Sunday, December 1, 2013
kicking the bell jar to the curb
Note: This December, I am participating in Reverb13, a blog project in which writers respond to a prompt each day during the month, reflecting on the year that has passed, and the one that is about to begin. Prompts can be found at www.katmcnally.com
It is the first day of Reverb13.
How do you feel, on this first day, in your mind? In your body? In your soul?
Funny you should ask, because lately I have been feeling as though I’m crawling slowly toward the bell jar. The bell jar, for me, is unfamiliar territory: I am prone to occasional bouts of melancholy, even crabbiness, but never downright depression. I don’t get Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the Holiday Blues. And I’m not labeling this present state of blah with a capital “d,” but this heavy emotional sluggishness certainly feels physiological, and somewhat out of my control.
So I think it’s fitting that the above question, “How do you feel?” is in three parts: mind, body, soul. I’m going to respond in a different order, though, because I think my present state of mind and soul is directly connected to my state of body.
Broken foot=broken mind.
(I’m also prone to bouts of hyperbole.) Five or six weeks ago, I was walking out my door into the driveway, carrying the recycling bin. I tripped, rolled my ankle, and broke the fifth metatarsal of my right foot—a “Jones fracture,” particularly pesky because of its location. The lack of blood flow to that area of the foot makes it less likely to heal.
“You must be going crazy!” friends exclaimed. “How are you going to survive without running?” Truthfully, I wasn’t too concerned at first. Being “laid up” presented an opportunity for me to spend more time on writing projects (and I have been amazed at how much more time I have to sit down at my desk), and I would still be able to go to the gym and work on core exercises. And the crutches were a pretty good workout. So, I wasn’t completely devastated when my women’s mountain biking trip to Kindgdom Trails, Vermont (Mecca for mountain bikers in the northeast) turned into a weekend spent in the sitting room of a bed and breakfast, looking out over the Green Mountains and working on a short story while my friends tore it up on Kitchell and Troll Stroll and Tap-n-Die, three of my favorite trails. I took walking breaks, hobbling up to Heaven’s Bench on my crutches. I had, in my humble opinion, a good attitude about the injury.
But the gig is up. We’ve had the most gorgeous, temperate New England autumn in years, and I’ve participated in epic trail runs only through race reports, Facebook status updates, and running blogs. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dwelling. I think of the folks in last year’s Boston Marathon who lost limbs, or lives. Of people who are terminally ill, or in wheelchairs. Really, I’m aware that the injury is trivial, and barely prevents me from going about my regular business. But I do believe this grey mood is due to lack of exercise. I miss the trails. Trail running is exercise for the body, mind and soul: hills, roots and rocks provide a physical challenge; the intense focus that is required of both brain and body stimulates the mind; and the scents, sights, and landscapes one encounters in the woods are like Merlot for the soul. Now that my cardiovascular exercise is mostly limited to a quarter-mile hobble down the nearby cul-de-sac (I did hike the carriage trail at Sleeping Giant on Thursday, but the foot protested loudly), there’s an antsy-ness, a physical frustration that becomes, after a time, a sort of motivational lethargy. When the blood’s not flowing to the foot, the blood’s not flowing to the soul. Mind says: “Must. Run.” Body says: “Sorry, pal.” Soul says: “Sigh.” And then: “Blah.”
But it’s a passing mood, and that knowledge is in itself a sort of antidote to my first-world malaise. And I feel a little guilty for starting my Reverb project on such a gloomy note. But the question got me thinking, not for the first time, about the connection between exercise/fresh air and state of mind. I have long been a fan of Richard Louv’s well-researched book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he discusses the connections between our over-scheduled, indoor-centric culture and ADHD. When kids misbehave, they lose their recess. When they lose their recess, they misbehave. And so the cycle continues. I can sense their frustration: the thought of four more weeks in this boot makes me want to pick up a chair and throw it. But recess is coming. I just need to sit quietly at my desk a little while longer. . . .