Monday, June 18, 2012

susan ito: throwing herself in, body & mind

health-seeking diabetic writer physical therapist

i first met susan ito in a creative writing workshop at mills college in the early nineties in our m.f.a. program.  her stories were always so compelling.  she's a gifted storyteller, as you will find out by going here.  i'm so glad she agreed to write for us!

Mind & Body: The Shifting Sands of Identity

For years, I maintained a regular blog, one that I thought would never end, at It started as a meditation on writing and reading to share with my writing students, but it eventually leaked into blogging about parenting and marriage, about daughtering, about food, about being an adopted person and travel and random incidents like accidentally throwing my keys into a trash can.

Then in 2009 my life changed with a blood test and I learned that I had Type II Diabetes. I didn’t want to write about this on my regular blog. I was appalled and ashamed and frightened. But blogging had become my way of making sense of the world, and so I immediately began a secret, anonymous blog where I worked, bit by bit, to understand and befriend my long-neglected body

When I thought of myself as a writer, I didn’t really like acknowledging that I had a body. I didn’t feel very comfortable in it or happy with it. I was a person of the mind, a person of words and thoughts. My body was an inconvenient bag of flesh that I sort of reluctantly dragged around. I avoided mirrors and liked to dress in clothes that could double as pajamas.

Then after D-day, as it were, I threw myself into that body. I turned away from writing pages and instead began counting miles and shedding pounds and journaling about food and photographing meals. I didn’t have time to read novels or try and write them. I was fighting for my health and my life.

foody mcbody
I got healthier. Not cured, because what I have is a progressive disease. You can’t turn your back on it or it comes slinking back. Sometimes it grows against the best of efforts. But it turns out that my pants size was not the only thing that had shrunk – so had my literary brain, my writing life, my manuscripts (three book length projects in progress had all stalled to a halt).  I realized, with a breaking heart, that although I now consider myself a runner (previously unimaginable) I struggle to think of myself as a writer.

Can we nurture both our brains and our bodies? Can we write, and read, and run and make a living, too? It all takes time and mindfulness. It seems that there is never enough to go around.
Finding that balance is the new challenge, it seems – the eternal challenge. I’ve returned to my first career as a home care physical therapist. It reminds me that this work was what drove me to want to write in the first place – I was amazed at the kaleidoscope of human experience I was witness to on a daily basis, and my clinical notes weren’t enough to contain the stories I was holding. The writing grew and grew, and finally I threw aside my health care work to get an MFA in creative writing.

inspiring patients/a kaleidoscope of human experience/too many stories for the charts
I try to keep all the balls in the air. The physical therapy brings me a solid income and a flexible schedule. Which allows me to find the time to run or bike or swim. And to attend my first weeklong writing workshop in years.

I dusted off the pages of a book I started in 1992 and stopped, started, and finally stopped for good after I got diagnosed. In the world of marathons and triathlons, we call that a DNF: Did Not Finish. I desperately do not want this book to be a DNF. And so, nervous as a first timer, I return to the workshop, my pages clutched in my sweating hands.

Once I was a physical therapist who had a dream of writing. And then I became a writer who “used to be a physical therapist.” Then a struggling diabetic writer. Then an athlete. Now? I’m trying to be all of it: a health-seeking diabetic physical therapist writer.

I don’t know if we can ever completely shed parts of ourselves. They come around again, sometimes knocking at the door decades later, to surprise us. What can we do but let them in? 

1. What do you want GITP readers to know about you?

Anything you'd want to know can be found at either of my blogs -- I'm pretty transparent at this point! or

2. Are you in a tight place right now, and if so, what do you plan to
do about it?

I'm in a terribly tight place in terms of time management and juggling the million things I need and want to do! My plan is to... I don't know. Sleep less?

3. What do you hope to accomplish this year?

I hope to stay healthy, to complete at least one more triathlon, to see my youngest child off to college, and to (deep breath) FINISH at least a rough draft of ONE of my three books in progress. Wait, does a year mean 2012, or does it mean 12 months from today?

4. What inspires you?

Going to a marathon or triathlon and seeing women who are much older, larger, and slower than me (and I'm reallllly slow!) who are doing it anyway. Older women who write and publish their first books. My patients, who work really hard to walk across a room. People who overcome the odds with their tenacity.

 5. What is your favorite legwear?

Flannel pajama bottoms or Spandex capris.

1 comment:

  1. Susan you are amazing! Your ability to do so much no matter how much juggling is involved is one of the things I love about you!
    Great post :)