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I live outside now.
Maybe that seems obvious, but I didn’t really think about it until a couple weeks ago, when I was working on my casa’s terrace in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.
I started calculating how much time I was spending completely indoors, and I realized it was almost never. I’ve become accustomed to this without realizing it, but already I can’t imagine it any other way. I believe all this fresh air has somehow healed me.
Most of the casas I have stayed in on my trip are exposed to the elements in some ways. In several places, I’ve had to walk outdoors to go to the bathroom, or the kitchen. Many places have exposed courtyards or open-air porches in the middle of them, or terraces on top. Almost always, I’m surrounded by plants and other living things.
Some days, I start my mornings in a park. Other times, its a coffee shop, often without walls in at least some area, or with big, gaping open doors. I walk a lot — usually somewhere between five and ten miles a day. I shop in open-air markets. I eat in courtyards, on sidewalks, on the curbs outside of churches, on tiny plastic stools lined along the street carts. When it rains, which is often since it is now the rainy season, I sit outside, still, under overhangs. I walk in the rain, a lot, too.
Even when I go to bed, it’s always by open, screen-less windows, so the night air can seep in unabated.
I can’t prove it, but I think it’s this new reality that has had such a dramatic effect on my health.
When I left Minneapolis, one of my biggest concerns was how I would feel as I traveled. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a mysterious disorder characterized by widespread chronic pain. When my doctor told me that’s what he believed was ailing me, I teared up, not because it’s serious or worsening disorder (it isn’t) but because it meant the answer, at last, to years of severe muscle, leg and hip pain was that there wasn’t an answer. I would be in pain for the rest of my life.
Over the years, I’ve tried so many things to feel better: yoga, various exercises and stretches, chiropractic work, diets, medicinal fixes, massage. Nothing seemed to make much of a difference except for walking a lot, which helped minimally. I mostly learned to deal with the pain, but still, it would often keep me from sleeping and sometimes shut me down entirely.
Now, a couple months into my journey abroad, that physical pain is all but gone, despite other factors that would seem to make it worse — inconsistent sleep and routine and the stress that comes with leaving your job/life and starting anew, with no promises.
It’s not that I suddenly am completely pain-free, but these days, it’s entirely manageable, forgettable even. My hips don’t throb and ache. Getting out of bed isn’t a feat. The lacrosse ball I brought along, my secret weapon for digging into the muscles when they hurt too much to move, has gone unused for weeks now.
I can’t help but think that my new life outdoors is related. Could my persistent connection with nature, my constant view of the mountains and tree tops and skies be the answer? Is it mental? Is it physical? Could it be I’ve stumbled into the secret after all this time?
I can’t explain it, but I’m not going to question it. Sitting here at a cafe, a cool breeze pouring through the stone openings and tiny droplets of rain grazing my shoulders, I’m able to work without that dulling distraction. And when I’m done writing this, I won’t think about the F-word again for many weeks to come.