Archive for August, 2019

I’ve written here before about how being physically active over the last few years has changed my life. It’s changed my body, definitely, but it’s also changed the way I deal with emotional, mental, creative, and intellectual challenges. The freedom I’ve found in becoming fit is, for me, the thing that will carry me into my later years. Watching my parents fail physically was enough to terrify me into making major changes in diet, exercise, and life philosophy over the last eight years.

My friend, Jen, got me hooked on hiking and canoeing two and a half years ago. Once I’d slimmed down enough to exercise more, I found excitement and freedom in being outside every day, no matter what the weather or the season. Okay, I still don’t like -30ish degree winter days, but my goal this winter will be to try cross country skiing again–to get better at it–and I also want to be brave enough to learn to skate. I really want to learn to skate, but I’m afraid. My dad fell and hit his head on a rock out in the bush and was paralyzed; since then, well, I worry about my head when I slip and fall by mistake anywhere near sharp edges or ice. Anything to do with hitting your head, for me, makes me nervous…just from having watched that scenario with my dad unravel. I know it’s likely silly…but it’s something I am afraid of…

I love exercising now. Someone told me the other day that I might be ‘addicted.’ I bristled at that notion. The thing that it does is that it allows me to be healthy mentally and physically. I wouldn’t be well without it being a part of my everyday life now. Four or five years ago, I would’ve likely hated the person I am now, but I know it would’ve been more born of jealousy and even apathy on my part. Then, I wasn’t well at all.  It has been quite the journey…and the lessons have been big ones.

Last year, I took aerial silks classes in Windsor. I loved it. I’ve been missing it horribly since I’ve been home in Sudbury. I always seem to need to find things that challenge me physically now. This summer, I tried stand up paddle board yoga…but it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped and that really disappointed me. I could do the yoga poses, in some cases, but I had the hardest time standing up and finding balance on the water and board. Having one leg a centimetre shorter than the other makes me angry sometimes, because it does stop me from doing certain things. Having a staple in one hip does affect me and what I can or cannot do. When my leg stops me from doing things I want to try, I get angry…and usually when I get angry, I cry…mostly because I’m frustrated with myself. And then I feel sad and just start to cry all over again. (Such a charmer…why I’m still single, likely…)

This summer has been hard. I’ve come up against a pretty big personal challenge, since early June. There’s no need to go into detail here, and I won’t. I choose not to. I’ve written about it in essay form, and there are some new poems that speak to it all, and maybe they will see the light of day sometime, but now isn’t that time for me. A few very close friends know a bit about it, but very few. I’m working through it. It feels massive to me, and most days it feels as if I’m pushing a boulder up a hill. It isn’t depression, but it has to do with the past, and that’s something I thought I’d already grappled with and moved away from. I’m learning that our minds are vast countries, and that memory is a tricky animal. I’m learning a lot…and some of it…well…I’d rather not learn about, but will.

Then, through June, my eldest dog was very ill. Sable was my mum’s dog, so having to euthanize her was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. Her going brought back a lot of grief from my mum’s death. Odd, I know, but true. (I have made peace with death, with loss, and with grief over the years…and it’s all taught me the most important lessons about valuing life and about not wasting time. Life is too short not to be happy, I’ve learned, or maybe just even to be content.)  In any case, these two things–events really–made me feel as if I was wearing a heavy, wet wool sweater through the middle of a humid July. I’ve pulled in a lot because of this personal challenge that’s arisen without warning, and I’ve turtled a bit, and if you’re too nice to me, I might cry. These things happen…I guess. I explained it to one friend by saying, “These days, my insides are on my outsides.” Not exactly where you want them all to be, but it’s just part of the process…

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing this to be honest, but also to say that when things happen and when things really shock you, you need to have tools to manage, especially if you’re on your own. For me, over the last eight weeks, this has been mostly been about being even more physical than usual. An overload on the mental and emotional fronts means that I need to be more active, and more often outside in nature. There, I know, I can be strong. For me, dancing for about five hours a week has been a lifesaver over the last few years. Even when I’ve walked into a class with a metaphorical heavy wet wool sweater on, I’ve been able to forget while I’m dancing, and to get stronger as I go.

The thing, though, that has given me the most peace this summer is swimming. My friend Nancy lives on a lake and I’ve been swimming there for a couple of years. (I honestly didn’t even like my body enough, when I was depressed and overweight, to wear a bathing suit, so the Summer of 2017 was a new kind of baptism for me. I might have been a size 12 then, but was not comfortable in my own body. Years of medication weight gain will do this to a person, I think, and you fight a lot of demons inside your head as you get well. Your view of yourself is always off kilter, somehow, and you are always “in process” as you get healthier.) Now I’m a size 8…and I’m fully happy in my body. It took time…for so many reasons…

Last year, when I was living down south, there really wasn’t a place I knew where I could go swimming — or even a friend who I knew would love hiking, canoeing, or swimming as much as me — so that was something that was lacking for me. I missed home a lot because of that. I hiked all the time, but it was solitary and that was hard. Gull’s good company on hikes, but I always love a conversation with someone smart and funny. This year, being back around the lakes I love, has been a great joy. This year, I’m swimming more often than hiking, though. Things shift. This is all right.

What I love about swimming is that I feel strong, yet graceful at the same time. I feel free. So, with a difficult couple of events happening, I’ve gone straight to the water I love so dearly. When things seem a bit much, I can breathe again when I get into the water and set off on a long swim. The distances I started with this summer have grown, and I’ve gotten stronger. I’m faster, more certain, and I think a bit more fearless, which is something I always try to strive to be in life. It’s a new kind of love affair. I rowed in my 20s and 30s, but gave that up when I was very ill. In the middle of the coldest winters, now, I get a thrill from snowshoeing on frozen lakes, and that’s relatively new, too. My love of swimming, though, has blossomed beyond what I had ever imagined.

I’m not the best swimmer…not by far. My uncle, Jeno, was the swim coach at Laurentian when I was young, and we often had swimming classes there. Had the little coloured badges to prove it, too. But that sort of chlorinated swimming never really interested me. In my 20s and 30s, when my parents had their camp on the West Arm of Nipissing, I used to swim along and across that swift current of The Narrows, and I loved that place dearly, but it still didn’t have the appeal that this new sort of swimming has for me. Now, I can’t stop swimming. I love swimming at night, under the stars, and I especially love swimming alongside geese and ducks. I don’t like when lily pads hit me in the shoulder (as one did yesterday), or when I brush up against a small log with leaves attached (which happened tonight on a very rough swim in Long Lake). But I do love diving under, knowing I’m going to come up and take a deep breath, and knowing that my stapled left hip and shorter leg is stronger than I had imagined. I like that I feel a bit like a bird…when I’m swimming or dancing. I may not look it, but I feel it inside my body…and that’s all that really matters to me these days.

The most difficult thing I’m dealing with right now isn’t something I can just push through or over. It’s a ‘go deep inside’ kind of journey. It’s a twice a month therapy session and a lot of journaling. It’s thinking about what the past was about, even though I really don’t want to, and it’s about trying to know what truths are real, and which ones aren’t. And it’s about knowing that your mind is much more complex than you’d ever given it credit for. It isn’t simple, even if I’d really like it to be. I’m having to pull in to deal with it, which I’m sure is confusing to people around me. It means that I need to be quiet inside, so I can hear more clearly. It’s about learning that the word ‘trauma’ carries a weight with it, and it’s about being okay with crying when you need to cry. Mostly, it’s teaching me that being vulnerable is hard, and that being less afraid is hard, and that this life is a real lesson in how to find beauty in places where beauty may not have usually or typically lived.

I’ve grown a lot in the last two years. I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve lost a few friends because of that growing. I can’t apologize for that, though. Sometimes we walk each other along the path for varying periods of time, I’ve learned. It doesn’t lessen the beauty of the time we spend with one another. We can still value and honour that time, but it also doesn’t mean that you should hang on too tightly to people or places that you once loved. You can still love them, but in a different way, and sometimes that has to be from a distance. I’ve learned this lately, too. Things that I used to think were ‘broken,’ that I could try and ‘fix’ by apologizing and changing myself to suit someone else…well…that just doesn’t work anymore. It means that I’ve lost people. But it also means gaining some new ones, too.

When I think that I almost chose not to stay on the planet ten or eleven years ago, when I was very very ill, I am so grateful that something made me stay. I fought hard to stay and, even when difficult things arise–and there are always difficult things–I can see the beauty in the darker bits. I can see why I am who I am now because of what nearly broke me. That really is…well…it’s a gift.

The poem I come to most often these days is Mary Oliver’s piece, “The Uses of Sorrow.” I have always loved Oliver, and I love that my yoga teacher and friend, Willa, introduced her to me in a class a long time ago. In “The Uses of Sorrow,” Oliver writes: “Someone I love once gave me/a box full of darkness.//It took me years to understand/that this, too, was a gift.” That quote’s on my fridge. Has been for a while.

Right now, I am in a solitary space. I’m inside myself, in a quiet centre, trying to sort through a bit of a messy memory. I know it’s just a plant that needs pruning. I’m working on that, on pruning and taming this wild little plant from the past. I don’t love it. I’m trying not to hate it because hate is a useless emotion for creating new things. It’s really very uncomfortable and painful, but I just know that it is what it is for right now. It’s not forever. It’s just for right now.

In the meantime, I’ll be swimming a lot, and I’ll be dancing a lot, and I may be a bit of a turtle. Some people will go, and some people will stay, and I’ll definitely emerge from this particular turtle shell as another new sort of woman. In some ways, I suppose, it’s how things emerged from ancient seas, up onto the land…(re)creating themselves as they went. I’m curious to see how this goes…and what’s coming next.

To quote that famous little fish, Dory, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!” Wise little fish, that one. Wise. Little. Fish.

footselfie.jpgLong Lake.

lake photo.jpg

Lake Nepahwin.

(Thanks to Larry and Nancy for the Long Lake dock, and for the Newfoundland stories. And thanks to Nancy and Kirsti, for the friendship, the laughter, and the swims….and for the peace I find there. I am always grateful…and glad.)




Read Full Post »