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I’ve enjoyed the emptiness of the school’s weight room at 6:30 a.m.  I haven’t really pushed myself outside of my safety zone since I am just there with my assistant coach and a few of the guys from the team.  These guys will soon be switching to the daily afternoon slot.  So, just yesterday (Friday) I went down to the weight room after school.  Big mistake.

I walked through the door and saw a group of football stars hoggin’ all the equipment.  Once they saw me they were all shouting my name and egging me on to lift with them.  The rumors of my lifting days have circulated through to this crowd now from former students of mine.  One of my current kids loaded up a bar with 35’s and said, “come on show us how you can do this!”  The other guys gathered around.  “That is more than I can do” a little freshman confessed.  I was wearing my dress clothes and didn’t know if I should try.  The last time I did, I fatigued and had to get the assist to lift it back to the rack.  My student swung around to spot me, “come on, do it!”  My competitve spirit got the better of me and I plopped down on the bench.  I wrapped my hands around the bar and counted out “1-2-3” then my student lifted the bar off.  “Got it?” he asked.  “Uh huh.” I muttered and began the drop to my chest.  I knocked out 3 reps rather fluidly – which shocked me.  Hmmm, lifting this first before going through a warm up was key.  “Ok, now do the 45’s,” he said as he was already changing the plates.

“I haven’t done this in three years,” I whined back.  “Come on, I’ll spot and just do two.”  Against reason, I did it.  The other kids were impressed.  “You’ve gotta be one of the strongest teachers here,” one boy said.  “I’m sure I’m not,” I shot back.  I then did some medicine ball abs with the guys.  It was a lot of fun being active.  Yeah, it hurt.  I knew it would.  But I’m so glad that I did that since I know that I won’t always be able to, RA or not, age will limit me eventually.  No point in acting like a senior citizen when I’m not.

Today is shot day.  I’m not sure what I’m doing about that still.  I’ve been very congested and feeling run down (per my last post), so I’m just not confident that my meds will actually help.  I think I have bloodwork and a subsequent office visit coming up really soon.  I need to find some time to go bleed into a vial or two or three.  Tip: make sure to drink a ton of water so that the blood actually flows.  I had some really hard sticks over the summer when I was dehydrated.

I’m finally resolved about the summer.  I am NOT going to do my tennis camps during the day.  I’ll still teach the adults at night and on the weekend, but I’m looking into just doing some hard core fitness work on myself.  I know how to do it – I just need to do it.  So, hopefully that will be good.  I’m not sure how the money will work, but I’m willing to struggle for two months to make up for the year plus I’ve just pushed my health needs aside to run like a maniac through my work weeks.

My friend from college came up for a visit.  We were discussing the good ole days.  It feels like a lifetime ago.  I remember walking across campus in the bitter Midwest winter weather.  We talked about our skit from acting class and the places we used to go and hang out.  I’m so grateful to have her there to stir up some really nice moments from my past like that.  I’m grateful….for so much.

Tonight I attended the funeral service for one of my student’s little sister.  The girl died at age 8 from hydro-encephalitis.  I was filled with guilt that I allow myself to think that RA is so bad.  This little girl was never able to walk.  I complain about how walking hurts – at least I can walk.  The service was nice and I am glad that I was there to show my support.  On my way home I was struck with a craving for anything fried and fast food.  I realized that is was just my response to being triggered emotionally.

It wasn’t too hard to actually NOT go through a drive and order, then devour, some crap.  Rather, I went to Whole Foods and bought a bunch of healthy stuff.  I’ll probably have even more craving tomorrow, and the next few days, but I really want to get some of my fitness back.  I could give a shit about ever wearing two inch heals, but you can bet that I want to be able to grab hold of a bar with more than the 45’s on it so that knock out some solid lifting while I still can.  I still don’t know about that shot….I think I’ll opt out again.

This past week has been so crazy…and no, I’m not going to take the Methotrexate.  I have gone almost a week on four hours or less of sleep at night.  I began the 6:30 a.m. lifting sessions with all two – yes, TWO – of the boys interested in my pre-season tennis training.  I’m impressed that they showed up, but I’m disappointed that I don’t have more.  Nonetheless, I provided them with the workout cards and handouts I had prepared last week.  I then did a demo of the various lifts that I want them to do.  Once they were on their way I hopped on a treadmill and was witness to the sad reality that is the decline of my physical self.

Since I am also watching my parents’ pets while they are on vacation, my week has included a lot of running around.  I realized that I am not mad that I have to do this extra driving at the beginning and end of my day.  I am not mad that I have to wake up earlier than I am already waking up.  What – no, who I am really mad at is me; all of those un-checked choices to eat crap rather than something nutritious; to hit snooze rather than go work out; to think so small rather than volunteer…and so on and so on.  The whole quantum of my life vibrating throughout me as I planted one foot and the other on a friggin’ treadmill.  I was going at a snail’s pace and my heart rate was 195.  I could not believe the backslide.

Today I attended a training session required for teachers.  I was sitting in little chairs designed for Elementary school kids.  It must have looked like my ass had sprouted four metal poles, the chair’s legs.  We sat there for five hours.  The first steps I took to get out the door at 2:00 p.m. were excrutiating.  I was driving a route that I had not taken in nearly five years.  I decided to go ahead and drive all the way back to the beautiful apartment I left on January 2nd, 2005.  As if by devine intervention, the radio station suddenly featured a block of U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” among others.  The sudden warm snap called for driving with the windows down, the tunes kickin’, and me happily singing along.  I saw the old place and almost thought to turn in a check it out via a tour from a rental agent.  I decided against it.  The area all around my former abode has grown so much.  Then I went up the road to my former tennis club.  It is now a baseball/basketball center.

I have not driven there since I was force transferred in February 2001.  So much has changed.  I remember the little bend in the roadway and the lake.  Now it is all built up with very expensive townhomes and pristine landscaping.  I circled the building twice to find a parking spot.  The interior was nearly unrecognizable, save for the floor to ceiling tempered glass windows.  The remodeling is impressive.  I suddenly felt so small and invisible.  I was overcome with memories that I hadn’t remembered in nearly a decade.  I thought of the kids who had passed through the classes I once taught there.  Some of those players now married and lifetimes away from the world of my current recollection.

After I left, I had to head back to my parents’ house.  I took the expressways as I would have done back then.  It was like I was driving those roads on autopilot, which is a strange thing considering that so much of the scenery has changed all along the roadside.  Shiny, new, mega structures now hug I-88 from Lisle to Warrenville.  Then there was the crazy Farnsworth exit traffic jam from the Premium Outlet Mall.  Taking Farnsworth north, I encountered the new construction at the Route 56 intersection, complete with the new WalMart.  I can’t believe how old I suddenly felt.  I am nothing like who I once dreamt my future self would be. 

Two voices spoke clearly to me today (and no, I don’t “hear” voices as in breaks from reality).  The first incident was when I was taking the very long, winding ramp from I-355 to I-88.  It said, “you definately need to move (as in leave Illinois) and go live the life you imagined” – the later part attributed to a quote magnet I have on my fridge.  The other voice occured even earlier than that.  “Oh my god!  It is ____ _____!”  The name omitted is that of a total blast from the past calling me out of nowhere. 

I always thought that one of my biggest “guy regrets” was from when I was a snotty 8th grader.  This super nice, super smart, super talented, and super shy boy who was a year older than me really, really liked me.  He even bought me a little freshwater pearl bracelet for my 14th birthday.  I blew him off and years later came to realize the error of my ways.  He blossomed into a wonderful, fascinating, and brillant man.  However, the more recent realization of yesterday was even more profound.

Friday night I had a dream about The University of Illinois, my alma mater.  I dreamt that I was back at the College of Art and Design and walking through a completely remodeled Art Building.  I was who I am now, but also there on a mission to defend the firing of a professor.  I can’t remember her name now, but it was clear as a bell in my dream.  She was being fired because she had some dibilitating disease that she had kept secret.  Once her sickness had been discovered, she was fired, since the school thought that she couldn’t do her job to the level it required.  Now, keeping in mind that this is a dream, there are several things to consider.

I was once told that all the characters in our dreams reflect various “parts” of ourselves.  If so, that is certainly significant…as well as obvious.  When I think of all the hope, idealism, and energy I possessed as an undergrad it is no wonder that I come back to that place.  So how strange is it that after I have a dream about U of I and the artistic aspect of my persona, which has been largly ignorred for far too long, that I would hear from a spectre of that past so completely out of the blue?  We have had yet to actually talk.

So this brings me full circle.  Even though this blog is about R.A., I am not R.A.  I am that poet-dreamer reeling in some vortex of struggle and paradox.  Yes, I am having a mid-life crisis and will probably get my period any day.  Yes, R.A. is a part of that.  But, no…no, no, no I can not be idle now.  I need to remember the promises I made to myself all those years ago.  I would always carve out a path of adventure, passion, and creativity in anything I may one-day do. 

So I’ll continue with the early wake-ups, the demanding pressure of my job, and the pain.  I’ll manage those daily set-backs that are a part of this condition, but I will not allow them to become scapegoats for laziness and self-pity.  It does suck to attempt fitness in the face of such frustration.  But face it I must.  So, early to bed, early to rise.  Tennis tomorrow and one step after another.

August 2017
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The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki