Another runner dodged past me. I watched as her ponytail swung back and forth, the space increasing between us with each step. I urged my feet and legs forward, but my running stride turned into a limping walk. 

“C’mon Lindsay, c’mon!” I gritted my teeth and spat fury in disguise of cheerleading at myself to move it.

Normally I landed in the Top 20 girls of cross country meets. This performance and pace were unacceptable.

Searing pain rippled through my chest, and my legs became tree trunks as I hobbled over the finish line. My parents quickly found me, their eyebrows knitted together in concern. My team patted me on the back with wide eyes that I imagined held concern, pity, and thoughts that resembled. what just happened and how could they avoid the same fate?

woman running on a dusty hillside at pace

I was still in bad shape come Monday. We ended up at the hospital for answers. Several chest X-rays later, we discovered my lungs were full of fluid. I had pneumonia. 

“I don’t know how you ran on Saturday,” the doctor said after we told him about the race.

“It was pretty bad,” I said.

“Well, did you finish?” He asked.

“I did. I came in last.” I said, hanging my head.

“Last is still finishing. You’re tough.” I smiled and hopped off the table that day with a barrage of medication and one large inhaler.

I spent several weeks out of school after that, and the fall of my seventh grade year became a circle of, Am I well enough to do (insert all the things I love here) yet? My assignments came home in my sister’s backpack, and I completed them from my nest on the couch. 

I wish I could say I was a model patient and gracious with my recovery. But mostly, I remember sobbing to my mom about the injustice of being ill. In my mind, I replayed my tragedies over and over:

I was missing out.

I was messing up my perfect attendance. 

I hated thinking back on the condolences of friends and family over finishing. It had not been enough in my eyes to finish. I came in last. I could have pushed harder, couldn’t I? I decided to allow the last place to haunt me so that it would never happen again.

***

In February of 2020, I sat at my desk in the corner of our bedroom with the afternoon sunlight flickering through the window. I bounced my second trimester body on an exercise ball to ease the expanding pressure in my hips and back. I had a notebook balanced in front of me, the blue pen ready for work. Even in therapy, I wanted to be a good student. 

I wanted to show that I was doing the work to come back to myself; to document healing and prove that the money we were spending on these conversations would go somewhere. 

When you spend money on a surgery, you are signing up for healing that has a timeline. It feels like there is an understanding that you will feel bad but will get better. Stitches will dissolve, wounds will knit back together, and strength will be recovered. The equation plays out that there should be an amount of time in the surgery, an amount of recovery, a dose of medication, and once the prescription bottle is empty and the final doctor check is complete, voila! Healed. 

However, I was starting to learn in therapy that trauma does not have a timeline or pace.

Breaking old habits, digging through the soul, and stitching up new boundaries is a different kind of surgery. It takes more than keen hands and sharp tools. It takes perseverance and the desire to understand. I did not know if I was ready to accept the need to look at my life differently, to work toward lasting change.

The video window opened up, and I smiled at my therapist. I looked at my notes and wondered where I should begin. We talked through many different points, but I kept returning to a cycle that I had been trapped in for years. I mentioned how many things lingered not done at the end of the day, all the dreams I currently had on the shelf, being overwhelmed by repatriating to America, and how terrified I was of the blood clot that was clinging in my uterus next to our growing baby.

When I had wrung myself out of tears and topics, my therapist said something along the lines of:

You are operating at less than 100%. You are going to have to come to terms with the fact that it is okay to operate at less than 100% in this season.

I gaped at her. Was she saying I had permission to do less? We went on to talk about what my 20% day looked like, my 50% day, and so on. As we talked, I felt like a dog with its hackles up, baring my teeth at what I could not do. But I kept listening. She told me that I needed to visit my capacity everyday and meet it where it was at. 

After we hung up, I sought the definition of capacity (noun): the maximum amount that something can contain. I also liked this one: the amount that something can produce. 

I went to bed that night rubbing my swollen belly and wondering, Was this possible? Could I allow myself to be less than 100%? It felt both frightening and freeing. 

***

white running shoes and legs up in the air with cloud background

I have lived most of my life racing toward the next goal. I can share how wonderful it is to chase down my dreams. But I can also admit that ambition can be crippling when I keep moving the finish line. 

I have been working on checking my capacity for eighteen months now, and I can see it will be a lifelong process, at my own pace.

I have given myself so much grace in some moments. In other moments, I have returned to berating myself. But I am gaining perspective and getting to know myself better. 

I am starting to accept that I am less at times. Whether this be due to health, circumstance, family needs, pandemics(!), deployment, PCS, whatever, it is OK to expect less. It is OK to embrace less. I can choose what is most necessary among my responsibilities and quiet the rest. 

In these challenging chapters, my capacity reminds me that granting my mind, body and soul the rest it needs is not weakness. It is wisdom, and from that pours the strength moves me forward toward a full, rich life. There is so much richness in rest.

If I set the pace of my life, if I have true agency over it, then am I ever behind?

The answer is no. I am not behind. I am not last, and neither are you. 

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