Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

This question was posted in our kitchen at work. I initially thought if I weren’t afraid then I would enjoy flying instead of white-knuckling it through flights and asking flight attendants if the turbulence is "ok." But I was about to go skiing when I saw that question, so my thoughts transitioned to, if I weren’t afraid, then how would skiing change?  If I weren't afraid of falling while skiing, or afraid that I wouldn't be able to stop myself from charging into a tree or worse... If I weren't afraid, how would I ski differently?  And I knew that if I weren't afraid, I would find myself skiing with confidence and without hesitation... I wouldn't slide out, gasp, slip, and flop to the ground when I started skiing faster. I would simply continue to ski with the same way I ski when I am not going fast. With that in mind, I hit the slopes.

I still sit-ski for half of the day when I go skiing - in the morning, when there is the most potential for fresh powder. And that is when I am the most afraid - sit-skiing on my own. This year I thought a lot about not being afraid. On my first time down the slope, right before I started, I thought "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"  And I made the turns. With each turn, I thought of pushing past a force that was there, but that I could push past. I could correct myself when I started to slide as if I were pushing fear to the side.  Skiing got easier. There was a rhythm to it.

I have noticed that my balance is better this year. I have a new way of skiing which is somewhat like driving, somewhat...  When I make a right turn I push with my right foot and leg into the ski bucket, where my feet rest, and it's like a pedal - somewhat like driving (sort of like if I were flooring it as hard as I can with the gas pedal).  And when I make a left turn I push with my left foot and leg in the same way. To do this, I had to get past being afraid - to try something new, I couldn't stick with the old.

In the afternoons I stand up to ski.  Last year we spent the afternoons figuring out the best way to get me to be able to ski while standing up.  This year we have a system. Last year we tried to figure out a way to get me to move through the ski line while standing up, and it was impossible. We kept trying different ways to do this.  None worked well until the last day of skiing, when my instructor that day asked why I didn't just go up the lift in the sit-ski, have someone bring the ski legs (equipment) to the top, and then have me get out of the sit-ski, stand up to the ski legs, put my skies on, and then ski down?  Brilliant! And that is what we have done this season.

This season, stand-up skiing is about skiing to the point that I am sore the next day. At the beginning of a running season, there were always times, like after the first meet, when I and most runners would get very sore legs and it was awesome because then we knew we had pushed ourselves. But since I did those races, my legs have never been sore.  It has probably been close to 25 years since I experienced sore leg muscles.  But this year, on my first time down the hill when standing, I could feel my leg muscles working.  And the next day those leg muscles were sore.  I wanted to tell everyone I knew how excited I was, that I had finally been able to push myself to that point.  The second day this season that I skied, I tried to use my legs more and not lean on my shoulders.  I pushed more.  By the time I came in from skiing, my legs were done, in a good way - I wore them out.  For the next few days after that, my legs were sore like I remember them being after those first races of running seasons. But the next day I skied I didn't get sore.  Bummer.

This past weekend I skied again and we removed a strap that went around my back to hold me up, just in hopes I would be sore again.  I asked if I was the only one with such an interest in getting sore and my instructor laughed and said, "I'm pretty sure you are the only one with that goal."  Excellent.  But, I didn't get sore. And so I know that at least I am getting stronger which is a good thing.

On each ski lesson I have, there is the main instructor plus one or two volunteers. This year a few of the volunteers have skied with me previously.  One remembered me well.  Near the end of the day, he said "Beth, you just seem stronger than what I remember." And he is right. Much of what has been happening to me involves increases in strength that are hard to describe. There are times when I catch myself when walking and keep going, where in the past I would have fallen. I used to walk through our house sideways, gripping walls. Now I walk forward, with a hand near the wall in case I need it for balance. But each change I consciously try also involves confronting fear - confronting being afraid - and trying to move past it.

Yesterday was the day, 26 years ago, when a doctor told me that I probably had MS because of two small lesions found on my spine.  I asked him if I should just lie down and die. He told me why I shouldn't. And I was afraid, but less afraid then before I knew this, because there were no answers prior to knowing. And though these 26 years have not been easy, my doctor was right. Laying down and dying wasn't a good option. Whatever I have is unpredictable. Uncertainty can cause anyone to be afraid. I never know what will help me, or where my path will go. But I feel so fortunate, on this day, to be able to push forward, pushing against being afraid, and in pushing, finding confidence and strength I didn't know I had.


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