When I first started in nursing, I worked a twelve hour shift. People would comment on how wonderful it must be to only work three days a week, but what few realized was that I usually had to spend a day recuperating because bedside nursing is physical work (and it’s rarely just three days because of often mandatory call time in addition to scheduled time). For the last couple of years, I transitioned to working an eight hour shift. While such a schedule had its drawbacks, I liked it.
Then E was born, and because she was so premature, we couldn’t send her to daycare with the germs and exposure. Fortunately, my field has a wide range of hours and non-traditional work schedules, so finding a job where Arthur and I could essentially trade off childcare was possible. This is an enormous bit of privilege, and we were grateful. However, it meant going back to the twelve hour shifts.
I spent from November 6 of 2014 to March 15 of 2015 on various forms of bed rest, ranging from a less restricted type where I could sit up in a chair to the final 7.5 weeks, which I spent in a modified Trendelenburg position in an attempt to keep E’s weight off my cervix and retain as much fluid as possible. Let’s just say that I was severely deconditioned. For several weeks after I was discharged, I found the walk from the parking lot to E’s hospital room – a distance I normally wouldn’t have thought twice about – a challenge.
Given all of the above, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when my first twelve hour day back (in late May) left me at about hour six wanting to lay down in the middle of the hallway and never get up again. I leaned on stuff. I sat whenever it was possible. I worked to keep up with my preceptor, trying not to obviously breathe hard as I hurried after her.
At the end of the day, I told Arthur “I need to start running again. I have to get back in shape or I’m not going to be able to handle work.”
It took another month to work out a schedule where I had a consistent spot four days a week for exercise. Then came the real fun: actually doing it (as opposed to merely aspiring to it).
I like running, despite the fact that I run in defiance of my body, certainly not because of it. I credit the combination of physical exertion and uninterrupted thinking time with keeping me sane on more than a few occasions. It’s how I work through problems and emotions.
But of course, I was used to being fit enough to go three to five miles a day without really thinking about it, which was why I could then use it to focus my mind. I had forgotten over the last five or six years just how much it sucked when I first started.
So my first day, I pulled out the running shoes I’d bought during the two-week-wait from the cycle that gave us E and hadn’t worn yet. I managed to fit myself back into my loosest athletic clothing, dug out my mp3 player, and walked out the door. I worked on power walking a little more quickly, moving towards an actual run.
I ran an entire 1/8th of a mile before I was bright red and completely out of breath. I kept at the running, and while the distance ticked up, it certainly wasn’t comparable to what I’d been doing before.
I was relating this to one of my doctors the other day when asked about exercise habits, and when I mentioned my latest running distance (around one mile), I gave a sarcastic “yay” and rolled my eyes. I still couldn’t believe how slowly this was progressing. Three to five miles was what I considered normal for myself.
She looked at me, and then calmly said “That ‘yay’ should be a real one. That’s actually a lot of work and plenty of people never get back to that at all.”
Remarkably few people have ever called me out on my perfectionism so effectively. I thought about this for awhile after I left the appointment.
Work was physically more do-able. I no longer was barely able to stay on my feet for the whole twelve hours. I felt better. My mind felt lighter after each run.
So, why the heck was I ragging on myself about the distance? Wasn’t I accomplishing most of what I wanted out of the exercise?
The next morning I went out for my run. I didn’t get faster or run dramatically further. I got a few steps beyond where I had the morning before. But I saw a great blue heron in the river and smiled at a few excited dogs out with their owners for a walk and waved at the couple I pass every morning. It was actually pretty nice.
It wasn’t as far as I wanted, but it was a great improvement from where I’d started. Instead of feeling frustrated or disheartened about the distance, I stayed present for a few minutes and recognized that it was just fine that I wasn’t running two or three or one and a half miles that day. Sure, there was more work ahead to continue progressing, but it didn’t negate all the hard work I’d done.
It was okay to let go of the old normal.