Soul Therapy

Recently, my most beloved Soul Cycle instructor Eleyna announced she was leaving the company to pursue other professional dreams. First of all, let me acknowledge just how basic I know in my heart that sentence to sound. But it isn’t. Because here’s why. For the last seven months, Eleyna has been my therapist.

I’m a big believer in dealing with our emotions. You know those people that can box up their heartache or excitement into little, teeny tiny compartments and stow them away? That person is not me. If I’m sad, you’ll know it. If I’m excited, you’ll definitely know it. Thankfully, I’m happy 99.9 percent of the time, so everyone knows it! My heart is so on my selve that it’s basically in the palm of my hand, loud and proud for all to see. It’s always been that way and I’ve never quite known if it was something I should be embarrassed about, or weirdly proud of. I should look into that. I live for a good talk. Got an issue? Let’s talk it out. Anxious? Let’s talk it out. I come from a family of “talkers” – all incredibly strong interpersonal communicators who are firm believers in the power of conversation. Of airing things out, of getting it in the open, of avoiding those little tiny boxes like the plague. When it comes to things that weigh heavy on my mind or heart, I have a hard time not confiding in loved ones about it. I’d be so incredibly terrible in the CIA.

In January, my parents took an undeniably amazing job offer in NYC. Turns out, that means they actually have to pack up and live in NYC. It was an opportunity that simply couldn’t be turned down, and a natural transition for my Dad in his career. New York will always hold a special place in my heart, and I spent ten years there on the north shore on Long Island. This move was right, it was challenging, it was scary, it was the hard part of that big life thing that we’re always chasing. It meant that we’d get to explore NYC again, and have an awesome new chapter! The downside is..the four of us are inseparable. My parents, Keevin and I are a unit – a well oiled machine, a family that is obnoxiously close and realistically I understand, that is the greatest luxury of all. I love them, very rarely have ever found them annoying, look up to them, and in an ideal world Keevin and I would chose them as our ‘couple friends’ every single night of the week. But, growth and all that. I’d been feeling a bit ‘anxious’ about their move. I liked them close by, I liked them in the state of California, and I loved knowing that I could get to them easily. It’s not that I don’t know I can successfully navigate an adult life without them being geographically close by. It’s that, they’re my heart, my compasses, and my grounding. I’d actually just gotten around to considering the move a wonderful thing – my mom promised to fly home for every wedding meeting, and we’d already booked our flights out to visit. And don’t be alarmed, we literally text all day and talk nightly so, you know, we’re good. Besides, my adorable parents updated us constantly with selfies of their fun nights out at chic restaurants and I was able to live vicariously through my mom as she indulged in the forbidden love of New York pizza. Still, I was, on some level, anxious. Agitated. Missing them, planning a wedding, adjusting to life with two dogs, one house, and being a fiance. All good, wonderful, welcomed changes and yet, any change, even the best possible change, can wobble us. Noticing that I’d been particularly ramped up lately, my darling husband suggested that I start running again. He was right. I knew he was. And he’s a saint, an angel, an absolute dream guy (honestly, he’s literally the best) so I know that his heart is always in the right place when he comes to me with this sort of obnoxious suggestion. I promptly ignored his suggestion.

Two weeks into my parent’s new adventure a phone call came that changed everything. What a dramatic phrase, really. Being an avid reader, I have choked over that phrase in many a book. It’s always the way it goes right? A phone call changes everything. But really, when it’s a certain type of phone call..that shit changes everything. It really, really did. My beloved godmother Ann called to say, and I quote: “I have some pretty shitty news.” My ears perked. I’d just gotten home from everyone’s favorite combination of work and grocery store during peak hours, but was feeling quite pleased with myself because t-bones had been on sale at Bristol Farms. Keevin would be thrilled, I thought. “Shitty news…” Ann’s voice sounded good, sounded clear. I took a breath, assuming this had to be a scheduling conflict. We worked together – she’d brought me into the President’s Office at a huge California University where she was the Chief of Staff. We’d been going through a hectic semester, we were taking on water with events, deadlines, you name it. Shifting the over-packed paper bag to a hip, I nudged our front picket fence gate open with the opposite foot. I paused, fumbling with keys.

“I have brain cancer.”

I used to find it fascinating when people used the expression that a piece of news or information had ‘taken their breath away.’ What kind of information, what words in the English language strung together, could do such a thing? Well, I found ’em! Just an FYI. I couldn’t even recount that conversation with a gun to my head – I am sure that there were tears, I am sure that I frantically promised and reassured, I hope that I listened and waited to grieve until I got off the phone. I can’t say for sure. My fairy god mother had an inoperable brain tumor and those symptoms – those one offs that I’d noticed in my days of working with her lately hadn’t been stress related at all. They’d been due to a fucking brain tumor. Her handwriting – the writing that was Santa’s response to my note on Christmas morning, the writing that adorned every stashed birthday poem I’d saved – had changed. It slanted, suddenly and in a way I didn’t recognize. I’d questioned in just once, then brushed it off due to the fast pace of our work environment. Looking back now, it’s the ultimate irony. I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, so much so infact that my loved ones jokingly call me Dr. Olivia. I am fascinated with medical information in the way that I realize nothing is ever more important than our health, and often times am the driving force behind my loved ones scheduled physicals. So here I was, the resident hypochondriac…I’m missed a BRAIN TUMOR? A brain tumor. You’re kidding me. I’d been on her about getting a lingering cough checked out, about slowing down to take a break to eat something once in a while…I’d never even considered an MRI. That thought somehow – briefly – registered in my brain moments after her news. I wondered if I’d failed some gigantic test of the universe’s – brain cancer had been lurking and I’d had not the slightest of inklings.

I remember sinking to the wet front step of our porch – somehow mentally noting that it was wet, still wet, why was it wet, when did the sprinkles even go off…I remember waiting out front with those stupid steaks until Keevin came home. He scooped up off that step. We had take out that night. Those steaks sat in our fridge until I finally threw them out. They were tainted in my mind, anyway. Keevin let me cry until I felt like I’d crossed over into dehydration territory. Really, I felt the need to weigh myself on a scale – I mean truly, I think I got rid of some serious water weight that night. I someday plan to write a blog all about this journey, it’s significance and the profound ways it’s changed us as a family. Today is not that day. What I am beyond thankful to report is that Ann is doing tremendously well. Radiation was our only option due to her tumor being inoperable and it’s location. That tumor responded tremendously – shrunk nearly 50%. The doctors that prepared us to watch her struggle to walk, talk, and remain herself have been blown away by her response to treatment. Okay, enough brain cancer talk, I know that is what she’d be saying right now. Besides, this isn’t her blog post anyways. Ha. (That would make her laugh, if she reads this.)

Somewhere between my parent’s move, planning our wedding, and Ann’s diagnosis I was dealing well by simply not dealing with any of it at all. That, to say the least, was unlike me. If someone wanted to talk to me about Ann, I danced around it like I was a politician. If someone wanted to get specifics on my parent’s move, I walled up defensively like I had a body to hide.  I threw myself so far into wedding planning that I firmly believe I could do it professionally now. I lost myself in seating charts and Etsy accounts, moss initialing and flower walls. It was an absolutely wonderful thing to lose myself in. Like seriously, 10/10 would recommend planning a wedding. I thought that I was firing on all cylinders – as long as that saying means that I was totally kicking ass and taking names, and ignoring any scary emotional feelings. It should be said that I logically knew I could call on one of my best friends, my husband, my coworkers, my parents and they all would have lined up to listen, to help. But somehow it felt like if I started talking I wouldn’t stop because quite frankly, none of this felt right. Lives were changing so fast, so rapidly that I couldn’t get my feet settled. I wanted to call Ann and cry and tell her that I was scared to lose her voice in my life but how selfish would that be? I wanted to cry and tell my parents that I needed them to now more than ever to guide me, but how selfish would that be because they were grieving and learning to navigate a new chapter too. I wanted to cry to Keevin but what kind of future wife does that so often? So, I boxed it up. Then one day, I walked past Ann’s office – still exactly as she’d left it when she immediately took a medical leave of absence and burst into tears. Mortified to be sobbing like a small child in the work place, I did what any logical adult would do. Ran to the bathroom, locked myself into a stall, and called my mom. I know. I know. Her voice was soothing, and though her own heart was broken in a million tiny, scattered pieces in the wake of Ann’s news, the Linda is a force. A straight up force of nature. Wanting her to coddle me and tell me to go home, get in bed, and cry was a pointless thought really because my mom is tough. My mom is whip smart, witty, brilliant, fair, kind..she is also the first person to tell me when I’m acting like a damn fool. So I wasn’t surprised when she told me that now was not the time to fall apart. She cooed some warm reassurances, then promptly set me straight with a firm “This isn’t about you, or about me, don’t go falling apart. If you’re feeling sad or unsettled, remember….” I remembered. After my Mom’s mom had passed away, she went to her doctor. When asked how she was feeling, my Mom had said she was understandably so, so sad. The doctor told her to walk an hour a day, every single day, and to come back to him in a month. If she was still so sad that it was hard to think straight, then they could discuss options. She never had to go back. Physically moving her body every single day acted as her release after losing her mother. I wiped my tears, stepped out of the stall, and booked a Soul Cycle class for that night. I was ready to feel strong again. I was ready to punch these emotions out. Shit, it works for girls in movies when they have an emotional turning point – should it had to work for me. I was the emotions master, after all. Or at least, I had been.

I’d taken a class once before and had loved it – forty-five minutes of ridin’ a stationary bike like I stole it to rap music, dimmed lights and lit candles. I’d loved it so much I bought an overpriced t-shirt with the logo on it, downloaded the scheduling app, and never returned. You know the drill, life happens and happens fast and somehow committing to an exercise routine wasn’t something I was able to do until it was what I absolutely had to do. I mean, HAD to. I knew I had to. No longer was I just motivated to look and feel my best in my wedding dress. Frankly, I don’t even know if I cared about that aspect of it anymore – I wanted to feel strong. I wanted my power back. I wanted to feel my body change and shape shift in a way I’d never felt it do before. I wanted legs that would carry me proudly, strongly, into anything I needed them to do. I wanted arms that were sturdy and lithe, I wanted a core that would hold me taller, prouder, leaner. I wanted to feel like a badass because life had been making me feel anything but lately. So, I started taking classes. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, could find me and 40 Amazon bombshells a la Newport Beach lining up to ride those bikes within an inch of their lives.

Then, came Eleyna. 6:30 pm, bike 43, rap music game STRONG. A poised, brilliantly energetic bombshell who radiated strength – both mentally and physically. Her class pushed me to the limit of my physical ability, no doubt. I shed twenty pounds like that. Which was, really pretty cool. Those twenty pounds didn’t hold a candle to the emotional transformation that took place during that class, though.. As Eleyna’s kickass playlist would wind down, so would our feet, our hearts, our breath, our paces. There, in that sweaty dark room, Eleyna would impart some beautifully heartfelt wisdom on all of the riders. Looking back, I’m not sure how she didn’t know in those moments she was speaking directly into my soul. Also not sure if she ever noticed I was, on occasion, crying quietly into my said overpriced t shirts. There was something so trans-formative about those classes. You’d reach this high, and leave the class drenched in sweat, and totally at peace. Endorphins, man. She spoke of courage and perseverance, she spoke of being true to ourselves and trusting the universe. Each class filled me with such emotional gratitude and fulfillment that I would practically float home. The difference in my mood, body, and heart was undeniable. Those classes became my church, my therapy, my reset button. No matter the day I’d had I could clip into that bike and unclip a different person. I grieved in those classes, I celebrated in those classes, I dealt with my anxiety in those classes. Those classes were a private forty-five minute period where I knew I could let go of whatever I was carrying. I didn’t have to have it together, I didn’t have to hold it together, I just had to move my feet. And somehow, in those classes I found a shit ton of those little boxes I’d sworn I’d never pack away. Boxes of worry, words of self doubt, wonders of I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lot to put on some workout. But it’s true. Exercise itself is beneficial but if you combine the act of pushing your body physically with the art of opening your mind in a positive way, you’ve got yourself some therapy right there. And Eleyna, Eleyna was the catalyst to all of it. When I’d started taking these classes religiously, I was ready to feel strong. I had no idea that in those classes I’d gain so much more than strength. On the most magical, beautiful, wonderful, love filled day of our lives – our wedding day – Ann married us. Our loved ones danced the night away with the fullest of hearts and biggest of smiles. I felt, and looked, stronger than ever. Happy, blissed out, strong, madly in love. And very much box free.

Eleyna announced she’s leaving Soul Cycle, and tomorrow night I take her last class. I want to thank her for helping me unpack those boxes, but I’m such a talker…who knows if there’s time for a story like that.