July 18, 2013. One of the best days of my life. Also the day I broke my elbow and four bones in my foot and nearly died when I was hit by a car.
So you’re probably wondering, “How in the world was that a ‘best’?”
My answer: “It was when I finally shook things up.”
After some 3,985 days, I was inspired to—in fact I had to—change my rigid routine.
Rewind to August 2002, the start of my sophomore year in high school. I weighed 180 pounds and thought that getting in shape would make everything else fall into place. Once I became skinny, I’d stop feeling so uncomfortable in my skin. Stop being a wallflower. Stop being ignored by boys.
So I started going to the gym religiously for 30 minutes each day, which turned into religiously counting calories. This was something I could control; something I was good at. Positive comments (“Wow, you look great!”) started streaming in. Soon, I added more minutes at the gym and began eating the same thing every single day. And after about a year, I had lost 86 pounds, and along with it, all of my energy and any variety in my life.
I was skeletal enough to put myself at risk of a heart attack. Thankfully, my parents intervened, as did a team of medical professionals, and within a year my weight had risen to a reasonable level. My brain and heart, however, were still struggling.
As I forged my way through the next decade, everything on the outside looked near perfect. I graduated from Iowa State and landed my dream job in New York City as an editorial assistant at Fitness magazine. I should have been enjoying that summit I’d worked so hard to reach, yet something felt hollow.
Still, with a vice grip on the “control” switch for my life, my days were identical. I’d wake up. Eat the same safe breakfast. Commute on the same train. Diligently report for duties as assigned and volunteer for more. Commute home in reverse fashion. Run on the same treadmill while watching the same show. Eat the same safe dinner. Shower, sleep, repeat.
It was safe and my body was healthy-ish, but life lacked any ounce of joy, excitement or adventure.
So I moved back to Iowa seeking more. I didn’t expect to find it with my foot under the wheel of an SUV, but I’m so grateful I did—and didn’t waste another day in the safe cycle.
The accident forced me to find new ways to keep myself busy. With the gym off limits, I started attending more local events and visiting new restaurants. I started meeting new people who taught me to love scallops, and others who sparked my passion for wine and inspired me to take my sommelier exam. Most importantly, I started a bucket list and aimed each week to try three new things I’d never done before, which could be as small as cooking with a new ingredient or as big as climbing up, then rappelling off, a mountain in South Africa.
In the past five years, I’ve jumped out of a plane. I got a tattoo. Took swing dance lessons. Traveled outside the country solo. Learned to surf. And I finally ate a dessert with zero guilt.
It took hitting rock bottom—or literally hitting some rock-hard pavement—to teach me that life is remarkably, preciously short. Another day spent in that “Groundhog Day” cycle is another day that flies by much too quickly. (Scientific studies have proved that days feel longer when we’re setting new “brain landmarks” and seeking out novelty.)
Just before he passed away, Maurice Sendak—the author of the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are”—was interviewed on National Public Radio. “I am in love with the world,” he said. “It is a blessing to get old. It’s a blessing to find the time to do the things, read the books, listen to the music. Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.”
How will you live yours?
Karla Walsh is a food editor and freelance writer who has called Des Moines home for six years. Her work has appeared in Runner’s World, Shape and Fitness magazines, as well as on Prevention.com, EatThis.com, WomensHealthMag.com, TimeOut.com and more. Let her know how you’re going to live your life, share what’s on your bucket list and tell her what you’d like to see in future columns at firstname.lastname@example.org.