climbing

Before I left physical therapy for the last time, my therapist told me a story.

A long time ago, he said, he hurt his shoulder. It wasn't as severe as my injury. There were many discrepancies, in fact : for one, his recovery timeline was finite, instead of alarmingly unclear. But eventually, he was told to go back to working out. And yet every time he exercised, he'd hit a threshold - a throb of pain would return - and he would quit, defeated.

Frustrated, he went back to his physical therapist (doctors for doctors, ya'll), who suggested he try pushing through the pain. As long as it wasn't a sharp, stabbing sensation, that doctor said, he should gently push for a week or two, and see what happens. Within a week, my doctor's pain was gone.

I must have looked at him blankly, because he laughed at me after he told me this story. The point, he explained, was to show me that I'm going to need to push myself, and push my joint to get stronger. The physical battle is just about over, he said, but the mental battle is, in many ways, beginning.

 

 

I've been running. It's been shaky and slow. I feel weight on my body where there was once muscle, honed from miles and miles of quiet, dark, city trails. It's been hard for me to remember what it is to be the person that once shot up ten straight miles of hills in a blizzard, and turned around to head back home with a frozen water bottle and a smile that cracked through equally frosted cheeks.

I've stopped to walk, and considered never starting again. It would be easy - too easy - to gently bow out of a running career. Many have told me this, that resting, that walking away from distance challenges is okay; that there is no dishonor in closing the door on that chapter of my life. How, then, to explain why I can't? 

When I run, lately, my lungs burn and my sides ache, but my legs, my feet - they remember. They twitch when I stop, they want to go and go and go until the rhythm of my sneakers hitting the pavement fades into subconscious. 

When I dream of running, I'm flying down a trail, no markers visible, no distance marked off in the distance - just the horizon.

 

 

You're going to need to push yourself.

A seven-word sentence that, to poorly paraphrase Whitman, contains multitudes. I was, at first, resentful. What have I been doing if not pushing myself? I steel myself against my reflection daily, trying to practice self love, trying to look in the mirror gently, reminding myself that I am not the injury. I am not my limitations.

What I am is exhausted - of trying to push myself to be whole again. 

There are moments when I don't remember that Becky left us, and in those moments I can focus on my healing, I can focus on my running, I can make plans for the future and daydream about what shoes I will buy with the just-slightly-out-of-my-budget dress.

There are moments I remember. In those moments, I still, sometimes, wonder if people can see the gaping hole in my chest when I walk by them on the street. It feels like a yawning, burning pit of sadness and it seems impossible to me that the rest of the world doesn't stare in disbelief as I walk by.

Five days ago was seven months and I didn't think about it all day until I woke up with a start shortly after 11 p.m. - close to the turning of the day - missing her so intently that my chest hurt too much to cry. Only then did I realize it was the first month out of all the months that I hadn't consciously realized what the date meant.

I lay awake for a bit, watching the blades of my fan slice through the air, and I smiled because I knew that though my heart was heavy, Becky would tell me to go back to sleep. To rejoice in being so busy that I was forced to honor her, that day, through a day fully lived.

You're going to need to push yourself.

 

 

Until this past weekend, the most I'd run was three miles. Slowly, haltingly, exceedingly afraid to trust my body to carry me any farther.

I went home for the weekend, and Saturday morning, suggested my mom and I run together. My inspiration to become a runner, my number one cheerleader and the sole reason I survived the first few weeks after my accident, we'd logged many miles together in the last few years, but none since the injury. This was to be our first run. This was, I decided, to be the moment I broke through my self-imposed threshold.

We chose a familiar hometown route but, like many Massachusetts towns, one that featured almost exclusively hills, including a particularly winding bear of a climb that would flatten out briefly, a tease, only to rise sharply up again, over and over, for at least a mile and a half. It was on this hill, I knew, that, I would pass the three mile threshold, literally climbing into the next phase of my recovery.

As we started running, I carried on a streak of conversation, talking more than I normally would - trying desperately to ignore the gnawing nerves in the pit of my stomach. We wound through familiar back roads. When we hit the base of the hill (the hill), we were just about two miles in, and despite a few twinges, I felt strong. 

I focused on my breathing, and fixated on a spot in the horizon. When I made it to that point, I picked another. Small distances, I told myself. Focus on completing small distances. 

And as I realized I was doing it - as I became aware of the absence of pain, I began to pull away from my mother. I knew she wanted me to just go, to test my legs, to push myself to climb the way I could before. I didn't want to leave her behind. I was worried I would fail, worried my leg would give way, and I would fall alone again, like I'd fallen alone before.

But my body made the decision for me. The rhythm returned, subconsciously. I felt my body leaning into the sharp climb, and I felt my legs lengthening my strides as my confidence grew. The hill was steep, I knew - but I also, suddenly, knew I could climb it alone.

At the top, I was too breathless to cry. And all I wanted to do was smile, anyway.

You're going to need to push yourself.