It was a glorious hot and sunny day in Lido, an island in the Venetian Lagoon. I had not a care in the world, just floating in the Adriatic Sea. The lapping of the crystal waters. The sunshine beaming. Nothing could be better in that moment. That afternoon we were headed to Murano and Burano via the local water taxi for a day of sightseeing, day drinking and shopping. We strolled about the little markets, sat in a sidewalk café and I distinctly remember watching my wine and water glasses sweat profusely in the hot and humid air. I can see the day so clearly still, more than 15 years later. I was wearing a fitted lawn cotton sundress in a diamond pattern with tan leather high heeled sandals. For whatever reason at the time, neither of us could read the water taxi board to figure out the schedule of what boat was going where and when. From the Lido, to Burano and now onto Murano (are you following me?!), we boarded a boat which we thought would be taking us to the Faro station in Murano. Faro, that’s where we were headed. As the boat sounded it’s tugboat horn, we once again looked at the captain and said “to Faro?” With a steep glare he shouted “NO Faro, NO Faro!”and before either of us could utter a word, we glanced at each other, grabbed hands and jumped off the boat as it was leaving the dock. It was a slow-mo moment. Both of us jumping in unison, leaping over the growing gap in the water between the dock and boat and landing with giggles on our feet, narrowly escaping a myriad of imagined bad situations. Falling in the water, dropping our shopping bags or other belongings in the water, taking the wrong boat to the wrong place and having to deal with even more cryptic boat schedules. In that moment we took off. I was running in high heels.
Eight years later Russ and I were taking a babymoon in St. Maarten, with just 4 more months until the birth of our baby girl. Life hadn’t changed much at that point although I was one year into my diagnosis with MS and to me, MS was just a label at that time. Although I wasn’t running any longer, I remained active going to the gym, doing at-home pregnancy approved workouts and yoga. My last road race was the year before and while running had been such a focal point of my life, it was replaced with other equally effective forms of exercise. It just felt like the end of an era, not the beginning of a definitive end. I felt so beautiful being pregnant and thoroughly enjoyed maintaining my style with a growing belly. Maybe it was because I was pregnant with a girl but my skin looked great, my hair was flowing. We were exploring the lazy beach side community in St. Maarten, checking out the shops, bar hopping along the boardwalk and again enjoying the glorious sunshine. I can see that day once again so clearly – the vibrant colors of the buildings, the surfer-esque decor and boardwalk usuals…local folks peddling costume jewelry, street musicians, tourists. We were taking a walk along the cobblestone when I lost my balance and fell. My ankles wobbled this way and that and I couldn’t steady myself or grab Russ fast enough to avoid the fall. I twisted my ankles, skinned my knees and scuffed my shoes. Wedge heeled sandals that I loved. All I could think about was protecting the baby – was she moving? I put my hands to my belly and gently nudged a few places to get her rolling. Stopping in one of the boardwalk restaurants, we rested for a moment, breathed a sigh of relief that the baby seemed OK and when I was comfortable we hailed a taxi back to the hotel, and cleaned up my wounds at the resort medical office. The next morning my ankles were stiff and Russ emphatically swore off heels for me. I silently resented this but nodded begrudgingly in agreement, at least until my ankles and skinned knees healed I once again silently thought to myself. I was temporarily running in…flats. I spent the rest of my first pregnancy in flat-ish shoes. I didn’t give a second thought to myself, I was on auto-pilot caring for the tiny human I was growing and that was all that mattered.
During the year after the birth of our daughter I was getting stronger. There were some setbacks in the first 3 months postpartum but they passed and I was going to physical therapy. In August of that year I graduated from PT and wearing high heels to work again. I noticed some changes, occasional numbness, weakness at the end of the day but I always bounced back after rest. Always. As far as I was concerned, I was back in action. There I was, running in high heels.
I met some girlfriends at the movies one evening while pregnant with my second child, a baby boy. It was early in my pregnancy and the woes of the past had disintegrated and I was proudly wearing white jeans secretly unbuttoned at the top for comfort of my growing belly and a flowy coral shirt to disguise my figure. Above all this I walked confidently in a pair of strappy brown leather modest heels feeling just as beautiful and strong as ever. I still see myself, my confidence, walking down that sidewalk toward the theater doors. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later this all came to a screeching halt. I fell ill with a nasty stomach virus and as many auto-immune diseases go, my body couldn’t stay strong and fight the bug at the same time. It was an effort to move my body at all and in the week or so following, I never bounced back as I had in the past. I knew deep inside there was a problem but I couldn’t admit it and I tried so hard to charge on until I ended up sobbing in a heap of tears one Saturday morning at our marina with my husband and daughter because I just. Couldn’t. Walk. Hours later I stumbled into the emergency room. Worn out, and out of fight, I just did what the doctors told me to do. I was 15 weeks pregnant with my son. This wasn’t supposed to happen during pregnancy. After a 5 day stint at the hospital for a steroid infusion, an 11 hour car ride to the Outer Banks for our family vacation, and unrelenting steroid induced withdrawals of rage, sleeplessness and swelling in my face, I was on the road to an 8 week recovery.
I could not easily stand from a sitting position, I could not march with my daughter, I shuffled. Barely. The whole situation felt like the end at that time. I had lost my right leg. The thoughts started pouring in, what IF I LOSE my right leg forever? It was my pillar of physical strength. I could not possibly lose my right leg. Not now, not ever. The realization that I took walking for granted was a giant slap in the face. How does the saying go, “you don’t realize what you have until it is gone?” It was a struggle to lift my foot between the gas and brake pedals driving. How was this going to work? I was determined to heal. Back in physical therapy, a new membership to the local indoor swimming pool and vigilance with my diet and supplements and meditation. Everything. Slowly little glimpses of strength were coming back. I could lift my right leg on it’s own into my car. Driving became easier and normal. I could march again for the millionth time to the ants as they went marching on. I needed my strength as I prepared for the birth of my son, and not just so I could keep up with my active toddler and a newborn baby. I was planning a natural birth, no drugs, no epidural, just me and my body opening up to the glorious experience that I envisioned birth was and has been since the beginning of time. Everyone has their own unique childbirth experience, good or not-so-good. Although I was tired and I felt huge and slow, by the end of 2012 I was A-OK. Hypnobirthing was my focus and that was that. I can’t say that I was running I high heels. But I was certainly running with a giant baby in my belly and a toddler on my hip. Wouldn’t you know, my baby boy was 10 days late and 10 lbs., 9 oz. He was born naturally as I intended, and it was the ultimate gift after all that I had endured in the previous 6 months.
Somewhere around the time that we were preparing to celebrate my son’s first birthday, my strength and mobility started to rapidly decline. At home I am diligent and stubborn about maintaining my independence so I use the walls and furniture as support. Some folks say the family makes the home. I believe that the home makes the family. I am forever grateful for those walls. My home watches me stumble through life and although not graceful, it is noble. And sadly, as the vivid memory of sitting on my deck wondering about my right leg feels so real today, it IS my reality today. I am not saying that I am giving up. I am simply stating that my worst nightmare is now my living truth. Honestly though, it is not as bad as I imagined. It is hard for sure, but I don’t feel changed. I feel more determined than ever. Ironically, I am certainly not running anywhere, let alone in high heels.
Running in high heels. This has been a metaphor for much of my adult life. A woman in a man’s world, climbing the ladder, coming out of my awkward shell into a social butterfly. Miss Independent, juggling anything and everything all at once with grace(ish). The beauty queen, the future CEO. Most recently though it is my mantra for positivity and strength. It doesn’t matter if it is no longer real, I am still the same inside and I will continue to take on the world in the same manner. With the same force. On a new path. And maybe now with a cape and a tiara from a wheelchair instead of a polished business suit and Christian Louboutin’s. Or Manolo Blahnik’s. I like those too.
Have you ever noticed how nature just goes, so effortlessly and seemingly without resistance? I find myself sitting a lot recently, staring at nature and admiring its beauty. Letting the sunshine radiate its brilliance, the wind blanket my skin and the fresh air gently cleanse with each breath. Let go of the past, don’t worry about the future, and live in the present without judgment. Be the present without judgment. I am the container my body needs to heal. When I sit in this quiet contemplation I hear my heart calling.
Today is my 41st birthday. And today, I will blow the dust off the shoe box. Today, I am rolling in high heels.