Walking a Journey of Time

Almost exactly one year ago, I went out for my usual morning run only to feel something different. I felt something in the top of my foot that I instinctively knew wasn’t healthy. I took a few days off, then tried to go out again on the following Monday morning. Listening to my foot call out in pain, I stopped less than a mile into that morning’s journey. Fast forward four days, and I woke up at 5AM nearly screaming in pain. Google searching at that time of day wasn’t productive (did I really have a stress fracture?!?), but it did pass the hours until I could see my Doctor. With x-rays, she confirmed I didn’t have any broken bones, but rather “just” a case of tendentious. By staying off of my feet and not being active for 6-8 weeks, she assured me it would heal itself. 

For those that know me, I enjoy planning things. On second thought, enjoy might be too moderate of a term. Perhaps the better definition is that I obsessively plan things. (I mean, how many people will tell you that they love spreadsheets?!) Knowing that my Kili hike was 7 months away, I had nearly every weekend of my summer and fall mapped out - and had made this list (with back-up inclement weather options) by March. Between various hiking, running, and outdoor day-trip adventures, I had convinced myself that I’d be mentally and physically ready for the hike. To learn that I’d be forced to stay away from my plans for eight weeks? I was not at all happy, nor confident about whether I’d still be able to hike Kili. At least I could bike - or so I was told. After two moderate length rides, I listened to my foot pain and realized that biking, too, was out of the question for my immediate future. After eight weeks of not-so-patiently waiting, I limped out of the Orthopedic’s office with an air cast on my foot and a prescription for weekly physical therapy sessions. The boot didn’t come off until early October, and the PT lasted for about 20 weeks. This meant that my plans preparing for the Kili hike were totally and completely out the window. With the support of my Physical Therapist, I cautiously trusted that I’d be ready for the hike between the swimming routine and PT strength training work she helped map out. (My previous blog post confirmed that yes, I successfully completed the hike!)

Oh, the miles I have walked in these beloved (yet unsupportive) heeled shoes.

Oh, the miles I have walked in these beloved (yet unsupportive) heeled shoes.

Along with proper cross-training, the longer-term change that will last a lifetime is my choice of shoes. All throughout last fall I wore supportive, purple sneakers. They were my only choice of shoe, regardless of work-out wear, casual attire, or work dresses and suits. The first time I put on my dress shoes (read: heels) after Kili, my foot pulled in an uncomfortable way. I wore flat boots the entire winter, despite seeing daily my collection of beautiful heels. It took me a few months to internalize the realization that should I wish to continue being active in this lifetime, heels will be out of my wardrobe forever. It also took me a few months to realize that, in spite of recognizing heels will not be an option, not all women’s flat shoes are created equal. (I think I’ll eternally be on the quest for supportive AND stylish shoes - happy to accept recommendations!) I’ve spent more time and money taking care of my feet this past year than I think I’ve invested my entire life to date - but in some ways, it makes sense. Feet carry us through every single step in this life. I hadn’t given my feet the care they deserve, and hope that this change aids with the comfort of the coming journey(s).

Last month, I finally pruned my shoe collection. As silly as it sounds, it was definitely a moment for me, yet I couldn’t quite articulate why. While sharing this story with a friend at lunch the following week, she clearly nailed my struggle. “Wearing heels is such an identity for you! You’re already nearly 6 feet tall, and wearing fabulously tall heels was something you wore with great pride.” 

She was right. That was me. Wearing heels with my nearly six-foot frame was a piece of my identity. That moment - and that piece of my identity - has now passed.

Trying to identify my own identity - or rather, trying to understand what an identity actually means - has consumed my thoughts these last few weeks. To state what might be the most obvious, I see two types of identity: the identity that you see in yourself, and the identity that others view you as. Yet from either of these perspectives, what goes into that identity?

The easily identifiable answer is identity can be described by what you see on the surface. 

The not as easily identified answer is that identity is the thoughts, perspectives, and subsequent decisions stemming from one’s brain.

I’m understanding in new ways that when people come into our lives, they only see a slice of our identity. Perhaps that view is from the perspective of how we look, speak, and act. Or perhaps that view comes from the thoughts we choose to share - or not share - with them. The only person that knows every internal perspective is one’s own self. 

Yet how does one take time to know those perspectives? How do you take time to understand and process the change(s) that might be happening within? And how do you choose to share - or not share - that change with others around you?

One realization that I’ve come to is that, for the most part, the identity that people project onto you really doesn’t matter. Yes, we each typically want to make a positive impression. Yet what seems to matter most and impact those impressions is the identity that you believe to be true and live for yourself. This past February marked ten years that I’ve been solo and away from a very toxic relationship. When that anniversary has passed the previous nine years, each day has been a significant milestone that I’ve somehow shared with friends. On this tenth year, the day passed in a very quiet and personal way, with me mentioning it to only one person. I don’t often talk about that relationship, yet I have chosen to try to understand lessons from that experience. With ten years’ time, memories have disappeared and reappeared at unique moments that were relevant to my own personal growth and learning. While there hasn’t necessarily been a physical representation of that learning, my deliberate choice of actions and words represents a deeper understanding of and change because of those lessons. 

In asking these identity questions of myself, I’ve also realized - or rather, am starting to realistically live with the understanding - there are only 168 hours in each week. Yes, that fact has existed long before I believed it. But when I map out my days, weeks, and months (thank you, Volt planner!) in terms of what I want to achieve, managing priorities through a lens of finite time makes it brutally real. Before now, I have always over-planned my time, somewhat skimped on sleep, and made things work. Yet now, I am not allowing myself to compromise on what I believe I need to support the goals I have. (For starters, training for my first triathlon is demanding regular sleep!) It’s not at all easy. I argue with myself as to whether I’m being selfish, and to what end I want to accomplish the goals I’ve set. I am (admittedly, somewhat tentatively) using the word “no” or “let’s look ahead” more than I ever have before. Yet, I’ve found an inner calm when looking at how I choose to allocate my resource of time. 

Life changes. Journeys evolve. We cannot choose how others respond. We can, however, choose our own actions and our own responses. Those actions can be as crazy as climbing Kilimanjaro, or as difficult as asking hard questions that only you as an independent individual can answer. For me, I believe in and choose to live a life that is totally different than then reality of ten years ago. While that is likely not obvious to many from a first glance or a passing conversation, the supportive shoes might be a more noticeable change to those around me. From my own perception, wearing supportive shoes is a very physical representation of my internal identity evolution … not the least of which represents a greater awareness and understanding of what it means to holistically take care of a body and a mind. None of us can know what lies ahead. We each can only choose to reflect and learn from the past. By taking care of the feet that help us walk through life, we also have the ability to be fully present in choosing to explore our own individual identity.