When Is Enough?
By Lizzy Scully
“Enough” isn’t a concept I understand very well.
My longtime climbing/personal trainer, Chris, says, “Lizzy, you just need to stop. Don’t do that extra push-up or crunch. Stop well before you get tired. Just stop.”
Chris has been saying this to me ever since I met him, and for most of my obsessive, compulsive 19-year climbing career.
My 40-year-old body looks fit and healthy, but I’m a wreck. Arthritis and overuse have destroyed my joints, and I have perma-tendonitis. Pretty much every time I set my gnarled feet on the rock, they (and many other body parts) hurt. Hell, it takes me an hour to get out of bed in the morning.
Despite this, I alternate between listening to Chris and ignoring him. Last time I saw him, I told him, “OK, I really will stop after my expedition to Greenland.” He shrugged and rolled his eyes.
So now that I’m back from Greenland, am I stopping? Yes. OMFG. And it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done.
No climbing. No swimming. No running. No in-line skating. No road biking.
No. No. No.
“How about yoga?” I asked Chris.
Of course, I don’t have to listen to him. But I know he’s right.
“You’re only getting older,” he explains. “It takes longer to heal. You can heal now and maybe climb hard sometime next year. Or, you can injure yourself again and not climb at all, ever.” He reminds me about the year I took off between 2011 and 2012 as a result of ignoring an injured shoulder. And there was the year I took off in 2010, and the nine months in 2008, and…
But, ugh. It has been five weeks, and I have done almost nothing. I feel grossly out of shape. Am I? Not really. It’s only been 40 days, and I haven’t exactly been stagnant. I ride my bicycle around town, I walk a lot, and I have taken a few Nia and gentle yoga classes (don’t tell Chris). But I feel so dang out of shape. A lifetime of hardcore exercising is hard to let go of.
But, to tell you the truth, I actually see progress. My belly may be ever so slightly thicker, but my body doesn’t hurt as much. The tendonitis in my hips is healing; I no longer feel sharp pains in my shoulders when I lift things over my head; and, surprisingly, I feel an odd sense of relaxation…it’s not like anything I’ve felt before. It’s confusing.
The little devil trainer on my right shoulder still whispers in my ear: “You are lame! Lame! Push harder!!! Harder! You’ll get out of shape if you don’t! No one will like or respect you!”
What a jerk, no?
“I’ve got doctor’s orders to stop, you creep!” I tell him.
Maybe you’ve never experienced that alter ego egging you on? If not, I’m glad. He’s really annoying. And he’s wrong. People will still like me if I don’t exercise. It’s true that my climbing friends don’t call as often; already twice this past month a climbing pal has blown me off because of climbing. I couldn’t go. They went anyway. But if climbing is more important than friendship, then I’m not sure I want those friends anyway.
More importantly, I’m really starting to like myself more than I ever have. I actually have time to hang out with myself, play my mandolin, meditate, and be with friends who would rather be with
me than climb. And with all that time I used to spend obsessing about training, I am now ambling to the post office, gardening, and not driving. I’m even walking more slowly (i.e. at the pace of a normal person). The world looks different at this pace. I notice things more—kiddos playing in a park, the colors of birds, the weeds in my front yard.
This is a new thing for me. Moving slowly. I honestly doubt it will last. Old habits take time to change, and I like being strong, light, and fast. But what I have learned is that it is, in fact, OK to just stop sometimes. And, truth be told, eventually I will not be able to move quickly. Nor will I be as light as I am right now. And strength… that will ebb away, too. I think I have a good 30 or 40 years left of being fit (my mom still kicks butt, literally; she got her black belt in Karate at age 72).
But in this short period of time off… because of doctor’s orders to STOP, I have glimpsed a world where I don’t need these things to be happy, relaxed, or content. And that’s enough for me to know, for now.