This month, my school had an all day workshop. Students could show up and dive into their training from morning to evening, all Kung Fu all the time. The entire concept scared the hell outta me, for various reasons that I’ll explain in too many words later; naturally I had to attend. So I did.
I did Kung Fu for five hours. Consecutively.
Sure, there were breaks taken throughout, and I spent more than my fair share of time sitting on a bench and trying to remember how lungs work, but I was there. I was in that school, sweating and kicking and shoving and punching, for five straight hours. Mind you, everybody else at that workshop was there for a whopping eight hours, so if you were to graph the effort output of everyone in the school that day, I would absolutely be the lonely little dot way down at the bottom. The lonely, triumphant little dot strutting around to its own personal Queen soundtrack.
Why? Because I have systemic lupus.
Side note: It feels awfully melodramatic to write even this simplified account of my condition. I have never talked about my disease as much, or as publicly, as I have on this blog. Mostly because if I whined every time lupus interfered with my life, I’d never do anything else. And I would really rather do anything else. Since I’m a big dumb stubborn crankypants, I don’t typically let anyone outside of my immediate circle of family see what it takes to be functional with this ridiculous disease. My struggle is my business, ya dig? The world sees me only when I am Feeling Okay or Successfully Faking It. Because pride.
However. My lupus is a wee bit relevant, here. I am - whether I can admit it without grinding my teeth or not - a woman with a disability. And I am hauling that disability into a martial arts school three times a week. The details bear mentioning. So, I take a deep breath and ...
Less than a year ago, I had zero control over my condition. I lived entirely at the mercy of the whims of a madcap immune system, stuck in a tired body full of hurts, waiting in the limbo space between fatigue and pain for the rare moments when both would ebb just enough for me to possibly do a thing. Just one thing. I had to look over these brief windows of Feeling Okay with a quick, critical eye and try to assess what I could accomplish: take the kids to the park OR go grocery shopping, clean the house OR weed the garden, exercise OR cook dinner, etc.
One or the other; there was never time or energy enough for both. And there would always, always have to be a nap afterward.
So I would make my choice and scramble to get as much accomplished as possible before the fog would roll into my brain and hide the ends of my thoughts from their beginnings, or my joints would catch fire, or fatigue would mire my limbs in vertigo to the point that it was unsafe to do anything but find a horizontal surface and lay myself upon it. I could push past those limits, of course, and I often did. Things still needed doing, after all, whether or not it was medically advisable for me to do them. But the price for that push was always high and usually paid in prednisone.
Fast forward to now, seven months later. My physical endurance has gradually built up from barely gasping out an hour of training, through the sit-down-every-forty-five-minutes stage, to the point where I sometimes make it through an entire two hour class and realize that I forgot to take a break. I dared to feel a spark of cautious optimism. That spark made me decide to do the workshop. Gave me the gumption to point at a chunk of time in the future and say “There, there shall I perform strenuous physical feats for hours on end.”
I didn’t ask my disease for permission to do the workshop so much as inform it of my intention with all the calm, steely-eyed determination I could fake. Because I had a plan, see.
For the entire week leading up to the workshop, I prepared. Every day, I ate all the healthy things and did extra forms and took naps. Every night, I went to bed at a single-digit hour. I bolstered my defenses by taking my meds on schedule and supplementing with anti-inflammatory herbs. And the hydration; oh, the hydration. Buckets of water and juice poured down my throat for days, because I figured that every one of those buckets would be sweating right back out again. I even packed a little cooler to take with me, full of coconut water and a bag of those magnificent green grapes that only seem to turn up around this time of year.
Basically, I did everything I could to make sure that the body I walked into that school with would be a body that could handle what I wanted it to do. And if it couldn’t? If I got past the two-hour training mark that I’m accustomed to and everything started falling apart? Well, I had several well-practiced mental pep talks to choose from. Because if this failed - and there was a better than 50/50 chance that it would - I needed to be able to scrape my frustrated self up off the floor and try again.
I was thorough. All contingencies planned for and bases covered. I was going to Do This Thing. So, of course, the day before the workshop a hurricane flooded half the city and soaked the air in enough humidity to kick off a mild pleurisy in my chest.
Because fate is a comedian. Har. Har. Har.
Hilarious, but not entirely cruel - the roads between my house and the school were clear, and stretches eased my breathing. The only flood I had to drive through was the dark tide of questions and doubts in my own mind:
- Was I insane?
- Had I really thought this through, weighed the consequences of overtaxing myself with this Kung Fu business?
- Was I about to let that one silly spark of optimism talk me into pushing myself through a physical ordeal that could land me on bedrest and enough corticosteroids to kick my immune system back into its cage?
- Who listens to optimism these days, anyway?
- People who have forgotten about the side effects of prednisone, the insomnia and the flop-sweats and the bloating, that’s who. People who have forgotten to live in perpetual dread of medication.
- Oh, so the kind of person I’d like to be, then?
- What am I saying?
- Maybe I’m saying that I can sit very quietly in the middle of a very clean, locked room for the rest of my life and still run the risk of the lupus kicking up and eating me alive, so I might as well shake off the fear and go to the workshop because if all that Kung Fu gets me sick then at least I’ll know that I’m sick because I did a thing.
That’s how I walked into the school that day. Every other student in that workshop had their own journey, their own preparations and struggles, to get them through that same door. We were one big jumbled confluence of backstories and motivations. I couldn’t tell you any of their business, though, not any more than they could tell you mine (before reading this post), because once we got inside it was all quiet smiles and hello-fistbumps and getting to work.
Good lawd, did we get to work.
I went into that workshop thinking that it would be like one really long class. It was, and it wasn’t. Regular class has time constraints - you’ve got an hour, two if you’re in the women’s program, to cover forms and drills and practical techniques. It’s all about efficiency and focus. But the workshop? Well, it’s a different beast. There’s all these hours and hours of time stretching out luxuriously before us, time enough to savor the drills, to explore the techniques and evolve their applications, to really pick apart what we’re doing and find what works for our Kung Fu and what doesn’t.
It was like the difference between sketching a portrait and painting a mural. Like a powernap versus a full night’s sleep. Like eating an apple versus baking an apple pie. Like one good thing that’s quick versus another good thing that takes a really long time. My simile game is too strong, y'all.
What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed the company of the other students. Don’t get me wrong - I like my Kung Fu brothers and sisters. It’s just that, typically, the only people I spend that kind of time with are either married to me or share my DNA. Anyone else needs to quietly exit my space before my nice wears off. But there was something about the workshop environment, that crucible of sweat and effort and focus, that rendered us into a cohesive unit, a giant many-limbed learning monster. And sure, after hours of working out we all started to a little punchy*, and more than a few folks joined me on the Sit-n-Breathe Bench, but the overall attitude was cheerfully focused and game to try whatever came next.
The variety of experience was fabulous. I touched hands with folks who I rarely get to work out with, tested my Kung Fu against people smaller than me, taller than me, and much taller than me; folks stronger and quicker, slower and steadier. There was time enough to imprint the drill on my muscles, and plenty of encouragement to explore beyond the basics. And then suddenly it was over.
I had spent so much time prepping for that workshop, for a slog through a gauntlet of challenge, that when the day finally came I was able to not just endure it but enjoy it so much that the hours just flew by. One minute, I’m finishing up warm-up forms and contemplating how to kick out someone’s kneecap; the next minute, my shirt is so heavy with sweat that it’s stretching itself and I’m handing out goodbye-fistbumps.
The me of seven months ago would have fallen over half-dead within the first hour. The me of now floated out of that school on the unique high of having unexpectedly survived, not only for those five hours but for the days that followed. I suffered no ill effects other than a powerful hunger and an intense craving for sleep. The twinge in my left knee doesn’t count; nothing that can be resolved with generous application of cayenne salve and some rest counts as an ill effect.
I left that workshop so goofy, so giddy, so brimming over with effervescent pride not only in myself but also in my fellow students for clearing whatever hurdles we had to clear to get there, for working together and supporting each other and learning heaps of new things, that I cranked up the volume in my car and blared Queen all the way home. Sure, it was almost certainly the endorphins talking, and once they wear off I’ll be back to my curmudgeonly self yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but WHATEVER.
We are the champions, my friends.
TL;DR: Disabled lady attends a Kung Fu workshop and survives it. Learns a lot. Walks in a nervous mess, walks out like this …
*Ha! Kung Fu pun!