Monday, November 14, 2016

Never say Never

I joined a gym.

Even over the months that I typed nothing here, I often composed posts in my head, pondering how I'd start that opening paragraph - capture attention, initiate a story.  I can think of nothing more shocking than the statement above though.  I've been in exactly one gym - as a reluctant visitor when I weighed perhaps 80 lbs less than I do now, upwards of 15 years ago.

"Why," I remember asking Carrie, a friend from grad school, "would people pay to come here?"  The rows of machines, brightly-lit free weights, people pulling and pushing and bouncing around.  I shook my head - even if I liked working out (I don't), there are options at home!  Videos, games on X-Box, walks through nature!

So it was with no small amount of trepidation (read intense anxiety) that I drove to the building with the neon-orange sign, walked to the door, opened it then another door and hovered just inside the lobby that smelled strongly of rubber.  Like brand-new shoes or those mats that sort of give under your feet when you step on them?

I stuttered when the manager, wearing a bright orange bandanna around hair that emerged vertically from the top of his head, asked if he could help me.  I finally managed to explain that I wanted to look around, consider joining?  Or I could just escape - scamper back to my car, I thought when he called for a young man from the pack of them huddled around desks stacked with those giant tubs of protein powder.

"I don't belong here," I told Cam, staring at his elaborate hair style briefly before shaking my head and wondering if I were old enough to be his mother.  (Answer: probably.)  "But I'm not doing well - I'm sick all the time and I'm getting older.  And maybe if I take better care of myself, I'll feel better."

He nodded encouragingly, showing off the features of the building over the the thumping pop music that urged people to move.  I only relaxed for the moments we were in the pool area - the chlorine scent soothing me as did the quiet splashes and slow movements of the elderly folks drifting through the water.

"OK," I agreed when he asked me to join, returning his happy grin almost involuntarily and handing over my credit card.  It's like money, I told myself as I watched him painstakingly enter my information - once I was in the habit of saving, the dollars just accumulated.  And now I have more than enough, even when I splurge on things.

"You'll hit a positive spiral here," the guy I saw the next day promised, echoing my thoughts.  I laughed when he wrote down "help" over the spot where I was supposed to list my strength and cardio routines.

"I can't even think of a plausible lie," I told him.  "I have no idea what a routine would even be."

Then - after 3 days of going to this gym that stresses me out and sitting at a desk talking about my goals (My goal, by the way?  To show up there and try to exercise without hating every second.  That's it - that's my goal.), I finally met my trainer, hired to coach me twice a week for the next two months.

His name's Pete.  He wears a little topknot.  He's unphased by my distinct lack of enthusiasm.

"Slower through the resistance," he coached after teaching me how to adjust the leg machine.  I winced when my knees crackled.  "No, pull from your back," he corrected, touching the right muscles while I frowned and tried to get them to pull accordingly.  "Ass out," he noted when I was doing squats (Good gracious but I hate squats).  "Knees can't go over your toes."

I see him again tomorrow.  This trainer I hired.  At the gym I joined.

Because I'm taking afternoons off on FMLA to try to get better.  And while I wait for a new medicine to work, taking care of this body that carries around my mind and soul seems like a reasonable plan.

"Track your food," Pete requested after having me download an app on my phone.

"I'm never going to do that," I told him.  "My plan was cardio.  I'll do strength training since you feel so strongly about it.  But food?  That's mine still."

"Just track it," he said.  "Some of it - baby steps."

Never, I thought - or at least not soon.

I've tracked every single morsel since I left the gym last Thursday.  And when I wondered who in the world I am, I remind myself that I'm trying to get better and wonder if I might be wrong when I think this will never work.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Disability? Personal problem?

My dad, when confronted with a complaint he considered invalid, would often turn his pale blue eyes on me and remark, "Sounds like a personal problem."  Then he'd grin within his snow-white beard while I'd roll my eyes.  I blink back tears now because he's been gone upwards of four years and some of his phrases have fallen from my vocabulary - I used to use "sounds like a personal problem" a lot but just as the sharpness of grief dulls, so do the... strength? frequency? of those little links that connect you to those you love and see most.

It is not the worst of times of late.  It's not good, per se, but it's not the worst.

"Katie," my current boss said, eyes kind but mouth screwed into an impatient grimace, "I need you to get better.  Fix this."  And I nodded because I agree.  I'm great - brilliant, even! - for a sequence of days.  I fix problems, progress projects, coach team members and giggle with the team.

Then the fog I call "depression" settles over everything and I feel sick and disconnected.  I don't much care, but when my feelings spark to existence, they're bad - dark dread, crackling anxiety, hunched-over-please-don't-notice-me guilt.

One day, I was settled in a private office in southern India, half a world away.  Staying at a five-star hotel after a business class flight, I was staggered by the contrast of feeling like such a special, pampered snowflake versus gazing wide-eyed behind prescription sunglasses through the windows of my chauffeured car at the masses of people in the narrow, dirty streets with the endless honking of horns.

Despite the guilt of privilege, I was productive.  I had tough meetings, made big decisions, guided discussions with knowledge, humor and grace.  One evening, flushed with success, I FaceTimed Mom, as was my daily routine, and found her weeping.  Chienne's lipomas had grown heavy and grotesque and we'd waited too long to have them removed, fearing the surgery would not return my old, blind girl.  I'd made the appointment before leaving but procrastination punished Mom rather than me.  The chest tumor had broken, leaving the house liberally splashed with blood and Mom inconsolable.

So I sat in my beautiful room overlooking the gracious pool in the foreground and slums farther afield and made frantic phone calls, begging for help from home - an earlier surgery date, please.  "My mom," I explained, "she can't do this.  We lost my dad - Jim - and were helpless to save him.  This feels the same - we need help."  But three clinics apologetically declined and I was reminded that power and self-sufficiency are elusive.  I could get anything I wanted there in Bengaluru - food or drink, fabrics or jewels, massages, laundry service, towels folded into whimsical animals.

But I have little control over matters of importance.  I bowed my head and prayed, reciting the Lord's Prayer, my favorite arrangement of words, and waiting in silence for guidance and peace.

I returned home to a post-surgery puppy-dog who'd done well.  Mom clung to my hand after I tossed luggage in the back and rode home from the airport.  Brother was here too, smoothing his hand over Chienne's greying-brindle head and softly speaking in soothing tones.

But as my canine companion recovered, I did not.  Her wounds, carefully tended, oozed and scabbed grotesquely but slowly closed.

Mine did not.  I was missing more work.  Listless even when present.  My favorite phrase - "I don't care" - came from illness, the fog that surrounded me rather than the Katie-ness that exists within me.
"I need to fix this," I told the nurse who shares my employer on the phone, headphones in my ears while I parked by the river and waited for Pokemon to happen by, desperate for the distraction.  "I want time off, I think - half days?  To join a gym.  Actually go to the therapist my doctor has recommended.  Try to learn to live within this disease and understand how to thin the fog if I can't clear it."

"You have a couple of choices," she explained, not unkindly.  "It's either disability - where you'd be off full-time, likely inpatient care or daily therapy appointments.  Or you could take personal time off - get your life together, organize your closet, stuff like that."

My eyebrows raised, the fog gleefully separating enough to let irritation arrow in.  "Organize my closet?" I clarified, not waiting for a response before continuing.  "It's between those.  I'm not completely incapable nor I am completely capable.  At least not on most days."

But she didn't understand - I suppose it's difficult unless you've dwelled within the fog of mental illness to truly appreciate the effects.  So I thanked her for her time and looked forward to my doctor appointment the next day, preparing to beg for help again.