You’d think a woman who wrote an entire book about Sabbath would be sanguine about the need for rest.
You’d be wrong.
And if you read the book, you know it was a constant struggle for me to embrace this work/rest rhythm. It still is.
I’ve been laid up for the last several days with a running injury. About 10 days ago I noticed a nagging tightness along the inside of my left shin. I rested for three days and tested it with a run–pain returned. Three more days of rest, then a run–pain again.
It’s a busy fall for races. I’m supposed to run the Ragnar Relay with my Steeple Chasers in early October, then the Marine Corps Marathon with my brother at the end of that month. My other brother is coming to town that weekend for the 10K, which Robert is also running. Robert’s sister will be in town. MY sister will be in town. It’s a whole thing, you see. I don’t have time for an injury. I’m very, very busy. Booked.
But… this pain.
So I decided to go to the orthopedist last Friday, who took an X-ray and referred me for an MRI. I’ll meet with him tomorrow to find out the MRI results, but we’re hoping to rule out a tibial stress fracture. The X-ray looked fine, but these things are tricky. The MRI will show whether I have a fracture or was headed for one. With this kind of injury, there are early signs–swelling in the vascular tissue around the bone, then later, edema in the marrow–and that’s what we’re looking for, or not. Hopefully not.
That’s the way it is with overuse and overwork, isn’t it? We don’t break instantly. Your body, your spirit, will talk to you, if you listen. There are signs. You can ignore them for a while, grit your teeth, take drugs to mask the pain, but denial only gets you so far. Sooner or later, you must do something different, or there will be a reckoning.
It’s no accident that these injuries are called stress reactions. And I could’ve sworn that among the many sounds the MRI made, one of them was a peristent, mechanical voice saying, “Sit your butt. Sit your butt. Sit your butt.”
Message received, giant clanking tube.
The best case scenario is a week of rest, maybe 2, during which I can bike, swim, pool run, and do the elliptical. The worst case (fracture) is 6-8 weeks of rest, and no Ragnar Relay, and no Marine Corps Marathon.
Running is my community, my stress relief, my hobby, my natural mood enhancer, and (ahem) my buffer when I want to eat cookies and cupcakes without worrying over the calories. I’ll do what I have to do to get strong again, even if that means no running for a while. I may not like it. But sometimes you’re so far gone you need to rest, even from the things that bring you joy. (Maybe you noticed the semi-humorous piece about how getting away with your kids shouldn’t be called vacations–those are trips. Because kids are a joy, but they’re also work, so if they come along, work comes along. Or the classic Onion article, Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean.)
I sometimes hear people say, “But I love my work. It gives me energy. I don’t feel the need to rest from it.” Fair enough. I’m not sure I fully believe them. Maybe they’re just wired differently. Or maybe they’re not working as hard as they claim. Or they aren’t as effective in their work as they think they are because they don’t have any downtime. Or they’re having some stress reactions in places they can’t see, and are keeping them at bay through drugs and gritted teeth.
The breakdown that happens is not just physical, it can be mental. Robert came home from a run on Sunday, having been to my #1 favorite running spot, along the Potomac River near National Airport. How dare he go to THAT place! After plenty of fuming, I said, “When I was in middle school and my mother was getting in shape, she would do exercise videos at night, and every night my dad would go to the kitchen for a bowl of ice cream and eat it in front of her. That’s how I felt when you told me where you’d been.”
The minute those words came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous they were. My husband’s running brings him joy and good health–and he supports my joy and health wholeheartedly. My dad actions were passive-aggressive and the sign of an unhappy person who would soon leave our family. Conflating these two things was a stress reaction on my part–a sign I needed to loosen up a bit.
The good news is, perspective comes pretty quickly when you’re able to STOP. As I lay on the gurney with my legs sticking into the MRI tube, I had time to think. I thought about the woman who’d passed me in the hallway, wearing a hospital gown while I got away with street clothes, because they weren’t imaging any scary vital organs, just my leg. I thought about all the stories, much sadder than mine, that had their origins in that giant machine. And I was grateful. Grateful.
I’ll let you know what tomorrow’s doctor’s appointment brings. For now, I’m trying to Sit My Butt and embrace the rest.
UPDATE: It’s a stress fracture. Twelve weeks of no running. I write about that at the end of this post.
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Photo of Mars from the European Space Agency through Creative Commons. From the description: “The many chasms, fractures and cracks in this area are thought to have been caused by stress in the planet’s crust as it stretched and pulled apart.”