Superwoman’s Trashed Cape

Personal upheaval is something that happens. It can come as a drizzle of raindrops, or it will come as a deluge of water that will send rivers rising, roads, and highways flooding until homes are submerged in water and are swept away by the current.

The year of 2018 was a year of personal change that came all at once. Some of it was planned: my mother’s move to Ottawa that neither went smoothly or swiftly. I longed to quickly place a checkmark in that box on my to-do list, but it lingered incomplete for several months. Part of the reason for this was that unknown to me at the time, Ottawa was in the midst of a housing crisis that continues to this day.

Today in Ottawa, a small bachelor apartment will cost nine hundred dollars. When I graduated from University over a decade ago, a bachelor cost me close to six hundred dollars. I struggled at the time to pay my rent on a salary that was a little above the poverty line. I don’t know how a person who makes a similar income today can live in this city. Nevertheless, I know our housing crisis isn’t limited to Ottawa; nationally, for years, Toronto and Vancouver have both struggled with the same issue. As well, from reading various news articles, I know it’s become a wide-reaching problem across Canada; and in many other countries such as the United States and in the United Kingdom.

These two obstacles (the move and the housing shortage in Ottawa) were not insurmountable hurdles to overcome. But there was also the new monumental experience of selling my mother’s house.  The endeavor left me terrified, anxious, and frustrated in a sweeping sandstorm of emotions. As well, while I’d coordinated office moves early in my career, the relocation of my mother across hundreds of kilometers left me wide-eyed at night with terror.  I attempted to reassure myself the office moves I’d coordinated had ended, well—relatively smoothly. Surely, if I’d managed those, I could blow the cobwebs out of my brain and figure out how to move my momma to a different city.

Easy-peasy.  

It wasn’t easy-peasy though—it was damn hard.

Adding to this flux of tasks, I’d also committed to run a half-marathon at the end of September of that same year. A long time ago, I was a woman that would run, run, and run, and I wouldn’t let anything stop me. Pain in my knee? The solution was physiotherapy. Not enough sleep? Don’t care. I’ve got a training schedule to do! Busy week at work? Fine, I’ll get up extra early and punch out seven kilometers before I jump in the shower and get ready to go to work. Snowstorm? I’ll slip and slide along the packed snow, jump over three-foot snowbanks, and if I encounter a snow wall at an intersection, I’ll climb over it.

I was so dedicated that when my father died in February 2009, I still planned to complete a scheduled half-marathon in May of that year. My last long run of nineteen kilometers occurred on a Tuesday night less than two weeks before the half-marathon.  (Ahem, that is not when your last long run should happen.) I remember the next day well because one of my co-workers looked at me from across the room as she engaged in a conversation with a colleague, stopped mid-sentence, and blurted out in my direction as only telepathic grandmothers have done in the past with these words: “You look tired?”

Yes, I was. But nothing was going to stop me from running that race. Who cares if I missed most of February’s training, due to frequent trips across hundreds of kilometers by car to my hometown, because my dad was hospitalized due to complications from lung cancer? That was no excuse. Or, that’s what I told myself.

Then my adorable, fluffy, chocolate lab tore some ligaments in my shoulder when we were playing ball-ball eight days before my race. It wasn’t his fault, but mine. I didn’t trust him. When I threw the ball, and he bumped it with his chubby black snout, the nose-bump caused the ball-ball to roll a little further away from him. He did what a good Labrador does—he chased it. I hung on to the retractable leash as my thirteen-month fluff-bum Pup tugged and launched me into the air. A second later, I crashed to the ground and landed with a thud on my shoulder. This was followed by a yelp of, “*insert common expletive here that starts with F!*” as an explosive pain swept through my shoulder that caused me to become nauseous and dizzy.

I lumbered towards an unknown neighbor who happened to be on her phone at the time, gave her my husband’s number with instructions to tell him he needed to pick up me, and Mr. I Broke Mommy. Even as I collapsed on the grass and continued to clasp that retractable leash tightly in agony with MIBM’s butt in my face, I already began to plot my next move and reassured myself with: I can still run.

I didn’t run that race though because when I walked, rolled over in bed, tried to reach for anything, the pain would tear through my shoulder and across my back as if someone had stabbed me with a nine-inch blade. That was the first race I ever missed.

Skip to a few years later, when I dropped out of races as a regular occurrence. My top five reasons might include:

  • We really can’t afford to go to Toronto so that I can run (another) half-marathon because one of us is out of a job, and the other person is now under the threat that their position has a ninety percent probability of going the way of the dodo. Pass
  • I can do a Ten Kilometer Race in my sleep. Pass
  • Here in Ottawa, on a frigid February day, it’s snowing. Again. Pass
  • Someone’s dead: mother-in-law, brother, friend… Pass
  • Not feeling it today. Pass

Family and friends called me out on my commitment to sign up for races, and then my non-commitment to actually run them. In response to a few comments made to me, I put my common sense aside and started to run again. This time I would swing back in the other direction. Nothing would stop me from running a race.

When the mercury soared in May 2016 on the day of a scheduled half-marathon, and I’d barely done any training because I’d lost a friend in April, (Hey, what do you want? It’s a daily battle when you lose someone you love.) I laced up my shoes. My husband bounced around me and said, “Maybe, it’s not a good idea? Maybe, you should sit this one out?” With my head held high and a laugh, I pinned my race bib number on my shirt, grabbed my car keys, and headed out the door for my race.

At two kilometers, I was surprised I was already tired. I rationalized with myself it was only another nineteen kilometers and change to go.

Ugh.

At the ten kilometer mark, a bitter taste swept through my mouth as I felt the blood drain from my face. The heat and humidity scorched me that day. I rubbed my hands over my temples in a miserable attempt to smooth out a headache. I brushed the salty sweat from my cheeks. I remember two volunteers stared at me with a smile of pity on their faces as they said, “How are you doing?”

I rolled my shoulders back, straightened my spine, and pushed my legs forward as I hobbled briskly past them with a huff of, “I’m doing fine!” I ran as fast as I could (I believe the tortoise past me) before the volunteers had a chance to call the paramedics and yank me from the course.

I did not die that day. You would think I would have learned something. I did not.

I should have dropped out of that scheduled race in September 2018. Truth is, the echoed words of the Quitter Ghost I was, haunted me. As well, I never completed a “sanity check” on tackling a new goal because my mind was already too busy problem-solving while I folded laundry, drove, bought groceries, and—on training runs.

The first day I ran and fell on my face (literally), it was post-appointment with my Cardiologist in May 2018. I was angry with him because I’d spent six months worried about my heart, received a couple of conflicting test results that he explained as “inaccurate,” and then he announced, “Enjoy your summer.”  The implied meaning: Stop worrying. You’re all good.

I decided on that run the Cardiologist was partly right: because I had low blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels, I wasn’t a candidate for heart disease. However, I also realized that if he’d missed something, I needed to fix my eating and exercise habits.  At that very moment, I decided running was no longer an “optional” hobby—it was a requirement for my health.

Then after I made that decision, I stumbled over my feet at my six-hour marathon pace. My body leaned forward. I wobbled. In a final, brave attempt to protect myself, I stretched both hands out as this thought surged through my brain: Holy sh*t! This is going to hurt!

I hit the paved road and skidded. My sunglasses flew off my face and fell ten feet from where the rest of me landed. Finally, the right side of my forehead smacked against the concrete. Pain ricocheted to my neck. Blood poured from both knees and elbows. Chunks of gravel that were mixed in on the road tore a piece of skin off my palm, and it flopped around. I did what any reasonable adult would do—I pushed on the loose skin. It bled. It also—hurt like hell.

That was the first time I fell down on a training run. It was mid-May.

Not long after, my hubby and I faced new problems. We went to have dinner one night with my husband’s father and noticed a yellow tinge coated his skin and the whites of his eyes. My husband and I blinked at him. He was jaundice and had failed to see it. A few months later, my father-in-law would be diagnosed with bile duct cancer—an aggressive and rare form of the disease.

Around the end of July, while my brain worked on moving around all the pieces of my puzzling life, I stumbled again on a training run. I managed not to hit my head on the pavement. But those barely healed elbows and knees dripped with crimson again. As I peeled myself off the road at a three-way intersection and limped away, I muttered for a bit, before I threw my head back and erupted into snorts of laughter. I decided at that moment that if there were a third fall, I might not be so lucky. Once I was home, and after I tended to my bleeding bits, I transferred to the Ten Kilometer Race.

It took two falls for me to realize that I may have over-committed myself to that half-marathon. Yet, throughout the final part of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, I still missed the bigger picture.

My pace sped up to supersonic speed as I attempted to help my mother settle into a new city; support my husband after my father-in-law passed away following an operation meant to extend his life a little, ended up taking it instead; walk that same tendon-pulling lab on at least two walks a day; keep our house tidy so luggage-packing vermin don’t make it their new “home”; work on my writing; meet with my friends so they know they’re important to me; maintain some level of exercise, and on, and on it went….

I tried to keep the pace up by multitasking more often, by doing three or four things at once as opposed to just two, by getting less sleep—by using every second of the day as efficiently as I could. My body in response to this non-stop to-do list responded: I would get chest pains and tightness in my throat when I thought about being late for work; my left eye twitched at random times; when I forgot to do something I would (or wanted to) cry; when I sat down to write, my stories were littered with run-on and incomplete sentences, common spelling mistakes, and I struggled to remember how to spell simple words. One evening when I attempted to write a query letter to a literary agent, I blinked at my monitor after I typed the word quankered.  I shook my head in frustration. I googled the word, but it took some time because I didn’t even have the first letter right.

The word I meant to type was—CONQUERED.

I realized something in the summer of 2019: I couldn’t do it all.

I know some people will say they can do more than me, and they don’t understand what my issue is. Some will also say, “I need to employ better time-management skills.”

Those people are correct. 

What I also know is that I need to make choices. Decisions, that are neither easy or ones without consequences. Some of the changes in my life revolve around applying better “time-management skills”; others require me to be more assertive and say, “Sorry, I just can’t do it.”

In the fall of 2019, the most significant decision I made was to leave my full-time position. For me, I realized that after eight years of working full-time and writing on the side, I couldn’t do both anymore. If I wanted to improve in my craft I needed to take courses, commit more time to edits, market my blog, attend writing conferences, create more short stories, and build other manuscripts. I already didn’t have the time to do the things I had to do. Where would I find the hours needed to do all the other tasks that would allow me the smallest chance of success in a very competitive industry?

There’s no guarantee of success. I know that. But, dropping down to one full-time job was the right decision for me at this point in my life. I’m one hundred percent certain of my choice for this reason: This Superwoman’s tired—and that’s why I’ve decided—to trash my cape.

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