I signed up to run the Charity Chase Half Marathon in Hickory a few months ago. It’s the one Maggie would run every year. I signed up thinking that it would motivate me immediately into running and training and getting in shape, and drinking liquid spinach again, and that 13.1 miles would seem like a breeze by the time the race rolled around and that in no time I’d have one of those stickers to put on my car. It would give me something to do, a way to channel my grief into something productive. Something to focus on, something to write about. Something to be proud of.
But I strained some muscles in my back during personal training one Thursday doing some ab work that was, in retrospect, too much for me to handle and it left me unable to work out at all for a while. Just sitting and heat packs and rest. The week I started to feel better, Boyfriend and I went and got dinner at Five Guys and the day after that I spent the morning in Asheville. I stopped and got a large Chicken McNuggets combo from McDonald’s on the way home and felt like I’d betrayed everything I know about nutrition. And then the next time I tried to run, I could barely handle a mile. So please someone tell me how I'm supposed to handle that times 13.1?
I got home, and Boyfriend and I had Mellow Mushroom for dinner. One of our favorite spots, but let it be known that we’ve taken down a good few large pizzas just the two of us. I thought it’d be fine since I could go to spin class the next day. But then I got there and class was full – which never happens on a Sunday class, for the record. And then a bunch of other things happened and a friend took a rain check on a coffee date and I got some news from another friend at church and I suddenly felt very alone. Alone with my thoughts about overeating and underexcercising and pants not fitting – with my old friends Body Shame and Food Guilt.
I spent the rest of the day with Boyfriend. He napped, I read. And I made a decision to not let my “you’re failing” feelings overpower me, as they tend to try to do.
So I made a fruit smoothie and I came up with an exercise plan for the next week and redeemed my Groupon for 2 weeks of unlimited Pure Barre, but more importantly, I made a promise to myself – that I would no longer let food and exercise rule how I felt about myself. I’d exercise not for vanity, but for strength, for my goal of running for Maggie, not looking better in a mirror or fitting into smaller pants. I’d eat in a way that fueled my body well and made me happy, which means salmon and protein but also occasional Trader Joe’s cookie butter cups (because come on, you guys, those things) and the occasional pizza date night.
I don’t want to let food decide how I get to feel about myself – to allow if I had a bad day or good day depend on if I ate too much or ran too little. Those things are important to me, but they’re not everything. What they have to say and how they make me feel can be useful, but not always true. They help me gauge where I’m deriving my value from. But it’s not just about food guilt. It’s about comparing how I’m doing to how everybody else is doing – where I am in life compared to where other people are. Like life is a big race or something.
I want to go to weddings and not have a yearning for when my own is going to happen. I want to be able to talk to a friend who’s going through a hard breakup without feeling the need to hush about my own relationship. I want to applaud my friend who’s dropped several jean sizes in the last year without feeling ashamed that I haven’t done the same thing and that I’m sitting on my couch eating Cheez-Its right now. I want us all to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I want us to stop keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t want to feel all this jealousy over other peoples’ lives. But it’s like one of those secrets of grown-up-dom that I fear I will never master, like how to drink black coffee without making a face.
We just need to open our eyes and our hearts to realize that we all have shame, we all have guilt and some anxiety and hard things and issues and things that make us feel less-than. Or maybe some people don’t; I don’t know. That must be great. I’d love to be that person. But I, for one, have lots of shame and guilt and weird feelings and issues and problems. And I’m pretty sure that all the people who run faster than I can and wear smaller jeans than I do and are getting married and having babies sooner than I am do, too. Maybe they have things that are harder than my hard things. And maybe our hard things were designed especially for us – to make us better and stronger. And maybe, just maybe, if we all put our problems in a big pile, we’d take our own back again. I know I would. Because I want to fight my shame and guilt. I know them well. Their ins and outs, their intricacies, what they like to feed on, what makes them grow and what makes them shudder. I don’t want to run away from them. I want to fight them, knowing that it’s a decision I’ll have to make every morning and a battle I might not win every day. And I want to help other people fight theirs, too. But I can’t do that unless I’m willing to face my own.
I figure the best way to run a half marathon is to decide to start somewhere. I think the same thing is true for battling shame and guilt. Because maybe it's not about winning. Maybe it's simply about trying. That’s why I choose to fight.
For longevity. For honor. Not jealousy. Not shame.
So that I can be my best self. And help others do the same thing.
So that I can be proud of what my body can do, not ashamed of what it can’t.
So that I can run a half marathon, or at least run-walk one to honor my friend.
So that I can cheer on others who are doing the same thing.
That’s the goal. To not care about who’s faster or slower or skinnier or bigger. Or who eats more or less Cheez-Its than I do, or who’s ahead and who’s behind, or who has better form at Pure Barre, or who’s working harder than me at spin class, but to celebrate that I’m able to be there in the first place, working hard so that I can honor my friend not by running or walking or run-walking, but by finishing a half marathon. And then so I can go home and enjoy my Cheez-Itz.
Or my Five Guys. Because, if you’ll excuse me, a morning of Pure Barre means I need a cheeseburger. In my stretchy jeans. Hold the guilt.
And figuring all of that out is the greatest gift Maggie could give me—one she’s smiling over, and I’m certain it’s not the last.