“You can do anything for 20 seconds!” That’s what the Peloton instructor said as we climbed up a steep virtual hill in my closet at my blue house in Oakmont at 7:00am on a Friday. And all of a sudden I was back in the gym in Verona. 2018. 6:00am on a Thursday morning, getting in a workout before heading up to my Grove City office for a long day of seeing patients. Staring into my reflection in the glass of the front window the treadmills all faced, telling myself “if you survived six months of Jeremy Noyes, you can run a little longer, girl. You can survive anything.”
Now, careful what you say to yourself. Because the universe is listening and if you say, I can survive anything, sometimes the universe goes ahead and sees if it’s true.
I’ve been through a lot since then and I’ve witnessed a lot since then. And I was right: I did survive. I survived a lot more than 20 seconds and a lot worse than a sprint on a squeaky treadmill at a gym that hadn’t been renovated since 1988 and refused to hire a window washer, resulting in a lot of funky spiders peering in at you from their cozy webs outside the windows. But now I’ve reached a strange place. It’s the place beyond survival. A place where you are not desperately trying to get through to the next day. A place where your solace is not picturing the far off someday. I have reached the land of milk and honey.
I’ll say this for the universe: it handed me the land of milk and honey within the worst moment in modern human history. We are essentially living through the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, the 1960s, Germany c. 1939 and a couple dystopian novels all at once. If you’re middle class, go get some weed and take a deep breath and you’ll be okay. But if you’re one of the 94 million Americans living at or near the poverty line, you may not survive this.
I take care of them and I see it and I watch helpless. I do what I can. But I know that almost no one in my life knows they exist. Not really. They were barely surviving before. Now? I just don’t know. All I know is things need to change. And if it’s ugly, then it had to be ugly. Poverty is violence. Our criminal justice system is violence. Our healthcare system is violence. That white rich couple in St. Louis are merely a more tangible representation, guarding their gated community with their big guns.
But I digress.
Back to the irony.
In the midst of all this, I find myself at a new chapter in my life. A chapter I’ve dreamed of for decades but am not entirely sure how to handle now that it’s here. My life is no longer about survival and getting by and fighting.
Now let me knock on wood. OK here goes.
My kids’ health is not perfect but we are over the worst of it and I spend very little time being their doctor now and almost all of it being their mom instead. My medical practice has finally gotten to a good point where I am not afraid month to month if I will make it or not. Where I don’t have to agree to take any patient who calls up and wants seen that day or that weekend or at 2am standing on my head yodeling. I no longer need to work 90 hours a week. I am, after 16 years of more sacrifice than most, finally one of those doctors who can work 4 or 4 1/2 days a week. I could work more and make more, but I don’t have to and I’m not going to, damn it.
My mental health is strong. I have good people in my life with good boundaries. I have moved past the addiction to the delicious chemicals that flood your brain when you are in a volatile relationship. I have a beautiful home that is all mine. My mysterious autoimmune disease is gone and I am training at full speed and loving it. I am working on a plan to section hike the Appalachian Trail. And it’s actually going to happen. I read novels. I ride my Peleton. I’m building a beautiful patio and getting a tiki hut to go over my hot tub. MY FREAKING HOT TUB. I have arrived.
Now, I fully own my class and race privilege. But it’s not the hot tub that is the thing that matters (but it’s pretty darn sweet). It’s the freedom from toxic relationships with other people and with myself. It’s the ability to say, being a workaholic is unhealthy and unfair to me and my kids. The ability to say I deserve to be happy and free. The ability to hold boundaries. The ability to get overwhelmed and pause and take a breath and figure it out without running into something I will regret, something that keeps me in survival mode longer. The ability to sit in pain and uncertainty. The ability to be present, to be fully and wholly alive, the joy and the pain, the exhilaration and boredom. The ability to see the infinite unknown possibilities and be at peace.
The custody battle that was my last great entanglement with the man I loved is now done. This comes at the same time as my practice’s stabilization. The same time my little ones will now be with their dad longer, freeing up more time for me. I feel light. I feel the possibility, and the possibility is here. It’s now. Finally.
I feel like myself. Fully myself.
Life is a journey and I realize I’m not boarding the Good Ship Lollipop. There will be tough times. There *are* tough times right now. I spend a lot of time feeling the things and thinking the thoughts we all ought to be with the way things are. But it’s different now. And I truly believe my personal life hit its last rock bottom this past spring and it is uphill from here.
PTSD tries to take possibility from you. It places your body in a chronic state of fight or fight. Also knows as survival mode. Possibility is a far off, uncertain, unlikely thing when you are in that place between life and death. When you have PTSD as a result of rape and abuse, it will get reinforced over and over again by our patriarchal, imperialist, violent culture. Every time you go to take a step forward, people will try to shove you back down. They will tell you to stop playing the victim, call you crazy, call you a slut, say you wanted it, question why you didn’t fight back the way they think you should have, say you’re exaggerating, call you vindictive towards the poor innocent man you’re trying to destroy. In short, they will do everything they can to keep you in survival mode.
What they don’t know is that you are a badass warrior. What they don’t know is they’re the ones who will never be truly alive. You will.