Physical Recovery: Burning the Boats

This is a post that I has been a long time coming. A very long time coming.

Four years ago, I decided to finally start exercising in earnest. My goal was to be in better shape at 40 come my birthday in November than I ever had been.

You have to understand that physical exercise and sports have always been problematic for me. Being of a bookish sort growing up and poorly coordinated as a kid, I wasn’t good at sports or physical activity, didn’t enjoy it and was always the last kid picked.

So while I’ve never been in terrible shape, I’d never been in good shape. And I never really felt physically attractive as a result. So, to say I have body and body image issues is a bit of an understatement.

But four years ago, I was determined to FINALLY get over the hump and so I applied myself in earnest. Without boring you with the details, I will say that I succeeded and continued. By January/February 2009 I was feeling downright fit and attractive.

And then I got sick for a month. And while sick, I had one of the worst crises I ever managed for work come up. Indeed, to this day I maintain that crisis is the one that broke me finally. And so, the exercise fell by the wayside. Missed days turned into missed weeks turned into missed months. Every now and again I would try to restart but I just couldn’t. I was so mired in work and the misery of work, I was so deeply depressed I just couldn’t. And too, as time dragged on, the first changes I associated with the stage of life I call the Crucible were starting.

If you’ve read this blog (or at least the posts tagged the Crucible) you know what comes next: continued losses, leaving work, healing and recovery.

But no exercise. No, I haven’t been able to get to that one.

I had hoped to jump on that when I left work. In fact, I had a grand plan to restart this program the first business day I was free. But I didn’t. I just slept. For months I slept, did some work, and otherwise just didn’t do a lot. In retrospect I think it was a period of major depression-cum-recovery. It’s not unusual for where I worked: I hear people take months or even years to recover. I guess I’m no better or worse than them.

But while I never got to it, the wish never went away. I remember how I felt and looked and wanted to get back to it. And too, Aurora has done her own work around health, fitness and recovery and while I couldn’t do the same myself, that was (and is) a sign of hope and inspiration for me. It also has reminded me that it’s a long, slow, methodical project. And so, in a way, with that knowledge I haven’t pushed myself to start but instead have been waiting and listening for when I might be ready.

A few months ago, I set myself a new, realistic goal around exercise. That by the time I turn 45, I want to be in better shape than I was when I turned 40. That’s well over a year and one that I think is realistic and optimistic.

But I still haven’t started. I’ve planned to plan to plan, if you will. This summer has been busy with a lot of change, loss and adjustments. And it’s been a summer of physical pain and illness for me: one of the worst times I’ve had in quiet a while.

But, as I noted in a recent post, I’m feeling better. Not better enough to run a marathon but better. And thoughts about practices, routines, exercice have all been slowly coming together…circling high overhead like hawks (or vultures I suppose :)).

And so, last night, while Jena and I were out watching Robot and Frank, I felt some more pieces snap into place. Without giving away the film, suffice it to say that a theme in it is the loss and recovery of physical and mental capabilities as we age. That resonated with me greatly. And related to that, there were points made about the importance of routines and exercise. And in the film we see those benefits as part of the recovery of lost physical and mental capabilities.

And so, today, I am moved to take more steps down the road of recovery. I’ve spent the morning doing some of the preliminary work I need to get my exercise routine going once again. I have been slowly altering my schedule to ease into something more structured and am thinking further about what that looks like. And, as part of that preliminary work, I just did weights and measures to assess my current physical condition.

Bad news: I’m in worse shape than I was when I started the first time 4 years ago.

Good news: It will make the success all the greater when I get to where I want to be.

Seeing this made concrete like this makes me sad. It makes me recognize another loss from my old job. The last two years there and their impact on me erased all the work I did before and took me to an even worse place than I was before. Another reason I am glad I’m gone from there: there is no way I could work to get myself back and go where I want to if I were there.

And it makes me glad to have the love and support and inspiration that I do from Jena and Aurora and my wife. They have all stood by me and helped me in different and important ways throughout this incredibly hard time. And as I take further steps forward I know that I’ll need their help and support all the more: I am truly blessed to have that in my life. Indeed, sometimes (many times) I find myself wondering how I came to be so fortunate and blessed. Somewhere, growing up, I believed I was supposed to be alone and miserable: I never would have believed or hoped for the love I have in my life.

And so, in keeping with the forward looking focus I’m trying to maintain, I am writing today to get out there some of my further thoughts for where I want to go forward in my life. I title this “Burning Boats” because of the apocryphal story of the conquistador Cortez burning his ships in the new world. Though likely false, it is a good story about taking action that prevents you from changing course, retreating or otherwise backing down. For me, talking about this plan is “burning the boats”. I am vain and I don’t like to admit failure. If I say publicly that I’m going to do something, I’m committing myself to it irrevocably. And so, the time writing this is also part of my preparation.

It’s not going to go quickly, it’s not going to happen quickly. I have much further to go physically and mentally than I did before. And last time it took a while. But, I do believe that this is taking me to places much better than I ever could have imagined before all this happened 3 – 4 years ago. I am free from that horrible work place and have my life back, I have Aurora in my life, Jena is out here at long last, my relationship with my wife is changed but stronger, I spend more time with my remaining pets, and I increasingly have a sense of who I am and want to be. So, despite the worries and challenges, I really do think things are moving forward and that life is good.

And even when it’s not feeling like that, I have to remember that for me it’s important to take the words of Winston Churchill to heart and “KBO”. Because one thing I learned last time is that movement, exercise and physical activity are important elements in mood management for me.