My upcoming photo shoot (and why you should take a walk today)
The list of fun and easily fixed brain diseases is very short.-– Mike Birbiglia
This week I’m zipping up my good jeans, combing my hair, summoning my big cheeky smile and heading to the big city for a photo shoot, of sorts.
My neurologist is concerned about my growing speech problems and my recent falls indicate growth of the hole in my brain and requested I schedule a brain MRI.
If you’ve never had a brain MRI, it’s a painless experience that requires you to lay motionless for 30 minutes in a white, well-lit coffin while a symphony of magical jackhammers with cameras sing and take intimate pictures of your brain.
7 years ago, before my first MRI, I went to a local bar, put my elbows on the counter, and ordered a dark seasonal beer with a high alcohol content. It seemed the right thing to do. Something George Clooney would do as he mulled how to rob three Las Vegas casinos in one night.
My nerves jangled. My head thumped with worse-case scenarios. When I left the bar I wasn’t drunk but I wasn’t sober either. I floated in the space between. Just enough beer in my belly to fall asleep in the bright white coffin, remembering only fragments of the whole experience.
Like the exchange with the friendly technician who told me he was from Pakistan and how he and his parents immigrated to America when he was a boy.
And how he jostled my legs when the photo shoot was over.
And how when I asked him if I had been snoring, he flicked on the lights and said, “Very much.”
I’m not nervous like I was 7 years ago. I’m not claustrophobic and surprisingly am not bothered by lying in a futuristic coffin. It’s more a nervous anticipation this time. Is the my hole in my brain getting bigger? Are my recent falls and decline in speech an indication that my disease is getting worse? The photo shoot, COVID, my pending retirement weight on me. They rattle my heart and mind. Trap me. Distract me. Steal my power and joy and optimism I need just to get through today.
This winter, I’ve developed the habit of walking. In fact, coming into this week I had walked 46 days in a row. Monday we were slammed with a Nor-ester. Wind, rain, sleet and almost a foot of snow.
I stood by the front door bundled up like a 8 year old kid debating if I wanted to go outside. I flipped through all the reasons not to go for the walk. It’s too cold. It’s sleeting. These wool socks and these $20 Walmart boots are already killing my feet. What if I get run off the road by an angry snowplow, pushed into a snowbank, and am lost forever?
There’s growing research walking outdoors for 30 minutes a day is both physically and mentally healthy. Walking improves mood, increases resilience, calms anxiety, and facilitates creativity.
Aristotle, Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Einstein, Hemingway, Steve Jobs and the old lady at the end of my street with the beige bubble coat all would go for regular walks.
Walking offers mental clarity, patience, and quietude that’s hard to find in our noisy modern society. It’s a way to finally be alone with your thoughts. For me, walking is not about counting steps or burning calories. It’s a way to accept personal responsibility for moving forward. That I’m responsible for my own mental and physical wellness no matter what.
My phone rings. It’s an automated reminder of this week’s photo shoot. I listen, hang up the phone, leave it on the kitchen table, slip on my gloves, and my $20 boots and I thud our way to the front door.
If the hole in my brain isn’t going to rest why should I?
I open the door, step into the howling weather, and walk. Like famous people of the past. Like the old lady in the beige bubble coat. One foot in front of the other. Quiet. Keeping my breath. Keeping my pace.
If we have learned anything recently it’s life is not perfect. There’s always going to be illness and social unrest and financial strains and it’s always going to snow and rain and hail and the wind is going to always whip like an angry jockey. And in spite all of that, you can always put on your good jeans, comb your hair, and smile. You can always go for a walk.
No matter the MRI results–I’ll keep moving forward and promise me you will too.
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