I don’t really believe in Murphy’s Law because, ultimately, I’m an optimist; however, I do find it interesting that as soon as I posted about how smooth the waters have been, I got hurt. And it’s not that the waters have been rough ever since, it’s just that they have not been as awesome.
As I write this I’m 14 days post severe ankle sprain from a simple misstep on a flat trail run. I’ve sprained my ankle badly before but the discomfort from this one is otherworldly. In addition to leaning heavily on my tight community of physical therapist friends, I’ve sought medical advice (i.e. imaging from physicians) on two occasions to confirm there is no fracture in my aching fibula. So, I’m stuck with the hand I’ve been dealt: a gnarly ankle sprain which is leaving me in pain, uncomfortable and, most trying of all, inactive.
Inactivity is very difficult for me for a multitude of reasons. At baseline I like to move my body. I’m a physical therapist; it’s in my nature to move and I firmly believe in the benefits of moving. PT’s have a hard time not moving. Additionally, if you’ve ever met my parents then you understand where I get it. At the age of 70, neither of them has ever nor will they ever sit still. It’s not a nervous energy or an obsession with exercise or calorie management; it’s simply a desire to move versus not. The other thing that I’ve come to learn about myself is that I have an inner ear dysfunction (endolymphatic hydrops-more on that later) that not only contributes to a heightened nervous system, but also tends to leave me a bit dizzy and off balance compared to other people my age. The best way to combat my funky balance center is to move and give lots of input to my system. I didn’t know about these hydrops until this past year, but all the pieces of the puzzle make sense. Oh and I’ve got a touch of, thankfully well controlled, anxiety. So add all four of those components together plus a deep desire to play outside, and this has made the past 14 days very trying. To me it’s healthy to move and be active, but with that desire comes a struggle when moving freely is not an option. My brother suffered a severe brain injury eleven years ago, which has taken away a great deal of his ability to move independently. Freedom of movement is not something I take for granted. (Read: Eleven Years Ago & One Big Year Ahead)
2013 marked the year that I began to discover my relationship with anxiety, something that didn’t come fully in to light until right before this trip, but I’ll get to that. I’m not sure anyone would have described me as “anxious” prior to 2013, but I definitely liked to move or better put, be busy. Jon is fully capable of occasionally spending a few hours lounging on the couch watching TV and fully recharging. I’m usually good for a show or two and then I’ve got to get up and do something. Not necessarily go for a run, just shift or putter around the house. Additionally, in 2013 we were deeply in to fertility treatment, namely IVF, which meant I had to keep my heart rate low and I actually went out on medical leave from my job as a physical therapist due to the high amount of lifting required. As soon as I returned to work after that episode, I was out again on medical leave one month later due to blowing out both of my knees in a skiing incident. Again, rendered inactive for a prolonged amount of time. I had PT exercises and arm bikes at my disposal, but it wasn’t the same as physically moving my body the way that I preferred. The cherries on top of that year was being at the finish line of the Boston Marathon across the street from the second bomb and Jon getting hit by a car on his bike. While I don’t let bad things weigh me down or define me, they are undeniably folded in to the fabric of my being and, at times more than others, need to be addressed. That year tipped the scales for me. I was someone who, at baseline, had energy to burn, a nervous system that liked stimulation and now I had straight up situational anxiety. In addition to PTSD therapy, I coped with the events of the marathon by going through the day and processing it during runs and rides. Moving through trauma. However, when moving wasn’t an option due to IVF and the knee injuries, the anxiety started to fester, but I didn’t realize it at first.
During that year, while living in Boulder, I kept trying to answer the question of “What do I like to do when I can’t be active and play outside?” I never came up with an answer and that still bothers me. There are things that I enjoy like photography, coloring, reading, organizing and purging (OMG I LOVE IT), but they certainly don’t fill a void. I thought about going for drives, but there wasn’t a place I was dying to go…except to the ocean…1700 miles in either direction from Colorado. Uh oh. Oh and by the way, the events and realizations of 2013 are yet another way in which our year of living in the van came about. I had this feeling like I had to live near the water or at least know that it was within arms reach. However, I love Boulder. We went to Portland, OR and Portland, ME to “try them on for size”, wondering if we wanted to move. While I adore both of those places, Jon and I agreed that living at either place didn’t feel right at the time. But, travelling to each in a van sounded like a great idea. And there you go, one more layer to the onion that explains how this year in a van came to be.
Four months before we left for our trip, I underwent my second bout of vertigo in two years. I have an intimate knowledge of vertigo both professionally and personally and I can say with much authority that I hate vertigo. The intense episode I dealt with prior to hitting the road, while frustrating and debilitating, helped me learn both a cause for my vertigo and how my apparently daily struggle with anxiety was contributing. However, before gains were made and treatment was found, I once again went through a period of inactivity. Things that don’t help when you both like to move and have a touch of anxiety is sitting still. With the help of Jaimy Wahab, a fellow physical therapist in Boulder who specializes in vestibular disorders (i.e. vertigo), I was diagnosed by an ENT with endolymphatic hydrops. Extremely simply put, my left inner ear is unable to manage fluid levels correctly, which predisposes me to bouts of vertigo. I can help control it by managing my sodium intake, but there is no guarantee and no cure. During my time with Jaimy, she helped me realized that the anxiety I felt regarding my vertigo, while valid, was clouding my nervous system. My system couldn’t differentiate between vertigo/dizziness and/or anxiety. As she listened to the tale of my life over the past few years in addition to my vertigo, she pointed out that controlling my anxiety and worry around feeling dizzy would help us clinically identify contributing factors and treatment for the vertigo. Therefore, with her help and along with Jon saying, “you know how you think you just have situational anxiety, well you actually have it all the time.” (Um, what? That was news to me…or was it?!). He was absolutely correct. I almost felt relieved when he said it as matter of fact because the truth was that I’d been living with a horrible pit in my stomach for longer than I’d care to admit, but bringing that all to the surface meant maybe I didn’t have to live with that feeling. I marched in to my PCP’s office, took a little quiz she gave me about anxiety and walked out with a prescription for Celexa and I’ve never looked back. I adore taking those 10 mg every morning. It makes me feel like I’m in control in this out of control world. I simply feel relieved not to have that daily pit in my stomach and I’m happy to take this medication every day for the rest of my life if needed.
So here I am with an injured ankle and I’m not moving. I’m once again trying to answer the question of what I like to do when I can’t move freely or do the things I love. Sure I’m happy to follow Jon around while he rides and visit with friends, but I still like to move. The van is a form of movement, but not in the right way.
The semi-answer remains that I prefer to be near the water. So, with a fresh ankle injury we did our best to find water. We skipped South Dakota and it’s oppressive heat and made it to Madison where our friends at Xterra Boards had sent us a SUP board. Jon had posted something on Facebook about being in the market for a board and I responded by saying, “we are?” One thing is for certain; Jon continues to be one step ahead of me when it comes to knowing what I want. How did he know it was something we’ve been missing and something that would make me feel complete and liberated. I didn’t know what I was missing, truly, but he did. I remember when the package was delivered to our friend’s house because at that moment I felt relief. All I could picture was my fat, aching ankle floating in a body of water. Freedom. While we didn’t physically make it to the lake the first few days we had the board, I knew it was within reach and that made me feel calmer.
Since moving on from Madison to the shockingly beautiful “Third Coast” as some adoringly refer to Michigan, we’ve used the board every day. It takes 5 minutes to set up and break down. It’s light, it makes me smile and, best of all, Penny loves it. She hops up on it like a seasoned SUP-er. She’s shaky and awkward and keeps falling in, often taking one of us with her, but we are love seeing this side of our adventure puppy. So maybe, at this moment in time, my freedom of moment comes in the form of floating and I’m okay with that. Floating on and within the medium that makes me feel most at home and most calm in this world is a great solution right now. As humans we often say that you can’t help whom you love. Well, I love the water. We’ve entered Eastern Standard Time, a time zone we will be in for a very long time. Being in this zone can only mean one thing: the ocean is near; but first, some lakes.