an hour.
True, I could read, but my homelessness-induced stress level makes concentration extremely difficult. I was starting to feel like a champagne bottle about to pop its cork. If I ever needed to run to alleviate stress, this was the time. But itÕs not an option. Next best choice: lap swimming. Unfortunately, the town pool is only open at times that I canÕt go.
A friend happened to tell me about this nearby fitness club he joined, and how he has access to a lap pool nearly 24-7, as well as weights, cardio equipment, yoga classes, pilates and more, and he gave me a guest pass. IÕd always resisted joining a gym, because I was too cheap to spend money on something I can easily do myself for free. But the combination of insomnia, toxic stress, a low-impact activity limitation and living in a public place where you canÕt just pop a Turbo Jam DVD into the laptop at 5 a.m. propelled me to give it a try. And I loved it. Looooooved it.
The easy access to the pool wouldÕve been ecstasy enough. But I discovered something else: You can get on an elliptical and hold the stationary bars rather than the ones that go back and forth, and close your eyes, breathe, turn your focus inward and clear your mind, just like in yoga, but simultaneously get a runnerÕs endorphin rush as the stress just drifts away. I never expected to feel that sensation again. And I never would have, had I not been forced.
So, ironically, the best thing that happened to me this year was the worst thing that happened to me. And IÕm not too stubborn to admit it.
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