A few nights ago, I had a disturbingly vivid dream.  My neck itched, I scratched it, and discovered a bulging blood clot the size of a hazelnut.  It was clear to me in my dream that this clot meant impending disaster.

Four years ago, my father suffered a massive stroke.  By all accounts, he should have died.  He did not die but instead has a host of stroke-related complications.  He requires vigilant care twenty-four hours a day and my mother – who must surely be a saint in Chico’s attire – provides nearly all of said care.

My father’s stroke was very likely the result of a head and neck tumor for which he received massive amounts of radiation in 2003.  Our working hypothesis … because we will never really know the cause … is that the radiation weakened his vasculature and it eventually just gave out.

Even though I am armed with the knowledge that my father’s devastating stroke was probably caused by his radiation therapy, I’m still haunted by the notion that I might suffer a stroke.  My fear, if you can call it that, is not logical.  My physical markers don’t point to any elevated stroke risk, I have never smoked, and I am not on hormonal birth control.  But my dream the other night reminded me that even if I am able to shove those fears from my conscious mind, somewhere in the recesses of my brain the thought still haunts me.

We all carry baggage like this and in my years teaching group exercise, many people have shared their baggage with me.  Sometimes the baggage is easily identified – like my dream and Dad’s stroke.  I have clients with visible scars from surgical procedures, anatomical “quirks” that make performing certain tasks challenging, and conditions that prevent them from engaging in certain levels of exercise.

But some of the baggage is more elusive.  Maybe it’s a history of disordered eating that, although resolved, still nags.  Or an offhanded remark someone made once about your body that colors the way you see yourself now.  It could be a cultural belief, or the voice of your childhood sports coach or dance teacher telling you the “right” way to perform.

Perhaps it’s possible to shed our baggage as we explore our paths to wellness, but I am not entirely convinced.  I think it tends to linger, at least subconsciously.  Like my dream.

And you know what?  I think that’s okay.

During the last ten minutes of any class I teach, we stretch and kind of check in with the spots we worked.  I often tell the class, “You may find this stretch feels different on one side compared to the other.  Don’t judge – just think about why that might be.  What about your life brings you to this point?”

I think our baggage really gets in the way when we don’t recognize and acknowledge it.  It really, really gets in our way when we beat ourselves up for having it.

Observe it.  Live in it.  Wonder why it’s there.  Then move on.

All that being said … I’m still rubbing the side of my neck every now and then.

That clot just felt so real.

2 Responses to “The Baggage We Carry”

  1. on 24 Sep 2012 at 1:55 pmMonica (High Heeled Mama)

    So true. Especially the beating myself up over it part. I have baggage based on a (I am assured time and time again by my cardiologist) benign heart rhythm problem. But it doesn’t make the stutters and fast heart beats feel any less scary. Since I’ve known about it, I have a really hard time pushing myself when it comes to exercise – cardio or otherwise. The sad part is understanding logically that exercise is exactly what my heart needs to stay strong, but still not always being able to push past the mental limits it has created. One day, I hope to be able to compartmentalize it and own it. Until then, I take my small victories and will continue to ask the same questions each time I have a check up. Just to make sure… 🙂

  2. on 26 Sep 2012 at 12:16 pmkristinerudolph

    Be gentle with yourself. That’s an oversized load, for sure.

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