Picture this: For six months, I was Jabba the Hutt, and my bedroom was my lair.
There were no dancing ladies, no rodents jamming on the harmonica, no princess in chains, just me, sprawled on my bed, sipping wine from a Styrofoam cup and eating Oreos whole, wishing I had a trap door to drop my contractor through. Grunting occasionally, muttering regularly, but mostly sitting. Lots and lots of sitting.
For months, I came home, walked up the steps, nuked food and tossed it on the floor for the kids to eat, uncorked a bottle of sanity and wallowed in the wreck that was my life. On good nights my husband was home to join me but many nights he wasn’t, and I either sat up playing endless rounds of Candy Crush or slouched over my computer keyboard trying to make more money and more money to cover our growing expenses.
These were not good times.
But now, the first floor of our home is liveable again. I can cook food, chop vegetables. The fridge is large enough to house a week’s supply of fresh fruit and an entire gallon of milk. I’ve remembered how to exhale.
And so I started running again. They say muscles hold a memory and yes, mine definitely have. From the jiggle of my once solid calves I knew I had to start from zero. I downloaded the Running Mate 5K 101 Training Program, popped in my earbuds and hit the thumbnail of a boardwalk we have left here in Arverne.
The first week you run for two minutes and walk for three minutes. That was easy. By week two it became sadly obvious how much muscle mass I had lost. Cardiovascularly I was able to keep up but my leg muscles seemed to develop a voice of their own. “Stop now, please, we have nothing left,” was their refrain. But by week three, I started to feel the strength come back. Today I started week four (four minute run, one minute walk, repeated five times) and while I was grateful that the last circuit ended, and a bit embarrassed by my slow speed, I felt stronger. And, interestingly, thinner. Even though I’m not.
The fact is that I’ve been so focused on maintaining mental strength throughout this disaster that I’ve neglected my body’s physical needs. From the foods I’ve wolfed down to the number of wine bottles that clanged in the kitchen trash, if my body is a temple mine was close to being put on the market as a short sale. I think that’s why this is the sickest winter I’ve ever had — the flu followed by a cold followed now by horrendous allergies. I feel physically weak because the truth is, I am physically weak. I started yoga again too and I can feel each muscle and ligament strain as they move in directions they haven’t been asked to go in seven months. While my mental fortitude is at its apex (and thank God for that) my body has paid the price.
This isn’t just a “me” thing. It’s a Sandy phenomenon My husband wrenched his back so badly a few months ago that he could not get out of bed. There’s no way physical stress was the sole cause of that agony. One friend’s husband was hospitalized with heart problems a few months after the storm. For a story I’m reporting about the aftermath of Sandy, a women emailed me this week to say how heartbroken she was over the number of funerals she’s been to since the storm. Older adults who survived the storm aren’t doing so well as they face its aftermath.
The physical stress is also written on our faces. Meet-ups with other Sandy people feel more like small talk during a wake than the joyful ebullience of running into someone you haven’t seen in a while. “Hi, how are you?” someone asked me the other day. Did I say “fine?” or “doing great?” No no. “Completely exhausted, if you really want to know,” was my answer. She responded with a nod and “me too.”
Getting back to running, remembering to take care of my body as I take care of the house and the kids and the husband and the job, is not easy. Honestly, it feels like one more thing that I have to get done. But it’s something that has to be done. I didn’t let Sandy break my spirit and I won’t let her break my body.