On Sunday night, my boss hosted her annual New Teacher dinner, when she invites all new faculty and staff to her home, along with their mentors, administration and other significant players in the day to day life of the school, for a casual meet and greet before professional development begins this week. Since I hold a leadership position (not to mention serve as a mentor to one of my English dept colleagues this year), I get to tag along with my husband, big britches Academic Dean.
It’s always fun to catch up with my friends who I haven’t seen for a couple months, and as we sat down to dinner, a few of us chatted about our summer workout routines. Several of them are renewing their commitment to the exercise bandwagon, and as we compared notes, one of my other colleagues, listening to our discussion, asked me, “So, wait, what do you do?”
Me: “Triathlons. You know, swim, bike, and run? I’m doing an Olympic length race on Labor Day so my summer workouts have been kind of crazy.”
Her: “Wow. That seems like an awful lot to juggle with everything else. Why do you do that?”
Her question was sincere, with absolutely no mockery or snark intended. She looked at me quizzically, genuinely wanting to understand why a middle aged mom of 3 would voluntarily spend the time, money and
agony energy on a hobby that didn’t, to her understanding, score well on the investment-return ratio.
I picked up my wine glass and took a sip, stalling, while I looked across the table at her. My colleagues paused, waiting for my response.
I thought about my health in 2010, a period in my life that sometimes seems like a lifetime ago, and some days feels like yesterday. How I didn’t sleep at all for months, and then only intermittently for a couple of years after that. How my doctor prescribed Lunesta, but it didn’t touch my insomnia; she prescribed Ambien, and still my body refused to wind down from high alert, always ready, even at 2 or 3am, for the next bombshell. How my doctor looked at me and said, “Tracey, you have to figure something out because I can’t give you something stronger than Ambien.”
I thought about how I couldn’t bring myself to eat, and lost 40lbs in a matter of months. How a well-meaning but misguided colleague worriedly spoke to several individuals at our 2010 class retreat, saying she believed I had anorexia, after witnessing me in the dining hall over the course of 48 hours, plate untouched at each meal. I tiredly and resignedly dispatched a trusted friend to spread the word that, no, it wasn’t anorexia, just a divorce.
I thought about how, after months of weekly therapy, and the ongoing panic attacks and flashbacks and crying jags, my therapist gently said that she believed I had PTSD, that it wasn’t uncommon with women blindsided with massive betrayal, that the recovery for my circumstances was significantly more complex and arduous than your generic, run of the mill divorce. I remember thinking I would always be broken, that I was now damaged goods.
I thought about how I started Couch to 5k in 2011, because my narrative was always, always, even as a Division I athlete, that I couldn’t run. How I was desperate to prove, even if only to myself, that I could succeed at something hard. How I couldn’t control being a failure at marriage, or as a mother (because my 2011 self very much believed I had failed as a mother), but maybe if I could run, there was a sliver of redemption. I thought about how at first, it was just about running 2 minutes, and then 3 minutes, and then at some point it wasn’t about running more minutes at all (although that rapidly increased) but the meditative rhythm that calmed me.
I thought about how with every goal accomplished, with every training plan completed, a tiny piece of my soul falls back into place. How the sweat of a long, hard workout, when I am literally gasping for air and my legs shaking and my muscles aching, feels like a baptism, washing away the wreckage of my former life. How I felt completely, utterly worthless, foolish, the joke of an entire network of friends and acquaintances, but now feel strong, competent, invincible.
I considered my answer as I peered at her over my Sauvignon Blanc, and flexed my leg muscles, knowing without looking under the table the definition that was now there, for the first time in my entire life. I thought about how I couldn’t remember the last time I cried, or suffered a panic attack, or felt victimized; I considered how, as athletic and strong as my body now is, my mind was the real warrior, losing the battle but winning the war. I thought about how I used to avoid some events as a mother, unable to stomach the confrontation, the inevitable PTSD triggers, and now I stand my ground, triumphant, victorious.
I carefully set my wine glass down, flashed a dimpled grin, and in a light and playful tone, replied, “I do it for the medals. Who doesn’t love a medal?!”