Besides the loneliness, no byproduct of Covid has been as common as the extra pounds gained during quarantine, the “Covid 19,” as my husband jokingly calls his. I have struggled to find a healthy balance with food and exercise throughout most of my adult life. I’m either counting every calorie and morsel of food or eating like I have just been voted off of the Survivor Island. Through the years, I have kept three benchmarks of weight: my wedding weight (which came from eating no more than 1400 calories daily and taking two fitness classes daily), my pre-pregnancy weight, and, currently, my marathon weight (which came from running twenty-five miles weekly). In any picture of me in my adult life, I can tell you what I weighed when the picture was taken. I can tell you whether I was in a healthy, unhealthy, or between phase. Why is it that a person who is usually so sensible wastes brain storage on such useless knowledge?
When news came that we would be returning to in-person learning, my first concern was my coworkers seeing me ten pounds heavier than I left them. When I made a move to a new school, one I had taught at years earlier, before I became pregnant, I was terrified of returning to the building twenty-five pounds heavier than I left it. My fears regarding returning to the real world after quarantine and injuries are based on people noticing my weight gain. I am currently up thirteen pounds from my marathon weight. I nursed a knee back to health. Two spots on the bone of my right foot were reshaped. My Achilles tendon was patched and reconnected. I spent six weeks on the couch with my foot in a cast, allowing healing to take place. I survived the physical healing and the mental stress that comes from pain, isolation, and feeling useless. Yet I return to work worried about seeing coworkers who remembered me a thin(ner).
After six weeks of recovery, I returned to school to meet my students, eager to Get to know them and settle into routines after two school years of upheaval. Very few students asked me about my injury. I overheard two students inquiring about me. “Why was she out of school?” one asked. “I dunno. Looks like she might have just had a baby,” pondered the other. Maybe they’ve just come to assume that every woman out of work for an extended period is on maternity leave. Perhaps they believed that my soft tummy was indicative of someone who had recently given birth instead of someone who had been nursing an injury. Regardless of the assumption, my heart stopped. Joke’s on them; I’m too old to have a baby, but they didn’t know that.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we attach so much of our self-worth to the size of our pants? Why do I include any current weights in my memories? How does that make memory better or worse? How do I end the cycle and realize I am so much more than my weight or my pace?
It’s been eight weeks since I had surgery to fix two bone spurs and a torn Achilles tendon. It feels like it was years ago and a blink at the same time. It’s been eight weeks of books, bad TV, and sitting around. Getting injured during a pandemic means more time by myself than I’ve ever spent. It’s reassuring that I can do so but makes me fearful to return to work and real life. Because I’ve always been awkward in social situations and tend to avoid them, the pandemic and the injury were not terrible for me.
Two weeks ago, I was cleared to begin putting weight on my foot. After six weeks on crutches, this was a huge step! While I was afraid of overdoing it and causing more damage, my foot is kind enough to let me know exactly when it is done, almost like flipping a switch. Eager to get back to normal, I’ve been doing my exercises every day. Since I’ve been fighting this injury for seven months, I’m familiar with which moves increase strength and flexibility. While being unable to run, I focused on yoga, earning my 200-hour yoga certification. Resuming physical therapy is strange and humbling.
My body can do some things as nothing happens but flat out refuses to do something I never considered difficult. For example, I couldn’t step on my tiptoes. After a few days, I could stand on tiptoes using both feet, but my right foot refused to lift independently.
This week, I attempted a twenty-minute yoga session via the Peloton app. Downward dog, considered a resting pose, made my legs burn. It felt good to stretch. Banjo was disappointed that I laid my mat in his prime morning sunbeam, disrupting peak napping.
Through this entire process, Mike has been patient and amazing. He took care of Michael, me, and the house. He took Michael to practice baseball a few times a week, walked Banjo, and took care of every household chore. As I’m starting to get stronger, our exchange has become a mantra, “Look at me go!” followed by “Look at you go!”
I can stumble to the kitchen to get my own Cheerios. “Look at me go!” “Look at you go!” I can get upstairs to bed on my feet instead of crawling. “Look at me go!” “Look at you go!” I can walk around the block. “Look at me go!” “Look at you go!”
I have big plans as I continue to recover. They begin small, such as walking Banjo. I’m going to complete the virtual Boston Marathon, even if I had to walk it solo as I did for the NYC Marathon. I contacted Rhode Races to get my comp code for volunteering at the Newport Marathon. I will be signing up for next year’s Narragansett Half-Marathon.
Be prepared for many more cries of, “Look at me go!”
I admitted that these past few weeks have been challenging in terms of emotional well-being. Six weeks sitting on my butt is not helpful to someone who stays busy to keep mind and body from getting bored.
If you’re not following Awesomely Luuvie on social media, you need to stop everything and do so right now. She frequently discusses mental health. Her quote about keeping busy as an avoidance technique resonates with me. She understands why I feel like I cannot just sit, which is what I’ve done for the past six weeks.
I have been trying to keep my mind as occupied as possible, reading books and watching so much television. This week, I had the meltdown that has been brewing. While I’ve been watching mindless movies, The Starling came through after a rom-com finished. I got sucked in, resulting in sobs. Between these sobs, I realized that I had not yet received the sign from my mom I usually get whenever I’m having a rough time. This made me feel even more alone.
When Michael came home from school, he was doing something he never does. He was singing commercial jingles. All afternoon, he sang the jingles to Nestle Crunch and a few other products. When Mike asked him why he was doing it, Michael explained that he “just felt like it.” It hit me that my mom used to do this all the time. She’d often do so in public, which embarrassed me to no end. I called my sister, who agreed, “I can hear her saying ‘you wanted a sign. Here’s your sign, asshole.'”
I went to bed assuming that I had my small, passive-aggressive sign that my mom was not going to make me sit on the couch recovering for eight weeks by myself. The following morning, while scrolling Facebook, I noticed something in the background of a post by a local consignment shop. It was a ceramic Christmas tree like the one my mom had when I was growing up. I’ve looked for one for years, able to find one similar, but not exactly like the one of my youth. I immediately called the story, gushing about how much finding this means to me. The owner listened, explaining that she enjoyed this part of the job, and she would put the tree aside until my husband could pick it up that evening. When I called Mike to tell him, he offered to pick it up at lunch.
Eleven years after losing my mom, it does not get easier. I wonder what her relationship with Michael would be like. When I was pregnant, I called her every afternoon to update what he had been doing in my tummy during the day. When he was an infant, she would be perfectly content staying on the phone listening to Michael drink his bottles. Eleven years later, wondering remains between reminders that she will look out for me when I need her.
If I can be honest, I am fully aware of my need to only post positively on social media. I have never mentioned the death of a loved one, accidents, or illnesses. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in delivering such news person to person. That being said, I am always thankful when others post about the passing of people close to them so I can attend arrangements and pay my respects. So this is a weird double standard I’ve created for myself.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to be positive and keep things in perspective, but it is hard. I’ve spent five weeks sitting on my butt, watching documentaries, mind-numbing movies, rewatching my favorite TV series, and reading books. I’ve cleaned the photos from my phone and spent an embarrassing amount of time on my phone. I’ve attempted upper body exercises while watching reruns.
Here are my biggest takeaways:
I need to get dressed each day, which was challenging initially, but I feel better when I do so.
I need to make myself go outside, which is also challenging, but my mental health benefits from sitting outside rather than on the couch in the living room. I ordered an outdoor swing, which Mike put together last weekend, and make myself get out there, even when I think I’m content on the couch watching Friends reruns (again).
People who check in on me are excellent. I fall into a funk, but people reach out, which makes my day.
When I fall into my funks, I genuinely fear that I have forgotten how to be social. I also fear that people have completely forgotten about me. When much of your social interactions involve physical activity, getting injured just as we returned to normal after Covid fosters more loneliness. While I fear that I will never return to the level of activity from which I was once capable, my mind also creates a fear that I will never return to the social interactions that were crucial to achieving milestones pre-injury. (Does that make any sense? TLDR: I’m afraid that my running and NP friends have forgotten me or will not at all care when I can resume activities.)
As the weeks go by, I need to let go of things that used to seem important. Mike and Liam have been amazing. But since everything falls on them, not everything gets done. And that is okay, even if the entertainment stand is covered in dust.
Progress is progress. In the past five weeks, I’ve gone through two casts and a boot. Progress is happening, and it is mine to observe. Seemingly simple tasks, such as taking a shower or going upstairs, are now victories. I need to recognize and celebrate them.
Diet is so important to health. I’d been eating as healthily as I can but miscalculated how many calories sedentary me required by 200 a day, resulting in even more weight gain. I’m up twenty-five pounds from my marathon weight and look forward to being active again and getting rid of the extra weight, which will further aid recovery.
In the past five weeks, I’ve seen a lot of progress, even if it comes in the form of moving my foot side to side. There will be a lot more progress in the next few weeks and months!
** I apologize in advance for this being one of the most long-winded stories to date**
When Mike and I were trying to conceive, I found the two-week wait- the time between when you ovulated and when you wait for your menstrual cycle to be an excruciating time. You analyze every out-of-the-ordinary feeling. We are very fortunate that it did not take us long to conceive, and my heart breaks for anyone who has to go through this process for an extended time. Recent experiences brought forth those memories.
I recently decided to follow up with genetic testing offered through my doctor and called the local Breast Health Center at the hospital. If I am honest, I had been keeping up with mammograms but have been sitting on this referral for two years. It was only my cousin’s diagnosis that made me take the time to call. The specialist explained that I am eligible for MRI screening, which I agreed to do, even though they often lead to suspicious findings.
I was able to schedule the MRI and a dentist appointment to get fitted for a crown on the same day and took the day off from work. I wasn’t nervous going into the appointment, and I felt like a champ for going face-first into the MRI machine and remaining there for the duration of the test. I left feeling fine and a little bad-ass.
That night, I registered for my first ultra-marathon, committing myself to get back into running and excited joining a friend on her goal to run fifty kilometers during the year she turns fifty. The following day, I went to school to prepare for my classroom to return to in-person learning. After a year of distance learning, I was excited to see my kids and wanted to be as ready as possible. That night, I joined our neighbors for pizza and a fire. We played kickball with the kids, kids versus adults. As they’re getting older, we actually have to try to win these days. I managed to run past Liam and get home, jumping on the plate. I felt something snap but didn’t think much of it. I’m in my mid-forties; things are always popping and snapping. The next morning, I could not put any weight on my foot. Once I realized something was wrong, I made an appointment at the local urgent care, where I realized I had no range of motion in my foot. An X-Ray confirmed I had chipped the heel and needed to follow up with my orthopedic Monday. Ortho confirmed the urgent care findings and told me no driving and minimum walking for two weeks. The best news was that it would heal without surgery.
The following Friday, while working from home, I received a letter informing me that my MRI findings required further viewings. I’d been through this before and honestly didn’t worry at all. I’d make an appointment for additional views and be on my way. Me, the one who always worries, was not worried. During my prep, I left a message with the breast health center and went back to teaching. During lunch, the doctor called me back, letting me know that the MRI had found a lump, and she wanted me to schedule a biopsy. “Do not worry about this right now,” she assured me. “I just want to make sure everything is okay.” When I asked if the results could have been affected by my first Covid vaccine, which I had received four days prior, she assured me that only the second vaccine was affecting results and they were affecting readings in the lymph nodes, mine of which were clear- more good news for me.
See what happened?! As an extreme worrier, the one time I didn’t worry about something, it was something I needed to worry about. This is part of my worrying ritual- convincing myself that things will be okay simply because I put in the effort to worry. (Am I the only person who does this?)
Since I could not drive, Mike took me to my hair appointment. While my roots were cooking, I went to work searching through Dr. Google
“MRI false positive”
I wrote down some notes and, for what might be the first time in history, Dr. Google actually made me feel better. According to my searches, while MRIs provide a false positive 10% of the time, my lump, if malignant, was small enough that it would be easily treated. An appointment a few days later with my OB confirmed that even my worst-case scenario was not a worst-case scenario.
I dedicated a little bit of time each day, learning that I did not know a lot about breast cancer and hoping that I wouldn’t have to. I did learn that my lump was very small, too small to feel. I looked at the beads on the bracelet I wear daily. A quick search of the Tiffany website revealed them to be 10mm beads- a little less than half the size of my lump.
A Google search suggested I add “forum” after the searched terms, which lead me to lots of people sharing their own experiences and asking for advice. This catapulted my Googling to an entirely new level.
Through all of this worry, I kept waiting for a sign from my mom. Whenever there is trauma happening in my life, I usually get some sort of sign from my mom that things will be okay. My next-door neighbors, who are family to us, sent Liam home with a bag of my mom’s favorite Brach’s jellybeans. There was my sign!
Keeping my mind busy has been excruciating. Worrying about everything what the “what ifs” to how much it will hurt laying face-down in the MRI tube while nursing a fractured foot.
Mike and my sister both offered to drive me to the biopsy. Since they cannot come and would have to wait in the parking lot, I’ve declined the offer. I planned to ask where the lump is, partially because it never crossed my mind to ask but also so I know exactly where and how deep the biopsy will dig.
When the date came, I tried my best to hold it together. I went through motions similar to my first MRI. Because I’d been told that the test would take between forty-five minutes and an hour and a half, I didn’t drink any water due to fear of needing to pee during the test. Because I didn’t drink water, it took four attempts to get the IV. The nurses felt terrible and offered me a pillow so that laying face down while sporting a fractured heel would be less excruciating. I accepted headphones, partly to drown the noise but mostly so I could count songs that passed and have some sense of time.
After five songs, the nurses stopped the machine and let me out of the tube.
“You’re all set. The lump didn’t show enhancement this time, which happens occasionally but not very often.”
I worried for two weeks that I might have breast cancer. While I tried my hardest not to go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs” and remind myself that my worst-case scenario offered a 99% ten-year survival rate, it was still an emotional stretch of time.
As I wandered through life with this constantly on my mind, I was reminded that other people are going through similar situations. It was one more reminder of the importance of sympathy and kindness.
We are all, to some extent, always in constant battle. We are all facing obstacles and worries. These concerns are not always front and center for everyone to see.
When teaching The Catcher in the Rye, I ask my students to write an essay about explaining that Holden was either psychologically damaged or just a kid going through a tough time. While debating the character, a student, one who suffered from bouts of mania, said one of the most profound observations:
“Everyone is psychologically damaged. What makes some people seem insane is their inability to hide it.”
I’ve carried his words with me for over a decade, reminding myself to “hide my insanity” when it might be showing.
I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember creating escape plans to get out of my classroom if various catastrophes arose. It has taken me over forty years, but I have learned to live with and manage my anxiety. I do not talk about it; talking about it makes it available to creep into my head. I greatly admire people who are open with their struggles, but my journey just isn’t something I am comfortable sharing with the world.
The silver lining to managing my own anxiety is that I am equipped to help Liam manage his anxiety. He’s learned breathing and grounding techniques and I encourage him to talk about things that worry him. We create plans to help him cope and discuss strategies to keep his anxiety from taking over his mind.
For the past few weeks, my anxiety has been creeping back onto the scene. We’ve had a bunch of small, first-world type issues come up that have required hours of attention at a time. It started around Christmas, when my car broke down, forcing me to purchase a new one on Christmas Eve. This spiraled into me not being at all ready for the holiday, a holiday I wanted to be as great as possible since it was most likely the last Christmas that Liam will believe.
Those few days reminded me of my need to be a “precrastinator,” or someone who gets things done early. Interestingly, Liam follows this trait, getting his homework done immediately after school. I have suggested that he spend time at afterschool care playing with his friends. He explains that his brain won’t let him do that; he cannot relax and play until he knows his homework is completed. Since his mom has lesson plans done at least six weeks ahead of time, I totally understand where that comes from. If skipping an after school round of four square is what he needs, then I support that.
I’ve been focusing on helping Liam learn to live in his head.
I try to pretend that my head is perfectly fine. I try to pretend I have it all together. My need to keep everything organized and orderly may seem like my perfectionism at play, but it is something my mind needs to stay calm.
Yesterday, after a few weeks of first-world problems eating a lot of my energy, I felt a panic attack coming on. It has been years since one managed to surface. I was supposed to stay after school for curriculum building, but I canceled, explaining that I needed to leave for my own well-being. (I am beyond blessed to work with people who understand this is important.)
Here’s what I did to get myself back on track:
Picked Liam up earlier than usual from afterschool care
Played with he and Banjo until Banjo was too tired to chase the ball
Made dinner with Liam- and let him make garlic bread
Went for a run while listening to Mumford and Sons
Put together my new lid organizer, which will help me avoid frustration every time I go into that cabinet
Checked to see how many animal crackers Banjo could catch in a row
Watched the latest Young Sheldon with Liam
After he went to bed, Banjo and I watched This is Us
Tried to put my thoughts into words
I’ve worked so hard to manage it, but my anxiety is not something I should feel I have to hide. As someone who tries to look like I have everything together, this is sometimes hard to accept. The truth is, my need to have everything organized and prepared is a small part of my plan to keep my mind at bay. Running and staying active is another piece of the puzzle. The best I can do is try to better myself, allow myself to struggle and do things that scare me, continue the quirky habits that keep my mind calm, and try to make others feel loved and supported.
Keise Laymon said it best in his memoir Heavy:
“Some broken folk do whatever they can to break other folk. If we’re gon be broken, I wonder if we can be those other kind of broken folk from now on. I think it’s possible to be broken and ask for help without breaking other people.”