You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals.
— Booker T. Washington
Been a quiet few days. I know I have been scarce here. Life has leveled out once again and each day becomes about trying not to worry to hard. Reminding myself each day that not every winter has been awful. Some passed by without much issue. It is the times that it didn’t that are so etched in our minds that they have left us flinching in expectation. Last winter wasn’t awful until the steroids. Was life perfect? no. Not much was. I think I need to try not to lose sight of the stretches of normal that so easily get lost amongst the depressions. I need to go back and review the mood charts for the past years and hold fast to the reminder. I can only hope this winter is okay. really really hope it is.
When my journey toward runner started two years ago I did not think it would stick. Sure I had run in high school but it wasn’t my thing. I liked soccer far better. Track was just something to do in the Spring and I happened to be in a town where not much happened. Everyone played some sport. Not like we were going out in the city. It was rural and quiet. We played sports. I didn’t love to run. I wasn’t fast enough. Nothing to write home about. I ended up sprinting and jumping since that was where I was needed. It never pounded out lots of weekly miles and surely didn’t think twice when I headed off to college. Running was left there in HS. No great loss. Over the years I would run on occasion. To blow off steam, or to just get some extra cardio in during my phases of “gym” membership. After my first long hospital stay I did head to the gym religiously. It was what I did. I think I very much-needed it at that point in my life. As time passed riding horses became what I used to stay balanced and to decrease stress. I rode and competed when I returned to school. I never was one for pressure and sure did not excel as I moved beyond the regular season of shows. I just didn’t do well. My head got in the way. I was frustrated. I continued working with the horses and life went on. I never worked out regularly. Riding 5-9 horses a day did the job. I didn’t have to think about what I put in my body. Beer, food and whatever else. It stayed the same. That had not changed until meds came into my life. These drugs don’t play nice. None of them. There are consequences of taking them. Any of them. The atypical antipsychotics are especially hard. As my weight fluctuated up and down over the past ten years I have always been able to battle back. To get the upper hand and get myself back to my baseline. The weight my body will remain if all was normal. Sadly that is long gone. I recaptured periods of it between meds and at times on certain combos that were pretty weight neutral. Two years ago I was at the higher end of the spectrum of what I find acceptable. I was feeling crappy about myself. Life was about work. I wasn’t riding as much. I was exercising at the gym though I found it boring as hell. I felt better after an hour session of cardio but could not stand the atmosphere and the people (never mind the germs….). I was asked to do Tough Mudder. Who would have thought that alone would rechart the course of my life. Two years later. Averaging almost 3 miles a day I have reached the 2000 mile mark. Who would have thought??? I am not a super star. I’m not a 4 minute mile Division I athlete, just a person about to turn 40 that found a place to call home for a while. I don’t often stick with things forever. I get bored and lose focus. Strange this isn’t the case with running. It is like a food that feeds my soul. I need it. I absolutely have to log the miles. It is habit and it is important. On the days when I feel tired and lazy, when I don’t want to go out the door something compels me. It sends me to the closet for my sneakers.
Running is an interesting activity. Each workout can build you in fitness and make you stronger but it is never EASY. If someone tells you running is simple they are lying. Sure some people are blessed and they can propel themselves across the earth with ease. They are also usually Kenyan. For the rest of us mere mortals running is about getting from point A to point B without keeling over. If there are hills involved even more so. Running can be as hard as you make it. That is the beauty of it. Want to work harder, go faster or go higher. It is pretty straight forward. There are no weights, no gym memberships. Just your feet. The variables one encounters on every run are amazing and no one workout is exactly like another. They are like snow flakes. It is what makes running so unique and frustrating at times. A run one day feels fantastic and easy, even if you are running faster than usual, while the next day and quick jaunt around the block feels like an Everest ascent. Who knew? I sure didn’t because I was never a runner. I didn’t understand the nuances of cadence and breathe. I knew nothing. I still know nothing beyond what my body tells me each day. As the running habit settled in it was only a matter of time before racing was a possibility. Considering Tough Mudder started this whole thing it was only a matter of time. I am competitive by nature. Always have been. I am passionate and driven when it comes to sports of any kind. Put me on a polo horse and a side of me comes out that most people never expect. Tough as the day is long and I will give just as hard as I get, even if you are twice my size. I play like a guy. I play like I have nothing to lose. There is no other way to me. It is just the way I am made. Why it matters so much? I have no idea. Why I get so wired about competing? Don’t know. It is how my family is. All of us enjoy some degree of athletic pursuit. (except my mom). My dad was an avid and extremely good tennis player. We all swam and played sports. My cousins all competed in different sports. It was just how we were. I think it is genetic. Guess it isn’t so surprising that I found racing intriguing. Sure I was overwhelmed initially since it isn’t something I knew or had done. Not being one to stick a toe in the shallow end I dove head first into the deep end with a half marathon as my first endeavor. It was hard. They are supposed to be. I loved it. It was such an amazing experience. That led to many more miles and lots of different sneakers as I burned through the soles of each. Another half marathon and then on to shorter distances. The last race showed me that hard work can indeed reap benefits. It is okay to want something just for me. To have an activity only for me. and this is it. I don’t know how many miles I have in my legs. I don’t know where I’ll be at the 3000 mile mark but I do sure hope I reach it. I have reignited a sleeping spark. I had lost focus and was bogged down in nagging injuries. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep plugging away. I raced last weekend and it was like someone flipped a switch in my brain and body. It was the moment when I looked for something I thought was beyond me and found it. I was able to put aside the doubt and worry. I lost the fear and the hate. I lost the endless smothering worry that lives here. I ran hard. I ran to the edge of what I was capable of and it showed me I have some more in there. It was probably one of the most illuminating 24 minutes of my life and all it took was my two feet. It wasn’t on a shrink’s couch or in a doctor’s office. It wasn’t in a text book or a lecture. The tools to saving my soul are there in me. I just haven’t found the right tools. The untapped reserves settled there are vast though I am all to quick to lose sight of that. What else beyond running can I find to ignite this fire? I don’t have any answers just wish I knew, till then running will continue to be my salvation. One mile at a time.
A quote I came across while reading last night.
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. Yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don‘t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
–David Foster Wallace
(unedited) It is one of the finest analogies I have ever come across. In these past days the world has absorbed the deeply saddening blow of losing Robin Williams. This was a man so many of us watched, laughed at and were amazed by. Whether it was in dramatic parts like Dead Poets Society or the stand up comedy he was know for we all watched. It was impossible to look away. The often manic bizarre edge of your seat ride he gave us was one of a kind. No other actor could do it like him. But it wasn’t he acting that moved me it was his openess about addiction and depression. Part of what is so horrible and scary about this loss is that he was a man that had every resource. He still lost. Depression still came and took him to a dark enough place that he lost sight of the love and affection the world had for him. He had the ability to go to the finest of hospitals/rehabs and to see the best doctors. To the rest of us struggling that is terrifying. Without access to great care and limitless resources we are perhaps doomed. This disease in all its insidious ways pulls a life apart from the inside. It destroys relationships and families. It pushes people to find relief in a bottle or from a pill. It does not discriminate. It does not leave those most fortunate alone. They too are just as susceptible. Robin Williams death illustrates that point so well.
As the world comes to terms with this death there is much being written from all sides. Some very cruel and judgemental. I do not feel suicide is cowardly. It is not giving up. It isn’t selfish. It is indeed taking that leap out of a burning high rise. You are back so far into a corner with no logic to hold fast to. It is only the darkness and only the pain.The collective voices of your loves ones become tinny and distant, as if spoken through a membrane of fine sheet metal. There is some awareness but it is fading fast. In those final days and hours the mind lights up as it finally finds a place to be free. You won’t burn to death in this horrid smoldering corner. The thick smoke of distortion has finally laid you down enough that you lost contact with the world. It is only you and the ever closer flames and so you act. you jump. It is illogical. irrational. unkind and hurtful. It is a fool’s leap one could say because if only you had waited you might have realized that help was just beyond tha door. The flames would soon have been extinguished and life would have once again been okay. Yes your mind was convinced you were dying. It was convinced there was no other way. It wasn’t thinking clearly.
I stop short of calling suicide selfish because to do so is to judge the person. Everyone experiences pain and suffering differently. Each individual suicide got to that point through a long list of problems/ issues. It is not about a single stressor. More often than not it is a complex tangle of emotion, situational and familial problems. Depression can single handidly combine all of them. They become one throbbing pulsing mass of destruction because you can no longer tease then apart into managable pieces. It becomes the mountain nobody can climb. A sheer rock face with not foot holds. A person is swallowed by its shadow and soon gives up because no answers or options can be seen. The balance of power and powerlessness shifts and the longer it continues the harder it becomes to regroup. It takes over. The worry. The frustration and the anger. As the weeks pass and the problems grow it is easy to hide. Easy to cast blame upon oneself for not being good enough, smart enough, tough enough. Guilt and self loathing smother the already panicked soul beneath that thick roiling smoke. It gets too hot. The flames to great. It is not about death. No it isn’t about taking ones life it is about avoiding more hurt. More pain and suffering. It is trying to save oneself but failing to see the ultimate outcome. Illogical and often delusional . yes. sad and horrifying. yes. true. absolutely.
So very shocked by this news. An incredible loss for the world. He was one of the truly great ones. I can only hope there are no demons where he has gone and that he has found some peace.
I was very much skeptical about running a 5K this week. My Tough Mudder buddy was already registered and it wasn’t all that far away. I hemmed and hawed about it all week. Friday I started thinking maybe I might. So I did the smart thing and promptly went out and ran a very stiff workout. Not my brightest moment. I think it was a test of sorts to see where my legs were at. I’ve been pushing my mileage well up there and I figured I was fit enough. Though that wasn’t quite enough. I had this number floating in my head that I wanted to run it in. Ah, yes. I was indeed putting some pressure on myself. As saturday went by and my mood was dismal I really wondered if I should just scrap the plan. I hate early mornings and this was a 8 am start. I set my alarm and figured I’d see how I felt in the AM. It was the typical nervous night. I woke 4 or 5 times to roll over and check my clock. 5 am rolled around and I lay quiet in the darkness. Light was barely inching in on the sky. I rolled out of bed and headed for some coffee and toast. the breakfast of champions. I stood watching the sky lighten and saw the hummingbirds wake from their torpor to come start feeding. They too are a little slow in the early morning. Sitting quiet and drinking deeply, just as we savor our first cup of coffee in the morning. I started off toward the race and just over the first rise past the farm I saw the blazing red sun lifting from the horizon. It was so breathtakingly beautiful I literally had to pull over. I sat in the mist watching the herds on angus grazing beneath the massive red sun. I can’t even begin to put words to that scene. I made my way to the race and registered while waiting on my friend. It was peaceful and serene beside a lake. The same mist was lifting here as well. The chill abated. As the excitement of racing came closer I started to have doubts. I knew how I ran at home. I knew what I could do on my good days. I was about to ask myself for something more. We jogged to warm up and as the trail hugged the lake we saw a heron. There alone looking out from a dead log. It was magical. To me the heron means so much. They quiet my mind when it is at its worst. I see them often when time are tough and I grab on to that image. I hold tight to it. I think they come to me when I need them. I know, I know. crazy. probably, but it makes me feel better. I saw that heron and I just felt right. I knew i would lay it out there and run. I wasn’t going to hold back. I ran hard. I wasn’t comfortable with the distance since I had never raced it before. I will say it is a challenge especially given the hills on this course. I’m not a great downhill runner and it started with a tough downhill. after that it was a lot of climbs. I pushed myself and as we came into the last half mile a nasty hill stood between me and my goal. I started up it. My legs were dying. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to puke, lay down or cry. Instead I stared at the guy in front of me. I let him pull me up that hill. I willed myself to keep pace. I did. I beat that hill. The last quarter was a sprint. I saw the clock. I came so close. 24:07…24:08…24:09…24:11.8 I had just missed my goal by 11 seconds. But I had managed a tough course. I had fought the urge to stop. I had run on tired legs from too hard a workout on Friday. I had done it. I had run faster. In the end I was 3 out of all the women. I was within a minute of 2nd. it is like blood in the water now. I have the motivation I was so lacking these past months. I will run a sub 23. I know I can do that. It is my goal now.
The day drew to a close sitting with my hummingbirds. They all know me now. I am the feed lady. Tonight I actually held the feeder while they came and fed. it was amazing. I know. Nobody has heard such positive shit from me in eons. A friend said gee it is like a disney film. I joked I might break into song. okay maybe not song but there was some twerking in the living room.
Is it the Super moon? Is it just a damn good day with all sorts of amazing events? I don’t know. All I can say is it is about fucking time. I needed a happy day. A really fucking happy day! For me. Just for me. And today was all of that and more. I will sleep soundly tonight beneath this big beautiful moon and dream of running faster as herons and hummingbirds guide my way.
Thanks whoever is controlling this cosmic universe. Whatever god or entity. I needed a pep talk and this really really did the trick.
These past few weeks I have been noticing the little things that seem to be lacking. It has been a while since I have had to write to earn some $. Most of the time I review products. Horse clothing, and such. This particular review was an advanced dvd series on the horse’s respiratory system. A couple hours worth. It was a very in depth series and was also quite technical in spots. Not a big deal. Much of what was covered was information I knew and understood well. It was however rapidly evident as I sat down to write a few days after that my recall was badly lacking. Bad enough that I just had to shake my head and wonder what the fuck. This isn’t my first brush against the limitation of my brain on drugs. I have noticed and pushed it aside. I’m not exactly an idiot so this sort of thing is quite hard for me. A day or so later a friend posted a picture on FB asking for advice. I looked at the leg and knew instantly what was the matter with the horse. I had dealt with it and treated it. Blank. My brain just wouldn’t let me find the terms. I sat there somewhat shocked since this was so easy. So fucking simple but it was all of a sudden impossible for me. I started with letters. That is the trick I used after ECT to try and figure out a person’s name. If I couldn’t remember something I ran through the alphabet hoping it might jar it loose. If that failed I would go through common names, either male or female depending on who I was looking at and was unable to remember their name. This was similar. I looked at the picture and went over the alphabet. I was so pissed. It was awful. I wanted nothing more than to help the person who was asking for help and my mind was failing me. After 10 minutes I came up with an “L” soon followed by a “Y”. after that I turned to google. I gave up the mind games. I was mad and frustrated. Just as I am easily mad and frustrated when doing the book work. It may not have been simple before but these days it is difficult and I easily lose my place. I have to constantly make sure I am following everything or I get confused and need to start over. I find myself putting off doing the work because it is so frustrating.
I never really stopped to think about the cost of taking these meds in terms of how it affects my day to day functioning. Sure I struggle with the weight issue but that is because it is absolutely impossible to ignore. Denial doesn’t work. I can’t pretend it isn’t happening because I can see it. With the gaps in memory and the dumbness I am experiencing now it is easy to make like it isn’t happening. Not like riding a horse is rocket science. It is muscle memory. It is feel and intuition. It involves no intelligence no memory. Running is the same. I can go from day to day without thinking about it until I get trapped in another moment of what the fuck. I see it in the increase of “I don’t knows” that come up in session. I see it in the moments when I pause to try and think what dose of drug I take or if I even took my dose yet. These are not the norm for me. This is the new me I guess. Pretty useless beyond the manual labor and riding. I write here but it is often of feelings and not timelines and memory. I don’t have to place anything in order. I do not need to recall anything on the spot. If I forget a word I can use google. I cannot do that when face to face with someone. At the end of the day I guess I just feel like less. Less intelligent. Less quick. Dumbed down and dull. It is like existing in a haze. I know it was worse on the higher dose though I don’t think I was able to “see” it. Now I can see and feel it and it is unpleasant. I wonder what the world sees as they interact with me? Standing before Virgil hands shaking I realized for once it may be all too apparent there is something wrong with me. Before I could plaster an okay “get by” face on and interact. People who did not know me well would not think twice. I was just one of them. Standing in front of Virgil I realized that is different now. Is this the beginning? Will the drugs slowly wash away normality leaving a twitching dumb overweight middle-aged woman too far gone to realize all she has lost? Is this to be my reality? Is this what it will mean if I want stability? Must I lose so much? What if I need to do a job other than is one? Could I even do it? Forget school. If the video was any indicator I would have a hell of a time. I think back over the doctor appointments and how many times she asks if I’m an alcoholic. Was it the shaking hands? or as I thought the abnormal bloodwork? What do other people think? Kind of shudder wondering. Most are so quick to talk and to judge. I know most people I interact with find me a bit odd that is understandable.
I don’t want to lose all the things that make me “me”. The searing quick wit. The ability to instantly problem solve and recall tough cases in the face of new challenges. Knowing I can teach myself the way if given the chance. I do not ever want to lose those traits but sadly these days I feel so darn dull. “I don’t know” has become an all too frequent phrase because I can’t track things in my mind. When some symptom started, or some dose was changed. When asked a question by Virgil or Beatrice I often feel like a sudden dust has been kicked up in my skull. I can’t quite see the answer yet know it is in the vicinity. Close enough to feel the frustration. Like when a word is right there on the tip of your tongue. But the dust doesn’t settle. It stays murky in there. Impossible to wander and seek answers. I see the moments clicking off the clock and know with each answer I am unable to give the session is wasted. Those minutes are so precious and I have lost them in the fog. This is my way of life. It wasn’t always like this. Despite my stubbornness I have started writing everything down. I have accepted I just can’t seem to follow the weeks as they disappear. I don’t like where I am. I don’t like any of this.
(unedited) I know it has been a week or so. Think I was on strike. wrote a good post and it was lost by WordPress/ error. Normally it saves a draft as I go but unfortunately for me it did not. Least not that I can find anywhere. I’ll sift through the cache though I have little hope of finding it.
With Beatrice away I have been seeing Virgil these past two weeks. It is very much home for me. With our history and all the years it is just so comfortable even when it is uncomfortable. I think much about our years past and the journey. I am much different than where I began. If that is a good thing or bad thing I don’t know.
As session tailed off and wrapped up in small talk we talked about Ebola. Back when I first started with Virgil I left for a trip to Africa to do aid work. It seems like so long ago. Here I exist in this state of anxiety and panic over leaving this property yet I happily hopped on a plane and ventured 18 hours across the globe. It was a trip that really shifted my focus. I had just spent 6 months inpatient bitching and whining about my life. My miserable life. Africa showed me what misery truly is. I won’t sell myself short as suffering is suffering. Pain is pain. It was the scale. the scope of suffering that I was not prepared for. AIDS had run rampant in the villages we worked in. Decimating the population to just the oldest and youngest. Children carried water miles to care for their elders. Despite this each village greeted us as if we were kings. With little to offer they gave us song and praise. They butchered goats they could not really spare in a gesture of gratitude. I saw a different world.
Africa is like nowhere else. The sky seems to go forever. The horizon line so far away. It is paradise is so many ways yet the people suffer and they fight. Tribal warfare is a way of life. Danger is real. You don’t just wander and there is always the possibility of kidnapping or robbery. Incredibly sad that a place so beautiful can have such danger. The vast majority of people we met and cared for were kind and gracious even in their grief. I had never seen death. Not like that. I had never watched the wasting and the moment a person took a final breath. To see the ripple of grief move outward through the family present- the raw emotion- was unreal. Here we tend to be quiet and subtle in our grief. That does not exist in other countries. What you are seeing and hearing is a true reflection of the horror and pain that person’s heart and the hearts of those around them. I saw that for the first time. To me it was so foreign and amazing. Not that I would chose to watch death in an AIDS ward it was just for different than the world I had known up till that point. Africa helped me put my life in perspective and I think it was good for me. I would return in a heartbeat. Africa leaves an imprint on you. Many I know who have been echo that sentiment. I can only hope in this lifetime I can return again.
It did not change that I returned to the same life here and the same issues I struggled with when I left. If anything it made it harder to come back and work. In Africa it was about everyone else. It was about treating the sick and helping those with nothing. It was about doing what I was told by the doctors I was working with. It was about staying safe and not getting killed or lost. There wasn’t much time to consider my life. It was like hitting a pause button. My life was eclipsed by the pain and suffering and yes wonder of all that was around me.