I was 36 years old, a divorced mother of two boys. I worked full time in a law office and was putting myself though college to finish a degree that I couldn’t afford (but couldn’t afford not to get.) I was depressed, obese, and had cut my hair short to look like Halle Barry’s. It did not look like Halle Barry’s.
My depression and poor health had obviously come to the attention of a co-worker, a very active runner and formerly single mom, who marched into my office one day and announced, “You are going to start a walking group. It will meet with our running group on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 in the parking lot.” And then she left. Apparently I was starting a walking group.
The walking group was going well. I was feeling a little better physically, and I liked spending time with friends, but it was just, well, it was just okay. Then I had a dream. Not like an MLK speech dream, but an actual dream, when I fell asleep in a pile of laundry after midnight on the floor of my laundry room. In this dream, I wasn’t walking – I was running. I was younger, thinner, stronger, and I crossed a finish line. I was exuberant. When I woke up, I knew I was no longer destined to be a walker; I was a runner. After the next walking group meeting had finished, I continued to walk to the back of our trail, where I ran for 30 seconds. That 30 seconds led to a running addiction. I began eating healthier to run better. In 6 months, I had lost 60 lbs. and had dropped my blood pressure and glucose levels. I grew my hair. I was younger, thinner, stronger, and I crossed a shit load of finish lines. I really was exuberant.
12 years, countless 5ks, 10ks, and half-marathons later.
I noticed last fall that during my runs, my knee was hurting more than normal during even short runs, so I went to my ortho guy, the guy who has gotten me though plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, shin splints, and a stress fracture, with the assurance of, “We’ll get you back there.” He thought it was probably plica syndrome, gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory, had me do strengthening exercises, and sent me on my way. I took the winter off from running and focused on teaching my fitness classes, knowing that in the spring, I’d be “back there.”
Spring came, and I had more pain than ever in the knee when I tried to run. Frankly, I couldn’t even walk 2 miles without having to ice and elevate. So back to the ortho I went last week, thinking some PT would get me back to my badass self. He ordered an MRI, and the following day, said these words to me: “Your running days are over, Amy. That’s it.” I stood like a deer in headlights, staring at basically a hole in my knee on the computer screen. I heard him say something more about arthritic changes, blah, blah, blah, 8 weeks no impact, re-evaluate, swimming, blah, blah, blah. I went home and sat in my garage and cried for 20 minutes, then ate a bag of Snickers bars.
My running days are over.
Two days and 20 crying jags later, I managed to pull up my MRI report. Arthritis. Popliteal cyst. Osteochrondral lesion, osteochondritis dessiccans. Subchondral sclerosis, low grade bone edema. Final diagnosis: Fucked-up knee.
My running days are over.
My first running day, the day I ran 30 seconds on that trail, I knew that even though it sucked at the time, my life wasn’t over. I may have been divorced, fat, unhealthy, and my life may have been a complete sink-hole, but I knew that if I could run for 30 seconds, I could change all that. All the running days that followed got me through depression and stress. When I didn’t think I could finish a semester of school, I’d run 5 miles and know that I could cross that stage. And I did. When I didn’t think I’d ever meet a decent guy, I’d run 5 miles, and know I would. And I did. When I didn’t think I’d get over the pain and sadness of my miscarriage, I ran 5 miles, and I knew I would be strong again. And I was. Running was my super-power. Running – or during times of sickness or pain, the promise of running – was how I knew I would overcome whatever it was in life that made me weak. And now it’s gone. Vanished. Banished. Like kryptonite, my fucked-up knee has taken away my power, my strength, my badassness. My future self is no longer a stronger, faster, sexier me, but a me wearing Easy Spirits and elastic-waisted capri pants walking at the goddamn mall with my AARP card in my fucking fanny pack in case I can get a discount at Chicos.
I know. If you aren’t a runner, this seems like a lot of bitching about nothing. Seriously, I know. There are people who are overcoming cancer, or the loss of a child. I know that what I’m dealing with is insignificant in the whole scheme of everything, and I should probably be more worried about the downfall of humanity happening at a governmental level than I should be about a fucked-up knee. But if you are a runner, you understand. You know the significance of the power to get up, put on your shoes, face the road and conquer it. It’s not simply that I’ve lost my ability to run – I’ve lost my internal gauge of possibility.
And so I sit here on a Saturday morning in yoga pants, toasting a hamburger bun because I ran out of bread after eating half a loaf yesterday in a depression related carbohydrate binge. I’ve lost my badassness, and I’m looking for it at the bottom of a bag of bread. Obviously it isn’t there, so where is it? Where will I find the hope, the hope that tells me that I don’t have to turn into my mother, who gave up at 60 and lived over 20 years of her life in and out of nursing homes? Where will I find the hope that tells me I can get though physical and emotional issues and come out stronger? There’s a yoga class at 10, so I could start looking there, if my sobbing into my mat doesn’t bother the others.