“Live baby live, now that the day is over.” My friend Elise is quoting me old lyrics from INXS encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone. You are young, you are beautiful, she says. You need to go out. You need to find somebody.
Ouch. Does everyone notice that I don’t? Probably. I can make up a million excuses why I stay in my comfort zone, but the truth is there is a weakness there that I am avoiding. A fear, if you will, of what is on the other side. Too much murkiness. What if I get hurt?
My physical therapist is pretty much telling me the same thing about my fitness routine. “What are you doing now at the gym?” She inquired, yesterday.
“Oh, just a few things. If I try to go back to my normal routine, it doesn’t work,” I said.
Her eyes widen. “You mean you feel pain?” she asked, alarmed.
“No, no, no. It’s not that. It’s trembling. It’s weakness,” I explained. “I am afraid that my leg is not ready.”
“Ahhh, then. That is different.” She looked at me seriously. “You must confront the weakness and go after it. Don’t move around it anymore. Confront the trembling. Build on it. You have to reclaim your strength directly.”
When she said that, I knew that she was right. When we started my therapy together, Xochilt would always move me into the exact positions that I was struggling to avoid, pushing my injured leg back to stretch the hamstring and calf until I was sure that I couldn’t take it another second.
Three weeks later, I am now more flexible doing that exercise than maybe I ever have been in my life. Even if there is a lingering sensation of injury at times, that leg can now move in a way I never would have predicted.
But laying weight upon it is a different matter. Even going up and down on the balls of my toes feels like a shot in the dark. I used to do around 100 toe lifts a day. But now, will I wobble? Yes. Do I even feel the ground with my injured leg? Sometimes.
“No matter”, says Xochilt. “Do it! Even if it is 20 (puntaditas) you have to start facing that weakness or it will never go away.”
“And lunges?” I ask. I am not sure that my leg can support it.
She tells me to try it right then and there. I breathe deep and focus on lowering myself to the ground. It is awkward, but I can do it. Maybe I cannot do 3 sets of 10, but surely I should be attempting something there to shore it up and now I know it.
“Live baby live…” I stay up late talking on the phone with my friend Hisham who has the inverse advantage of waking up fresh in Beirut. As a committed athlete, he has been injured too many times before and he understands what I am going through. Every time he writes or phones the first question he asks is, “How is your back, Kelly?”
I know that as the minutes tick by that I will wake up in a terrible position the next morning, but I do it anyway. Elise is right. The days are full of toil and the night is for reclaiming happiness and human connection. I feel infinitely better going to bed late, more joyful and even when I think there is no way I will wake up to workout, I find myself at Junior’s Gym the same as always the next morning.
My mind is set. I am going to make this time here count. I am going to do it all. I may not be fully 100% back to normal, but I can give a lot more than I have been. I have to pocket my fear of re-injury and face my weakness or I might continue to tremble while I should be plotting how I will set about breaking my own boundaries.
I moved through all my exercises this morning, somewhat cautiously, but deliberately. I didn’t feel any pain, but I did feel a leg that was begging for more attention.
I gotcha now. I get what you’re saying! It’s not that you want me to leave you alone, you want me to engage you. Okay, let’s do it! Let’s get into this.
So I ran the whole strengthening routine and it was sweet! Over a month of me piecing my way back step-by-step and here I was lunged deep onto a leg that I wasn’t able to walk on for an entire week in March. I was high as a kite walking out of Junior’s today full of adrenaline and satisfaction.
It’s a funny thing those weaknesses that we instinctively avoid. How many of them might be the true source of our most essential pleasures, successes and happiness?
I have a sense that this is the time to find out.