Saturday, July 3, 2010
ON LIVING WITH A BRAIN TUMOR, DAY 19: Coping With Stress
Everything I've ever read, researched, and have been told about anxiety and stress has the word "exercise" somewhere embedded in the advice. And while logically I know that's right, to quote a character in the cartoon section of Friday’s Star Tribune, "I may know it, but that doesn't mean I believe it." Yes, I do try to dive into the YWCA's water aerobics program three times a week. And yes, I do acquiesce to a walk through Silverwood Park about as often. But my bike continues to grow dust in the garage; my hiking shoes show little to no wear, given how long I've had them. And my anxiety attacks, though mild, still mug me almost daily. Despite the promises I make to myself to "just do it," I understand all too well why I don't You see, I'm a product of an educational system for which the concept of Title IX was not even a twinkle in someone's eye. Grade school phy ed consisted of a half hour per week, during which the visiting gym teacher would announce that week's lesson. (I recall being particularly fond of watching grainy black and white films on why a fast game of dodgeball was good for us. I hated dodgeball.) My junior high years were in what was then the flag ship school of my city. Among its cutting edge offerings were the required swimming classes in the indoor pool. In order to encourage a healthy body image, the boys were required to swim nude. We girls were luckier...or so we thought, until we got a look at the wool tank suits each girl was issued. The more zaftig lasses were given a suit in day-glo fuchsia. Sizes were color coded. I and a few other Size Tinies (read "boobless") got black. The look, while nothing that "Seventeen Magazine" would have featured, wasn't bad, until we got into and eventually out of the water. Wet wool sags...a lot. The only way out of swimming class was to prove it was "that time of the month." (The word "menstruation" was never used except in books like "Growing Up and Liking It.") Tampons? If they existed, few of us knew about them. No, the only excuse was to present a soiled Kotex pad to the 9th grade gym aide. (Even those of us who never colored our nails discovered the benefits of a little red nail polish mixed with some polish remover.) Nothing in my high school gym classes convinced me that exercise was fun. Mrs. X had a thing for foot health. She lined us girls six at a time, shoeless, on a table so that she could inspect our feet for early signs of bunions. (The pointy toed shoes of the early 60's were anathema to her.) It was the job of some poor school paper reporter to write the article announcing that term's Foot Queen. Basketball was part of the curriculum, but we were forbidden from playing full court. "Girls," our teacher said, "your uteruses could fall out from that much running." It didn't occur to me until many years later that that same teacher saw no problem with having us run like mad women during 50-minute games of field hockey. (I still believe that this was the only time I've experienced true envy, and that was of my asthmatic friends. Half a century later I still hate to run.) So, it’s no surprise that exercise isn’t part of my anxiety-reducing regimen. Better to fall onto a lawn chair and into a good book.