(IT’S FEBRUARY NOW. I KNOW.)
New Year’s Day rubs me the wrong way. As usual, I’ve been letting these ideas toss around in my head for far too long, letting my mind roll over and over them, softening the edges once sharp and poignant.
January means change. Not all New Year resolutions are bad, but as an individual who used to make some pretty awful ones, I don’t seem to like them too much anymore. Other than the year turning on the calendar, January is no different than any other month.
I decided to make zero resolutions this year. And its not because I’m not an ambitious person or someone who is afraid to fail, but it’s because I think putting weight into the start of one day in particular is dumb. Usually, the moment you come off the rails of your resolution you feel an immense amount of guilt and negativity, and I’m not about that anymore. If living with Lyme has taught me one thing, it’s you take your days step by step. You cherish every little victory, even if it is only getting out of bed in the morning. You keep on fighting.
Maybe January and New Year resolutions piss me off so much because I see so many people tie their goals into the toxic diet culture surrounding us.
Recently, I’ve gone through a bunch of my old writings – journal entries, essays, short stories, my jumbled memoir pieces and there’s a haunting tone to many of them. An unease, uncertainty. Maybe it can be related to maturing, but I’m not so sure. Growing up, I was always acutely aware of what was expected from me and the image I needed to uphold. I was inquisitive and always listening, and knew whenever there was a problem with my family or friends. And I put the burden on myself, somehow taking the blame for those problems when they came up. I believed I failed to meet the expectations of these people in my life.
Flashback to high school – November, 2007. I am nothing more than a heap of blankets bathed in the blue glow of the television. There is a brief knock on the door and I could see my mother’s small figure against the light flooding in from the hall.
“Dinner is ready,” she announces, opening the door farther and allowing the intruding ray to widen on my carpet.
“Okay,” I mutter, retreating deeper into my cave of twisted sheets, deeper into the warmth of darkness. I’ve just learned I have a stress fracture in the femoral neck of my hip and I’m out for the rest of my cross country season, not to mention all of winter track as well.
She lingers for a moment longer, as if to say something more, but instead allows a low, exasperated sigh to escape her lips as she turned to retreat down the stairs.
Running is my everything.
On December 31st, 2007, I wrote a nasty New Year’s resolution journal entry to myself and vowed to make a change. It didn’t matter I was struggling with depression then, I figured if I lost weight and made a comeback to running I would be happy again. While I could read all the people around me, I let no one in. The darkness I felt clawing within was mine and I vowed to beat it on my own. I was afraid to give anyone the idea I was vulnerable and hurting. I was afraid to share my burden and break anyone else.
Running was my everything.
But it isn’t anymore.
I have my wonderful friends and family. I have a job I care greatly about. And I have dreams of being something more in my life than just a runner. Running is just a piece of me, not all of me. I’m not afraid to pursue other dreams like I used to be. I can travel. I can write in the early morning instead of hit the treadmill. I can lace up my running shoes, but then go for a walk instead to take photos, listen to music and enjoy nature. I can take each day at a time and not worry about missing training like I used to so many years ago.
Lyme has slowed me down, but in a good way. Lyme has made me realize I should chase my dreams no matter how crazy they are, and I shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Lyme has taught me I will fail, but just because I fail it shouldn’t mean I can’t get back up and try again.
In high school, when I began to fail at running, I blamed it all on myself. I blamed my hip stress fracture on my weight, not because I overtrained or my body didn’t adequately absorb enough calcium and vitamin D to keep my bones healthy. Society, and the particular highly competitive realm of running I was absorbed in, taught me to be fast you had to be skinny. And by being faster I would be successful. And if I was successful, I would be happy. In high school I did love running for the pureness of it, and for the serenity it gave me in an otherwise tumultuous time in my life. But I only wanted to be fast so I could get into a good college, and make my parents proud. Running was all I had.
I can still remember my first big race back from the stress fracture. The end of my senior year track season was upon me and my coach entered me in a track meet with an open 5k event at Holmdel High School. Because anyone could enter, my assistant coach was going to run in the race with me and my teammates to pace. I had never run a 5k on the track and I was nervous. But we knew the distance suited me, and this was my last chance at doing anything substantial for the season.
A few hours before the race, Erin and I got in the car to drive ourselves over to the track. The sun was low in the sky and the beautiful spring air brought hope of better days after a particularly hard winter. Erin drove and we rolled the windows down as we sped out of the neighborhood, the cool wind whipping our hair up in a wild dance around our faces. For whatever reason, I can’t remember now, we blasted Our Song on repeat as we drove along the rolling road, the low sun peeking in and out of the trees as we sang along to the lyrics. I remember looking up at the strawberry pink sky, sensing I was on the brink of something great.
It wasn’t long before I stood on the starting line, jumping up and down, shaking the nervous energy through my legs. I stared down at my blue and white Nike spikes I was given at Nike Team Nationals, and remembered my confidence and strength there. As I toed the familiar start line, I cleared my mind of any doubt. I thought about all the hard work I had put in since January. My return to running. Consistent training. Losing weight. I believed I was in the best shape of my life.
The starting gun rang clear through the light evening air and I settled quickly into the middle of the pack surrounded by my teammates as my assistant coach took the lead. All around me I could hear the labored breathing of my teammates, but the pace felt easy to me. Calmness overcame me, and there was something soothing about the sound of our spikes hitting the track, our feet lightly bouncing in a rhythmical cadence on the polyurethane surface. I loved being in the middle of the pack. I fed off the energy around me and let it carry me through the laps.
As we circled the track lap after lap the sun set behind the tree line and dusk settled over the field. The track lights were on and they glared down brightly at us as we continued along. Our pack strung out and only a few other girls hung on to my coach’s pace. But still, it felt too easy. I knew I had to go, and I was excited. As I confidently pulled neck and neck with my coach he could sense the energy I had left. He quickened the pace and I matched it. I could sense his excitement. We left the other girls quickly behind as he began to pull me along at a much faster pace. I wasn’t racing anyone but myself now.
I don’t remember pain from this race. I remember a lightness, a feeling of oneness and an understanding of myself and what I thought I was meant to do. When I crossed the finish line my coach met me with an enormous hug as I gasped for breath from sprinting the final lap. A great smile was plastered across my face and a sense of accomplishment overcame me, a feeling I had almost forgotten. I ran 18:44. It was the fastest I had ever run in my life.
I attributed my success that evening to my strict diet and training, not to my perseverance, or the raw talent and the determination I had from running for so many years. After finishing, I immediately thought how I could get faster. I thought about continuing my resolution. And I was happy, at least for a little while. Before I let myself spiral out of control.
In college, at the bottom of my spiral, I picked up the broken pieces of myself. It’s at Bucknell where everything imploded and it’s also here where I finally started taking control of my life again.
That’s not to say I stopped making horrible New Year’s resolutions. While in a sense I was no longer “sick”, my mind was still unhealed. It was like an open wound refusing to scar, and I couldn’t shake my horrible body image, or the other shadows lurking in the corner. Up through 2014, on each December 31st I would tell myself the next day I would get back on track. Each year, I tried to warp into someone different, not for myself but all the people around me. I felt pressure to be thin, but not TOO thin. To run and be fast, but not let it consume my life. To be constantly happy, even though life doesn’t always call for happiness.
I am stronger now.
Since 2014, I’ve obviously made some resolutions. Some of them had to do with my writing, some of them running, but I no longer have the desire to try and turn myself into someone I’m not.
So, there will be no resolutions this year, no vows to run, to write, or to change myself.
I still have plenty of plans and dreams to fulfill this year, but I’m going to take it step by step. This year, there will be excitement and good memories. There will be challenges and sadness. There will be opportunities and downfalls, clarity and confusion, and I’ll meet them head on like I always do.
A string of numbers. A date.
© Allison Donaghy 2018 All Rights Reserved