Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thoughts from the Deep End

While I have been doing water aerobics per doctor's orders for the rheumatoid arthritis/spondylitis issue, I've been wanting to pick up swimming as a sport. Moving in the water is much easier than the impact on my joints of working out in open air. The pool is also a place where (despite having to be in a swimsuit) I'm far more comfortable than the weightlifting or aerobic/floor exercise areas, where I feel like a ridiculous impostor and completely out of my depth. I grew up on Long Island, and spent most of my childhood underwater in the Atlantic or in our huge pool at home. Water I can do. Water I know. I may be chunkier than some others in a Speedo, but all I need for this sport is to show up. I don't need to be buff to even begin thinking about participating. I also like that it's an individual thing; I can compete with myself but not feel like a loser for not being as good as, say, Meaghen Harris, my sister and accomplished triathlete. (See her blog for real athlete stuff.)

I've also been thinking a lot lately about where I am professionally and personally, and where I want to be. Somehow, this got all mangled up in my brain while swimming, and I'm going to tell you some of the thoughts that formed enough to write down.

Watch where you are going.

No, really. Sometimes it's that simple. In swimming this morning, it meant that I quickly learned I need goggles, since I kept hitting the wall or getting tangled in the lane dividers. (I bought them after my swim on my way into work.) Whether you are in a new city and learning the streets and the driving habits, walking around a new campus and navigating through and around throngs of bodies, or at work trying not to step on other peoples' toes, be mindful. I'm currently in a city and on a campus I'm familiar with, but do I know where I'm headed? What do I need to be able to see clearly and map my path? Living blindly only results in bumps, bruises, and a longer-than-necessary trip.

Are you properly equipped? I tell you what, the best investment I made was a Speedo. I had Spock Eyebrow about ordering it, figuring they weren't really made for Ladies of Significant Heft like myself. I was wrong. (LSHs, just order your size in Long, you'll be fine, though the straps may dig a wee bit into your backchunk.) I could swim and stretch and such without wondering whether my odds and ends were falling out or flailing about. I'm going to order another one, because holding the boobs while trying to jump as high as you can in water aerobics really just results in laughter from the old ladies in the class. It's nice to be able to concentrate on my form without also worrying about corralling body parts. Which left me thinking, am I properly equipped for work? There is a long, long list of things I want to learn - basic programming so I can fool with APIs and program a site in something better than html, learning more deeply about OA and scholarly publishing, copyright, and new media. Deeper knowledge of ILLiad and its setup and data. More about data manipulation. I need to sit down and prioritize things into Things I Need to Know for Current Job, Things I Want to Know for Development into Future Positions, and Things to Learn for Fun so I can be more organized about my learning.

Understand and respect your environment. I respect the water, something ingrained from being slapped down and suffocated by the ocean more times than I can count, from watching hurricanes roll in over the Atlantic while camping on the beach, and from knowing from the loss of friends how easy it is to drown. I carry this with me into the pool. I respect water, I understand its power, but I don't fear it. To not fear my environment, I need to understand it. This can be difficult when things are in constant flux, especially when the flux is happening both at work and at home. I'm recently married and living with my husband after nearly a decade living solo, I'm getting accustomed to a slightly different structure to my workweek so I can get the arthritis and spondy flares under control, and at work we're building a new library, starting a new semester, hiring new staff, changing some responsibilities and looking at a reorg. I've been overwhelmed with all the to-dos, and I can see now that I need to pause in the frantic keep-up mode and take some time to reflect and understand what's going on. I need what I call an "Aum" moment. Or three. I've been taking time to rest my physical self, but I haven't been taking as much time for critical reflection as I need.

There's a learning curve. In swimming, the trainer said she was surprised when we were done; I had asked for swimming lessons and she thought we were starting from scratch when all I really need is to work on my form and holding my breath longer. Concentrating on keeping my legs straight while kicking, keeping my hands paddled and close tight to my body/head to pull me through the water, and remembering to breathe quickly every few strokes is a lot to keep in mind while you are also sucking wind and trying not to suck in water. I find that I'm able to do two out of three things at a time well, and usually what I forget to do is breathe, until suddenly I realize I'm drowning, drop my feet to the pool floor and pop up to gasp like a whooping whale. Once I can breathe, I can feel my face give a really chagrined look. How do you forget to breathe? I mean, I know Bella does it all the time in Twilight, but Bella is an idiot. Then again, I suppose it's sort of like learning to drive, trying to be conscious of speed, direction, other traffic, and everything else was completely overwhelming until I had done it so often that it became automatic. There's a little bit of a learning curve - until my body will do much of it unconsciously, I have to remember to do everything, like breathing.

There's been a huge learning curve for me with the RA/spondy. For the first year, I largely tried to ignore it and keep doing things the way I'd always done them, ignoring friends, family and coworkers who said it wasn't working. Now, after doing much more research into chronic illness and mine in particular, I know this is normal, but getting to where I realized change was needed and making the change was a tough learning curve (not just on me, but on everyone in my life that I impacted). Now I'm taking action. It may be too late to repair some relationships and fix some things that I didn't do well while on that steep end of the learning curve. On the other hand, now that I've got some perspective and I can *see* what I need to learn, and how it can help myself and others, I'm in a much better position to do well in terms of health and professional performance.

Trust your instincts. In the pool so far, this one has been easy. At this point as a beginner, when my body says I need to breathe, I NEED TO BREATHE. Not doing so will result in sputtering, choking, and feelings of slight panic and drowny-ness. I need to work on holding my breath and lung capacity, and I'm not yet to the point where I can do a trip across the pool (okay, or four strokes) without poking my head up to suck some air. BUT, I can improve by a stroke every day.

I tell people (and it's true) that I once had a job I hated so much, that I prayed every morning that I might be hit by a bus and sent to the hospital, just so I didn't have to go there. It made me mentally and physically ill. I promised myself I would never let myself stay in such an environment, or allow myself to feel that way (about anything, not just work) without making drastic changes to improve the situation, ever again. I was right - I felt better when I left that job and started working in a library and getting my MLS. My instincts were right when they told me that my husband was The One. There's lots of change - marriage, managing an illness, work changes, thinking about where and who I want to be in the next few years. What are my instincts saying now?

In any case, I'm happy with how swimming went today; I'm pleasantly tired but nothing is freezing up on me, and I feel like I had a good workout. It's nice personal thinking time. Maybe it'll get me blogging more...

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