I am sitting outside on my back porch swing which faces the West. The afternoon sun is just enough to keep me warm. The most pleasant of temperatures. There aren’t nearly enough days in Oklahoma with just the right temperature for back porch sitting, so I am thankful I somehow managed to be right here for twelve minutes in between putting groceries away and marinating the meat and going to sit in the high school pick-up line. I know all of today was different varieties of me living, but it sure feels good to get to this moment when I get to express myself creatively.
I was stopping to get gas in my car on the way home from the grocery store, and I noticed that little metal box with the round red button. The box says on it, “Free Air.” I smile softly, and my eyes fill up with tears. it gets me thinking about how creative expression is like air to me, and I feel I need air the most when I am scared. When my ghosty pays me a visit it reminds me to slow my breathing, ins and outs at a long rhythmic pace. One appreciates free air when air feels costly and hard to come by. Judging by my tears today, I am thankful for this pause to consider what my ghost is telling me.
It’s a ghost of anxiety I’m feeling today. Anxious for a new week beginning, a week in which I am grateful to get back to a more normal schedule, but with that comes the fish out of water sort of feel because I haven’t been full throttle at normal life for a bit, and I’m wondering if I can take it all on again. This is what I wrote about yesterday, that sickening sort of feeling I get when I’ve had some time away and then I have to return. The momentary pause of sure I did this before, but can I do it again? What if I can’t do it again? I guess it feels like past success has heaped on expectations for my future, and I forget that I am capable of this, and the only way I can completely reassure myself is by going through it and then saying, “See, I told you you’d be okay.”
I’m also feeling anxious because it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve raced bicycles (I’ve only done 3 bike races in my life ever, and they’ve been in the last 5 weeks), but I know there is a bike race coming up this weekend, the last one I could do this cyclocross season, and I’m wondering if I want to do it. (The last race I did I injured myself running and fell once, so those have their own haunts.) Again time off the bike and away from racing has given time for fears to fill the gap. I don’t know I how I feel about racing this weekend, and so I am having to leave that question unanswered for now. An unanswered question with a deadline for decision is like a pot you know is simmering and you have to keep remembering to come back and check on just in case. It’s okay, but it divides my attention and keeps me alert in the background while managing other responsibilities. I can only ride my bike if it is fun, I remind myself. So yes, I have to give myself some time and think, is this race going to be fun? Am I up for it?
I’m scared of falling again. Scared of hurting again. Scared of looking stupid because I cannot navigate things that I feel as though I should be able to navigate if I am going to race in this sport. There are technical aspects of bike handling that this sport, called cyclocross, contains, and I’m not very good at it yet at all. I also need to be able to get on and off my bike fluidly and this dismount of mine just doesn’t feel natural yet. It is awkward. I am awkward. My body doesn’t feel supported. It feels fragile. Like joints and muscles and nerves aren’t prepared for the challenge of maneuvering tights turns and steep (for me) inclines and descents. I don’t know how to prepare for this. I have gotten lots of advice, but this is a matter of how my own body feels and weighing all of these fears with all of these facts about my newness.
I wish I was less new so I didn’t have to fall. I wish I was less new so I had gobs of experience and knew what to do when I come up against some unique challenge in the race course. I wish there weren’t people watching, but then again, it is wonderful to have people, my people, cheering for me. I keep thinking about this one part of the race (because I have seen the course a few years ago when I went and watched my husband race it) where there is a deep ravine and a steep climb up through rocks in the woods. People stand there, more than anywhere, to cheer, but I keep thinking of coming to that point and then crashing in front of everyone. I wonder which I am more scared of, falling off my bike or falling in front of people.
So I don’t know if I will race and that is how I am leaving it for now. Maybe I will ride a little in my backyard some this week and get a feel for it again. Or maybe I should let it go until next year. Give myself a break. Give myself time to get stronger. We shall see. For now it is inhale and exhale. Free air. Typing words and realizing I have overstayed my welcome on this back porch swing, and now that the sun drops lower and is nearly blinding me, I am reminded that it is school pick-up time, and I will be late, but it will be okay because the girls don’t come out on time anyway. Nothing has to happen right on time. Things can have wiggle room, that’s where we make room for pleasure. It doesn’t have to all be so dialed in. Little ghosty, thanks for showing up to say it doesn’t have to all be so perfect. If the expectations weren’t so high, maybe the fear levels could drop.
* * *
I’m returning to this written piece much later in the evening on the same day I started it. My hair is wet and dripping down my back, sending cold chills down my spine. I went on my usual Monday night shop group ride. I talked to a few people about my dilemma with racing this weekend, and before the ride was even halfway through, I’d decided I’m not going to race. I realized it did not sound like fun. I was pushing myself too hard, wanting to believe I was just battling fear when actually my body doesn’t feel ready for it. I have to listen to that. This is more than about pushing through. This is about listening to my fear and realizing the levels are enormous. More than just nerves, this is, “Hey I’m not ready yet! Will you just let me not be ready yet?”
The ride we did tonite, I did for the first time last year at this time. And I struggled a lot to hang onto the group. It was really hard for me. Tonite it was simple. Easy. I could talk during the sections that last year I wouldn’t have even been able to ride without falling off the back of the group. It was so incredible to see my growth compared to this time last year. I realized how far I have come, and also how new I still am to riding my bike like this. It put things in perspective for me. I don’t have to rush into doing it all. My journey to get to this point as been slow and steady. My journey into racing can be similar. I have to know that I will let myself push pause when it gets to be too much seriousness and not enough fun. By not racing, I’m proving to myself I will listen to my fears, weigh them and make the right decision.
This past Summer I was hanging out at my in-laws pool with some of my cycling friends. One of them was talking about how her sister had called asking for advice. Through the course of conversation I mentioned that I don’t ask for much advice. “How do you make a decision then?” Another woman asked me. “Do you meditate?”
“No,” I said.
I didn’t have a good answer for her, but I have thought about it from time to time since then. Writing is one way that I process my life and weigh my options and make decisions. Writing is a tool that takes me logically from one step to the next. It leads me to revelations. Especially when I write stream of consciousness like this, not editing while writing, but just letting all the words that want to come out, come out. It may not be the most riveting piece to read, but sometimes I say things that surprise myself or shine light on the dilemma. Today typing the sentence, “My body doesn’t feel supported,” was very telling for me. I have felt this in my body, but writing it brought it from subconscious to consciousness. I want to be someone that listens to my body and stops when my body says stop. Not every fear has to be pushed through.
And now I can breathe again. Free air. I pushed that red button the moment I said no to the race. I hope some day the more fun option will be to do the race, and on that day it will be a joy to push the red button and get after it. But if I don’t get there, that is okay too. Enjoying my life is the goal.
I took my shoes off in my closet when I got home. Using one foot, I tried to slip the heel of my shoe off the other foot. I felt a lot of pain in the back of my right leg, which is what I injured in my race. It was the perfect confirmation that I was doing the right thing by not racing. I’m not fully healed. It’s easy to think that I am until I do something to trigger my symptoms. Healing takes time. It is a daily event. I don’t need to be in a rush.