Sunday, April 7, 2013

Not a Running Start to 2013

In 2012, I started my life of running.  I decided to commit the year to getting back on track with exercise and to really doing it and sticking with it. Overall, I did pretty well and I feel like I learned a lot. I died out with exercise a bit in November/December but not enough to really worry about it. I was ready to go again in January.

Well, 2013 has not gone as planned. I started out the year with Yoga. I decided (based on advice of my 22 year old daughter) to back up to a very beginner class with a very committed beginner teacher. My daughter thought that if I could spend 6 months really learning how to "do" yoga, I'd be able to then go to the hot power yoga classes I want to love and I'd get more out of them. So I started, and I loved the new class.

I got in about 3 weeks before I realized I had a hurt my wrist.  So I took off a few weeks. Then in February, I was walking to dinner and fell flat while crossing the street. No good story-- just the most non-graceful fall you've ever seen.(a few friends can definitely verify this!) I fell on my knees-HARD. Really hard.  Turns out, I ended up with a concussion. I had no idea you could get a concussion without hitting your head but it's true. So I didn't know for about a week and I didn't rest those first few days. So, I have spent 7 weeks recovering and I am finally okayed to go back to work full days. Let me tell you, brain rest is just no fun. For the last 8 weeks, I've had no exercise and not much brain work (reading, blogging, etc.).  I am allowed to start walking this week and I am allowed to start back to yoga, but no running yet as I still get headaches pretty regularly if I push myself.

Needless to say, I have had lots of time to reflect!  I kept thinking that if I just learned the lesson this concussion recovery was supposed to teach me, I'd be well. That didn't happen as quickly as I'd like but I did learn a few things.  Back to my original blog lists of 10, here are the 10 things I learned through this ordeal.

Not only did I have to stop exercise, but I had to stop reading too--for about 6 weeks, I read almost nothing. (Can you imagine?!)  So in all honestly, I have to start reading and exercise from scratch-building up from very small time increments. I had to start back to reading at 20 minutes per day. I was okay with that. I am at about 45-60 now headache free.  What I have noticed is that I am EXCITED to get back to reading, even if it is just 20 minutes at a time. But I am afraid to start back to exercise because I know how hard it will be.  I guess my lesson here is that even though I went 6 weeks without reading, it never occurred to me that I'd not get back to reading, but I am fearful that I won't get back to exercise even though it is a similar process. I realized that I have some huge fears about restarting an exercise program that I need to get over as I think the fear stalls my starting back to it. And I am sure I'll have life circumstances that require me to stop and start again at some point in the future.  I am not afraid of restarting reading and building back to where I was, why would I carry this fear when it comes to exercise?

Running gave me strategies and skills that helped me through the concussion. I had to have an MRI at one point and I came about as close to a panic attack as I could have without having one in that tube. The nice lady doing the MRI told me each time she'd start a new segment of the MRI and exactly how many minutes it would be.  After having followed running training plans for several months of 2012, this worked for me. I knew I could get through a 3 minute test and used the same self talk that I did while getting through those last few minutes running minutes on a long run.  Definitely a life strategy that is good to have!

Pacing is not one of my strengths. (#understatement) I do not like pacing. I like to jump in to a task, get it done well and then collapse with exhaustion.  Anyone who has ever worked with me knows this. I work intensely without a break as I hate having a to-do list and the adrenaline seems to work for me.  Concussion recovery requires pacing--you can't work through a headache or it causes a set back, so I had to learn to pace. I had to work for a bit and leave a task unfinished until I could get back to it.  In reflecting I realized that this character trait of mine (not being able to pace) is a big problem in my exercise/running life. It is really hard for me to take a break from work or from anything to fit in something else. But I learned that not all of the things on my to-do list are really important. I can get by with pacing. Who knew? I can let myself take breaks and be more balanced and it is actually healthier overall.  At a doctor's appointment last week, my blood pressure was lower than it's been in a while.  I think because I have learned that I can't continue to be so unbalanced about checking tasks off my list. Pacing matters and it's healthier.  Learning the importance of pacing and how it impacts my commitment to exercise has been huge for me.

I am not good at rest. I don't often sleep straight through the night. I am not sure I know how to do nothing. Rest to me has always been about reading a book, watching a good movie, hanging out with friends, baking some cookies, etc. But I learned that doing nothing is a skill. Resting allows you to enjoy the moment with no plan. A huge revelation for me. When you have to "just be", you let go of lots of stress in terms of things you should do.  When you aren't always trying to accomplish something, the ordinary things of a day stand out.  I learned that true rest really means time with no expectations, time to Just Be--something  I don't do often. I realized that I didn't remember many days when I gave myself permission to not have a plan. What I found was that time to just be brought me back to remembering how good life is.  That my husband is funny. That my daughters have lots of stories to share that are fun to listen to. That snow on trees looks pretty amazing.  (Yes, it's true, with rest I even enjoyed a bit of nature!)  I discovered that it is hard to remember all of this about life when I am constantly on the go and that my definition of rest, was not really rest at all.

I think it was fate that I took those 3 weeks of yoga classes in early January. It was so that I could learn the benefits of breathing before my 6 weeks of rest. Some higher force must have known I would need to know about breathing. One thing about a beginner yoga class is in the language on how and why to do things.  The breathing matters and  has helped me lots.  I learned that I don't stop and breathe often. (I know my friends are laughing because they have always known this..) When I got my shot of cortisone in my wrist, the doctor looked at me in the middle of it and said, "Don't forget to breathe." because, in fact, I was holding my breath.  And during the MRI, I noticed I really had to focus and remind myself to breathe.  I have realized that I do lots without taking a breath. If you've ever heard me talk, you've probably thought, "Take a breath." Sometimes I sound nervous when really, I have just forgotten to breathe.  So, I have learned that breathing matters. Everything is harder if you forget to breathe. Breathing matters in the physical sense--the yoga breathing has taught me this. But it helps in the metaphorical sense too.  This has been a big lesson for me and a theme that has popped up several times in 2013.

It is amazing how much longer my pedicures last when I am not running. In case anyone wondered if there were benefits to not exercising, there is this one:-) The downside is, there is less of an excuse to get pedicures as often......

Aging is really no fun. I am not excited about the fact that my age rounds to 50. For a while I think I believed that if I lost weight I would actually BE younger. Not that I would LOOK younger, but that I would actually BE younger.  I think I started running to prove this too--that I was not getting older.  But what I realized with the concussion was that everything about my body is not really in my control.  This is certainly not going to be the last time I will learn this.  But I do know that there are some things I can usually control and that regular exercise has a positive impact on my overall feeling more than almost anything else.  I might not be able to control how fast I recover from a concussion. I may not be able to control how much weight I lose or how quickly a new wrinkle appears. But I can control whether or not I make exercise something I do every day. Not because it will change my body, but because I will feel better and enjoy my daily life more fully.

I realized how much exercise helped me control everyday stress and anxiety. For the first several weeks of doing almost nothing, my anxiety was high. I couldn't fall asleep, my heart raced, I was always stressed. I wanted to exercise because I knew it was what my body needed to settle down. But I couldn't.  I realized how much over 2012, I was able to enjoy things more because I was exercising pretty regularly. My body got used to exercise and I was less stressed because of it. My mind and body were healthier because of it. I am not sure I realized that completely until I felt the difference those first few weeks without any exercise.

When you are limited in the amount of "brainwork" you can do, you have to rethink your to-do list. You have to prioritize and decide what HAS to be done and what can wait or be skipped altogether. In doing this over the last 6 weeks, I have realized that my to-do list is usually ridiculous.  I try to do 6 months of work every weekend, most of which is not really so necessary. Even my reading life had become a self-imposed to-do list as I tried to keep up with all the new books out there.  My concussion forced me to do only the things that were imperative and to get rid of my self-imposed need to accomplish lots every minute of every day. If you read Donalyn's recent Nerdy Book Club post, we all feel this guilt-even our reading lives are sometimes dictated by what we feel we should read. When I really looked at the ridiculousness of what my to-do lists had become, it was a little shocking. This concussion gave me permission (and time) to really come to terms with this and I am thinking that this lesson will really stick with me.

My hobbies are almost all work-based. I have always felt so lucky to love the work I do. But because I love it, it is often hard to say no to committee work or writing or other projects because it is all interesting to me. I also love others in this field so I often jump at the chance to work with people I love.  But at some point, when you say yes to too much, it is no longer so fun.  When I had to stop reading and screen work, other than baking a few batches of cookies and going out to eat with friends, I wasn't sure what to do.  One of the reasons I started running is because I know I need more hobbies--more things I enjoy that are not totally centered on the work I love.  And then I added yoga.  This is not a new revelation as I have been on the search for a hobby for decades. Once I can really get moving again, I'd really like to find some exercise that  I love--maybe it will be running, maybe it will be yoga, maybe it will be something else.

When I look at all of these, they probably just lead to one word-permission. I think what the concussion has given me is the permission to do it all but to do it all in a more sane way.  I love my life but it has become very task-oriented over the last few years.  I remember watching a talk show years ago and there was a woman on the show who had recovered from a coma. I forget the story but I remember her laughing, saying what a nice break it was --that she really rested during the coma. It seemed so crazy at the time. But that story came back to me in my hours of doing nothing and it made sense to me a little--and made me realize this concussion gave me a mandate to breathe and to realize how much I needed to rest and to reprioritize.

My mother is sure that my concussion is God's way of telling me that I work too much.  I'm not sure I totally agree with her but it has definitely caused me to pause when I realize that the concussion was a "nice break".  No one should have to need a concussion to stop and breathe, to read a book just because it is one they want to read, to only do those things on a to-do list that actually need to be done, to rest.  As teachers, I think lots of us feel totally wiped out at this point in the year. It always seems hard to justify rest and balance when our work is all about others. But sooner or later things catch up with us if we don't take care of our whole selves. This is not something new to any of us, but it is something that I clearly have to learn over and over and over again. I am hoping this round of life lessons has been strong enough that I actually remember it for a while:-)

I'll be back to full time work and a bit of exercising this week. The exercise will start out slow (and as you know, it was slow even before the concussion!) and I will have to be okay with that...I'll keep you posted.


  1. Franki,
    Love this post. We are so similar. Hope you enjoy your week back and the headaches stay away!

  2. So much much learned. You are an example and inspiration to us all!

  3. This is such an inspirational post. It is really ridiculous what we impose on ourselves and the guilt that most of us get from not always working to get the to-do list done. Thank you for your insights and the reminder to slow down and re-prioritize things...maybe not everything is so important. Good luck in your first week back to full-time work.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I really needed to read your words right now. I, too, had a spectacularly boring fall (I was just walking, and BAM!) on Halloween. That fall resulted in a 6-inch gash on my left knee (requiring 19 stitches) and 2 fractures in my right foot. For 3 weeks, I was utterly and completely dependent on my husband for EVERYTHING as I couldn't put any pressure on either of my legs. Thankfully, I'm better now... but still not working because the main fracture in my foot won't seem to heal. I know I'm depressed; so much of my identity is wrapped up in being a teacher, and not teaching these past 5 months has me questioning my self-worth (among other things). Your words -- specifically, the word PERMISSION -- have comforted me today. Thank you.


  5. Best of luck to you this week as you head back. I have had a few "relax and breathe" moments in the past 2 years since my knee replacement. It's not easy, but as long as you keep breathing, it's doable. Great post!

  6. Thanks Sherry, Karen, Andrea Katherine for all of the comments. What would I do without all of this support.

    Melissa, It sounds like you've had an awful year. It is so easy to get depressed when there is nothing to do! Such a different kind of normal to get used to...One thing I didn't mention but was implied was how much of my identity is wrapped up in being a teacher. While I was doing nothing, I heard or read a line that said, "You are more than your work." and it caused a really tough wee of reflection. I think this is a huge challenge for teachers--a great thing that our work is our passion but also a burden. Hope you are feeling better soon!

  7. Seems like the lessons you are learning are ones that lots of us in Kidlitosphere need to learn. Slow down. Breathe. Concentrate on what's important. Have hobbies that are not related to school. Thanks for all of these reminders! Glad you are on the mend!

  8. Franki:
    Thank you for this wonderful post. This is the kind of writing I will print and read as often as possible; very inspiring.

  9. Franki, I relate to MANY lessons on your top 10 list! Thank you for sharing. I just want to throw this out there, because I tried it this year, and I found it to be a fun way to exercise, and practice letting go at the same time: Hula hooping. Yes, hula hooping! My park district offered a class this winter, and it was a welcome departure from traditional exercise. If you don't find a class to go to, you can always get a big hoop (the bigger, the better, if you're a beginner), put on some music, find a good open space in your house/yard/garage, and go to it! I would think it would help with all the things you talk about: breathing, being in the moment, exercise...and pure enjoyment. Whatever you decide to try, please mention in on A Year of Reading--that's the space I follow-->You and Mary Lee bring so many good things into my life! Keep calm and carry on, whatever you decide to do, Franki : ) Best of luck in your journey--I am right there with you on many of these life lessons!


  10. I'm glad that you are giving yourself permission right now to even discover a new exercise. I loved running also, but yep...age does change the picture. There is always something to fall over I've changed and really enjoy my elliptical and watching 'Katie Couric'. I've never really spent lots of time watching TV...but she helps me exercise because she is so cute...and over 50 ! I missed reading your voice on the blog and am glad you are on the mend. xo