Working out is really important to me, like, really important. I can tell you that if I remain in a static state for too long, I go crazy. The only times I’ve foregone regular, strenuous exercise were when I was in the final stages of planning my wedding during a four-month engagement while also working nights and days, and for the months that Michael was in the hospital and in his early recovery at home, needing constant and attentive care. Basically only if I absolutely cannot. In other words, it’s vital to my sanity.
When Michael became ill, my whole world, our whole world, changed. I suppose at this point, with Michael so very close to pre-illness normalcy again, his world is almost the same as before. However, my role change forced me to do a 180 in how I approach life. And I’ll clarify further.
Last fall, when we moved, I began assisting Michael with daily living tasks, adding up to maybe a couple hours per day, though spread out over an afternoon and evening–helping get food, move a leg now and again, bathroom, going to bed etc. Even doing that much was a drastic change from my role before we moved, when I only assisted Michael if we went somewhere with just the two of us. He had a full team to assist him the rest of the time. But here in Germany, we also had a friend who, at the time, assisted for forty hours a week, which gave me a generous amount of time to get out of the apartment and do whatever I wanted or needed, like go running, shop, etc. And still I felt trapped.
Now, forty hours seems like an unimaginable bounty of “free” time. Yet, when I contrast my life before and now, I feel freer than ever.
These days, I must stay with Michael at all times, though I am able to leave the apartment for an hour, even up to an hour and a half at a time if I am able to get back quickly. So I can go do necessary, nearby errands with my bike. However, I limit these outings to a couple times per week and consolidate where I can because when I’m gone Michael has no way to relieve any discomforts such as legs falling asleep or needing the bathroom. I’ve learned that I can relax a little bit more when I’m out of the house, but whenever I’m out, I’m still on high alert with my phone at full volume should he need me to return quickly.
Remember when I said that I feel freer than ever, though? I feel freer because I’ve had to learn to let go of some things.
As I transitioned from having hours to pass wherever and however I chose, to spending 90% of the week in our apartment, I saw many of my normal routines slipping away. No more fast-paced go, go, go. I had to learn to be okay with slow, with possibly accomplishing very little relative to what I was used to. After all, at that time in the recovery, we still took twice or three times as long to walk/roll somewhere as if I could have gone by myself, and I couldn’t leave him alone. No more running outside. No more running at all, really. Slowly, slowly, I have been learning to adapt my efficiency-, productivity-driven self to this new way of life, determined to make it work.
Yet no matter the limitations, I will find a way to work in the activities that are important to me. And exercise is one of those.
Back in April, when we’d started getting into a “just us” groove a little bit and I had a little more energy, I decided it was finally time to get back into exercise. I had done virtually none since December, and four months of inactivity, high stress, and extremely interrupted sleep had done a number on me. At that time, still low on energy, I was motivated into action by the fact that I was responsible for my husband’s life and well-being. Me! Sure, we have some English-speaking friends here, but if anything were to happen to me, Michael was a vulnerable adult both physically and cognitively (Huzzah! Thankfully, he is not to such an extent anymore!). He didn’t, and still doesn’t yet speak German, and the people who know how to care well for his daily physical needs would take almost an entire day to travel here. I knew it was imperative that I get and keep my body in good physical condition so that I could be strong enough to help him.
So I started working out. I found a method and ever-changing workout routines that I do in our living room six days a week. I must be physically strong, because I have to transfer Michael from chair to bed or vice versa usually four times per day and occasionally more. I must be very strong in my core, in my legs, in my arms, and in my back. I must avoid the injury that many in this business experience because I must be available and able to do what Michael needs. He’s not terribly heavy, honestly, but lifting 100+ pounds, as we should all know, is a tricky business if not done properly. So I am motivated, by my love for Michael, to make by body strong. And also, I really enjoy working out and get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the results of my efforts.
And that brings us, finally, to the crux of this topic. If I have not love, my workouts are worthless. “But what’s the problem?” you say. “You do have love. Didn’t you just write that that’s what motivates you to work out?” Well, yes and no. Yes, I am certainly motivated by caring well for Michael. But I am even more motivated by my own needs. And that’s good. And that’s important to care for myself well. And yet, no matter how hard I work out, no matter how strong I make my body and how capable I am of lifting Michael even twenty times a day. No matter if I could even lift him with the pure power of my body, with brute strength. No matter if I were to have a rock-hard core and were able to do advanced yoga poses. All of my physical prowess is worthless if my life does not communicate love, and especially to the person closest to me in the entire world!
This was what powerfully impacted me just a few days ago, earlier in the week. And I usually work out just 30-45 minutes each time, and I despise inefficiency, right? I helped Michael with the bathroom immediately before I started, got him all set up so that I could do my session without interruption. And here I am, sweating, focusing, twenty-five minutes into my yoga flow practice. And I hear Michael call, “Uh, Shine?” “Yeah?” I call, inwardly moaning about this unplanned interruption. I try to keep it together while I help him to the bathroom again, less than thirty minutes since the last time. He apologetically says, “I guess I drank too much water.” And I’m huffy inside, unwilling to graciously acknowledge his unnecessary, but thoughtful, explanation. Instead, I choose to be annoyed that my time was interrupted. I don’t remember saying any harsh words, but I definitely took the passive-aggressive silent approach. As I went back to my mat to finish out the ten or so remaining minutes of my workout, still simmering inside, I was instantly and strongly hit with a powerful realization. In that moment, when I usually find such satisfaction in my workouts, I felt revulsion.
In that moment, I almost just rolled up my mat and quit because of my disgust. I was not left wondering for long at these powerful sentiments. I had clarification in the form of a thought: “If I have not love, my workout means nothing.” Bam. There it was laid out plain and simple. My annoyance and anger were still there, and here I was, masking my lack of patience behind the appearance–even fooling myself–that my workout was an act of love. But I don’t think that love is really love if it is self-serving, if it is not sacrificial, if it does not involve some laying aside of your own self and selfishness. Love is patient, love is kind.
Though I were to give up my body for my husband, and even if I were to sacrifice dreams and ambitions on his behalf, if I don’t live a life of love, my efforts and my actions are devoid of any worth at all. I may as well give up! There is no value, no satisfaction in what is done if I push my husband out of the way to get there. And besides that, both my body and my desires will one day, and soon, be gone and vanish in the mists of time. And what will be left? Is it not my spirit? And my spirit has no benefit from bodily pursuits. But love carries on, even after my body is gone. Love is an eternal constant, and not only that but it benefits my spirit by the practice of it, just as exercise benefits my body. So I choose love.