One of my few pandemic related bright spots has been my discovery of walking. It’s not like I didn’t know how to walk before the March lock down, it’s just that my walking always involved a specific destination. And I was always in a hurry. You know, walking to the train station, to work, to my car, to the grocery, to the park. I never really walked to just…walk.
I have no great love of working out – I’m a little jealous of everyone who does. When I was younger I was fairly active. I didn’t classify all this activity as exercise. It was just something I did. As I got older, I stopped moving around so much. I was busy but I wasn’t moving. What they didn’t teach me in school, however, is that when you wind up in a job where you sit behind a desk and you’re not working at staying active, your age and your metabolism start to catch up with you.
So just before my 30th birthday I took up running. I had no interest in lifting weights or joining a gym, but I wanted to keep my clothes at a certain size, and continue to enjoy eating all the foods I liked to eat. Runners got to carb load so how could I resist?! And even though I wasn’t a particularly fast or strong runner, I was still competitive. Mostly, just against my sister. The year I ran my second half marathon, my sister came with me. I had spent a lot of time training and she wanted to cheer me on. On the day I went to pick up my race kit, she came with me and decided to sign up for the race too. She hadn’t trained at all, and she beat me. By about fifteen minutes! For those keeping score, I did manage to beat her the next time. And I kept running. I was hooked on that runner’s high. The thing is, when I was running, my mind was also racing. Running can be very therapeutic. (If you haven’t seen it, watch Brittany Runs a Marathon and you’ll see what I mean.) When you’re running for hours at a time with company, you talk about any and everything. There’s an unwritten rule in a run club – what happens on a run, stays on a run. If done correctly, your running mates are some of the best unofficial therapists you can get. But when I’d run the shorter distances on my own, it was almost over-stimulating. I would think about everything, and it wasn’t uncommon to have a run where I would just burst into tears halfway through.
In an effort to elevate my training I started playing soccer again. I was incredibly rusty but it was exhilarating. And then I tore my Achilles tendon, something I didn’t even know existed as an actual body part. I’m no David Beckham, so it’s not like I could bounce back quickly from this injury. It is a painful and slow process for most, but it forced me to slow down. I couldn’t run for a year. I had to step into a gym and use the stair climber. It was slow. And I was still a couple of years away from my mother’s first stroke, so while I was stressed, I didn’t really have the constant worry that eats away at me now. I did have to walk a bit before I could start running again, but I wanted to walk very fast and it was all in service of getting me to the point where I could run again. And I did. But I wasn’t as good as I was before, and it was harder. And then work became more time consuming and my mother had her first stroke. So my mind would race even more, and my activity became sporadic.
Fast forward a little bit, and my mother suffered a second stroke. This one left her needing much more daily care. Between the demands of work and home, I rarely had the time or energy for anything else. Any time not spent doing one of those two things, I spent eating or sleeping. I changed jobs so my commute involved maybe walking less than 250 meters a day since I started driving to work (transit was not an option) and there was parking in the building. I couldn’t even be bothered to take the stairs up to my floor, I used the elevator. (Although in fairness to myself, even in the best of situations I’d use the elevator.) Things got a bit worse for awhile there as I also lost my job. And shortly after I started officially with my job search, the pandemic hit in full force. It was very hard not to get sucked into the news. And the lockdown was making the job market even more competitive. Then something happened. Between the demands of care giving and looking for a job, I actually managed to get caught up on my sleep. I caught up on some of the TV and movies I wanted to watch. I even managed to do some de-cluttering.
So there I was, at home with two parents who still fall into the higher risk group for Covid-19, but finally carving out some time for me. I couldn’t go out or socialize with anyone because I couldn’t risk any exposure to my parents, so I was grateful for technology. It made keeping in touch and conversations with people other than those who share my last name a lot easier. Not the same as in-person visits and connection, but it was something. But I still needed to do something with all that stuff in my head.
During one of the harder days after I lost my job, a very wise friend told me I needed to be still, quiet my mind, and just be in the moment. While I logically understood what they were saying, I couldn’t see a way to practically achieve this. It’s something that goes against my nature – it’s why I have a hard time with yoga, or meditation etc. – I can be really impatient when it comes to things involving myself. But I was bored and realized I wanted fresh air other than the fresh air I had on my driveway. So with no specific destination in mind, I threw on my running shoes, and started to walk.
My mind doesn’t race when I’m out on a walk. Maybe it has something to do with the slightly more leisurely pace, but when I’m out there I’m actually able to quiet my mind. I don’t use headphones so it’s just nature’s soundtrack mixed in with a bit of traffic to keep me going. I’m not able to go out to any remote areas to hike, but I’m lucky that I can still find places close around me that provide some decent views, fresh air and some quiet. It is amazing how that quick shift of scenery can help me reset.
I am not looking forward to a winter in lockdown. I am a child of parents who came from the Caribbean, so I gravitate to warmer temperatures. I am under no illusion that being able to keep up this pattern on a cold day in February is going to be my jam. Luckily, I have some re-enforcements. A couple of my running group friends have become my walking group friends. I get a bit of free venting each week as we take over an entire road for a socially distanced, long and very fast paced walk. In order to keep up, it means I have to get some movement in during the week. So far we’ve managed through some pretty stormy and cool weather, so I know we’ll be there to cheer each other on. And if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I know I stand a better chance of cheering myself on.
I’d like to say I fall into the “sandwich generation” – and while I have no children of my own to care for – I find myself falling somewhere in between caring for my mother and caring for my sanity. When I am not working, I have the honour of helping look after my amazing mother, who has suffered 2 strokes in the past 11 years. Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart, and if I am being honest, it can be a crappy club to be a member of. I have fallen down more times than I care to count through this journey, but while channeling my incredible stubbornness, strength (both of which I come by honestly,) and several F-words (Faith, Family, Friends and Food), I keep getting back up. IG: @Coolman_Eh