For the past four years, I have been adrift. When I think about my identity as a person, so much of who I identified for the majority of my life changed when I graduated from college. Being a student definitely encompassed much of my life—I don’t remember a time when grades weren’t a stress or thought in my life. I liked learning, and I was always a really good student, so being successful or being the best in my class was really important.
Another part of my identity was really wrapped up in being an athlete. I wasn’t an Olympic athlete or anything, but being a varsity soccer player in college definitely helped shape how I viewed myself. Part of that identity focused around the thought that I was worth dating or knowing if I was an athlete. I remember distinctly being introduced to someone as Danny’s girlfriend (Danny wasn’t there), and she looked me up and down and said, “Danny Kloosterman’s girlfriend? No, I don’t think so.”
The person introducing me said, “Yes, and she’s a soccer player.”
So, to me, the fact that I was a soccer player made it more believable that Danny would be interested in me.
Another part of that athlete identity focused on my self-image of my body. When I was playing soccer, I was constantly working out—a lot of times, I worked out in secret. I would go to practice, but then, I would bike in the gym for an hour or go to the track and run several miles. I wanted people to tell me I was dedicated, and I used the excuse that I was trying to better my status on the team to fuel my obsession with working out.
But, by the winter of my senior year in college, my workout obsession was put on hold when I had reconstructive knee surgery (exacerbated by my constant workouts, no doubt). I was in a straight leg brace for eight weeks, and I had to learn to bend my knee again. Needless to say, I didn’t go to the gym or run for several months.
Then, I graduated. Then, a month later, I got married. Then, I moved into an apartment, away from a gym and a track. And, then, my battle with my mind and my body really began.
When I think back on the first year or so after I graduated from college, I really think that I would have had a much better time of things if I had just kept on to one part of myself. I went from living in intentional community with lots of friends to just living with Danny—all of our college friends moved away. I went from being a varsity athlete to not being able to walk up the stairs in my apartment building without feeling like my leg would fall off. I went from talking about literature all the time to working with little kids, many of whom did not want to hear my thoughts about feminist theory.
During these past years, I have done countless workouts. I’ve tried Jillian Michaels DVDs and enjoyed them. I’ve done some at-home cross-fit workouts, and they worked well, but they were hard to do since I didn’t have a yard or, really, a floor where I could do anything. I have done lots and lots of Zumba, which I have absolutely loved, but still, I have felt really adrift. I haven’t felt like an athlete at all, and it has been really distressing. It’s hard to feel like an athlete when you are doing power yoga by yourself. It’s hard to feel like a hardcore athlete when you are shaking your hips like Shakira.
Losing that athlete identity has really, really impacted the way I see myself. Instead of being able to quiet thoughts about food knowing that I needed the fuel for my sport, I have become scared of everything I put in my mouth. Instead of feeling proud of myself and what my body was capable of doing, I have become ashamed, and I can’t evaluate what I look like anymore. Even though my old clothes still fit, I feel like I don’t fit in my skin, and I hate looking in the mirror.
The best part of soccer practice, for me, was always the fact that I could channel my anger, frustration, doubts, and fears into a physical activity. If I was mad about a paper, I could run after a ball as hard as I could. If I was scared about dating Danny, I could push a girl on the ground and feel pretty good about myself.
Out of desperation one day, I laced up my shoes, put in my earbuds, and headed to the track across the street. It seemed like a useless activity—the day before, I had tried to run, but it hurt both of my knees too much. But, the minute I stepped on the track and decided to just walk, I felt a sort of freedom overtake me. There was another person on the track, but I decided to walk, just for me. I think I listened to System of a Down, and I focused on walking as fast as I could. With each lap around the track, I felt my black mood lift. I was able to move my arms and legs, and it really felt like my body was slipping back into old patterns.
I have been back to the track regularly for about a month, and at first, I felt really embarrassed. A former athlete just walking? That’s hardly impressive since my Facebook and Instagram feeds seem to be overwhelmed with photos of people running marathons, participating in Cross-fit challenges, and conquering the world. But, for me, it’s working. I’ve read tons of blogger articles about overcoming knee pain by icing or meditating (or any other ridiculous idea), but for someone who has had two reconstructive knee surgeries and has very little cartilage left in either knee, I can attest that one can not ice away stabbing knee pains.
So much of me wants to say that walking is not enough. It’s not hardcore—it’s not extreme, and it’s not trendy. I’m not training for a marathon, or a tri-athalon, and I’m not doing Cross-fit. And, I hate that. I want to be that person still. I want to obsess and brag and show everyone how disciplined I am.
But, right now, I can’t. I have to respect my body and the limitations that it has. So, instead of feeling ashamed, for now, I am just walking. Not strolling—I walk a lot faster than I can jog, but I am not pressuring myself to do anything more than walk.
And, today, that feels really freeing. I hope to keep up with my walking journey, and I hope that it helps to heal my wounded heart and brain.
And, I have a pretty sweet walking playlist. Maybe I will share that soon!