“More important than any other exercise,” she said, “is standing tall. Do it consistently: while driving, vacuuming, standing in line at the grocery store, at parties…. Stand tall.”
I immediately made those words the theme of my recovery. It’s been eight months since my MRI diagnosing three bulging disks, seven deteriorating disks and degenerative arthritis. This can’t be fixed with drugs or surgery; it will be with me for the rest of my life. My back isn’t going to get better; I’m going to get stronger.
Ever since landing in the back row for first grade class photos, I’ve slumped and shrunk; sidling along the sidelines. I’ve always been wary of the high-maintenance lifestyle. But maintenance, maintenance, may be one of the most valuable words in the English language. Maintain a happy marriage, don’t try to fix a broken one; maintain good relationships with your kids; maintain your car before it blows up, maintain your health.
I’m standing tall; I’ve decided I’m worth it.
For years, I’d heard the benefits of Pilates, but the classes always seemed so expensive. But after paying $120 an hour to my physical therapist (who basically taught me pilates), the $12 or so per lesson now seems like a bargain. I’ve found a studio I love (Poise & Strength), instructors I adore (Tiffany and Heather) and friends who make me laugh.
When I see runners racing down our canyons and side streets they look miraculous to me: flying, beautiful and free. I’ll never be able to run more than a few miles again. My running friends seem to expect me to be devastated, but I don’t feel bad for myself. Pick a trial– cancer, divorce, leg amputation, losing a child– back pain feels like, literally, a walk in the park.
For twenty-five years running was a huge part of my identity (and let’s note I was a 3:12 marathoner, 1:27 half), but life in the slower lane holds it’s beauties. After decades of setting my alarm clock in the 4 and 5 o’clock hours, I now wake at 7 (except on pilates days) get the kids to school and walk with a fabulous group of women at 9. Nine. Nine o’clock. I have turned into a true lady of leisure. Yes, I get much less done in a day, but a whole lot more than if I were confined to bed with back pain.
And I’ve lost ten pounds. Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a terrible time losing weight. Since I always exercise and always eat healthy I have to shock my body to take off any pounds (my mom weighed in the two hundreds from age 30 on). These past few years have been especially hard for my sister and I maintaining our weight. Like I say, it’s always hard—add extreme emotional turmoil and it becomes nigh impossible. I know I look OK, but I’d gained weight right around my middle and it was probably the straw (or rather 10 pounds) that broke the camel’s back.
We live in a put-yourself-first society and I think we all intuitively know that’s wrong. But sometimes (mothers especially) tend to slide too far to the other side—ignoring our very real needs until we become incapacitated; and when mom’s out of commission everybody pays.
I’ve decided I’m worth the pilates classes, the nine o’clock walk in the sun, asking my boys to lift the heavy boxes, refusing the cookies (even when I’m afraid I’ll hurt your feelings). Standing tall is still hard for me; especially in front of other people. But as I tighten my muscles and hold my head high, I can feel myself changing. Not with a false sense of self-importance, but with an ability to give more, smile with greater sincerity and inspire others to raise to their full height and stand tall.