Who I Used to Be.

I dreamt last night I was back to my old tricks in gymnastics. For those who don’t know, I used to be a badass gymnast. I say that with pride because there are so very few things I really excel at, so I don’t feel cocky in admitting the one thing that I was truly gifted with as a kid. It came easy to me. I loved it. I didn’t care that practice was four hours a day every day during competitive season. I was so incredibly driven then, and I was nine  years old. Looking back on it now, it’s like that was some other version of me from a parallel universe. Here I am in bed, wondering if I’ll have the energy to shower today. I can’t believe I used to do acrobatics on a four inch beam. And it was my favorite event, the balance beam. It required such devout focus, but I loved how everything would fade away to a colorless blur in the background while performing on it. All that existed was four inches of felt and a nine year olds concentration. It was almost holy being up there. And it was so unassuming to look at. It was literally just a beam; four feet off the ground, waiting around for anyone who felt worthy to mount it; one slip and it was all over. I’d always considered it the most difficult out of all four events, but immediately it was my favorite. I felt most myself up there. Most alive.

See? Don't I look alive?

I was at the top of my game (both in gymnastics and in school) when I came down with the flu one ordinary spring day. I skipped practice, which I never did. Days with the flu turned into weeks, and I wasn’t getting any better. I was getting worse. Suddenly I began having headaches everyday, like clockwork. My muscles started aching for no reason. Sometimes my skin hurt to touch. In line at the grocery store, I felt too tired, too weak to stay standing, so I’d sit, on the dirty grocery store floor, my head in my hands. My homework began taking me an unwarranted amount of time to complete. At that time in third grade, we were being taught how to tell time. I remember looking at the clocks on the worksheet and the numbers not seeming in order. The questions about what time it was looked like they were written backwards. I’d reread them and reread them, slower and slower. I used to be incredibly quick. Always the first one done with in-class assignments. I grasped concepts easily and fast. Now words were scrambled, and so in order to answer a question, I first had to rearrange the words in proper order because my brain for some reason, liked to put all the words in a jar, shake it up, and spit them out in whatever sequence they fell in. This took completing things three times as long. Not to mention my pounding head didn’t like to read things when it hurt. None of it made a lot of sense. Even looking back on it is a blur. But we went to a few different doctors who couldn’t find the answers. My mom said she was cringing in silence because I was showing all the symptoms that she had when first becoming ill in the 80’s. She didn’t say anything for a while, but after months of being sick and getting progressively worse, she knew it was what she feared.

I was basically home-schooled by my mom for the remainder of third grade. I spent a lot of time in bed. It was a strange time. But after four or five months of the “flu,” I slowly began to get better. I wanted so badly to get back to my routine. I wanted to be a kid again. But what I really wanted was to get back to gymnastics. Finally after a very very long hiatus, I slowly eased back into it. My teammates and coaches all welcomed me back and I was thrilled to be doing what I loved again. But, of course, things had changed. I still had all the skills in me that I’d acquired since age 5, but my body wasn’t as resilient as it used to be. I’d be unnecessarily sore for days. I tired out easily in the middle of practice. Out of nowhere, the back of my heels started delivering sharp pain when I walked. I thought it’d go away but didn’t. At the orthopedic doctor, I was diagnosed with calcaneal bursitis. Some big word for my ten year old mind that meant walking was going to be a bitch now. One day at practice, while jumping from the low bar to the high bar, my right hand slipped and I swung around, slamming my head into the metal beam which held up the bars. I knocked myself out for a few seconds and woke up on the floor with a few teammates and my favorite coach Steve crouched over me yelling my name and “What happened?! What happened?!” as though he were angry or something. Of course, he was just worried. The E.R. later diagnosed me with a concussion and told me to take it easy for a few days. I had an enormous goose egg on my head and a scab on my nose. I brought that goose egg to show-and-tell the next week. My friends were impressed.

One by one, the signs revealed themselves that I wouldn’t be able to continue gymnastics. I felt like John Elway when he cried during his retirement speech and uttered “I can’t do it physically anymore, and that’s hard for me to say.” It sucked, because I was good at gymnastics, and not much else. I ended up “retiring” at the ripe old age of 11 and it was a terrible decision to have to make. I tried other sports and hobbies that weren’t as physically demanding, but I mostly sucked at them, and none compared to what gymnastics offered me.

It’s funny to think where I’d be had I not gotten sick and stuck with gymnastics. I showed a lot of potential. My coach Steve even pulled me aside one day and said if I stayed on track, I had a shot at Olympic tryouts for Salt Lake. It was probably something like a 1 in a million shot, but still, just him believing in me meant everything. Who knows where I’d be. But once again, the illness was making decisions in my life that I wouldn’t have made on my own. Similar to last year when I retired from my work at the gallery. I wouldn’t have made that choice on my own either. But sometimes I wonder if I was given this illness because the great designer of my life knew I wouldn’t make those choices on my own. I would only choose them out of necessity. And these choices, will bring me to exactly where I’m supposed to be. We have a tendency to think only we know whats best for us. And that was the root of my anger back at age 11 and more recently last year when I felt I wasn’t being dealt a fair hand. Periodically, usually in stillness, I feel the wisdom of something else at work in my life. When I start to trust that wisdom, my life isn’t so much something I own as it is an energy, a cause; a vehicle that I simply need to ride in (and enjoy) the paths shown to me, not get angry at the ones that didn’t materialize. Tolle puts it this way:

To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.

So there you have it. No more whining about who I was, what I had. I need to stay present to who I am now. What I have now. And right now, I have some embarrassingly ridiculous gymnastic photos for your viewing pleasure…Feel free to point and laugh.

Health, Happiness, and Awesome 90’s Photos.

22 thoughts on “Who I Used to Be.

  1. Hi, I’ve been following and reading your posts for a while now… It takes people their whole lives (if ever) to come to the spiritual understanding and levels that you are at… albeit, you were sort of forced to learn those things through your illness, but maybe that’s why you were given this illness. You can help a lot of people. Thank you for sharing your pain and journey. I think you are one brave lady.


  2. I developed CFS as a kid too, and often wonder the same things about where I would be today if I hadn’t gotten sick. However, I usually come to the conclusion that whatever outward success I might have achieved, I wouldn’t have been happy because I was entirely too driven and too hard on myself until illness repeatedly slapped it out of me. Learning to accept imperfection in my life is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me…even though I still hate the disease(s) that taught me that lesson.


  3. I love your posts so much, you have a talent for describing the things which can be so hard to describe. I too used to do gymnastics (although just for fun, I started when I was 12 and was never much interested in competing) but like you it sadly didn’t take long for it to become clear that was going to have to stop. I was doing far more damage than good and after needing an operation for wrist problems that was the end of that. It can be depressing, having to stop something you enjoy because of poor health, especially at a young age when everyone around you still seems to bounce.

    I still sometimes struggle with it, but I’m getting better at sticking to exercise which I can cope with.


  4. i know a woman who was headed for the olymics as an equestrienne. she and her sweetie were riding his motorcycle when they were hit from behind, then ran over by a second car. she’s a parapalegic now. she now rides a “pony car” (mustang) in road races. and she still dreams of her horse, and riding.

    i have two beastlings, 11 years apart in age. i say, quite honestly, that my children have two different mothers. when my daughter was small, i worked full time, i wrote, we went to the beach and swam, to the mountains and hiked. with my son, we lay on the bed and watched movies, or (like right now) we sat across the table on our laptops and shared things that way.

    or (like tonight) i ran myself silly doing laundry and making marinara sauce so he knows how and making quickmead with him so he’ll know how to do *that*, too. tomorrow i’ll spend a lot of the day recovering from today, and that’s just the way it is. he loves me anyway, as does my TheEngineer.

    its always something, right? *gentle hugs* you look wonderful and beautiful and alive in your pictures. and you are wonderful and beautiful and alive in your writing, its just a different form of expression.


    1. “you look wonderful and beautiful and alive in your pictures. and you are wonderful and beautiful and alive in your writing, its just a different form of expression.”

      This bears repeating because fallconskat is so right. There’s nothing I can add that hasn’t been said already, but you’re inspiring in so many ways, and continue to do so with every post. Sending you much love and pain-free hugs!


  5. I love your blog. I was diagnosed almost ten years ago and I still struggle with what I used to be able to do and what I can do now. It is a struggle everyday. I am glad you got to have the experience of gymnastics, and are able to have that pride of excelling at something. It doesn’t mean that is the last thing you are going to be really good at.


  6. I think a lot about that Bible verse that says all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. I know I just butchered that but the point is there is nothing that happens in this life that He can’t redeem and turn into something good. I hope if or more like WHEN I have to face something fundamentally awful that I will be able to look at it with as much grace and class as you have with your situation.


  7. That’s such a bummer that you had to quit gymnastics. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with gymnastics. When I was around seven, my mother, who had sole custody of myself and my three siblings, but who we rarely saw, promised me she’d take me to gymnastics every Thursday. On that first session I knew gymnastics was for me; it gave me such a buzz. I imagined myself becoming really great at it. Every Thursday that followed, I stood waiting on the corner in my leotard for my mother to pick me up. Despite all her promises, she never took me back to gymnastics. I guess she was too busy out living the childhood that she had never had.


  8. Dude it seems weird to me that your favorite coach was Steve and he was the reason I quit gymnastics… Maybe I quit cause my little sister was so much better than me!! Your better than me at most things! love you.


  9. You are wise beyond your years and a very talented writer. I have no connection to fibro in my life but enjoy reading your posts. And every time my friends post something white and female on Facebook (like today’s “Dear ear infection, Please leave my child alone”), I smile and think of you.


  10. Sitting here crying out loud, because my 8-year-old daughter is in third grade, is an amazing gymnast, all the things you’ve described above, and my heart absolutely breaks at the thought of what you went through, and what you lost. I am now irrationally scared of this happening to her. My fibro didn’t develop until I was over 30 though, so I will cling to that idea, and hope it never happens to her.
    I think it’s amazing that you can still be so positive. Thank you.


  11. Wow! I was a gymnast too and an athlete. Retired at 11yo. I loved the beam too (: And, yes, I’m diagnosed with CFS and Fibro… And, possibly dysautonommia – something about flexibility and the automatic nervous system. I guess a new diagnosis is what you get when you stop denying and start actually paying attention to what your current status is. You’re probably farther along in the process than I am in letting go of previous functioning… However, your posts have been the reason that I started that process. I get excited every time a new entry is posted! Thank you again for your writings!!


  12. Mary – Thank you for continuing these posts. They are amazing. I’ve read your ‘Thanks I’ll Try That’ post, which I totally related to and which made me laugh out loud, making me seem like a nut job in my office…laughing with no one around me. I’ve just returned from the Mayo Clinic (which is why I’m referring to your ‘Thanks…’ post) and it was an amazing experience to have the coordinated, expert, patient-centric care they offer. I don’t know if it would be something you have tried to do/would try, but it was really beneficial for me – I blogged about it (not a plug for my new blog, I promise…I’m not continuing the blog, was just using it to keep my friends and family up to date). If you do want to read it (I think it was only 5 or 6 posts), it’s at lettucetalkaboutmayo.wordpress.com. I do hope you continue to seek out answers and get to find some relief, somewhere, sometime – you’re an amazing woman!!


  13. I love your pics! Have you grieved for what you lost? Its like losing a person, except its your past self. I think you’re doing a wonderful thing by blogging about your life, helping others to understand they are not alone. One thing: Have you tried giving up gluten? I know TONS of people who completely heal from Fibro and other things from eliminating gluten in their diets. Just a thought :)


      1. Seriously. I know it’s difficult for people with a friend going through a hard time with Fibro, CFS, etc. because they want to support the friend and look on the Internet and give advice like “maybe if you exercised more” and “you could try giving up gluten.” I laugh when someone asks me if I’ve tried giving up gluten to help my Fibro, because I developed a gluten intolerance just before I was diagnosed with Fibro, CFS, and about seven or eight other things. Of course, I try to be good-natured about the person’s advice and explain that I have severe Fibro AND severe gluten intolerance. I know the person is trying to give support. But, I still can’t help laughing when going ‘gluten-free!’ is suggested to me.


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