Try something for me really quick: Notice your shoulders, your glutes. Are they tense, clenched? Unclench your butt, drop your shoulders. Breathe. Specifically, breathe into your core. Your lower belly expands. Imagine the breath going right into your core and spreading through your body.
Do you maybe feel some tears welling up?
I don’t know about you, but when I do this simple thing, I almost always cry.
The diagnosis is in: I most likely have trochanteric bursitis, on my right side, caused by muscle imbalance rooted in poor posture and exacerbated by overly flexible larger muscles (quads, hamstrings) taking over for my smaller, stabilizing muscles in my core. So my loosey-goosey legs have caused my gait to let me adduct (my knees fly inward) and collapse (my lower back takes on the work and my upper body sinks into my hips) when I run and get tired, instead of engaging these small muscles further inward in my hips that are there for stability, balance, and control.
The prescription? Mostly what you’d expect. A few exercises that target my core muscles to strengthen them, that reteach me how to engage my core muscles instead of making my hip flexor and back do all the work, and keeping my cardio up to date with the stationary bike (the kind with the back so my posture doesn’t collapse).
But there was a little more. “Relax. Breathe.”
Shit. It sounds so simple, but when I tell you I majored in performing arts for four years and the very, very most basic shit is to breathe and find neutral and relax… it’s ridiculous how completely and totally I have been forgetting to do just that.
Most people who read this blog read it for the race recaps, right? Maybe some know me in real life and read it for motivation to do their own workouts, or to talk shop about running. I’m not sure the percentage of people who read this blog who know me as a former actor. And while I never went to Broadway, acting was my world. It was my academic major and my extracurricular activity. It was where I made all my friends. It was where I thought my life was going to be centered around. Because I was good.
I was good because I was open. I could access my own emotions and readily empathize with words on the page of a script that comprised a character. I was known to some of my professors for my ability to cry on cue.
To some, without studying acting as an art and craft, if I were to tell you I used to be able to cry on cue, you might think that made me manipulative.
On the contrary, I was actually a terrible actor if I couldn’t relate to my character. It didn’t matter how realistic or unrealistic the character or the play; if the writing made the character feel like a filler to me, I readily accepted tomatoes. I got a bad review once and I was like, “yeah dude, I know. I have no idea who the fuck this character is supposed to be. Even the Wikipedia page says this character is filler for the plot.”
But most characters I got to play had at least some very human moments in the writing that I could build the character’s world around.
All this to say, I didn’t just call up tears magically to my eyes. I was just really good at noticing the bare-faced, brazen humanity in a given situation and, in a breath, cry to release all the things it made me feel.
Release. That’s key.
I think there’s a difference between crying for release and crying in despair.
I used to be really good at crying for release, and believe it or not, it has saved my life.
Second fun fact about Nevie: not just a former actor, but acutely afflicted with clinical depression and occasional (rarely, but it’s there) suicidal thoughts. But my ability to release my feelings through tears and words and to be able to reach out and ask for help has been what’s saved my life in those moments.
Here I am a person who has always told my friends that it is brave to let yourself feel pain and cry for it. That it’s easier to freeze what pains us and push it away and forget about it, but eventually it makes itself known and hits you harder and explodes.
I believe that now more than ever.
Because I haven’t been taking my own advice for the last couple of months. I’ve been laser-focused on survival. I moved out on my own, determined not to move back in with my parents this time like I did last time. Determined to prove to myself I’m finally independent. Determined to prove to myself I’m “over” the things that have hurt my feelings and pained me in the past. Determined to prove to myself I’m strong, strong even enough to run a whole marathon.
So I’ve panicked in the last couple of months when I’ve felt myself about to cry. Nope, I say. Nope, I’m not sad anymore. I’m very strong.
Um, HELLO, Brooks! You’re the one who’s always said it takes strength and courage to allow yourself to cry!
Maybe it’s not such a coincidence that today my physical therapist proclaimed my core very, very weak and it’s what has caused bursitis of the hip and the sharp, explosive pains I’ve felt in my hips, my core.
Maybe I’m just finding poetry in basic physical, biological science, but when I was training as an actor, my amazing teachers always stressed the connection of the mind and soul to the physical body, that it all connects at our core. That we store memories physically in our bodies. So when my physical therapist said to me today, “A lot of times when people get injured they end up exacerbating the injury because they go on guard and tense up to protect themselves in the injured area,” I almost burst into tears at the poetry of it. Isn’t that what we do with heartbreak, too?
So yeah, I’ve been neglecting my strength training in these recent weeks. Oddly enough, though, skipping yoga isn’t what did me in. When I asked my PT if I should do yoga for rehab he said, “No, I wouldn’t. Well, some poses in yoga are good for this. But you’re plenty flexible. You’re too flexible, actually. Focus on balance and strength, not flexibility.”
I couldn’t believe what a poet my PT was without even knowing it! Here I’ve been focusing all summer on being flexible and not making a fuss and being “laid back,” showing how flexible I can be, that I haven’t been speaking up as much about things that bother me like I used to. I haven’t been as rooted to my beliefs, my beliefs about everything from Body Pump being just as important as running when it comes to training for a race, to my once deeply-rooted belief that crying is extremely healthy, in the name of being “flexible.”
Obviously, my PT was referring more to my sit-and-reach champion title from high school gym class than my emotional flexibility, my schedule flexibility. But I couldn’t help but think about the other implications.
So I have my plan. I have my answers to what’s causing my pain, what started it, and how to fix it. I even have the confidence from my PT (the wonderful Dr. Hiza Mbwana at KimbiaPhysio) that I can feasibly do the Marine Corps Marathon in 4 weeks if I am dedicated enough to doing my strength exercises and am vigilant enough about how I move and how I feel. It’s up to me now. To practice real strength, not just flexibility, and to breathe. To not panic. To trust.