These past few months have been quite an emotional and existential journey. I’ve been struggling with a mystery illness that’s left me exhausted, foggy, tingly, achey, and weak. As much as it’s been difficult physically, it’s been even more challenging mentally. Having doctor after doctor tell you there’s nothing wrong when you know in your bones you are ill, shrinks you down after every appointment. It’s taken a toll on Dave, too. The stress and the unknown (as well as the physical discomfort) can be overwhelming for everyone I love.
Even more, feeling my health slip has taken the confidence I’ve spent years carefully assembling and casually kicked it off a cliff.
For the past few years, I’ve taken a newfound pride in being strong. And by strong, I don’t mean I can squat my bodyweight. It was mostly a state of mind. I could carry my bike or lug 5 bags of groceries into my apartment without breaking a sweat. I felt energized by the feeling of my heart pulsing in my ears and accomplished after a hard workout. I loved the ability to playfully hover off the ledges of tables and scale walls at the climbing gym; I felt like a kid again, wholly uninhibited. For the first time in my life, I was proud of my body. I didn’t feel so much like the un-athletic, uncoordinated kid who tried every high school sport and was immediately relegate to the B-squad.
Over the past 6 months, this feeling faded. The weights I lifted a few times a week felt heavier every time, but I wrote it off that I wasn’t exercising as much as I was a few years ago. At one point, I was struggling to lift 5 pounds and make it through yoga without pain. I could barely make it up the stairs without my legs aching and finding myself as out of breath as I felt on a run. In a word, it was demoralizing. I couldn’t stomach the thought of losing the strength and vitality I’d grown into. Let alone the thought that this could be just the beginning. That I would never get to fulfill dreams of biking a century or hiking Kilimanjaro or any other physical feat.
“For A Girl”
I’m not an incredibly competitive person (unless it’s against myself), so why do I hold so tightly to my newfound athletic identity?
On my last bike ride, I had a realization. This ego check has been even more difficult because I want so desperately to be an example for my gender. I want to be fast not because I want to be the best, but rather, to beat down the idea that women aren’t capable. Or that they’re too delicate or they don’t want to be dirty or have mud or spit or bugs on their face. I want my presence on the trail to signal to the little kids (and adults, let’s be honest) who pass me that THIS IS FOR GIRLS, TOO. I guess I’m also trying to convince myself, in a sense.
That women can be messy and gentle and strong and emotional and athletic and smart…and still be desirable.
And also, that being desirable isn’t the only thing that makes me valuable.
I hope someday soon I can get back to that state of mind and body. But for now, I’m working to at least accept a new perspective. I don’t have to be fast or even strong to be powerful and valid. I can still be an example whether I’m first or middle of the pack or even dead last. Some days I feel hopeful that we’ll figure out what’s happening and get started on the path to recovery. Other days I feel like this will be my new normal. Most days are somewhere in between. But the people who know me well will agree that I’m as stubborn as they come, and this time is no different.
I don’t want to be strong “for a girl.” I just want to be strong.