On Saturday morning I wake from disturbing dreams: of my abuser coming after me–and of my cat purring in my arms while I rub my face against her silky neck and say to my friend “I know she’s died, but she feels real.” Of course, Kira did die and I’m awake only a few moments when I begin to cry for her–haunted by the memories of her final painful weeks and also simply because I love her very much and I miss her horribly. I briefly consider giving up and going back to bed, but I can run this morning. I don’t pull myself together right away–I’m very sad and I allow myself to cry for a while before proceeding with getting ready.
At the edge of the woods I take off my shirt and leave it in my car. Normal people would consider today hot, muggy and awful. I think the damp air feels glorious on my skin. I start my Garmin and begin to run. Right away, I notice the sensations of my altered gait; I am working with a physical therapist on recruiting my glutes to stabilize earlier in my gait cycle. It’s a total mind fuck. It’s difficult, tedious and confusing–but it’s going to give me the confidence to return to my accustomed volume of running with less risk of re-injury. It should make me faster, too–an unexpected bonus I grasp eagerly.
It feels like I’m sitting back as I run. I’m landing further back on my midfoot. That’s weird, too–but I trust that it’s better and I keep going. Barely anyone is out this morning. Before I know it I’m crossing a road where a truck waves me ahead of him. I’m grateful but nervous, and I flinch a little as I dart across the street at top speed and plunge into the forest on the other side like a frightened deer. I feel my heart thudding. I let the words of Lisa, my therapist, echo through my mind; “It’s ok to feel safe when I am safe, and I am safe right now.” I sail over a puddle and careen through a section of wildly zigzagging single track, flying through the deep green wood. I’m just starting to get in the zone when there’s a loud crash, then my scream, then I whip around to see a large fallen branch over the path I just ran. It missed me by about 3 seconds.
“Oh, fuck you!” I cry out to the offending tree limb and then stand for a moment, my hand over my heart, before I continue running. I notice a few times brief tension across the top of my right foot, then that I’m forefoot striking. Sit back, I coax myself. Focus.
I return in my mind to my last PT appointment where Brian is the new genius physical therapist teaching me to completely overhaul my running form. I’ve had past physical therapists assign me clamshells and calf-raises: I can do those all day long, no problem. Brian kneels in front of me, one knee before my knee, his hands guiding my hips as I stand on one leg, trying to find the place where gluteus medius kicks in to stabilize me.
“Why can’t I figure this out myself?” I wail in exasperation. Brian seems genuinely surprised.
“Laura, you just tried this twice. Are you always this hard on yourself?” Yes. Of course I am. It isn’t that I expect myself to be perfect so much as that I’m tired of suffering and desperate to find my way out of it. This is my fourth therapist in a week. I’ve seen Steven who jams needles in my neck to relieve the still agonizing effects of whiplash from my March car accident. Then Ashley, my vision therapist who talks me through eye exercises where I can’t see things properly and frequently have to stop and rest. Of course there’s Lisa, the therapist I’ve been seeing over a year for my PTSD. I am constantly and relentlessly working at healing. It is exhausting and frustrating–but I am not willing to accept a life of pain, fear and limitation.
Brian tells me that he has clients who don’t seem particularly bothered by a quality of life that includes chronic pain. He tells me they don’t work as hard as I do to get better and they certainly don’t break down crying in frustration at the end of a successful PT session. My frustration is motivating me to work, and my work will accomplish the change I need to undergo. He tells me I’m making better progress than I think–and that if it were simple I’d have figured it out on my own.
I left that appointment feeling bolstered in my acceptance of temporary discomfort. I’ve thought about how some of my therapists are clearly articulating my excellent prognosis and a recovery trajectory that they have seen before. They have the same confidence in me I’d have in a beginner yoga student wanting to arm balance who simply didn’t yet know how.
I see, in a flash, the reassuring smile of my physical therapist. With his blue eyes, short hair, his wiry endurance runner’s build–he exudes confidence as he looks up at me from the floor.
I bring my attention back to my run, and how I am still feeling that sitting back feeling. I haven’t worn supportive shoes in years, and my Vivos let me feel the rocks beneath my feet. Every now and then I catch a sharper one–and I’m continuing to feel these at the proximal heads of my metatarsals. This is further back on the soles of my feet than rocks used to strike me–I had a training partner who always ceded the better worn parts of gravel trails to me knowing once in a while a rock would hurt me. They aren’t hurting me now, and I take that as a sign of progress.
I round a bend and see another runner ahead of me as we approach a long ascent. I immediately notice that I’m closing the distance between us; I smile a little and pick up the pace. The concussion specialist recently told me I could start trying to incorporate speedwork and hill repeats again. I can feel the slight strain of my heart and lungs working harder on this incline, and the distance is shrinking between me and the other runner. Thoroughly enjoying myself, I give one more push to pick the pace up and whiz by on her left side, calling out “good morning!” Intoxicated by this tiny triumph, the familiar elation of feeling my speed makes fast work of the rest of the hill.
I look at my wrist; I’m running a 9:09 mile pace. It’s slow–but it’s not that slow. I see myself as I have been and will be in seven months–healed, at my racing weight, lean and strong and blazingly fast. I see myself running the 2019 Boston Marathon. I see myself as I am now; strong, determined, persistent as hell, resilient. Healing.