sImagining myself for the past three years is a lot like looking at a childhood picture. I know it’s me, but the chasm between ourselves is wide. Personally, I was sad. My mother passed away in the summer of 2020, alone in a hospice in London Prime Minister and his senior officials in Westminster. Grief irreparably changes a person; When someone you love dies, they take a copy of you with them. and then? A more broken and alert psyche was born.
In the weeks and months after my mother’s death, this new version of me developed some strange new habits. I began to get up every night at three in the morning – the hour when my mother died – and could only get back to sleep by listening to Martin Jarvis reading Dickens. I started making my own body cream from essential oils, raw cocoa butter, and 100% pure, unrefined natural concern—the kind of knit-your-earring-selling-on-Etsy behavior I’d previously sneered at. I impulsively bought a year’s worth of antihistamines online (wonderfully, my grief-stricken sister did the exact same thing 400 miles away in London). And quite uncharacteristically, I started doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at home in Leith on my living room carpet, surrounded by (and often beneath) my six-year-old son, two-year-old, and me. Eight-year-old rescue crew. While—and this is where the pandemic gets intense—I monitor my heart rate with a pulse oximeter. I know. What a lark.
Most days, I found time to do 20 minutes of squats, deadlifts, lunges, and “Supermans” with lateral raises, you name it. My son, who is autistic, started jumping in time to the chiming clock at the bottom of the TV screen. My daughter started asking: “Mama, do it Joe WeeksWhen asked what you like to play.
The short, sharp shriek in my knees and the intense pounding in my pounding chest—topped off by obsessive monitoring of my heart rate with an oximeter—gave me a kind of hyperactive pleasure. As I counted the seconds on the clock, I felt strong, purposeful, and energized. Even of course I didn’t.
First, it caught my left wrist. Years ago, I had broken it when I fell down a very small, gentle hill, when my son was an infant and I was exhausted from childbirth and breastfeeding. All those HIIT workouts were pissing her off, and she was starting to show up for the evening. So I started wearing a wrist bandage. Then my upper back, which had been decimated by two decades of writing, began to ache. So, after the kids were in bed, I started fanatically rolling against the wall with a tennis ball while watching The Great Pottery Throw Down and crying softly for my mom. Finally, a painful lump popped up on my knee. My physiotherapist told me it was a swollen tendon and prescribed gently resting it – which is impossible when you’re a mother with young children, especially if you have additional needs. The truth is, I was exhausted. I was sad. I was sore. Rest wasn’t an option in any sustainable sense — but this probably wasn’t the time to do HIIT either.
This year I found another method and replaced HIIT with the opposite of it on YouTube: Yoga with Adrian. Or as I like to call her, my therapist. Now, every day, no matter how tired, busy, happy, or sad I get, I lie down on my living room rug (often still under the kids and the dog) and do 20 minutes of yoga with Adriene. I’m still exhausted, I’m still sad, but I’ve never felt less physical pain. It was nothing short of life changing. This is the thing about changes that don’t work. They often lead to people who do.
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