I walked out onto the court for the first match of the season. It was my first since starting treatment six weeks earlier, and I was distracted. My favorite tennis skirt was fitting a bit too snugly around my waist, and I couldn't stop touching the little roll of fat I imagined it created above the band. My opponent was strong but beatable. Always a slow starter, I figured I would find my rhythm, but I couldn't get moving. My body felt foreign. And more distracting than the extra jiggling around my thighs was the guilt that consumed me with every groundstroke.
Walking and yoga. After much negotiation, those were forms of exercise Gretchen, and I agreed would be acceptable throughout my treatment, although Gretchen strongly advised no exercise. Arguing my body needed to rest so it could heal from the years of abuse I had put it through. But I was adamant I needed some movement. I honestly thought I would go insane if I could not move my body, and Gretchen willing to meet me halfway, as long as the walking was slow and the yoga was gentle. Tennis was nowhere in the agreement.
Anorexia was my illness. The exercise was my addiction. I spent over a decade making sure I could exercise every day. Like a drug, I used it more than I should, sometimes until I made myself feel sick. I often skipped attending my kids sporting events and family get-togethers because they interfered with my workout, feeling guilty if I missed even one sweat session. And I lied. I lied about when, if, where, and how I exercised.
In treatment, I agreed to walking and yoga because I was grateful to be getting approval from my treatment team to do some movement. I was willing to give up some forms of exercise like the elliptical and stepmill. I even agreed to give up my six am boot camp. Those activities were like a wine cooler to an alcoholic. They did the trick to quell my anxiety about life, but I didn't enjoy them. Tennis, however, was like perfectly aged wine or a craft beer. It was my top shelf.
The high I got from the exertion of a long singles match was second only to the high of WINNING a long singles match. On the court was the only place, for years, I felt strong and confident. Where I could prove to myself and others, despite my skeletal frame, I was not sick. I loved everything about playing.
But treatment changed that. It dimmed the rosy glow I got from hitting that yellow ball. Because in treatment, I learned what exercise, in any form, was doing to my body, testing my fragile bones, putting stress on my weak heart. With every groundstroke I sliced, with every lob I chased, with every serve I hit, I knew I was taking a risk with my life.
I was well aware that I should heed my treatment team's advice and stay off the court. But something was stopping me, and it had less to do with exercise, calories burned, or stress relief, and more about something else.
I was facing an opponent I had met many times before. And this time it was trying to stop me from winning the biggest match of my life.