When I was 21, I woke up one Sunday to find that my knees had grown so swollen overnight that I couldn’t get out of bed. Along with the initial panic at what was happening to my body, I experienced something quite unexpected in that moment of immobility: Oddly, I felt relieved.
During the time leading up to this point, my life had been moving at breakneck speed. I’d graduated from college a year early, gotten married a week later to someone I’d dated for only ten months, and already been hired and fired from my first two jobs. Throughout all of this, I was overseeing a large youth ministry in a church that was insatiably demanding of my time, energy, and what little money I had left over from my $19,000 salary at St. Martin’s Press.
In hindsight, my body had been breaking down for months. Every day, after walking from work back home on the Upper East Side, I’d have to ice and elevate my painful knees; at night, I was having trouble breathing; and, of course, there were the underlying headaches and fatigue that had started on my honeymoon. Still, in the name of productivity and religious devotion, I mastered a sweet smile and ignored these somatic cries for help.
Until that day, when I had no choice but to listen.
It took months of doctors’ visits and physical therapy to move from a wheelchair to walking with a cane, and years to have enough energy to pursue things like graduate school and motherhood. No one could diagnose definitively what had happened to that young woman just starting out in life; the one who was hungry for intimacy and purpose; who liked to write and take walks. She would have done anything for someone to tell her to slow down, to be still. Years later, she would learn this lesson and teach it to her daughter, promising her that even without hard work, good looks, and pretty words, she’d always be enough.