I'm Bigger, One Whole Year!

(song: Birthday/artist: David Weinstone)

March 26, 2016

Today I am 41 years old. Just after my 40th birthday, I wrote this post about my feelings of inadequacy and how I let my fear of, pretty much everything, hold me back from personal growth and progress. When disaster struck in November and I needed emergency back surgery, I was devastated. But when I started the outline for this post, I realized that despite the super shitty way 2015 ended, A LOT of great things happened between ages 40 and 41. I've spent the better part of a year working with a great therapist who is helping me overcome my fear and identify what triggers my self-doubt. He never lets me go to that "I suck. I've always sucked. I'll always suck." place that I've spent most of my life retreating. And once I started letting go of that fear, great things began to happen.

Okay, I'm also getting older but still...

For starters, I got a great opportunity to start learning the ropes of producing theater. Last January I saw an off-Broadway musical about teens at a weight loss camp, produced by my friend Michael. Michael's one of those annoying people that sees the possibility in every situation and is super positive all the time. If he weren't so awesome, I'd hate him. When I called him to ask if I might borrow lyrics for a future blog post (about my own experience as a teen at weight loss camp...stay tuned for that one), the phone call turned into a live meeting, that turned into introductions to industry professionals, like producer Kari Lynn Hearn, who is a human ray of sunshine and with whom I clicked immediately. She encouraged me to attend workshops at the Commercial Theater Institute, which I did, and where I met even more great people.  20 years ago, I moved to New York for acting and, largely due to my lack of belief in myself, never made anything of it. To come full circle and once again be a part of the industry that brought me here, is an exciting possibility. The old me would have never had the courage to call Michael and ask to use those lyrics. When I saw him last week - having last seen him two weeks prior to surgery when I was so very blue - he said, "I can see a change in you. I don't see the fear." It felt wonderful hear that and to know that I'm radiating positivity.

Kari Lynn, whom I totally want to be when I grow up!

On the fitness front, I joined the Prospect Park Track Club at the encouragement of my friend and fellow PPTC member, Tony Ellis. Because I spent nearly two years as Tony's patient he knew that the social element of a running club (of ANY club, really) scared the hell out of me. He also knew that it would be a great way for me to overcome that insecurity and be a part of a positive, like-minded community. And I am so glad I did! Even though I was only able to participate in one group run before I lost my feet to nerve damage, I got so much support from the club members after my surgery. I went to the annual awards dinner - by myself, on a cane, barely knowing anyone in the club, super nervous and awkward, but I did it anyway - and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I met Michael K. and Nicole and Juan, all of whom were once overweight and are now fit, healthy running machines. I met Geoff, who came back to running after breaking BOTH ankles in a climbing accident. I met Denis, who had footdrop (just like me!) and no longer has it. And I met Michael Ring, who hates to be called "an inspiration" but truly is. Michael was diagnosed with Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy, a rare variant of a rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome, and basically in 24 hours went from being a marathon runner to being wheelchair-bound. I stumbled upon Michael's blog right after my surgery, when I was crying every day and feeling like the world had come to an end, because my feet died. I loved his honesty, his anger, his humor, his willingness to express himself un-apologetically, and his will to fight when others (me) would have given up. When I finally met him in person, I asked him how he got through the first year without wanting kill someone (or himself). He said, "I just don't get that mad about stuff I can't control." And now I hear those words every day, as  I go for my walks and my stupid feet flop awkwardly onto the pavement. I don't have the urge to cry anymore because...I just don't get that mad about stuff I can't control.

Micheal Ring: inspiring me, one laugh at a time.

Michael encouraged me to join the Brooklyn chapter of Achilles International, an organization that "enables people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events in order to promote personal achievement".  I'll be participating in my first run/walk with the Brooklyn chapter next month.  If I had let my insecurity win, I never would have joined PPTC, and I would have missed out on being part of a community that I need. And that I hope, needs me.

In addition to joining the track club community, I reconnected with Marisa, one of my fellow fitness models from the Brazil Butt Lift segments on QVC. We recently got together to talk about our blogs and brainstorm ideas for nutrition and fitness collaborations. But we didn't just talk about business, we talked about everything. We talked, and laughed, and probably would have cried if we had had more time. Having grown up in a house with a single dad and two brothers, building relationships with women has been challenging for me, but as I get older, I realize the importance of female connections, and the past year has seen a swell in my friendships with women. Again, shedding the fear that I'm somehow not worthy or likable has opened up a world of human connections that have been sorely lacking. I need my sisters!

Just a few the women that inspire me. (And Michael, the world's happiest producer.)

And despite still not being able to run, I have made incredible strides since my surgery three months ago. I can walk fast and I can walk far. I walked five miles the day before my birthday! My longest walk to date. I have been cleared to do all normal exercise - except running (obviously), jumping and weighted squats - and am now doing regular workouts in addition to my daily physical therapy exercises. And just 12 weeks after undergoing major back surgery, I did this:

Imagine what I'll be doing in 12 months. There's so much possibility for me. Finally, I believe that. I am excited, and not even a little afraid, about what this year has in store for me.   

Underneath It All...I think I'm Afraid When There's Nothing Wrong

(artist:Cyndi Lauper/song: Fearless)

I skew slightly crazy. My friends and family know this to be true. I am the queen of irrational fear. For example, my fear of flying is not your run-of-the-mill fear of flying. Mine only started after I got engaged and finally had something good happening in my life; I convinced myself something awful would happen before I made it down the aisle. My then-fiancé put it to me best with, "If God hates you so much, why is he taking 200 other people?" Touché. My pretend-mom, who I have to call before every flight, always says, "Al (she calls me Al), is this a rational thought?" NO! But I still can't control the fear.

And that trick is called "Xanax".

So when I was cleared for PT and able to go outside on my own, I was terrified. I just knew I would be violently attacked - most likely with my cane - while I was taking my daily 10-minute walks. I was hyper-aware of my surroundings and suspicious of everyone. They all wanted to maim me. Especially that 4-year-old kid that rides his scooter in front of his dad's bodega. I felt so exposed, vulnerable and weak, and overwhelmingly afraid. So in addition to overcoming the physical limitations of back surgery, I would have to overcome the mental ones. 

During one of my PT sessions, my therapist pointed out that I was walking really stiffly. I told her that I was afraid of doing something that might hurt my back and land me in the hospital again. Then she sat me down and explained that, although we are conditioned to believe that our spines and backs are extremely fragile - whether through adverts for pain meds or stories of woe from our achy friends - they are actually very strong and malleable.  Since it only took about half a session for her to pick up on my brand of crazy, she told me that this was yet another irrational fear and that I should stop walking like a robot. Then she promptly added exercises that forced me to twist and turn my spine.

I was so scared my spine would snap like a twig. It didn't...

And guess what, I didn't break in half. Nor did anyone attack me on on the street in my most physically vulnerable moments. (I've also never been in a plane crash.) Now, if I can apply that same rational thinking to my overall life, the scared girl that wrote this post on her 40th birthday, might be damn near perfect by her 50th. Imagine that. 

If it's on a greeting card, you know it's true.