A favorite quote of mine is “The cure for anything is salt… sweat, tears or the sea.” For me that is incredibly true. I have often found myself needing all three, sometimes at the same time. Exercise has been a passion of mine and major form of stress relief for as long as I can remember. I was a kid that hated TV or being indoors. I remember many a summer night spent outside running around catching fireflies or playing manhunt until I was forced to go inside and get ready for bed. My mom enrolled me in dance classes when I was 2, I started skiing the same year and shortly there after it was soccer then lacrosse throughout most of high school and college. As a lifelong athlete you can start to take advantage of what your body can do for you through exercise, until that one thing that you have always taken as a constant and given is taken away from you.
The beginning of 2018 has been trying for me in a variety of ways… the loss of my relationship with my brother, figuring out and navigating a new career path, and then I believe from the stress of those things sickness and injury. Normally when life gives me lemons I lace up my running shoes and get going, giving myself time and space to think and free myself of it all. However, right before my brother ceased speaking to me I was diagnosed with sinusitis and bronchitis, on top of the mild to moderate anemia I had already been fighting, and let me tell you it wiped me out. I could hardly move, sleep or breathe, let along exercise. I attempted to go to my regular HIIT and bootcamp classes only to find myself fighting for air a quarter of the way through. It was my worst nightmare. Then as I fought for my brother to communicate with me and apologized profusely for whatever I had done to him to lead to this I rolled my ankle in the Philadelphia airport and found myself crying on the floor in Terminal B. It was quite the culmination to a traumatic, stressful event and the beginning of me realizing that I had to find peace in the loss of the relationship because now that stress was manifesting physically and taking away the one way I knew how to cope with it all… exercise.
When I got to Colorado I had plans to try a new yoga studio and go snowboarding, but I ended up at Urgent Care learning I had a severely sprained ankle and that it would need a month at least to recover oh and exercise was out of the picture. During this time of loss and self discovery yoga had become very important to me as a way to minimize stress and perhaps even more importantly as a spiritual practice, so now I had this immensely stressful situation and no spiritual or physical release. I survived until a few months later my brother surfaced again and brought up all of those feelings I had worked so hard to move past and bury. He did not show up with an apology for not wanting to work it out or an olive branch but a bold statement about what was going on in his life, so I spiraled again into all of the pain and hurt and frustration and wouldn’t you know I sprained my other ankle, this time tearing a ligament, again robbing me of my release in exercise. This time, however, I took this as a time to work on the last piece of that puzzle for me. I had to learn to be at peace internally regardless of what chaos might be going on around me. This is a lesson from the universe that I am still very much working on, but I am hoping that as I mend from this latest injury and have just been cleared for jogging that exercise will help me gain this perspective and perhaps help the stomach ulcer too.
I grew up near the coast so being near water always made me feel at peace. I first started enjoying running, and seeing it less as a punishment, running along the boardwalk in the coastal town I spent summers. Every time I had a rough day or needed to find solace and peace in my life I headed to the beach to run along the ocean’s shores or just sit down and stare out at it and feel tranquility wash over me. In college I would find myself driving up to Breckenridge solo for the day to just snowboard and be one with nature, to me there was absolutely no better stress relief than just being outside and sweating it out with a great view. I love the sense of being in touch with your mind and body and for me there is no better way to do that than through exercise.
When Matt had his stroke I literally lived in a hospital, so exercise was a luxury I was not really afforded. Someone has to be around a patient incapable of communicating 24 hours a day. Matt’s mom was there a lot but she also worked and had a life in Sacramento to attend to. The sole reason I was there was to help Matt, so Lisa as an autonomous human being took the back burner. However, the day that neurologist told me to go home because Matt was not getting better I pulled out my running shoes and ran until I could not run anymore, in which I then started to cry until I pulled my composure together enough to run back to the hospital. After everything we had been through I needed the freedom of my feet pounding concrete and the city blocks disappearing behind me, to step away from the hospital for more than the block to Starbucks where I ate approximately 90% of my meals, to put space between myself and the guy around my age clearly suffering from cancer that stepped outside everyday several times a day to smoke in his hospital gown, away from the ICU and the beeping, code blues and death lurking around every single corner. I needed to feel like I was alive again and running gave me this.
As Matt started to recover his physical therapist turned to me and said Matt is now physically capable of exercise and it will be his greatest alibi in recovery, can you take on an exercise plan for Matt, to which I jumped at, now we were talking my language. The more you use your body the more the brain has to
think and begin to rework itself to complete the tasks it once did without thought. Basically exercise forces neuroplasticity into action for those stroke survivors blessed enough that they can still be mobile. We learned Matt had in essence a blind spot in his vision on his far right side as well as weakness in his right hand so we started playing basketball regularly to aide in the recovery of both his eye and hand. Slowly but surely Matt and I started running and set our eyes on a 5K in Denver that benefited Stroke Awareness and recovery called “The Road to Recovery” and after months in bed Matt began to gain stamina and endurance and completed that 5K on a snowy May morning just 4 months after his stroke.
The tricky thing then was that Matt was still on steroids in an attempt to get his Crohn’s Disease which was still flaring and out of control into remission. The thing everyone forgot to tell us in the hospital when he was put on steroids was that Matt would have an insatiable hunger that was not real but drug induced. Needless to say Matt blew up. He put on nearly 100 pounds in a matter of months. I was not comfortable, at that point, telling my boyfriend who had just survived a stroke to put down the food and put on the sneakers, but with time both Matt and I realized his problem. Then it was back to the drawing and training boards. Matt started slow then completed the Insanity program and started to sign up for Crohn’s and Colitis 5Ks as motivation and a way to support a cause near and dear to him and slowly his Crohn’s started to get under control as well. Eventually he would completely revamp his diet but he just was not there yet and at this point exercise began a healing mechanism for not just his brain but his soul too. Matt found yoga as well and began through yoga and mediation to find peace with his newly diagnosed chronic illness and the reality that he was 30 and a stroke survivor.
So I encourage you to lace up your sneakers or pull out your mat or walk along the sea or sweat it out in whatever way you love and I think slowly you too will find yourself making peace with things that at one point seemed insurmountable and always remember salt water heals it all.