My mind changed as much as my body did during my walks.
Five years ago this past July, I woke up from a six-hour surgery to remove a massive tumor on my right ovary that all my doctors believed was cancerous, only to find out it was benign. I’d spent the months before my surgery unable to think beyond the summer; I used all my strength just to get up every day and pretend to the outside world that I was OK. After five days in the hospital and a week with family, I went back home to figure out what life looked like without a black cloud over my future.
Once the joy and relief faded, life looked pretty empty. I’d left my legal job a few months before and didn’t know if I even wanted to be a lawyer anymore. I’d dreamed of becoming a writer, but with a pile of rejections of my first novel and a stalled attempt on a second, I didn’t think that dream would come true. It felt wrong to be depressed and hopeless so soon after learning I didn’t have cancer, but I was.
The only thing that got me out of my apartment in those first few months after surgery was the need to walk my sister’s German shepherd, Lucy, while my sister was at her new, post-grad-school job all day. I was still pretty weak, and I’ve never been a person who liked exercise, but I couldn’t say no to the dog.
So once a day, Lucy and I would go for a walk. I started out unable to do much more than take her, very slowly, around the block. Every day, I got a tiny bit stronger, and soon I could get us all the way to the playground half a mile away and back. I listened to podcasts, waved at the neighbors I grew to recognize, and enjoyed the early fall Northern California sunshine. For a while, that daily walk with Lucy was the only thing that gave structure to my day. I missed it so much on weekends that I started taking walks in my neighborhood alone.
Those walks helped bring life back to me. One day, just after walking Lucy, I applied for a short-term job unlike any job I’d ever had, because I had nothing to lose. I got that job, which lasted three years instead of two weeks. I started writing again—not a book, not yet, but small things that helped me think of myself as someone who could be a writer.
I now work full-time, with two books to promote and another to write. My sister and Lucy live an hour away, and it’s gotten harder to find time to take walks. Sometimes I get Lucy for the weekend, and when she wakes me up ready to go outside, I’m pretty grumpy about it. But those mornings also make me remember how much going for a walk, even a short one, makes my whole day better.
Guillory is the author of The Wedding Date and the upcoming The Proposal, which will be published September 4.