Little did I suspect when I toasted in 2016 with a friend at our favorite Tenderloin dive bar that “the Loin” would become my second home in the year ahead.
Part of the excitement of travel is the newness and excitement of wandering down unfamiliar streets. But when seismic shifts erupt in one’s “normal” life, it can be very unsettling. In March I was laid off from the environmental nonprofit where I’d worked for over 15 years. It had been a comfortable and nurturing work environment but lately I had been feeling I was in a rut. Knowing I am generally change-averse, the Universe in all its wisdom decided to shove me out of the nest . Fortunately there was some severance pay to cushion my fall as I flapped my wings and tried to navigate the winds of change and the emotional distress buffeting me from many directions as family and friends underwent huge loss and upheaval at the start of the year.
After considering options and counsel from supportive friends, I decided to chart a different career course and pursue certification as a personal trainer—combining my passions for physical activity and positive coaching. I signed up for a self-paced certification program and started studying in earnest. But the practical side of me hoped to secure part-time employment as I worked toward that goal.
Things began to line up once I set that intention. I started working as front desk receptionist/administrative assistant at a busy chiropractic office on Geary and Jones. At the same time Krav Maga SF offered me the chance to take over teaching a new six-week bootcamp challenge for women. I had to say yes to such a great opportunity—and the school’s close proximity to the office made the hectic schedule feasible in terms of timing. But I didn’t fully anticipate how the weeks ahead would be my own personal growth challenge.
Climbing the learning curve at the office was WAY more difficult than I anticipated. It required a fast-paced level of multi-tasking both process and people interactions that left me stressed and drained. My office schedule differed every week in the initial month as I was training so I never had a set routine. I was also teaching the fitness bootcamp to two different groups, so I worked five nights a week AFTER my office shift (and Saturday mornings too). I tried to squeeze in studying time for the certification but I was so drained when not working that it was hard to be focused on another task. I knew that the bootcamp series had a definitive end date so that helped keep me going through this period of temporary insanity, but the stress and anxiety took its toll.
I dropped a noticeable amount of weight. I lived off smoothies and power bars and was in a constant high-rev state of anxiety. Ironically given my new trainer goal, I had neither time nor energy to to take many krav maga or fitness classes, which I’d relied on for stress release in the past. My main exercise was power walking from my home to the chiropractic office and then rushing through the Tenderloin streets to lead the bootcamp. I was also emotionally drained and exhausted too. I was being called in for support on many fronts while my own resources for regular self-care had been stripped away with my former employer’s benefit plan. (Bye-bye therapy and acupuncture!)
My increased time in the Tenderloin tested me too. Any insulation from the dirty, gritty parts of city living are stripped away when you spend every day walking and working in the ‘Loin. The noise—sirens and screaming and traffic, along with scanning the sidewalk to dodge needles and feces from various species, and being alert for people who are acting erratic for any number of reasons. When your defense are already down, it’s harder to navigate all these sensory assaults without feeling increasingly overwhelmed.
I also I grew to appreciate the neighborhood as I spent more time there. I had two friends living within a block of the office. We discovered the Tenderloin Museum, which taught me so much about the rich history of this much-maligned area of the city. The summer’s Sunday Streets event allowed us to fully appreciate some of the beauty that’s easy to miss when confined to the sidewalks—like the urban art and nature sanctuary known as the Tenderloin National Forest. I got to see Boeddeker Park being used to its full potential as by the many children who live in the neighborhood. There were always sights, sounds, and smells you needed to steel yourself against but you would also encounter friendly people if you were open to them.
My Tenderloin summer also reflected another kind of openness as I had started dating a guy who lived in the neighborhood. There was no dodging the dodgy when walking to the intersection of Turk and Leavenworth, but one can get accustomed to a lot in the name of attraction. When we first got involved, I suspected the relationship might have a short shelf life, but I needed some support and distraction during these trying times. Even knowing it probably wasn’t long term, I was crushed when things came to an end after a few months. It was the final straw in a year of stress and loss.
Huge life changes combined with a relentlessly cold, grey SF summer and culminating with romantic disappointment resulted in full-blown depression. Fortunately I still had the resources to get on track with increased meds and a therapist. Within a couple of days of better living through chemistry I felt relief, calm, and perspective. My work schedule was also more manageable and I was starting to crest the office task learning curve. And the teaching experience was very positive. Even on the most stressful days when I was working every night, I felt happy and energized after coaching the ladies through an hour of intense exercise.
After months of grabbing study time at various cafes to review my flashcards (and building up a hefty cappuccino habit) I took my certification test in December and passed! The year ahead will be filled with new challenges and opportunities as I promote myself as a trainer with years of martial arts experience who can pair functional fitness with basic self-defense techniques for a different kind of workout—providing personal empowerment as well as getting in shape. But I’ll still be working at the chiropractic office, teaching bootcamps, visiting my friends, and learning more about the ‘Loin in the year ahead.