Musings: Sweat Fog and Tears

I skipped my run yesterday.  I was supposed to get up at 5am and do the 3 by 12 minute threshold workout that my plan was calling for.  I turned my alarm off, looked at the rain that was falling outside and rolled back over. I called myself lazy, slacker, and weak. I knew I had to get out there.  If I want to run a fast marathon, then I need to do the work. I knew this.  But the truth is, I just wasn’t feeling it.  I’ve been overwhelmed lately and the idea of getting up and facing a cold rain with a hard workout was just more than my little, damaged psyche could take.

I’ve been on the edge of depression as of late.  My marriage is hard.  My kids are hard.  This whole ‘maybe we’ll move in the next three months’ is hard.  I’ve been spinning my wheels and going nowhere —  just slinging mud.  Sometimes this whole marathon thing is hard.  I have days where I wonder why I can’t just be happy with 5ks and 10ks.  Sometimes the one thing I enjoy just feels like more work.  So I rolled over and slept until 8.  Then I spent the rest of the day feeling moppy and mad at myself.  I knew a day off wouldn’t hurt my training, but who takes a rest day just because they are sad?!

I got up this morning.  I would have loved to have slept in, or at least sat in bed with my coffee and the news. But instead I pulled on my big girl booty shorts and hit the trail.  The fog was so dense you could only see a hundred feet or so ahead on the trail and it clung to my hair and eye lashes.  And it was a chilly 55 degrees.  I actually wore a long sleeve.  It felt amazing to have to wear a long sleeve shirt while running in July, especially after the intense heat wave we endured last week.  I’m not gonna lie; I was slightly emotional.  I was focused on the run and my pace and not really thinking about anything, but subconsciously my brain (and body) were working through a lot of stuff.  Sweat, fog, and tears all look the same streaming down the face, and thankfully no one was out that early to see me anyway.  I ran a solid 10 seconds ahead of pace and felt strong.  I even managed to get in an extra rep.  That should make up for yesterday’s laziness, right?

Thankfully marathon training is long enough, forgiving enough to not take it so personally when you need a day off.  I have time to get it together before the gun goes off.  I have a lot of distance to cover between now and October, and the marathon training is okay with me taking my time.  I’ll be okay because of marathon training.  Life is sometimes hard, but running makes me strong enough to live it.

Keep Climbing Up, Baby

IMslideWhenever I bring my kids to the park there is almost always another family with kids there. And, inevitably, there is a not-so-gentle “reminder” to not go up the slide.

“Stay on your bottom, Sweetie!”

“Slides are for going DOWN!”

“Get off of there! You’re going to fall!”

I’m often given dirty looks and even asked why I don’t tell my children to stop climbing up the slide. Because they are playing and aren’t hurting anyone.  Of course they already know the rule; those going down take precedent & you always get out of their way.  Other than that, I honestly see no harm in it.

Yesterday at the park a woman was desperately trying to keep the young tot with her from going up the slide. But the kid kept going back and trying it again, and again.  Exasperated the woman gave up.

“When you fall off maybe then you’ll learn not to do that again!”

Of course I don’t believe she really wished for the kid to fall (nor would she have let him), but it was clear that she did wish for him to learn it was “dangerous” and to hopefully not do it.  This is where I shake my head a little.  I don’t wish my kids to learn how bad something is and to then avoid it. I want them to learn from it.  If my kid falls off a slide, I want him to yes, learn the dangers of it, but I also want him to come up with a new strategy and figure out how do it without falling.  I want him to grow. I want him to learn.

Imagine if every time we failed we just stopped trying.  My first marathon was a failure.  So was my second.  And, devastatingly, my third.  But I didn’t quit.  Yes, it was a struggle, an “up hill battle” if you will, but I learned something new about the distance after every cycle of training and every race.  I compounded this knowledge until I started getting it right.  If my kid had quit the first time he didn’t make it up the slide, he would have never experienced the satisfaction of having made it to the top once he was big enough, strong enough, and experienced enough to do it.  If I had quit after my first race, I would have never known the joy of smashing my goal.

Sometimes we fall.  Sometimes we get hurt.  Sometimes we fail.  But these can be good things.  We can learn from how something doesn’t work, making us that much more efficient the next time around.  I will do great things in the marathon because I just keep trying.  I keep climbing.  I keep on running.

I don’t ever want my kids to stop climbing up the slide.  I want them to keep climbing up, up, and up because I love the confidence, the satisfaction, and the joy on their faces when they make it to the top, turn around, and smile back down at me.

 

It’s Not Always A Competition

“It’s not always a competition,” I say to my children on an almost daily basis about something. My two boys race to get their clothes on, slurp down cereal, run to the bus stop.  It is always a competition with them and as a mom it is exhausting trying to keep up with the feelings of the loser.  But at the same time, I totally get where they are coming from. I am a typical type A, highly driven, stress laden, competitive person. I made everything a competition from day one. Grades, friends, boys, sports, heck, I was even the damn Prom Queen. Because. I. Always. Win.  And happens when a highly competitive person doesn’t win?  Emotions happen.  Lots, and lots of emotions.

I had a hard time in college.  I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a mediocre fish in an ocean.  I had to work so much harder at everything and it turned out that I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t have the guts to pull it off.  My grades were decent, my track times were decent, my relationships were lukewarm.  And since I wasn’t a stellar anything anymore, I spiraled into a horrible black hole of depression.  None of it was necessary of course.  Looking back now I see that my GPA (3.7) was completely fine.  I set a lot of great PRs on the track and I learned a lot about running while on the team.  I performed much better than I gave myself credit for.  It wasn’t poor performances that got me down, it was the stress of trying so damn hard.

This temperament makes being social difficult.  I don’t have fellow athletes; I have arch nemeses.  When I see times posted from former teammates, I can’t help but compare myself (especially if they used to be faster than me). Oh, she’s had two kids since college, well I’ve birthed four! Oh, she ran a 3:32, yeah, well, I ran a 3:22!  He runs 35 miles per week, puh-leeze, I run 40!  I know, unhealthy, right?!  But it’s my nature. I am driven to go a little faster, go a little farther than someone, anyone else.  This need to out-perform keeps me going, which I suppose is a good thing, but I do worry that it will lead to either injury or another bout of depression.  Being a competitive person means that I am switched on almost all of the time, and, frankly, it’s exhausting.  It’s also not sending a very good message to my kids.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, to take on a different outlook.  Yes, it’s a race & times matter, but it’s about bettering myself, not being better than someone else.  I’m going to have to stop comparing.  I’m going to have to stop analyzing data and stalking runners on Athlinks.  I’m going to have to start practicing what I preach. I know…I know…  I need to start being a gracious winner inside and out, AND I need to be a gracious loser.  If I won’t stand a tantrum from a six year old who came in 2nd to the bus stop, then I really shouldn’t be tantruming over someone who wanted it more and edged me out.

The Mile That Broke Me

When I was in middle school we had to do the Physical Fitness Test for P.E. Some kids moaned and groaned about it, but I actually liked it. I was good at it. I was awkward with over sized glasses and scraggly hair, but I was also very competitive and this was my chance to show off. I couldn’t be popular, but I could do this. It was an easy A. Sit ups, pull ups, sit & reach — done, done, and done! But my favorite part was the one mile run. I was fast. I knew it wasn’t a competition, but I was the best and it was the one thing I could be so proud of.

It was Spring of my eighth grade year and my gym class lined up for the mile run. The goal was to run two and a half laps around the baseball/softball/soccer fields while our teacher, Mr. Arch, timed us. I don’t even remember what the passing time was since I already knew I’d beat it. I was running for more than just a passing grade, for more than a Presidential patch. I was running to impress my teacher and classmates and possibly hit a PR. Mr. Arch sounded his whistle and away we went, plodding through the damp grass. I moved quickly and effortlessly. Being on the track and cross country teams meant that I knew where every wobble and divet in the fields were, so I could easily avoid them. As usual, I headed a small pack of athletic boys. Some were on the track team with me. Some played other sports like baseball or soccer. They breathed heavily behind me and I felt self conscious, as many fourteen year olds do. I didn’t like being in close proximity to boys because they unnerved me and sometimes they gave me good reason to feel unnerved.

I picked up my pace to pull away from them as I rounded the first chain-link backstop. I could feel the presence of someone on my left shoulder. Andy drafted off of me as he puffed along. “You keep running like that and I’m going to break your legs, Mary-Alex.” I was startled and turned to see him with a snarly grin right above my shoulder. He threw out a sturdy elbow that caught me in the rib and threw off my balance. I ping-ponged between the backstop fencing and Andy until I had regained control of myself. Once in the open again I tried to veer away from him, but Andy kept close, grunting threats of bodily harm and demanding I slow down.

Andy was one of the best boy athletes in our grade. He played soccer, basketball, and baseball, was popular, was a bit of a trouble maker, and was someone I feared. He was competitive also, but rough, which made him dangerous. And I was often one of his targets for bullying.

We passed by Mr. Arch on the first lap, and he barely looked up. This was no longer just a physical fitness test. This was so much more than a time trial. This was a race. This was boy vs girl, good vs evil. We ran stride for stride around the perimeter of the playing fields while he called me names, promised me rape, and told me I was a dyke. I had been told that boys did these kinds of things, said mean things to girls because they liked them, because they had crushes on them. But I didn’t feel liked. Andy didn’t have a crush on me. Andy had an ego trip and a need for power and dominance. He would have liked to crush me. We were out of earshot of the teacher when he practically growled at me. “I’m going to fuck you, then I’m going to kill you.” He punctuated this decree with a sharp kick to the back of my knee. My left leg wobbled and buckled beneath me. Andy trotted on while I pulled myself up off the grass and attempted to walk it off. He pulled away from me and there was no hope for regaining my position. But Andy wasn’t my target; the clock was and I had to get moving to try and salvage my run.

There was maybe a quarter of a mile left, two more back stops and a finish line. I ran awkwardly and the rest of the lead pack of boys dashed past me. I let them go; there was no point in trying anymore. Andy was too far ahead. I stumbled, half jogging, half limping to where Mr. Arch stood with his clipboard and stop watch. “Great job, Zicky! Six and a quarter…” I tried to tell him that I had gotten hurt, but was told to come back when he wasn’t writing down times for the rest of the class. But the bell rang before I got a chance and everyone else just moved on. Andy didn’t make eye contact as we shuffled out into the hall. I was a better runner, but I didn’t get a PR and I didn’t come in first.

I didn’t pursue the issue. I didn’t even tell my parents. I had passed and I wasn’t significantly injured, so there wasn’t really anything to complain about. I figured I’d just be told again how boys can be be boys. And what did it matter if I was first? 6:25 was a decent time. I knew how fast and strong I was, did I have to beat some boy to prove it, or couldn’t I let him have the win and be happy while staying safe? I spent the next ten years being safe, staying out of the way of some aggressive guy. I kept a step behind, giving away the win out of fear that I’d be cut off at the knees again. And for ten years, anger festered. I was angry at myself for not fighting back, for not being loud about it, maybe for not hitting first. I was mad at myself for being so stereotypically weak. I just didn’t know how to get up and fight back, and I had been down so long I didn’t see the point in trying.

And then I had a daughter. A spunky, headstrong, fierce little girl who loves monster trucks and dinosaurs and doesn’t care at all if her two older brothers are bigger than her; she’ll take ’em on any day! If I won’t get up for myself, I must get up for her to show her to be strong, to be fierce, to not be ashamed of being in front. She needs to be taught to stand up for herself, and to fight back if need be. She’ll be targeted one day. A pimply teenager or insecure college guy will make a move on her, will try to degrade her, to take out her knees. I know this because, unfortunately, some boys will be like this, because I don’t believe that bullying or date rape or domestic abuse or sexual harassment or gender inequalities will ever truly cease to be. But she will be prepared to get back up and take back what is her’s.

I’m not slowing down or giving up anymore. I’m never going to take a step back for someone else’s pride. I now run for my daughter. I run for all daughters. I run in the name of Girl Power and Feminism and Equality. I am going to always run, I am going to always be fast.

Quitting Paxil

In July of last year I started anti-depression medication.  My doctor felt that my anxiety attacks were a form of postpartum depression manifesting itself. After all, it had been a traumatic birthing and postpartum experience and my mind was still reeling from it. That, coupled with the ridiculous hormonal upheaval, it was perfectly understandable for me to ‘not be myself’. She put me on 10 mg of Paxil, the lowest prescribed dose, because it was compatible with breastfeeding. The parents and I intended to pump and ship milk for a full year, so it was important that I still be able to do that. But, my doctor did feel that it was hormonal and did not like the idea of me being on the drug for an extended amount of time.
“After you are done pumping and your hormones level out, we can discuss weaning.”

I pumped for the full year and took the Paxil for the six months. Life was fine. Exactly three weeks after weaning from the pump I got my first period. I continued to take the drug for the next month, but decided that it is now time to stop it. My dosage has been cut in half, and since I had been on such a low dose for a short time, she suggested three weeks at the 5mg, then stopping entirely.  Sounded good to me.

It sounded good until the withdrawal symptoms kicked in. I naively assumed that I could quit a low dose pain-free. Boy was I wrong! It has been one week at 5mg and I am suffering from some of the worst side effects. Brain zaps and diarrhea seem to be the worst, but there’s also the extreme dizziness, nausea, lack of focus, stomach pain, joint pain, and general tiredness.  Running is almost impossible because movement in general brings on such a strong force of dizziness that I’m afraid I’ll fall. (I’ve only fallen once, but that was from standing up too fast!) I feel like I’m trying to walk under water or I’m drunk nearly all the time. I tried running some hill repeats on Saturday, but was so afraid of falling and being hit by a car, I gave up and just went home. I plugged away at a long run on Sunday, but at a snail’s pace, and I took a friend along with me just in case.

The way the drug has been messing with me these past 7 days has made me want to get off it even more. I crave it now. And some little voice in the back of my head keeps trying to tell me that quitting will be too hard, too painful.
“Just stay on it for now, Mazy.”
“It’s only 10 mg. That’s not a lot. It’s okay to keep taking it because it’s not a lot.”
“You can’t quit. It will mess up your running. You’ll lose all your training! Just take it through this next marathon.”
“You can’t handle the pressure of training without it. You can’t ever BQ without it. You won’t be able to handle the crowds without it. You can’t run without Paxil.”

I know all of these things are false, and I am shutting them out. In fact, this coming marathon now has a whole new purpose for me. I will run just fine without Paxil. In fact, I will PR without it. I’m strong enough to run well. I will also overcome both the anxiety and the addiction, because that’s how badass I am. Last year’s marathon was about battling my body’s shortcomings, this year’s marathon will be about battling my mind’s. If I can put my body back together and run some of the best races of my life, then I know I have the strength and power to do the same with my mind.

So, aside from trying to keep as positive as I can, I have found a few other tricks that seem to help cut down on the withdrawal symptoms:

1. NO alcohol. I don’t drink a lot, maybe one or two a week, but I’ve found that even the smallest amount of alcohol exacerbates the symptoms.
2. Stay hydrated. I’m drinking extra water which calms the headaches and dizziness.
3. Tea. I have found that lavender and ginger teas are especially soothing.
4. Keep a schedule. I can easily get wrapped up in my own discomfort and end up wasting the whole day because I don’t feel well and it just seems too hard to do anything. Planning out the day ahead helps keep me distracted from the discomfort and focused on what needs to get done. This morning I wrote out how my day needed to go (1. Kids on bus/Go for easy run 2. Feed animals/clean kitchen 3. Load of laundry 4. Write until 2:30pm 5. Kids home/prepare dinner).
5. Tell people. I’ve told my family and close friends that I’m coming off of Paxil and I am okay with asking them for help when I need it.

One week down, two more to go!

 

Hungry for Control

I’ve read a lot of testimonies of runners who have overcome eating disorders and have felt compelled to tell my own. But for years I’ve been afraid. Coming out with my story would mean that I would have to admit it to myself first, and I haven’t been ready for that. But, this past year has been a struggle for me, and I’m overcoming it by being real with myself. I’ve admitted to and changed a lot so far in regards to mental illness, I suppose it’s only fitting to tell the rest of my story.

I got through high school with a lot of issues, but I was okay in my own skin and had a great relationship with food. I wasn’t like those other girls that dieted, and then starved, and then wound up in the hospital. I was smarter and healthier than that.  I was making good choices. I was in control of things. But, then I got to college. I had trouble with school, with relationships, with running, with money. I felt like I was being sucked into a depression vortex and that the whole world was a bully, sticking it’s giant leg out to trip me every chance it got. I was twenty years old and spinning wildly out of control.  When I became depressed or stressed, I wouldn’t eat. When I was busy scrambling to get a paper written, I wouldn’t eat. When I was rushing from practice to one of three jobs then back again to class, I wouldn’t eat. I started playing with my food.  I discovered hunger and I liked it.

Being hungry seems like an odd sensation to like, but I loved it. The gnawing at my insides, the queasiness, and dizziness were almost like a drug. I stopped eating to be hungry. But I didn’t view it as an eating disorder. I was doing it on purpose, contentiously not eating. And I wasn’t concerned about my weight since I didn’t have a scale in the dorms. I didn’t care what I looked like — I looked fine. What I cared about was the control. I got to control the way I felt, and I got to control the hunger. I would go to the dining hall and eat a meal for breakfast, then take a couple of bagels with me. And then I wouldn’t go back. As the day went on I would get hungry and think about those bagels with peanut butter or cream cheese in my backpack, but I wouldn’t eat them. I’d carry them all day, wanting them, but not eating them. I’d think about how they’d smell and taste, how’d they feel in my mouth, and then force myself to not imagine them at all. I grew giddy at the thought of power — I could eat them and end the hunger or I could continue on, building an even greater hunger. I would set them on my desk while doing homework to stare back at me; to scream back silently at my growling stomach and not eat them. I’d be dizzy, fatigued, and nauseously hungry by the time I went to bed. Some nights I’d eat the bagels, but most nights I just threw them away.

I viewed it as a mind trick, training my body and mind to be stronger. It was all about will-power!  I eventually grew used to the hunger, grew to look forward to it. To me this wasn’t an eating disorder because I wasn’t concerned about my body and I still very much liked food. In social settings I was fine with eating a meal. I was okay with people seeing me eat, going to restaurants, dinners with my family, that sort of thing.  In fact I’d often boast about just how much food I could eat! I didn’t binge on anything and I never threw up. Besides, wasn’t anorexia something pretty popular girls got suckered into to stay pretty and popular? That wasn’t me. I was in control of it. It was a choice. It was a game.

Of course, I didn’t do well. I slowed way down and got injured repeatedly. I eventually quit the track team. I was so fatigued I’d often oversleep and either miss a class or the bus in to work. My grades suffered. I failed a class and had to retake it. I was moody and constantly fought with my boyfriend. I refused to admit I had a problem and I refused to blame the food, because it wasn’t about food. It was about a deep, dark, depression and a strong need to be in control of something. I couldn’t control so many other factors in my life, but this one thing I could.

I barely made it out of college alive. It took a lot of effort, but I made the Dean’s List several semesters before graduating. I had a relationship, a place to live, a car. I had a college degree and a job at a newspaper; I was now an adult. I was older, but not better. I didn’t outgrow my issues. So for almost two more years I kept it a secret. I never told anyone that I craved feeling hungry. If I told anyone they would say I had issues…and then I’d have to face them. Instead, I kept it a secret, coming up with excuses to skip meals, telling myself that I was in control.

As you can guess, I was not in control. It took meeting my (now) husband and getting pregnant to really accept that what I had been doing was really bad. I was 92 pounds. I was sick all the time and I had kidney problems. I was depressed. I was suicidal. I was a huge mess that was about to become a mom and I had to clean myself up. Most importantly, I had to relinquish control. I had to rely on my loved ones to help me out, and I had to trust that they would love me back. I had to start setting realistic goals for myself and allowing myself pride when I reached them. I look at my children now and I shudder at what I was…what I could have been. I fear that they will inherit my type A personality and suffer for it. I fear that they’ll somehow catch my mental illness. Even now my mind circles ’round food as a means of gathering my thoughts and reigning in control of my disjointed life. While I haven’t purposely withheld food in 8 years, I’ve certainly thought about it. I weigh myself often and write down my meals to remind myself to stay healthy. Focusing on things that spark joy and give me a sense of accomplishment have certainly helped. Marathons are my drug now. My kids are my cure. And I’m okay with admitting that I need help. I take Paxil. I can take charge without hurting myself.

 

Try Hard

“Mom, it seems like at almost every race we go to you’re the first or second girl runner,” my five year old mused over dinner last night.
“Yes, often in the smaller races I do well,” I answered.
“But why are you always first or second? How come nobody else is faster?” he asked.
“Because I try really hard to be as fast and as strong as I can be.”

While I think my son may be giving me a little too much credit, I do appreciate his observation. My running is throughly supported by my family, almost dauntingly so. My husband (jokingly) expects sub-human times out of me and I’m an Olympian in my children’s eyes. They see greatness in me and expect it every time I head to a starting line. And they seem to think it comes easy, that winning is somehow innate. But in reality I’m a regular lady running just ahead of the pack, pouring out everything she’s got just to snag a trophy at her local 5K. And I don’t do it because I’m highly competitive (okay, I’m a little competitive!). I do it because they are watching.

try1

I want my children to grow up to be successful and happy in whatever it is they end up finding their passion in. But, in order for them to be successful, they need to know what that means. By watching their mother set her sights on a goal, strategize, work for it, and reach her achievements they are learning how they can go about being successful.  Running, running well, setting PRs, and taking home trophies isn’t easy, it isn’t innate, but the trying is what exhibits greatness.

try2

I also want my children to go ahead and expect success out of others, even if their expectations are daunting. They should expect everyone to try their best to succeed, because if one isn’t trying to “win” then they have already accepted a loss. Expecting success from their teammates, classmates, and future coworkers will benefit them; their teams will win more games, schools will perform better, and companies will be more profitable. If they learn to expect success, reach for it themselves, and encourage those around them to as well, then the community as a whole benefits.

try4

Trying is important. Sure, there are races when I know I shouldn’t place or pace well. There’s a fast field or I’ve been hampered by injury. But these are self-defeating excuses. Someone has to win, might as well be me, right? I can at least try, give it my all, and go home happy that I did my greatest no matter how I finish. I went into my last race with a sub-21 minute 5k in mind. But after the first mile I knew I had it in me to push harder. Could I go sub-20?! Well, I had two miles to try. I pushed as hard as I could for those two miles and was so happy that my cheering kids got to witness me finishing in first place AND with a 19:24 time. They got to witness the power of trying.