I’m 31. This happened a few months ago, and darn it, but it’s still weird. Sometimes I look around at my life and think really? This is still where I’m at? My friends are getting married or having babies (or both!), settling into homes, talking about higher states of mind and I’m sending text messages to my uncle apologizing for the short notice but can I stay with you and my aunt this weekend (apologies for the rudeness as apparently I lost the ability to plan ahead – is that a 30 year old trait I should be aware of?)?* and switch hitting between reading “The Four Agreements” and “Cosmo” while drinking a Racer 5 I borrowed from my roommate.
But this post isn’t about measuring up – as I remind myself regularly, life is not about me versus them (thanks Mother Theresa and Baz Luhrmann for reinforcing this notion). This post is about a few of the places I see noticeable progression in myself as a person; about the places where I’m at feels healthier and better and right. And much of who I am now versus who I was in the infinite then is because of running.
See, I’m the kid who started thinking I was fat around age 8, and I’m the person who spent the next 20 years absolutely petrified that I was chubby, chunky, fluffy, or any other derivative thereof – anything but rather nice just as I was. Whenever I failed at something or didn’t get what I hoped for or tried for, I often turned to my looks as the reason. Like Tai in Clueless, I’d think “It’s my hips, isn’t it?!” about boys who snubbed me days after kissing me, about not being listened to, about getting cut from the Santa Clara Vanguard.
As a teenager, I worried first that no one would ever want to see me without my clothes on, and then when someone did genuinely want to see me in the buff I realized I rather didn’t want to be seen naked. I kept food diaries of everything I ate and counted calories and read every piece of young adult literature written about girls with eating disorders for inspiration. Come college, I took PE classes partly to learn new sports but mostly in hopes of finding the joy in working out that I found when eating a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese.
Despite always having been active – whether in speed skating or soccer – I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Even in graduate school I still hid behind a towel in the locker room, petrified that someone would see me and think “what a hulk of a human.” Even after religiously attending Jazzercise and joining a Master’s swim team and having affirming boyfriends, I still couldn’t shed the terror I felt about how I looked. I had a roommate who was anorexic followed by a roommate who binge ate. And I had lists of food and numbers of calories and numbers on a scale.
It’s funny to know a thought, or idea, or fear is all in your own head. I knew my perception of how I looked was distorted, but it didn’t stop me from feeling it. I felt it, and I felt it like it was the most abhorrent truth in the planet. More abhorrent than killing the whales or burning books. Which is ridiculous. My body is not my mind. It’s a reflection of me, sure. But it’s not all that I am.
And then…well, and then I finished school, became unemployed, broke up with my first long-term boyfriend and was given 30 days-notice to leave the room I was renting. I spent a fair amount of time crying in my car, sure. But I also got bored, and eventually put on my old marching band shoes and tried running. Well, first it was walking. Eventually it was running.
The change didn’t happen overnight. Or in a week, or a month, or a year. However at some point, locker rooms didn’t scare me. I eventually stopped writing down everything I ate in an obsessive manner, instead keeping a lighter track of it in my head. My mind felt quieter because I suddenly had time to think – time alone, just me, myself, and the outdoors. Somewhere in there, I got the confidence to do ridiculous things like waitress, teach. Eventually, I even started to write for fun (And then for a living) – all because someone pointed out I had something to say about running because jeez, I did it so much.
The change was even greater than overcoming locker room fears, though. Running became the backbone of my life. Going on 50 dates in 50 states? Darn straight I’m bringing my running shoes. Going to Mexico or London or Chicago? Running shoes are the first things in my bag. Flying to San Diego overnight to perform a wedding – bringing running shoes and heels, of course. Even this past weekend when I went camping, I brought running shorts after I woke up in a tent, went for a jog down a long, very flat lane. Running was what I counted on to center me, and became what I centered myself around. Running was my sun, me merely a happy Earth orbiting around.
Clearly, I don’t feel healthy and content with myself 100% of the time. Nor do I make good choices 100% of the time. I’m not like, “Oh hey, protein, veggies, zero butter and then some more protein and veggies!” Just yesterday, I ate a burrito for lunch and a burrito for dinner (from different places! One was an Indian burrito – they really did seem different…and, I’ll stop justifying now). I think last year’s “Food Rehab” and the number of times I ask Brian for positive reinforcement about how an outfit looks and the fact that any time someone compliments my physical being a grimace speaks to that. And…I’m eating a lot of kale today to make up for the burrito situation.
But I read today that women, on average, think about how much they don’t like a piece of their body about twenty times a day, and think they hate their entire selves at least once a day. Maybe it was the anchor of running. Maybe this is just part of growing up. There’s a lot wrong with the world. And there’s a lot I have to learn about living. But hey – I don’t have that conversation with myself twenty times a day that I am not worthy of love, success, friends, or even the act of living based on my body – it’s down to about five times on an average day.
Which seems pretty good.
*Great use of ?)? if I ever saw it.