Last week, after I spoke on a panel on reproductive stigma and justice, an audience member came up to me and said, “I know you.” I looked at her. I didn’t recognize her at all – a warm smile, brown skin, dimples. I squinted and said, “Really!” She said, “You’re Foodie McBody. I follow your blog!”
I was overwhelmed by a storm of thoughts and emotion. What blog? Hahaha. I haven’t posted a thing in months. And who? Foodie McWho? That person was a person who had receded so far away from me. I’d changed my Twitter handle and Instagram name, and nobody called me that anymore.
Foodie McBody was a person who, once upon a time, took her health by the reins and galloped into a transformation. There were years of glory. The first 5k! The Weight Watchers Lifetime key! The 10ks, the half marathons. Four of them. The two triathlons and more 5ks than I could count. I loved my health and loved my active body and I was just proud and glad, even through the struggles. I had little bouts here and there – a sprained ankle, a wrist flareup. But they all resolved within a month or two, and then I was back in the saddle again.
But then 2013 happened. I call it my year of pain. When my hip gave up after the Oakland half marathon, my last, and told me I might need to get it replaced. And then the fateful bounce on the trampoline that ruptured my cervical discs and brought me to a halt. When I could do nothing more than move, agonizingly, from one horizontal position to the next. Surgery, recovery and rehab in small, tentative steps.
2014 was supposed to be my comeback year. But it has not been that. After a brief triumphant walking 5k at the start of the year, I have been plagued by a thyroid condition that stalled my metabolism, and a foot ailment that won’t let up. Plantar fasciitis turned to posterior tibialis tendinitis leading to some sort of Achilles problem. My Achilles heel, indeed. Every morning I hobble out of bed like a 90 year old. Actually, I hobble out of bed more painfully and slowly than my own 92 year old mother, which is humbling, to say the least.
Do I want some cheese with my whine? Well, why not.
2014 has been the year of humble. But if I’m honest I also have to admit that it’s been a year of fear. Recently our family re-watched Spirited Away, one of those hallucinogenic Miyazaki films. One of the most disgusting images is this creature, the Hungry Ghost, that eats everything in sight – frogs, bicycles, humans, and keeps wanting more. It grows into a mountainous blob of sludge, its arms outstretched, and stinkily consumes everything in sight. When our young heroine refuses to be intimidated by the ghost, and doesn’t run away from it, it starts expelling the contents of its innards. Finally it shrinks to a fraction of its enormous size, and silently boards an underwater train, presumably bound for freedom.
That image has haunted me. And I think that that creature is like my fear. It reminds me of the Before version of Foodie McBody. Before I charged into healthy living in 2009, I was afraid of everything. Afraid to move. Even when it felt good.
For much of the time these days, I am paralyzed by fear. Only recently I’ve been able to venture into small, almost laughable activities. I join a weekly AquaFIt class at our pool, where most of the participants are ten, twenty or even thirty years my senior. For an hour we splash around the pool with foam weights and noodles. It feels like play, but when I climb out of the pool, I have to admit it’s kicked my butt.
I walk silently in the redwood forest near my house. Today I did a silent walk and in the quiet green I thought about my fear. The sky was white, a little blue, like the inside of an ice cube. The air I moved through was chilly and perfect, and the sun blinked uncertainly through the clouds every now and then. What am I afraid of? I am afraid of pain. My left heel sent out little jolts. So what, I said. So what. It’s not killing you. I notice. What do I notice. It’s like electricity. It’s like heat. It’s like a twangy little song reminding me that I’m alive. I liked the feeling of my legs. I still have muscles there. They’re still strong. I pushed up the gentle incline and I didn’t wheeze. I didn’t die from shortness of breath. I was doing it. It was just a walk. Calm down, I told myself. You’re okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Worse than the pain, though, is the shame. The pain of shame. Of knowing where I was three years ago, that relentless athlete that swam in the icy, salty bay. The one who looked fear in the face and climbed on the bicycle, up hills, up so many hills, near whizzing cars and dogs. I ran and ran and ran. Three or four days a week, tweeting about my six pain free miles, my happy eight miles. These days I would consider it a victory to walk a 5k, to make it around Lake Merritt without sitting down, without limping. This is the greatest pain. To look in my closet and push aside the majority of the clothes, because nothing fits.
How to find compassion? That is what I want for 2015. The year of compassion. To say, it’s all right. You’re okay, whether you never complete another triathlon again. Whether those 15 pounds stick around like old friends. You’re okay. You’re okay.
These days do not look like 2010 or 2011. These days look like walking in the beautiful trees, like greeting my gray haired companions in the shallow end of the pool. Of meditating every morning, first in silence and then listening to the calm, warm voice of my teacher, leading me through the compassion meditation. Open to the possibility of being kind to yourself, he says. Open to the possibility of appreciating your life.