All of us live a life constructed of stories. In most of those stories, we will cast ourselves as the hero or the victim, occasionally as the villain. This has to do with the vagaries of memory, which is highly unreliable, and ego, which can be relied upon in most cases to reinforce whatever it is we already think about ourselves, often regardless of the facts.
Here are some facts. In October 2021 I copped a bout of diverticulitis, which is fun to say but much less fun to endure. In November I got Lyme disease. This wasn’t too bad. I caught it early and the antibiotics saved me after only a day or two of shivers and fatigue. In December, actually on New Year’s Eve, which was also my 50th birthday, I got Covid. Dead on my feet for 10 days, except for all the parts where I was dead on the couch. In February, I strained by back while at physical therapy for my Achilles tendonitis, and that took nearly a month to resolve. In April I had a reprieve and began, finally to put some fitness back together. But in May I got bronchitis and did another spell of heavy fatigue and chest congestion.
After each illness or injury, I felt motivated to get back on the
horse bike, get back to trail running, etc., but I kept breaking down. This was, as you can imagine, enormously frustrating, and it’s also where the facts fade out, and the stories begin.
I began to see myself as a victim. What is wrong that these things keep happening to me? What have I done to deserve this? Everything would be ok if only I could get and stay healthy. That would solve all my problems. Most of my problems, and I think this is a fact not a story, reside between my two ears. Health and fitness may be contributing factors, but they are not the bad guys my story-telling-self would make them.
I was on a trail run, maybe 6 weeks ago, with my friend Meghna. It was one more restart on the path to fitness, and I was saying to her, “I just can’t seem to get any traction these last few months. I’m breaking down and getting sick over and over again. Maybe this just how it is once you’re 50.” Cue the sad trombones.
And she said, I’m paraphrasing here, “You keep talking about all these setbacks and focusing on them, but the story I hear is about a person who falls down and keeps getting up.”
As a person who still too often buys his own bulls**t, this brief reinterpretation blew my mind. I felt a little embarrassed, suddenly becoming aware of how I’d been whining and complaining, while running, with a friend, in the woods. There is a lot there to unpack. Like what have we been learning to do all these years if not to endure difficulties, if not to keep our eyes up and our bodies moving forward.
In about two sentences Meghna recast me from victim to hero of my own story, and while I’m nothing like the most heroic hero (it’s just riding bikes for chrissakes), it doesn’t matter, because it was the positive spin I needed. Even as I type these words, I’m still clearing out the remains of my late May bronchitis. I’ve been on the bike, hacking and spluttering, rolling along at a pace I think won’t tip me over again. And I’m reminded that what is happening to me can mean anything I want it to, or anything I make it mean.
And that just makes for a better story. I’m sure you agree.
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