until i was about twenty-two years old, i was a little bit prissy. an indoor cat. a voracious reader. allergic to exertion. i found myself at a crossroads at twenty-two. some experiments in adulthood had failed and i was at loose ends. somewhat at random, i decided was going to get big into horses. like one does.
i called around to some local stables and ended up with a gig trading barn chores for riding lessons. yes. i can hear the bitter laughter from my horse friends, who all know that everyone gets burned in these arrangements except for the barn owner. i worked six mornings a week for six hours each morning, drove home to shower, then turned up at my real job for a full work day. after six months of this arrangement, i received just two riding lessons.
what else did i get, though? a thorough grounding in barn life: stall care, turnout, handling, grooming, arena management, supply ordering, tack care, pasture maintenance, fence repair, leg and hoof wrapping… if it was related to horses, i learned it. and i learned it hard and i learned it fast under a tough little martinet of a barn manager who suffered no fools whatsoever.
thus began my love affair with dirt and exhaustion (and horses). i find fierce joy in sparring with unruly livestock, digging in the dirt, burning anything that combusts, splitting wood. the best, most rewarding days are the ones when i stumble home at dusk with a black ring of dirt around my neck. muscles failing. ears full of mud. face scuffed and grey with dust. hands torn and cracked. clothes too dirty to be allowed in the house. being productive and having the hurt to prove it just feels right to me.
in my mid-thirties, i started feeling tired. no, not tired. lethargic, listless, and despondent. my doctor nodded knowingly and said “mm, middle age”. and i thought, “fuck. i’m thirty-three. middle aged? is that all i get?” exhaustion chased me from chore to chore. the joy went out of hard work because it actually felt hard. i felt like i had to reinvent myself again to cope with feeling pointless and bored. i baked bread. i learned to knit. i cultivated an indoor cat life again. i didn’t hate it, exactly, but there is no fierce joy in knitting. (please inscribe that on my tombstone.)
several years ago, the lethargy… just faded. i felt like myself again. it was neat, but i was uneasy. i had no previous diagnosis to consult. who knew what could happen? i could lose it all again at any time. i pottered and plonked around at stuff like gardening, stuff in the in-between space between domesticity and wildness. stuff that i could make as tough or as easy as my unpredictable body needed it to be. at full strength, i could dig sod, construct new beds, build walkways, sling mulch. should i slither back to weakness, i could still pull weeds.
and then i was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. i had no symptoms for a long time. just abnormal blood tests. over time, as the condition has progressed, i’ve begun to buzz, hum, literally vibrate with energy. it feels like a super power. i am unstoppable. on top of my regular barn chores and gardening and housework and basic household and property maintenance, i’ve added forest management, pasture restoration, and hard landscaping. i’ve taken up running again, because i still have energy to burn. i’m a dynamo… a dynamo with a death wish, because this gift of intensity comes with a lit bomb inside.
i have a prescription, a pill that’s supposed to balance my thyroid hormones, get them closer to normal. with no other symptoms besides physically blurring when i move, all i need is a little white pill to keep me from having afib and an eventual stroke from this implacable metabolism. it’s a pill with few side effects. and i don’t want it. i stand in the kitchen, glaring at the amber plastic bottle, hating it. rejecting it. giving it a furious little shake to watch the pills jump inside. i can’t seem to force one between my angrily shut lips. i am a noncompliant patient.
i want to live now, not forever. i need to swing on the branches of trees and crawl around on my knees yanking nettles and run over hills while i can. i don’t have any interest in afternoons of backgammon at the nursing home. i’m uninterested in baking cookies with grandchildren. i’d rather live than die, but i’d rather drop dead, happy, in the woods, my feathers scattered in the leaves, than die miserable, indoors. possibly while knitting.