So after boasting about getting a lighter version of the pneumonia/strep crud that was making its way through our house, I ended up getting it for real last week. So much for my older, stronger immune system. And then of course I hopped on a plane for a college visit with Riley, because that is what you do when you feel like you’ve been hit by a train. Now, I knew that I’d been on antibiotics long enough that I wasn’t contagious, but my fellow travelers did not. Fun fact: if you want the person in front of you to stop reclining her seat, simply start coughing like you’re about to launch your lung into her lap. She may have given herself whiplash getting that seat back into its full upright position.
It was a fine visit, despite my health, and I was able to walk around campus pretty comfortably and with only a slight limp. For the previous college visit I was still using a cane to keep me steady on my feet, something that I thought made me look distinguished and kind of badass, but I was startled to find out that not everyone saw me like that. Starting with the woman who, when speaking to me, talked VERY LOUD AND SLOOOOWLY. Like because I had some walking issues I was automatically hard of hearing and didn’t speak English or something. It made me want to hit her over the head with my distinguished/badass cane, and it made my heart hurt for people who have to put up with this kind of thing all the time.
So I’ve returned to most of my exercise classes, and I’m steadily working my way back to my pre-surgery fitness level. The flexibility, however, is definitely going to be a bigger challenge. I think my tendons, ligaments and such are so very excited about the new hip that they’ve clamped down on it in a sort of über hug that makes movement a bit of a challenge – either that, or they’re so angry that someone came and cut them all up AGAIN that they’ve erected a wall of scar tissue to keep this from ever happening again. I personally prefer the first scenario, as I like to think that my body is on my side, but whatever. Things are tight, we can just leave it at that.
Apparently over the six weeks that I’ve been gone, my spin class instructors have fallen in love with Tabata. Tabata is a form of interval training, or at least that’s what they tell us. It’s a Japanese word that I think translates roughly to “I can’t breathe,” and it’s a really nice way to return to exercising when you’ve taken some time off. Not really.
But the thing about being breathless is that it reminds me of something my friend Joy said to me. You remember her, right? The pillow whisperer? She’s a nurse and came over to my house to help me wrangle pillows and other props so that I could get some sleep. Anyway, I remember that at one point, when she was trying to help me roll onto my side, she saw me wincing and coaxed, “breathe out with the pain.” Yep, I’m a breath holder. When something hurts or I’m stressed, or even just concentrating hard, I don’t breathe. Specifically, I don’t exhale. I just hold it. “Breathe out on the pain,” she repeated, and I did. And guess what? It helped. I used that a lot in my recovery after that – with each movement that I knew was going to hurt, I made a conscious effort to breathe out on the motion.
I’ve thought about that quite a bit since then, and even though things don’t hurt as much as they once did, I still catch myself holding my breath. When I do, I try to think, “breathe out on the pain.” And I realize quite often that even if it’s not physical pain causing me to hold my breath, it’s something – stress, emotional hurt, worry – and that holding my breath means holding onto whatever that is. Exhaling doesn’t magically make it go away, but it’s still a physical release, a letting go. And exhaling means you have to inhale (duh), and oxygen is good for you in a lot of ways, aside from just the keeping you alive part. Also, when you hold your breath and then release it, that first inhale is pretty sweet (you’re doing that now, aren’t you? It’s ok, take a second. I’ll wait…). Remembering to breathe sounds simplistic, almost ridiculous (like do I need to remember to blink or have my heart beat too?), but for me, it’s been huge.
I woke up this morning crabby. Too little sleep, a lingering cough, a document that I can’t for the life of me convert to pdf, and then a dog that decided on our walk that he needed to stop at a fire hydrant so desperately that he dragged me though a mud puddle to get there (and really, a fire hydrant? So cliché. I thought you were better than that, dog)…oh and did I mention that my next scans at Mayo are coming up in a few weeks? Yeah. I was totally holding my breath.
“Breathe out with the pain.”
Breathing out with the pain, with the bad, with the stressful… means breathing in with the love, with the good, with the hopeful. There’s no magic to it, just a reconnecting, redirecting, and a remembering that we breathe because we are alive. And it’s good to be alive.
Did I mention that this all came from a friend named Joy? True story.