Encouraging: a saint on sadness.

I came across this blessed gift of an article this morning and wanted to share it with anyone (everyone) wrestling with sadness. It reminded me immediately of that list of Life Rules I scribbled down a while ago and made me curious if I have been faithful in following them.

Please do read the article (here’s the link again), as it’s far more eloquent, comprehensive, and smart than my list, because…well…it’s written by a saint. But here’s what resonated with me the most, especially in light of everything this blog — and my whole life — has ever been about:

Our bodies, brains and hands and eyes and stomachs and quads and intervertebral discs, are essential to the purpose of our lives. They are not in the way of our spirits, some temporary torture chamber from which we must be liberated or some hideous distraction that we are tasked to ignore.

When I was coaching, I would always ask, “If your body were not an obstacle, what would you do with it?” The answers that would come on the first day were typically harsh. There was this view that being fat, sick, depressed, exhausted or broken in any way disqualified the body from serving any purpose. The body needed to be punished, pushed out of the way, so that the “real person” could finally break out and grab hold of their true destiny. But every single time, without fail, as I saw people care for their bodies (often through the the sneaky trick of calling it a “challenge”, discipline words) — feed them good food, give them good rest, soak them in sunshine, expose them to beauty — their answers changed.

 

The question was never, “If your body (pain, weakness, depression) didn’t exist, what would you do with your ‘real life’?” It was always, “If your body were not an obstacle, but an integral part of the story, an asset, what would you do?”

I still set my body up as an enemy all the time. I shout at my body, curse my brain, slap myself with rules and challenges and strict discipline. Sometimes, a little discipline is what I need, but more often than not, I just need a shower or a poem or a very long time in the garden. Maybe a pot roast?

And all of it is prayer. All of it is setting my face like flint before the Lord.

 

An Alice in Wonderland sort of thing.


The language is, “My back hurts,” because, technically, that’s where the injury is. That’s where the bright red scar lives. But the pain itself starts like an electrical fire in my hip and burns right down my hamstring, jumps into my calf* like a hundred screwdrivers, and lands in the right side of the bottom of my foot as a strange, anticlimactic numbness. The fact that I’m mentioning the it today is either a sign that it’s worse or that my mania is better.

It’s only fair to point out that the pain was roughly 13 times worse before I had the surgery. Before the surgery, I could not stand, I could not sit, I could not use the toilet without sobbing. Nursing the baby involved labor breathing. Now I function, so the surgery was not a complete failure. It was simply not the home run everyone claimed it would be.

The mistake my first surgeon made was making the promise that I would be completely pain free after he sliced me open and cut out the broken pieces. We still don’t know why he was so wrong. Maybe he missed all the pieces? Maybe the injury was older than we thought and I just didn’t notice (what!?), or the damage to the nerve was so severe it formed scar tissue and is hurting itself. How tragic.

At the last visit with the new surgeon, we reviewed the latest MRI and he determined that there was no way to avoid more surgery, but gave me the option of taking a month off of epidural steroid injections, to see what chronic pain felt like, to see what I could live with. At the time I was high as a kite on brain chemistry so I cheerfully agreed.

So, I am bouncing on my stability ball this morning, counting out my millions of pills, wondering if I’m going to have to add more to deal with the pain, and who I will become if that happens.

*Gastrocnemius. Say it. I say it in my head about five hundred and twelve times a day.

Side effects and cream cheese frosting.

Between all of my wildly inappropriate responses to completely appropriate behaviors, questions, lighting, flavors, sensations, looks, tones, and temperatures, I am trying to be nice.  More than nice.  I am trying to love.

Loving while disembodied by all the pills I’ve swallowed, while shaking and forgetting every third word, is hard.  But I am trying.  I am thanking my husband for ordinary tasks.  I am hugging my children any moment the thought doesn’t undo me.  I am using excessive emojis when texting my mother.  I am accepting forgiveness as it is offered.  I am accepting gluten free carrot cupcakes as they are served.

And while I do not think the pills are working, the cupcakes seem to be doing the trick.

Homesick.

Do you ever get an overwhelming urge to just take off running?  Or do a handstand?  Or throw a barbell up over your head?  How about just walk up the stairs without needing to take a break halfway up?  I’ve had all of those today.

I was going to be one of those women the internet loves to hate this pregnancy. I was going to post videos of my massive belly, lovingly adorned in spandex, deadlifting right up to the end.  Hyperemesis gravidarum slowed me down in the first half.  I couldn’t even walk through the basement at the Y without stopping at every trash can to puke.  It was humiliating — not only did I appear to be getting pudgy, I was the wuss who had to stop and vomit halfway through a set of overhead squats.  I didn’t announce my pregnancy to any of my meathead friends, but once they figured it out, they would. not. leave. me. alone.  Who knew that all of these men who can’t figure out how to rack their own weights were all closet obstetricians?

My husband, the perfect man that he is, set me up in my dream garage gym so that I wouldn’t kill anyone or get us permanently banned from the Y.  I swear,the love I felt the day he built me that squat rack…it might have been better than my wedding day.

Despite the incessant vomiting (and intermittent ocular migraines that kept me locked in a room with blacked out windows for days at a time), I manage to train pretty consistently right up until the renovation shut down my garage (and my goodwill toward men).  There was increasing pain and pressure on my pubic bone, so I kept trying different support belts thinking it was just ligament pain and I would adjust and the baby will move and everything is just fine, etc, etc.  But then one morning, I tried to stand up and literally felt my pubic bone rip in half.

Turned out I’d torn what was left of the cartilage in my pubic symphysis and my bones were just grinding together.  My OB (who had previously given me enthusiastic clearance to lift throughout my pregnancy because, “You obviously look like you know what you’re doing.”  Kinda want to pay him extra for that.), told me my only choice was to “quit moving as much as possible”.  Then we both started laughing.  And then I cried.  He assured me that I would be fine eventually, but that walking and lifting would just make the situation worse until it could heal after delivery.  AFTER DELIVERY!  This was November!

I disobeyed for a little bit, thinking surely I could come up with a way to be hardcore without involving my pelvis, but my last workout was December 3, and it ended in tears.

That’s right, people.  I have not moved through space for longer than 15 minutes without crying in almost three months.  I wouldn’t be able to make it through Costco without all the couches in the middle.

So…this baby is due to exit my weary, waddling body in just five days.  And while there are still at least two months between me and a barbell, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting me really, really excited.

Some of the things I’m most looking forward to:

Long, long walks…

Stroller hill sprints (aka The Mommy Prowler)…

Time in the gym with my lifting buddies…

The ability to stand in the kitchen long enough to accomplish anything more complicated than retrieving an apple from the refrigerator…

My garden!

The new girl in the school room…

 

 

Lights are on, but no one’s home.

So, I keep waiting for something beautiful and interesting to come out of this commitment to show up on the internet every day, but perhaps my expectations are a little unrealistic for 38 weeks pregnant?  While I’m extremely appreciative of all the hard work my brain is doing right now, what with it’s regulating the survival of not one but two human beings all inside the same skin, I can’t help but feel a little…understaffed.  My brain just can’t get shit done anymore:

  • I call my kids by the wrong name now (there are only two!).
  • I put dirty dishes in the refrigerator instead of the dishwasher.
  • I go to the grocery store and stand in every aisle for what has to be ten minutes just trying to remember what the heck I’m looking for and there’s a list in my hand.
  • I had to draw a picture for my daughter the other day because I couldn’t remember the word spatula or think of any way to describe it.

And it’s not just my brain.  The rest of my body is having a rough go, too:

  • I can no longer get into or out of pants by myself.
  • I seriously considered just going to bed with my three year old last night because she asked me for a hug and I obliged only to realize that I could not extract myself from the bottom bunk.
  • I had a dream recently that I was a dresser (as in chest of drawers) with a head.  I had to meet my husband in an enchanted garden (naturally), but when I moved, my side to side dresser-like lumber dug up all the plants.  THIS IS HOW I WALK IN REAL LIFE.

 

From the journal.

The following was transcribed directly from my paper journal, July 3, 2013.  I was still brand new pregnant and starting to panic a bit.  I thought I’d share it with you because it’s a damn fine pep talk.

If you’re new here, brief history — I grew up morbidly obese, but have maintained a 100+lb loss for over a decade.  I gained (and lost) 60-70 pounds with each of my previous two pregnancies.  Before diving into this third pregnancy, I was a competitive powerlifter with a thriving health coaching and personal training practice.  Though I was never “underweight”, I carried significantly less body fat than I had in puberty which meant I was no longer ovulating, but I looked damn good.  Choosing our family over my body was not the easiest choice I’ve ever made.  But I made it.

***

When you focus so intensely on one thing, and that one thing does not change, not even one bit, then it feels like everything is stuck.

Maybe I am more than my body?  Maybe the sway in the scales in not because I’m not treating my body right, but because the rest of my self has needs and wants.

Progress I’ve made in life in the last three months not related to weight:

  • Successfully taken my daughters swimming almost every day since June 1.
  • Realized my husband’s true love for me and let go of the lie of not enough.
  • Re-established an authentic, loving relationship with my oldest friend.
  • Successfully increased all my lifts, including accessories.
  • Began piano lessons and practice 5 out of 7 days a week.  Progressing well.
  • Started Beatrice in piano lessons.  Progressing at lightning speed.
  • Made a summer schedule and sticking to it.

And I’m sure there’s more.  My life is moving forward.  I am growing.  And my goal is not just to be beyond reproach physically.  My goal is to be beautiful.

Am I beautiful?

The thoughts I’ve had lately most certainly are not. I’ve though more about the sacrifice than the worship.  I’ve mourned and moaned and even begun to desperately claw at my body and all the hopes and expectations of it slipping away. I’ve grieved more the loss of my body than I have celebrated the creation of a new one.

A new body.

My body for this body.

I am not the only one who changes.  My daughters change right before my eyes, transform from one being to the next.  Should they moan and shriek as their bodies change shape, as they put on fat and then height, as their hair changes, skin changes? They will grow into women who keep growing into mothers, then grandmothers, then great grandmothers.

Our bodies are never static.  A year ago my body was at it’s most beautiful, in my estimation.  It was lean, muscular, impressive.  And I wanted to lock it in.  Even if that meant no more babies, even if it meant I was barren.

But if my God is who I think he is, that is not a value we share.  God does not value my “leanness” over my family, his people.  God does not value my weight over the people he longs to make.

This body, this sesame seed sized body in my belly at this moment, houses a person God loves and is determined to reveal himself through.  This tiny person has been planned purposefully, thoroughly, perfectly.

I have prayed to have my body spared the ravages of fertility and pregnancy — but my actions, my willful participation in the creation of this person reveals my heart’s true desire.

My actions reveal my heart.

I chose to restore my fertility.  I put on 20 pounds just so I could ovulate again.  I fastidiously tracked every sign, fed myself the perfect foods, quit my job, and then intentionally, prayerfully, expectantly made love to my husband with the full intention of becoming pregnant.  I ripped apart the trophy so hard won.

Yes, I have desperately wanted to look better in my spandex.  Yes, I have been anxious about what building another baby would do to my body.  But despite that fear, I have done it anyway.

Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is action in the presence of fear.

Dear baby of mine — if someday you read these pages I hope that’s what you see.  I hope you see that your mama was terrified mess who trusted God so she kept going.

 

The work of fear.

Fear is always evidence that I am going the right way.  Fear shows up when I am stepping out of the boat, onto the water.  I know it’s just water, I know it should not hold me.

The work of God is this:  to believe in the one he has sent.

***

I always fear my work.

Some mornings I lay in bed before the sun comes up, fearing my first waking child.  I am afraid of the day that stretches out in front of me, full of conflict, noise, and people touching me constantly.  Everything will get dumped out, crushed, and sticky.  There will be disappointment, heartache, and lots of body fluids.

I fear the phone call at the end of the day, the sound of my husband’s voice, so heavy with fatigue I think it will break the phone.

When I write out my training the night before, I know it will be good when the numbers scare me a little.  How can I possibly put that weight over my head?  That’s insane.

Sitting in front of a blank page, knowing something has to go on it, something from inside me, I am paralyzed by fear.

Sometimes, I just walk away.  I do not pick it up, the kid, the phone, the first glimmer of an idea.  I do not fill my belly with breath and stabilize my spine.  I do not reach my calloused hands around it.  I do not do the work.  I choose to stay afraid.

But when I step up to the bar, yank up my tights, throw my shoulders back, my children are lighter, the weight of my husband’s stress is something I can move, the daily pain of relationships, mistakes, bad planning, and stupid choices is just a set of exercises that challenges every muscle, breaks me down just enough to build me up.

Fear becomes an invitation.

I am invited to feel real weight.  I am invited to carry loads I was convinced I could never bear.