Lane 9 Project’s May 2018 Writing Prompt: It was supposed to be easy
The room was cold.
Nestled in bed, I pulled the warm quilt away from my groggy body and glanced around the room. Clothes draped over a full length mirror, which was turned to face the wall, my doing the night before. I rolled out of bed and made my way toward the mirror. Grabbing it’s edge, I turned the mirror halfway toward me. My therapist’s voice echoed in my head:
“Don’t force anything, just see if you feel invited.”
I turned the mirror back toward the wall, continuing to hide my reflection. I don’t feel invited. At least, not right now.
The sun peered through the thin curtains. Snow blanketed the backyard, but it was melting in large, loud splashes against the gutters and tree limbs. I tiptoed across the cold tile floor and made my way to the bathroom.
I couldn’t hide from this mirror. So I stared, blinking at the woman looking back at me. Glancing over her tangled hair and bright, blue eyes, I fixated on her cheeks. My cheeks. Cheeks covered in red and maroon hyperpigmentation. Cheeks dotted with ice-pick shaped scars. A series of imperfections. A reminder of where my body and I have been, and what we’re working through.
I turned on the shower and slipped off my t-shirt and running shorts. A cursory glance in the mirror became a lingering curiosity. The body looking back at me — my body — had never felt so personal. I looked away from the mirror and paused, looking down toward my feet. I placed my hands on my hips and noticed the curvature of my stomach and thighs. I turned back to the mirror, matching physical sensation with sight. This is my body. The body I’ve worked tirelessly to change. The body I’ve taken for granted. The body I’ve neglected, hidden, ignored, and rejected. The body that will never look like I think it should.
I’ve looked in the mirror countless times, calculating the number of runs necessary to achieve perfection. Choosing my meals for the day based on what is looking back at me. Shifting, shaping, and pinching the parts of me I desperately want to change. This time, however, was different. Staring back at me was speckled skin, a soft stomach, and hardened thighs. And it is all mine. I smiled, a brief, timid smile. For a fleeting moment, I found contentment. I found joy. I found acceptance. And it was sourced within my own body.
This is new.
My body and I have had an interesting relationship.
A series of rejections, unrealistic expectations, and unhealthy habits severed the relationship between my mental and physical self years ago. I split myself in two: There was my mental self — the one with the vision of how I should look and behave — and my physical self, my reality, without the insecurities, ego, or warped inadequacies. Years ago, I silenced my physical self, and, after more than a decade of ignoring my body’s pleas for rest, recovery, and nourishment, it called my bluff. I developed an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and with that diagnosis my life quickly changed.
It began with acne — a sudden onslaught of red, painful cysts over my entire face — and culminated in bone-crushing fatigue. Weeks and weeks of fatigue. First, I tried to fight through it. I chastised myself for being too tired. I declared myself weak, needy, and melodramatic. Symptoms worsened, and the lifestyle I once lived — an energetic, fast-paced, predictable lifestyle — slipped away. I wanted something to blame, so I blamed myself. I did this, I thought. The years of disordered eating and compulsive exercise. The amenorrhea and osteoporosis. The hormonal imbalances and mismanaged cortisol levels. I dug this hole.
I hated my body; it let me down. But I also let it down.
Despite the crippling fatigue, I kept running.
I willed myself out the door, desperate for a sense of normalcy and routine, to feel my body move, to control something. Running was laborious and harder than it should be. It left me depleted, but I kept going. Through various other treatments, things started to get better, bit by bit, but the fatigue remained. Finally, my doctor recommended I slow down, everything. Including running. I immediately rebelled and rattled off a list of excuses — I’m fine. Running’s fine. It’s a stress reliever. — but it all came down to one thing: Not running terrified me.
So I stopped doing it.
My relationship with running mirrors my relationship with my body: a circuitous journey of love, hatred, passion, and distrust.
Running has been taken away from me many times — countless bone injuries, some mysterious niggles, and a couple episodes of burnout outline this relationship. This, however, was the first time I’ve made the choice to step away from my running shoes. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
It began with a set amount of time away from running.
And all exercise for that matter. The rules were simple: Gentle movement only, and I must eat breakfast first thing every morning. As soon as I gave myself permission to not run, I stopped craving it. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with it. I felt immense relief. My body had been pleading for rest, and it finally got what it needed.
In this initial phase, my physical symptoms immediately improved. My energy doubled, my mood stabilized, my blood sugar settled, I was less edgy and anxious, intuitive eating was actually intuitive, and my relationship with the dinner table and my body (particularly its reflection) took a 180.
I no longer felt the need to “look like a runner”. I no longer felt the need to change my natural body size and composition for the sake of appearing like a waif-like marathoner. Without my daily run, I forced myself to accept what I see in the mirror. Like that snowy spring morning, I discovered a new level of comfort in my own skin. For the first time, I was working with my body instead of against it.
I made the choice to not run — and in that choice I chose to prioritize my health and recovery. I couldn’t run away from myself anymore.
The second phase wasn’t so easy.
I was ready to run again, but I was afraid. Afraid of losing my hard-fought healing. Afraid of going overboard. Afraid my history of obsession and addiction would rear its head again. I went for a handful of runs over the course of weeks, but it felt wrong, like I was breaking some unspoken rule. I wanted someone, anyone, to tell me what to do. I wanted a point-blank answer — running is either okay or it isn’t. I was drowning in the sea in between.
For a while, I tried to convince myself running is bad for me, and in a way, I needed this convincing. I needed this reminder that life goes on without a daily run. That people — thousands, millions of people — live their lives without ever running a single step. And that’s okay. I don’t have to run. And in recognizing this, I realized, I really, really want to.
So came the third phase, my current phase, the return of running.
I tread cautiously. Not wanting to return too soon, I vowed to only run when I really wanted it, when lacing up provoked excitement and joy. Fear lingered, but throughout this process I learned to take it day by day, to listen to everyone, and follow no one. Everyone has their opinions and expertise, whether it be about autoimmune disease or running, but only I know my body, only I can take responsibility for how I treat it. This body is mine. It is a body I’ve worked so hard to run from. A body I’ve deemed unacceptable, a work in progress, and “almost there” for years. It is a body I’ve tried desperately to change. And it is a body worthy of love and respect, regardless of the miles I ran, the food I ate, or what I see in the mirror.
This morning, the room was still cold. That full length mirror is now in my closet, pressed up between storage containers and piles of running shoes. I don’t need it anymore. I make a quick glance in the bathroom mirror between brushing my teeth and throwing my tangled hair into a makeshift ponytail. I see a body capable of doing the things I love, a body able to explore and write, a body ready to give hugs and dance in the car. Maybe, it doesn’t matter what my body looks like, so long as it can do the things I love.
I lace up my running shoes and head out the door. With tired legs and heavy lungs, I clambered down my local running path like an awkward baby elephant. I am blissfully out of shape. Taking a break from running was incredibly healing for me — I lost fitness, I lost speed, and I gained everything.