My body, both at rest and in motion, has many unexhausted needs. And, truth be told, I’ve ignored these for far too long. I am at the point, on the precipice, ranging the bluffs of mortality as I approach my fifty-third birthday later this month. A single misstep, an unsure plant of my right foot on the wrong part of the path, and I shall be faced with morbidity, mortality — with death.
I’ve not been the best steward of this temple. Fifteen years ago, I gained weight due to a persistent bout of depression and a longish stint on heavy-duty psychiatric meds. I was eligible through my employer for a reduced-fee membership at a local gym. As part of that facility’s orientation, I was offered a complimentary personal trainer package. I decided to give it a shot.
My trainer was a former professional football conditioning coach whose turf toe had necessitated amputation of several toes, thereby cutting his career short. Despite my lackluster assessment and my expressed preferences for low-impact activities, he got me started on a program of burpees and weights, squat jumps and intricate footwork. I was often winded and always sore that day after a session.
Then one evening, after a long day at the office, he put me on a spin bike to “warm up” and proceeded to coach me to stand and pedal furiously…until my quadriceps seized. I fell, scraping my legs on the apparatus, twisting an ankle, hitting the mat with a sickening thud. I knew I was seriously hurt. But I didn’t want to, in my trainer’s parlance, “wimp out,” so I hobbled through a shortened routine and somehow managed to drive myself home on sheer adrenaline.
The next day, I couldn’t lift my legs without screaming pain in my thighs. I took a hot shower, swallowed a few ibuprofen, slipped into some non-constricting clothing, and got myself to work. Everyone who saw me attempt to perambulate that morning told me to get myself to a doctor. By early afternoon, I couldn’t even tolerate sitting. I called my boyfriend to fetch and ferry me to urgent care. There, I was diagnosed with muscle failure and given a prescription for vicodin.
It took me three weeks to recover physically from that spill. I still mentally wrestle with the fear and resistance the experience instilled in me. Sure, I do resort to threadbare excuses for not exercising: “I don’t have time.” “I’m too tired.” “I don’t feel well.” But underlying each and every objection is the sharp and excruciating memory of pushing past my body’s boundaries.
I know I need to move in order to shed the excess pounds I’ve piled on in the intervening years. I know I am curtailing my lifespan by falling into the obsese column on the BMI chart. I am just starting not to be able to do things I legitimately want to do for myself because of physical limitations. And there’s this realization, as well: My body has so much more life left to offer me. I owe it to myself and my maker to exhaust my body’s needs.
By Paul DeLong
On May 23, 2022
Courageous piece! Sounds like you are already exhausted! Wondering if there is a gentler way to listen to where it is your body actually wants to go.