On the night of June 29th, I packed my suitcase for what was supposed to be just 10 days in Italy.
We would be spending some time with family before and after the trip, but we could do laundry there. So I needed only 10 days’ worth of clothes, my running shoes, my Kindle, and my computer. My wife, Erin, packed her suitcase and our kids’ similarly.
What we never could have guessed was that come October — more than three months after we left home — we’d still be living out of those same suitcases. Or that that night at the end of June would be the last we’d ever spend in our house.
People often ask me to write about how to bounce back from a running injury. How do you come back after not running for two or three months? Beyond just the physical rebuilding, there’s the psychological challenge: it’s hard to be so bad at what once came easy. How do you even get yourself out the door again?
I’ve been fortunate to be mostly injury-free for the past seven years, so I’ve never had much advice to offer in this realm. But now, even without being injured, I know exactly the feeling.
Italy was amazing. The time with family and friends afterward was nice. And then a few days before we left to return home, a phone call changed everything.
Our house was flooded. Who knows how many days or weeks water had been pouring into our kitchen, but mold everywhere and the plant growing out of our rug gave us a clue. The ceiling underneath the kitchen had become so heavy with water that it collapsed onto our kids’ playroom. Anything there was lost, too.
Things had been going so well. I had been running consistently when we left for our trip, in the early weeks of training for my first marathon in several years. We were eating cleaner than ever, and loving it. No Meat Athlete was cranking along, with two new blog posts and two new podcast episodes being published every week for a few solid months. New shirts, a site redesign, and new products were in the works. Our team was really clicking too, keeping the content and social media posts flowing even while I was traveling.
But being without a house has a way of turning your life upside-down. Especially when your home is your office. When cooking healthy food is such a focus in your life. And more than all of this, when you’ve got two young kids, ages five and two.
For most of August and all of September while we looked (and then waited) for a new house, we slept on a futon on the floor of friends’ houses. All of us — me, my wife, two kids and two dogs — in the same room.
It’s hard to express how grateful I am for our family to have had those places to stay while we were without a home. But it’s just as hard to express how sad it made me, as a parent, to take my son’s “first day of kindergarten” picture in front of a house where we didn’t live. And then, a few weeks later, for him to bring home a picture he drew at school titled “Where I Live” … this one of a different house, and one that still wasn’t ours.
I don’t want to write a woe is me post. Lots of people don’t have homes at all, or enough to eat. For them, my family’s two months of inconvenience would be a dream. My “disaster” is one big #firstworldproblem.
But I’m writing it to acknowledge, to you, that I haven’t been at my best recently. Two podcasts a week quickly became one, and two posts a week became none, for a while. What content I did get out didn’t have a hope of being as heartfelt as usual, because in all honesty, my heart was elsewhere. (And I’m so indebted to our team — Susan, Doug, Billy, Maggie — for keeping the ship afloat during this time.)
Emails piled up by the hundreds. Any good habits I might have had, have unraveled — I haven’t turned on my Kindle since August, haven’t meditated in weeks. My training faded and running became the last thing on my mind, neglected for weeks at a time. (This hit me the other day when I got winded playing football in our new yard — yes, there’s a happy ending to come — with my son.) And although I’m proud of how we managed to eat without being in our own kitchen, we certainly lost some ground there, too.
I’m so relieved to say that we’re back in a house now. And it’s wonderful, better than our last one. This was our fourth move in three years, so we certainly wouldn’t have done it without being forced to, and maybe we’ll eventually come to see that as a blessing.
And there are others. I set a rule shortly after starting this blog that I wouldn’t write about anything I was struggling with until I had learned a lesson worth sharing, and you may be wondering what that lesson is. Well, this experience has taught me several:
- I learned to value stability. This work-on-the-internet lifestyle has allowed me a lot of freedom to travel, and in Italy we decided that next year we were definitely going to live in Spain all of next summer. But after a few weeks without a place to really live — much more for our kids’ sake than our own — that great idea suddenly seemed much less appealing. We wanted to be home and stay home, for a good, long time.
- I learned to appreciate my family. When the kids would complain and say things like, “I just wanna go home,” I reminded them (and myself) how lucky we were to all be together. That many families have a mom or dad who is gone for months at a time, sometimes in actual danger, and what a gift it is to be all together … even if together means in the same room for way too long. How minor that inconvenience is, compared to the joy of being able to hug my kids whenever I want to.
- I learned some perspective. These few months felt really uncomfortable … and they would be an absolute dream for a few billion people on this Earth.
- I learned to enjoy food more and stress about it less, which I needed. During these few months I definitely let food be a comfort, a source of enjoyment, rather than simply fuel. I drank a few more beers than usual. We stopped eating oil-free for a few months, and relied on take-out and delivery a good number of times. And a few boxes of well-placed Newman O’s really hit the spot when we needed them. While none of us (well, maybe the kids) want to keep eating this way, it felt good not to worry whether a beer a night or cup of coffee each morning might be bad for me. Or whether the arsenic in my rice would eventually kill me. You know, to just sort of be normal when it comes to food.
- I learned to care less about things. What’s really funny is that during the extra two months of living out of a 10-day suitcase, I got into the routine of wearing only about half of the stuff I packed. And I can’t think of one time where I thought, “I wish I had my ___ from our house,” for anything except maybe a cooking utensil. These may seem like trivial examples, but it really does feel like this experience helped me internalize the minimalist mindset I’ve been fascinated by for a while now.
And with this rough couple of months now behind us, it’s time to bounce back. To quit wallowing … our big, two-month-long excuse has officially expired.
It’s a relief to be able to focus on the things I love again, but I’ve learned that rebuilding those good habits is no easier than it is to get back to running after an injury.
I’m having to relearn things like standing at my desk, which took some time to get used to, and is doing so again. We’re back to eating oil-free at home, but only just getting there (the Newman O’s are done, however). Meditation hasn’t happened yet, but I know that once I’ve caught up some with other things, it will.
One thing that has come back easily, even better than before, is family stuff, like playing games and playing outside with my kids, which just wasn’t easy to find the energy for over the summer. Each time I do this now, I’m reminded how much I missed it, and how much I took it for granted before.
And as for running? That’s been tougher to get back to — my motivation level is zero because of how much rebuilding there is to do, just like after an injury.
But for now, I’m okay with that. Call me an optimist, but maybe, just maybe, the complete separation from it — and so many other things — is exactly what I needed.
I’m looking forward to things returning to normal, and really appreciate your sticking with me while they weren’t.