Earlier this year I spoke at a women’s roundtable alongside some of LA’s top female influencers in the cycling community. I shared my story of the eight months prior to, the health challenges I was facing, and how they affected my life on and off the bike. This small, intimate event was a big deal to me. You see, I have a tendency to internalize and often remain very private about my personal life, my emotions, and the anxious thoughts that are actually running rampant in my head. I hide behind quip. I avoid having to talk about myself and I control conversations by asking questions instead (as a result, I am a REALLY good listener). After my diagnosis last summer, it took me five months just to publicly confess my reasons behind my disappearing act, so you can imagine how sharing my experience for the first time with people staring me straight in the face, no phone or computer screen to hide behind, would be a big deal.
After the panel discussion ended I naturally migrated over to a table of goodies and grabbed myself a cup of coffee. It was then that I was approached by a woman (Let’s call her Ysabel for anonymity) who, with a smile from ear-to-ear, thanked me for sharing my story, acknowledged me for how difficult it must be, and empathized with me (for she, too, had faced very different challenges, but similar in the effects it had on her life, health, and spirit). What a great feeling to know that someone else could relate. Someone else in this room full of kickass female athletes knew what it was like to feel so fatigued that you’d rather starve than go through the struggle of walking yourself to the kitchen. So tired that the simple act of standing up didn’t seem like an option worth my while. I wasn’t alone. Someone else knew, and there were likely more of us out there who’s Egos were standing in the way of admitting it (This is a direct reference to myself. As I point my finger there are four others pointing right back at me).
Fast forward to late March, when my health took another turn for the worse and all the moving parts of everyday life were becoming unmanageable. I needed to face the hard reality that my routine was unsustainable. I had already let go of anything and everything you could describe as fun or enjoyable. No time for that. I had spent a total of 32 days in a clinic, doctors office, or some sort of testing lab over a span of 11 months. More than a month of my life in less than a year – drawing blood, collecting urine, sitting by myself in waiting rooms, listening to doctors use words I had never heard of and then spending the remainder of that day researching them. That’s not counting all the additional time spent in self-prescribed Acupuncture visits, yoga classes, and dedicated meditation sessions in efforts to calm the mind. Who had time for fun? Not this girl. Holy. Fuck. But I still needed to let more go, and that’s when I made the hard decision to take a leave from work.
It seems silly that this would be such a big deal. Many people have taken disability leaves for far less complex reasons. But it was the meaning that I attached to it that was making this difficult for me. It meant defeat. It meant I wasn’t as good or as strong or as fierce as I used to be. I realize now it was all bullshit.
Afraid. Defeated. Alone. Anxious. Weak. Broken. Useless. Hopeless. Terrified. Terrified. Terrified.
All those were feelings that came with this decision. All driven by fear. All ultimately coming from Ego. Then Ysabel came to mind. I remembered her telling me she was unable to work for some time during her experience, so I opened up social media and reached out in desperation for words from someone who’s worn these panicked shoes.
Fast forward to yesterday. After four months of separation from work and chronic stress, I felt like my health was finally manageable and I was back in a fairly decent spot, or at least headed that way. Wrong. My Cortisol levels are back up to four times the norm and my doctor decides to increase the dosage of the study drug because it’s stopped working or I’ve built a tolerance or something. Who really knows. Needless to say, all those feelings I highlighted above came flooding back.
I went out on my bike this morning for some moving meditation to help clear my head. After meeting up with the group I intended to ride with, they chose to take a route that I knew was harder than I needed to push. So I buried my Ego and decided to forgo. Instead I rode to the ocean and sat there and cried. I cried because I was scared. Because I felt broken. Because I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I’m not physically the same Emily. Here I was all over again. And then my adult temper tantrum was interrupted by a woman’s voice speaking my name. She was someone I had met on a ride once in the Santa Monica mountains a few months prior and was just finishing her early morning workout. She sat with me for an hour and the deeper we got into our conversation the more I noticed all those above highlighted feelings fade. She told me that although she had only met me once, she had overheard something I said in conversation with another woman on that ride that stuck with her.
“If your legs hurt more than your face does from smiling, you’re doing it wrong.”
That woman she overheard me talking to was Ysabel. Funny how everything comes full circe.
Fast forward to this moment. I write these words just after returning from my ride turned unexpected therapy session and revisiting the response I received after reaching out to Ysabel in my moments of despair.
As my eyes flood with tears, my head floods with thoughts, and my heart floods with gratitude. My tears now are ones of pride in the realization that I made the best decision for myself in leaving work and creating space, and that realization will be the foundation of all decisions moving forward. Tears of joy because in the end, I find more satisfaction in hanging back, creating relationships, and cultivating a positive energy for people to carry with them beyond a bike ride than I do in being at the front of the pack all the time. Tears of hope that although my health challenges may not ever be truly resolved, I am continuing to learn how to create a better, healthier life for myself and in doing that, I am silently setting an example for others to do the same. But mostly, tears of gratitude for not just Ysabel, but the people like her who I have shared my innermost battles with over the last year and have selflessly extended their time, advice, love, and kindness. The strangers listening to my kookiness and the aforementioned quip I sometimes hide behind, who end up helping me through emotional turmoil on a random Friday morning when I least expect to be found. The friends on both coasts I text before the sun even rises because I’m having a moment – and they respond without hesitation. There are many of them. And I’m thankful for each and every one.
Today is Friday. And as always on SEXY Friday, there’s always a takeaway. The Universe is a funny place and when you let go of resistance it will mysteriously work for you, never against you. When you find yourself in panic or fear, let the thoughts go. Think of something you are grateful for. You will find that gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions you can practice in your everyday life. The problem is, we don’t practice it enough.
I heard this fable once, it went something like this…
A guy was stuck wounded in a dark well. A doctor walked by and threw him an RX. A little while later, a Priest walked by and recited a prayer for him. Soon after, a friend of his walked by and after realizing his buddy was stuck in this well, jumps in.
The guy says “What’d you do that for?! Now we’re both stuck in this darkness!”
The friend smiles and says “Yes, but I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”