I was advised for months after my brain injury to avoid high impact exercise. Makes sense - I was suffering from almost daily headaches, my balance was off kilter - it was logical advice that I followed.
After many months of yoga, walking and gentle exercise, I noticed a decrease in muscle strength and endurance. I'm used to running, playing tennis all winter and taking spinning classes at the gym. I don't feel like I'm working out unless I sweat. In fact, I don't believe my endorphins kick in until my sweat glands kick in. A long brisk walk can never take the place of a heart pounding singles tennis match against a better player. It's just the way I roll.
So, by early 2012, I was beginning to get a little depressed. My mid-life body, while not gaining weight, was definitely losing muscle mass. This naturally happens to women at my age and I realize it's part of aging, but I felt weak and wimpy and on the verge of depression.
Then by spring, I started thinking back to when I trained for the marathon I ran in honor of my 30th birthday 20 years ago and I became even more depressed when I realized that these days, a few flights of stairs leave me winded. Usually, I play on a women's tennis team during the winter months. Playing tennis a few times a week, was socially invigorating and kept me in great shape in previous winters. But post-TBI I can't connect a tennis ball to my racquet...yet.
So I joined the local jazzercise center. Probably not the smartest thing in physical terms. But maybe a very smart thing in psychological terms. Following directions during loud pounding music with lots of other people jumping and moving around me - well, let's just say, the first few classes were a bit overstimulating. And it's really, really, really hard for me to do. But I have faith it will get easier.
Overstimulating and humbling. I was one of those aerobic dancers in the 1980s with a thong leotard and a headband. I knew all the moves and I thought I looked darn good doing them. Now, in 2012 jazzercise, I'm just another tired middle aged, out-of-shape woman. (For the time being.)
Here's the thing I love. No one cares.
Everyone moves at their own pace, no one is checking me out. I don't care how I look, because I'm too busy trying to count and figure out what I have to make my body do in the next sequence. And it's damn humbling because I always took my ability to follow directions and make my body follow suit for granted. That ain't so easy these days. Most days I leave jazzercise and I wonder who has possessed my body - this is not the Ann I always knew. I love the jazzercise women and instructors - all shapes, sizes and experience. No judgment. I feel safe.
The Ann I always knew is still there, changed a little, but new and improved. More aware. More grateful that I have two legs that work and a brain that can tell them which direction to go.
And skin that can still sweat and a heart that is happily pounding again.