In the days before cell phones and texting, the days during which I was coming of age, my friends and I would regularly write notes to each other. They were handwritten in cursive on loose leaf paper, occasionally offering up hearts in place of the dots on i’s, and were impeccably folded so as to avoid accidentally tumbling open and being exposed to the wrong set of eyes. From what I remember, these notes read more like diary entries. Often describing in painstaking detail the heartache over our latest crushes not crushing back or the angst of a perceived betrayal by another friend who went to the mall without us. Occasionally they were simply making fun of a sworn enemy’s lack of bang volume.
(This was the eighties, my loves and the bigger the claw bangs, the closer to god. Or the top of the middle school social hierarchy, you decide)
It was one of these vulnerable, bare-all missives to a bestie that landed me in one of the most embarrassing situations of my high school tenure.
For years, I had a crush on one boy. We’d been in school together since grade 3 and he lived down the street from me. He was an athlete (an especially good volleyball player, which was my sport as well), clean cut, sported a flat top hair cut and loved to laugh uproariously at his own jokes. He was boy band level cute and my teenage heart loved him so. At age 14 it made perfect sense to me that we were meant to get married and have adorable superstar volleyball playing babies together.
So why exactly was he dating other people?
Well, this was the source not only of my repeated heart break but also a soul bearing page of loose leaf intended for my friend, Lisa Goodman. "How could he? What does he see in her? He must know that we are meant to be together, right?". Lionel Richie’s “Hello” played on repeat on my portable cassette player and the tears flowed abundantly. I’m sure you’re getting the picture- I was distraught, to say the least.
Well, that is, I thought I was distraught until things suddenly got much, much worse. As if transported into a less polished version of a Disney channel teen comedy, my note found it’s way out of my friend’s binder and onto the Wellington Middle School hallway floor (cue in studio audience gasp). It was then picked up and read by a nameless student and after who knows how many other hungry teenage eyes devoured it, eventually made it’s way into the hands of my crush. Shortly after, through the gossip grapevine of the student body, this information made it back to me.
Upon hearing this news, my stomach lurched as if attempting to come out of my body. I wanted to die. My first instinct was to run away and quit school but I realized fairly quickly that this might not be a plausible solution. So on to plan B;. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. No need to interact with flat top whatsoever really. If I stopped going to gym to play volleyball at lunch, avoided eye contact in math class, and spent my time in the hallways surrounded by my group of friends, secret service style, maybe just maybe, I could get through this.
Except that we typically walked to school together most mornings. Remember when I said he lived down the street from me? Right, so Flat top would ride his bike past my house to another classmate’s, where he would store his bike for the day and then wait for me to meet him so we could walk the remaining 15 minutes to school side by side.
The night of the exposure, I found myself playing out the scenarios of the next morning in my mind over and over, driving myself crazy. I was certain he would not be at our usual meeting spot. How could we possibly interact normally after my rawest emotions had been laid bare for him in extremely legible and bubbly teenage girl long hand. Sure, we were friends but how would he take the news of my Lionel Richie level love?
When I simply couldn’t stand to be with my own thoughts any longer, something in me instinctually knew I needed to move. I did what I often had done as a teen when my emotions felt like too much for me, I grabbed my volleyball and headed up to the elementary school near my house where I proceeded to spike the ball against the wall as hard as I could until I was sweating and exhausted.
The movement did what it always had for me; it dropped me into my body allowing my mind to slow it’s out of control spin. It helped me begin processing some of the overwhelming feelings surging through me. And it helped regulate my nervous system, allowing for space to welcome in a flow of rational wisdom to help balance out the panic. When I was all spiked out, I went home and slept, feeling calmer and more resourced to deal with whatever the following day had in store.
He was waiting for me at the usual spot. The pit in my stomach appeared instantly as I rounded the corner and his familiar skinny frame came into view. Breathe. Just breathe, in and out. I greeted him but remember not being able to look him in the eye. He acted as though nothing had happened, god bless him, and we made it to school without me collapsing into a puddle of shame.
We did this each day until the week was over, and the next week as well, until gradually I started to feel normal again. Like, I could start to leave the humiliation behind.
It was the movement that got me through (that and Lionel, of course) and this is one of the reasons why I sing the many praises of movement beyond the physical and the aesthetic. To me, this story speaks to the deep ability of movement to shore up our minds, bodies, and souls and even more specifically to the medicine that movement can be. My childhood and teenage self knew this instinctively. It’s possible (and maybe even imperative, given the times?) that we begin integrating movement into our lives in the same way we eat and we sleep and we have sex; as nourishment. Making it far more basic, accessible, natural and effortless as opposed to continuing to outsource it in disconnected, complicated and capitalistic ways through meaningless metrics (weight/size), shame based program purchases, and unsustainable methodologies.
Knowing that we all had that deep and intact desire for movement as a part of our being before diet and fitness culture got to us and twisted it all up, gives me comfort. We understood this once, be it subconscious or not, and that means that we are able to come home to it once again. With everything going on globally, this feels like as good a time as any.
I haven’t had anything quite that embarrassing happen in a long time, but I still use movement to help me through big emotions and experiences the exact same way my 14 year old self did. Walking has been a very large part of my self care this last 10 days as I attempt to process the changes in our world and our day to day lives. The only difference is that I now have a better understanding of just why I am called to it and how it can help me get to the other side.
Lori Race is a healer, health clinic owner and writer with a passionate message to share from her past as a fitness instructor suffering from compulsive exercise disorder.