For years, I had used exercise, in particular running, as a way to relieve stress, get calm and refocused. I welcomed seasonal changes: running past shrubs laden with hoar frost on icy roads, running on muddy trails, or trying to dodge mosquitoes in the early morning; these runs were my time. Before long, I was training for my first marathon. Then I started in on the V series, traveling to cities that started with a V, like Vancouver and Victoria in BC, or Vienna in Austria. Yes, this does sound a bit obsessive compulsive. If running one marathon per year seemed like a reasonable goal to me, running two or three per year seemed even better. Acquaintances would often ask me about my knees, but my knees were fine. What eventually did give me grief was the area around my Achilles tendon. Taking a week off did not result in lasting improvements, and I knew that I had to dial back my efforts. A few physiotherapy appointments provided me with exercise suggestions, and I set right to them, but there was no way that I was about to hit the pavement any time soon.
As a healthcare worker whose job involves a fair amount of deep listening, I seemed to have been doing a poor job of listening to my body. Luckily, I had also taken yoga over the years, and its subtle message helped me to deal with the restlessness and irritability that came with having to slow down. Initially, I couldn’t even do any of the standing yoga poses. Once the Achilles was healed, bursitis of the Trochanter dogged my efforts for another year and a half.
I am not unfamiliar with grief and loss; once I had reached acceptance of my physical state, I was able to recall what else gave me joy in life. I didn’t have to look far as our living room was built around a piano. A lot of people’s effort went into getting it there, but it hadn’t been played in years. An itinerant piano tuner gave it some love and attention, and I was able to coax a few sounds from it. Research on the aging brain suggests that important lifestyle changes can help us to keep ourselves in the best possible cognitive shape. Learning to dance, a new language, or playing an instrument all are fun ways of challenging your brain. Your local Alzheimer Society has a host of tips.
Once again, acceptance was critical. Beginner’s mistakes help me learn; and my partner, who has a solid musical background but no longer plays the trombone, remains remarkably tolerant. Now that I am back on the road, I can go for a short run, come home and play myself a lullaby.
“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.”
-Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer
About Astrid Egger
Astrid Egger has been working with Northern Health since 2002 and is currently Team Leader for Haida Gwaii mental health and addiction services. She is active in the Haida Gwaii Arts Council and enjoys the changing wind and wave patterns on the inlet.