Human

This song has a redemptive message for me. It speaks to my tendency to be a workaholic, to the drive that doesn’t know when to stop and the obligation I feel to “be there” for everyone at all times.

But even more specifically, it proclaimed a specific rebuttal to a message that was spoken to me almost a decade ago.

I have never worked myself as hard as I did when I was in college. I regularly worked graveyard shifts at a residence hall desk during which time I completed my homework, and then when I got off, sometimes I would go running or to class. At one point I was taking both sleeping pills and caffeine pills to survive. And then I was starting to prepare for graduate school auditions. So I would lock myself away for hours and get lost in my repertoire.

On one of those days, a friend called and asked me to leave the practice room to go hang out with friends that evening. That was a lot to ask, but after a bit of persuasion I agreed, “just for an hour.” I started to get stressed out when an hour turned into two, and then three. Finally I insisted on resuming my practice. As we walked back to campus together, he asked me how I am able to keep going at the pace that I do. I was annoyed by the challenge, and tried to explain that I was just doing what I needed to do. Maybe he was annoyed with me as well, or just wanted to make a point when he said,

“You’re more like a machine that keeps producing and producing and producing than you are a human being.”

Ouch.

No one wants to be called a machine, no matter how much they act like one.

Those words have echoed through my head ever since.

A few weeks after this scene, I was rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night, and then transferred by ambulance to another hospital. The machine had reached its limit.

I’m only human, and I bleed when I fall down.
I’m only human, and I crash and I break down.

I’m not a machine, and in her single hit, Christina Perri voices both sides of this struggle that many of us face. For me, the imagery of a machine in the music video was especially powerful.

Of course, “only human” isn’t the complete picture. I believe that being human is also something to be celebrated. It’s amazing what humans can do. I added this song to my running playlist and when it started playing during an 18-mile marathon training run the other day, I realized what a bad idea that was. I started seeing images of myself tripping over a pebble and crashing to the ground, knees scraped and bleeding. That’s not the way to get through a difficult workout. In some moments, we do well to celebrate the extraordinary capabilities of humanity.

But as humans, we also have limitations, and as someone who constantly struggles to respect my own limits, this is something I need to hear from time to time. Although I hate falling down, I’m thankful for the reminder that I am not a machine.

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Stress Fracture

It’s Monday night and I’ve been sitting on my couch most of the day. Back when my life was normal, Mondays meant running early in the morning, working at home for several hours, then biking across Paris to teach, biking to another neighborhood to continue teaching, and then often biking somewhere else for an evening event before biking home. So usually one hour of running and then two hours of biking on a typical Monday.

So it felt really strange to sit on my couch all day. 😦

A week ago I finally had an MRI of my pelvis to see why the “adductor tendonitis” wasn’t going away after 10 weeks of rest and therapy. “Know why you’ve been in pain?” The doctor asked as she looked at my results. “You have a stress fracture.”

Crap. When I first got injured and diagnosed, I said, “well at least it’s not a stress fracture! That would mean crutches…”

Instead I continued to walk, bike and occasionally try to run on it for 10+ weeks, thinking it was tendonitis. I did often wonder if it was a stress fracture, based on my symptoms and internet research. I should have gone back to the doctor sooner than I did. I should have trusted my gut, even though I really didn’t want it to be a stress fracture.

Now I’ve been on crutches for six days. I’ve been forced to slow down my pace of life. I can handle about one outing a day. Today I went to get a blood test, but when I arrived they told me I had to wait three hours after eating to take the test and I had eaten two hours earlier (my doctor should have clarified this). It was too much of a pain to go home and then come back, so I slowly made my way to the post office to buy stamps and then stopped at a cafe for a drink while waiting for the hour to pass.

The first couple of days, my forearms were bruised and my armpits and torso were really sore. Today my wrists are in pain from the crutches. I have to take it easy as I’m getting used to the crutches or I will end up injured elsewhere.

The prognosis? Well, in order for the fracture to heal correctly, I cannot bear weight on it for a while. Pain will be my main indicator, said the doctor and several websites. So I will probably be on crutches for a few weeks, or until I am able to walk without pain. But even then, I will have to limit how much I walk. When I can swim/waterjog and bike without pain, I can resume those activities. Already the pain is lessening, although it is definitely not gone yet. But during the whole ten weeks, walking hurt MORE than biking or swimming, so I am hopeful that I will be able to resume these activities soon. I think I will try to make it to the pool later this week.

My doctor said no running until September. I’m really not happy about that because I’m registered for the Chicago Half Marathon on September 8. I’m hopeful that maybe I can start running a little sooner and at least complete the 5k race that is part of the same event. I’ve never run a 5k before.

Well, even though this diagnosis isn’t pleasant, it is more hopeful than just not getting better for no reason. So, one day at a time and I’m believing that I will come out stronger and smarter in the end. Although at this point, I think it might take a lot longer to heal mentally to the point of re-training for a marathon. This experience may continue to haunt me for a while.

Life without Coffee

Early this year, I gave up my daily habit of drinking coffee. For a while, I started drinking it only a few times a week. Now I have it about once a week at most.

This was a big deal for me. Even though I had given up coffee for months at a time in the past, it has been ever-present in most of my adult life. I can hardly imagine how I would have survived ten years of college and graduate school without it. Yes, I spent a number of nights at the 24-hour Starbucks in Chicago writing papers and studying for exams. However, in recent years, I have been more moderate, usually consuming only one (large) cup in the morning. I thought it was reasonable.

However, I realized that I was too physically dependent on coffee. How did I know? Well, I guess the best evidence was that I carried little packets of instant coffee and creamer with me whenever I traveled, just incase at some point, coffee would not be available to me. I got headaches and even migraines if I missed my daily dose. So, I realized it was time to break the cycle. At first, it was hard to give it up physically. I suffered an intense migraine in the days following the cold abandonment of my daily drug. But soon I found that physically, I could get by just fine without coffee. In fact, I have noticed definite physical benefits. No more coffee-related headaches. What’s more, I’ve been sleeping better.

Psychologically, the change was more challenging. I felt like I lost a faithful morning friend who greeted me, comforted me and assured me that the day was going to be just fine, without saying a single word. Ok, that’s exaggerated, but I won’t deny that I enjoyed coffee very much. Maybe too much. So I switched to tea for a while, and then I became content waking up to water. Now I’m okay with it. The health benefits are worth letting go of morning coffee comfort.

However, emotionally and socially, this is still difficult. And I think the two go together. “Getting coffee” with someone has always been one of my favorite things ever. The best conversations with friends happen over coffee. Some of the greatest inspiration comes during chats over coffee.  Often new connections are made over coffee. Even when the meetings are sub-par, you can at least count on enjoying a great cup of coffee. And in Paris, you not only get great coffee, you also get to enjoy great cafes.

My closest friends over the years have picked up on how much a coffee and a good chat could lift my spirits. Friends and family would regularly give me Starbucks gift cards while I lived in Chicago. And often when a close friend would recognize that I was down or just in a crappy mood, they would say, “wanna get coffee?” and suddenly my face would light up. So yes, I admit that there was an emotional attachment, too.

So recently, “getting coffee” has just felt so… different. When I walk into a cafe in Paris, usually the person I’m with quickly orders the standard “café,” which is a simple shot of espresso that costs 1-2 Euros. Not bad. Recently, I was out with someone and ordered the same thing. However, I realized that I didn’t really want coffee. So the next time I found myself at a cafe, I uneasily searched the menu. I like tea, but when you “upgrade” to a tea, you upgrade the cost to 3-5€. Same goes for a juice or a hot chocolate. I ordered tea anyway. It was nice, but it just seemed too pricey. A few teas at that price add up very quickly. The next time I found myself in a café by the Bastille, so prices were even more elevated. I couldn’t find a non-coffee item for less than 4.20€. So the server came and I surprised myself (and my friend, and the server) by saying, “I’ll not take anything.” And suddenly I felt misplaced in one of my favorite places and sad that coffee doesn’t inspire me anymore like it once did.

I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate the social aspect of my conversion. I don’t want to lose the fellowship that comes over coffee… even if, for me, there is no more coffee.