Stumbling Forward

Early in January, I made the bold proclamation that I would be running free in 2019. Even with tendonitis in my ankle, I was motivated to leave behind my complacency and venture out into productivity. Well, I can definitely say it has not been an easy journey. We have encountered some bumps along the way, not to mention a fair share of anxiety.
Early in February, I was faced with some unwelcome obstacles at home. As a result, I was very anxious and didn’t sleep very well. In addition, the weather made it nearly impossible to leave the house. One week, the temperature didn’t climb above zero for several days. Local schools were cancelled due to the dangerously low wind chills. Then came the snow; inch after inch piled up. We would barely dig out from a storm only to be slammed with more snow two days later.
I was feeling boxed-in at home. A friend drove me to the store before the arctic blast so I could stock up on food and other necessities, but it didn’t take long before my meals lacked appeal. I was able to work from home, but I missed walking back and forth from the office. My only diversion was my daily shuffle to the mailbox. It was remarkable I could even find the mailbox in the drifted snowbanks at the end of the driveway.
One day, when my anxiety was at its peak, I was granted an opportunity to leave the house. It wasn’t good timing, because although I was eager to venture outside, I wasn’t in a good headspace. I tried to hide it, but I’m sure others were able to tell I was struggling. I am one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve, and it’s impossible to hide behind emotion. A good friend and team member sought me out in the crowd that day and we started talking. I failed miserably as I pretended everything was okay. It wasn’t long before tears were streaming down my face, and I confessed that I had been battling through loneliness and anxiety.
Almost immediately, I realized I had found a compassionate confidant— someone who had witnessed anxiety in her own family and could relate to my struggle. As our conversation concluded, my friend extended an invitation. “You should come to class,” she said.
The class she referred to was a fitness and exercise session, held every Monday evening at the church. Attendees would dance and move to routines, many of which included the use of drumsticks. I had always been intrigued by my friend’s class but had never attended; I had assumed that I would not be able to keep up in such an environment. I was not in the best shape, and visually, I knew I would not be able to follow the instructor. But my friend encouraged me to attend class the next day and just give it a try. She said I didn’t have to return if it was beyond my ability.
Surprisingly, I was excited for the next day. I had my doubts that I would be able to keep up with the class, but I was willing to try anything. I think I would have agreed to anything at that point just to get me out of the house. But guess what? Monday morning dawned with the promise of accumulating ice and snow. Schools were cancelled, and my friend had to make the decision to cancel class as well. I had been so excited to try, and then snow once again derailed my plans.
Nearly a week later, friends from out of town informed me they were coming for a visit. Again, I was excited. We planned to order pizza and watch movies Saturday evening and then my friends would join me at church on Sunday. One friend made it to my house safely, but the other met with some difficulty. After a three-and-a-half-hour drive, he checked in to his hotel room only to come down with the stomach flu. Sadly, we spent the evening without him, but we still had an enjoyable time together, just the two of us. We ordered pizza, made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and watched movies.
At one point, I complained about my long hair and how difficult it was getting to manage it. That’s when my friend found a hair tie and told me I should pull it back. “I don’t know how,” I admitted somewhat sheepishly. Yeah, I know; what woman makes it to her mid-thirties without knowing how to make a ponytail? Well, apparently, I am that woman.
My friend was incredibly patient with me— talking through the steps and even occasionally pulling or tugging to get my hair in place. My first attempts were pretty pathetic. My arms hurt from being curled behind my head for such a long time. But finally, I made a passable ponytail, and we settled in to enjoy the rest of the evening.
The next morning, I awoke early so my friend could French braid my hair. You wouldn’t believe how many people came up to me at church that day and remarked about the new look. “Trust me,” I said often that morning. “My hair will never look like this again. There is no way I can replicate it.”
The next day, the house was quiet after the busy weekend. But I was determined to not get sucked back into the loneliness. It was Monday, and I was finally going to the fitness class! But the last thing I wanted was to battle my long hair. So I stood in my bathroom, a hair tie curled around my fingers, and twisted my hair into a pony tail. It took six attempts before I was satisfied, but I finally had a ponytail!
I went to class feeling confidant and ready, but I had no idea what to expect. It took me awhile to catch on; I found it was easier to follow the routines with drumsticks. The sticks were neon green and stood out as the other women moved their arms and tapped their sticks together. It was harder to figure out how to use my feet, but I managed to sway from side to side and click my drumsticks to the beat. I’m sure I didn’t get the same cardio workout as the other women, but it was certainly challenging. The more I thought about it, I realized it was both a physical and mental exercise for me. I was constantly moving my head so I could look at the others around me. Then I would look down to make sure my feet were in the right position. It took a great deal of concentration as I worked to follow along with only my left eye to compensate for all of the action. By the time the other women were stretching out on the floor at the end of class, I felt completely and wonderfully spent.
My friend, the instructor, played the song “I am not Alone” as performed by Kari Jobe, and tears spilled from my eyes as I sat on the floor. This song has been an emotional trigger for me over the past seventeen months or so in my recovery after my retinal detachment. In that moment, all of the anxiety and loneliness rose to the surface, and I felt God’s presence beside me as I cried. I was certainly not alone. I was surrounded by women who had welcomed me into their midst without questioning my level of physical strength and ability. I felt included and motivated— encouraged to be myself and to just try.
As I rose to my feet and moved to put my drumsticks away, my fingers rubbed against each other, and I looked down to find a blister. I didn’t think it had anything to do with the drumsticks or the workout, so I ignored it and went home. But the next day as I was attempting another ponytail before rehearsal, I came to a realization. Over the past few days as I had fumbled through multiple ponytail attempts, I had been gripping the hair tie between my fingers so tightly that I felt pain there. Then the blister made sense.
hair memeI had been trying so hard that the physical evidence on my finger was a nagging reminder of my accomplishments. It would have been easy for me in that moment to get discouraged— to tell myself that a ponytail shouldn’t be that difficult to make and I was failing miserably— but I recognized the negativity immediately. I couldn’t control the fact that my visual impairment had impacted my ability to learn the skill of doing my hair or following an exercise routine. I could only do my best and maintain a positive outlook on my circumstances, because truly, that was all I could control in the midst of my circumstances.
After my second week in class, I came home to a painful twinge in my ankle and a hair tie that had been stretched to its limits, thanks to my many attempts to do my hair. I was tired, but once again, I felt connected, included, and motivated. I think it’s going to be a long journey to recovery. I need to stay off of my ankle long enough to let it heal. I will need to keep doing my hair so that eventually it will become second nature. I will keep dancing and moving, even if my routine doesn’t match that of the other women. I will work through the coming days of winter loneliness, because Spring and Daylight Saving time is just around the corner. Longer, brighter, and warmer days are on the horizon, and I will keep stumbling forward one step at a time.