I am a believer of science. Inasmuch, I have accepted that, as a general rule, I know next to nothing about pretty much every topic with few exceptions: nutrition, Bruce Springsteen lyrics, and how I feel. And the latter has taken years of therapy with psychology and trauma experts working to expand my emotional vocabulary beyond “angry.”
I now have a habit of referring to experts for nearly all of my decision making and guidance. I have nutritionists, goal coaches, business coaches, can-I-blame-my-mom-for-this coaches, cycling coaches, running coaches, and more. Some days, I even have to ask the barista what I should order.
I give them all the filtered information available to achieve the answer I want to hear. It rarely works because, as noted above, these people are experts and mostly roll their eyes at my silly attempts to outsmart history, business, and my body.
Yet, what I have found is that, despite all these experts, I am the only one who can really communicate and understand my body (or override its pleas for a rest day). This can be a problem because I’m a Norwegian of viking descent and they are not known as the most compassionate folk in history.
I recently injured myself doing something stupid. This is how most injuries occur, I have concluded. We are a species that (not accounting for climate change and mass shootings) is designed to preserve and perpetuate itself. Still, stupidity seems to override some of that genetic programming.
So when I was in Africa last week and told that I could not run outside of camp while on Safari, I decided I would just run super fast back and forth in front of my tent. It only took a few minutes for the snap-crackle-pop and inevitable hobble to arrive. I returned to the US with a limp and the impending doom of a 50km race a few weeks off.
“Rest,” said the experts. “For God’s sake don’t do anything fast, hard, or long,” said the experts. “I feel like you’re kinda asking for trouble. By kinda, I mean definitely,” said the expert. “You should consider withdrawing from the race,” said the other. They were all right but for some reason I needed to have that conversation directly with my body.
It goes kind of like this: “Body, I can sense that you are unwell. Help me understand.” I learned that one in relationship therapy – I highly recommend its frequent use. But don’t apply this second part: “Let’s go run up a mountain so those subtle messages of pain can potentially become an overwhelming scream.”
This is like the conversation couples are always having: You don’t hear me until I freak out like a psychopath on a caffeine binge with a laundry basket as my weapon.
It isn’t that my experts are wrong. It’s that I couldn’t quite hear my body because I was so busy asking them what they thought my body was telling me. They had good guesses and sound advice, but I needed to go out and listen to the source. I needed to give it an opportunity to speak. Or freak out, perhaps.
I ran slow. I ran fast. I ran up and down. I listened carefully for the different sounds of injury – the minor shifts in tone between discomfort and you’re-gonna-be-limping- for-months-you-moron. They are sometimes really similar. My body and I, we ran up a mountainside trail for a few miles. Then I was like, “Well, we have to get back down,” and my body was like, “I suppose so.”
Seven miles in, we got back to my car and I don’t know if my body or my dog was more confused when we turned around and headed back up the mountain. I had to know. No one else could tell me. “Body,” I said, “talk to me.”
Like a married couple we trod up the dirt and then snow in conversation. Would my body be forgiving when I make mistakes? Would it be strong enough in my times of weakness? Would it desert me if I pushed it too far? Where the heck is that line anyway?
We found the sweet balance of harmony (or commiseration) over those next couple of hours. My body said, “If you feed me enough cookies and get me a massage after this, I will stay with you.” Which is pretty sound relationship advice for anyone, I might add.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at