Monday, July 30, 2012

That Godawful Pit in my Stomach

It's back. The near-overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety. I detest this feeling more than any other feeling I could be having right now. Even deep sadness is preferable. Instead, it's the rocky, almost dizzy feeling of anxiety. I worry that I'll pass out because I simply can't breathe. I do have moments of clarity where I let  go of the worry over outcomes, but it seems the dread is never very far behind.

I realized this morning that this is the same feeling I had when I lived with an active alcoholic, both as a child and as a wife. It's not the same dread for sure. It's definitely not the same circumstances. But it is the same feeling of helplessness to control the outcomes. I can't tell if realizing the connection makes me feel any better about it. Intellectually, I know that I need to let go and find faith. Emotionally, I feel like it's impossible to continue.

I can also see that I need to accept what is right now. I need to "invite Mara to tea" instead of trying to battle against this feeling, this tightness in my chest that makes breathing feel so difficult. But it's very hard and I'm not sure I can do it right now. I can see that it's making me impatient with the kids and leading me to avoid dealing with difficult issues at work (how can there be issues at work precisely at this moment when so much is going on???). I can also see that there is peace in letting go, because I went for a run yesterday and let loose the anxiety. I felt great for at least half of the day.

I realize that running off anxiety is not quite the same as letting go. It is not meditation. There is a great book called Running with the Mind of Meditation where the difference is articulated: Meditation is about training the mind, running is about tiring the mind. For now though, it may be enough..

Friday, July 27, 2012

Magical Thinking

I really feel like everything is going to work out with this move. Really, things are already working out. There's still a lot to do, but at the same time, I feel a strange sense that things will work out. Maybe not precisely the way I think they will and I'm sure there will be bumps in the road, but at the same time I have a really good feeling about this.

I've been concerned about the impact of too much magical thinking, but yesterday it occurred to me that due to the many unknowns involved in a big change like this, I have two options. One: happily indulge in feeling like everything will work out and that obstacles will be overcome as they arise. Two: fear every wrinkle and stress out about everything that could go wrong. I'd obviously prefer the first one. ALSO, it occurred to me that both could be considered magical thinking. The second one is simply black magical thinking. And I'd prefer to keep the black to my wardrobe.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Drink?

Today was hellish. I usually don't have that kind of day anymore, partly because I left advertising, but mostly because when I'm sober I am better at avoiding disaster. It's funny how clear eyes allow you to see a train wreck coming while there's still time to change course.

This time I missed the signs.

At noon I had the thought: you could drink and feel better right now.

Strangely, the thought came just like that, in second person. Which is weird, except that it isn't because I often speak to myself in second person. Or maybe it's still weird...just not unusual.

I am happy to report that my next thought was that drinking to feel better would do nothing to change the situation and that I'd find myself in the very same position I was already in: dealing with a train wreck of a problem that will only go away if it gets dealt with. You know, that part felt good. I didn't not drink because of my kids, or my job, or the fact that I would throw away almost two years of sobriety. It was simply because the notion of a temporary escape from my problem would do nothing to fix the problem.

I guess I've become a fixer.

And that is weird. Because I've spent most of my life evading and hiding and hoping my problems would solve themselves.


The Long Run

It's been almost a month since I've been able to go for a run longer than 10K. My last long run was 10 miles, which two months ago would have been considered a medium run at best (long runs were closer to 18 miles). I miss the monotony of those runs and I miss the bone-weary exhaustion I felt at the end. Whatever worry and anxiety I carried at the start of the run always disappeared at some point over the course of those miles. What mattered was still there at the end, but all of the inconsequential, aimless worry was set on the pavement.

With my husband gone (he went ahead of us), I'll need to find a babysitter if I'm going to get out there. This is obvious. What hasn't been obvious to me is that there is a part of me afraid to go for a long run. With the passage of time I'm no longer convinced that I am capable of doing it. That I'll go out too fast and walk most of it. Or that I'll be too lazy to start. That the idea of a long run is seductive, but the practice of it is boring and painful. That I'm too tired or too stressed to let go.

In the meantime, I've been running short. Lack of time (in addition to preparing for the move, things are very busy at work) is a good opportunity to work on speed. While training for the marathon I skipped speed work because I was afraid of tiring my muscles and missing the longer runs. Now, a 20 minute window is enough time to go out as fast as I can and maintain it for as long as I can. I've also switched from my Saucony Kinvara shoes to barefoot New Balance. I wasn't able to do that before either, because the high mileage required more cushion. And because it's recommended that a shift to a barefoot shoe happen gradually. So the time hasn't been wasted.

But I'm looking forward to getting back to high mileage. I'm also looking forward to finding a race to train for once all of this settles down. In the meantime, I'll try to find a babysitter for next weekend so I can prove to myself that I still have a 15 mile run in these legs.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Home Sweet Home

We have a place. I assumed that once we found a place I would feel a sense of calm wash over me. Really. I totally did. Now that we have a place my stress has merely shifted. What if it's not the "right" one? What if the school sucks? What if we hate it? What if he drinks? Yes, I still feel plagued by that old chestnut. I still wonder if this is the right move and the right time and the right thing to do. And then I remember that I've been broke since I got to Canada. It's been a real struggle because I don't have the right skills or experience to get ahead here. And so I calm down and cross my fingers. I hope for the best. The answer still seems to be letting go of outcomes.

Yesterday was a bad day. The girls are tired from five days at their grandparents. It sounds like they were on best behavior the entire time. There was no bickering or disagreement. As a result, all that saved up resentment is spilling over now. That doesn't trouble me. What troubles me is that I lost my patience. Multiple times. I hate that. I want to be my best self, to understand where they're coming from and help them. Instead, I find myself split between how I think I should handle it and how I am handling it. Last night before I went to sleep I felt that deep sense of letdown. Yucky.

Of course I realize that no one is perfect and all of us impatient at times. I'm also fully aware that parenting is no slam dunk and understanding the why of bickering doesn't mean my kids get a perfect mom in return. I'll accept it and get over it. I'll try to do better next time. But I really hate feeling disappointed in myself. If that makes sense. The fact that I used to feel that way every single day I drank doesn't help. I probably make too big a deal about it now. Finding the slim line between personal responsibility and perfection-seeking is still a struggle.

At least we have a house to go to. Onto item two on the big list.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Return of Anxiety

Did you know that it's possible for there to be a boom during a recession? That even as government cuts education and healthcare spending that rental markets can skyrocket out of control? I didn't. Although as I type it, it makes perfect sense. Companies will often spend after a fallow period because they can only hold off for so long before they begin to lose market share. It's also true that if people lose their jobs in other sectors and need to sell their houses, they'll jump on the rentals. So between the people who've sold their unaffordable houses and the new employees looking for houses, there is a crisis. At least it's a bit of a crisis for me. For the landlords it's probably fantastic news.

What this all means is that we're looking for a house, but we haven't "gotten" one yet. The clock is ticking and our current house is on the market and school starts in August and I feel like puking quite a lot of the time. The anxiety is really getting to me and I find myself losing faith that this will work out at all. I fear the musical chairs element - what if we don't have a place to live when the music stops? Or, what if we end up in a terrible neighborhood? What if...? is eating up my thoughts and making it tricky to maintain my equilibrium. I miss being calm.

So, I'm trying to go back to basics. Prayer. Deep breathing. Silver linings. Even magical thinking. I'm also still running, although not as much and not as far (because I can't seem to find time with everything else that is going on). I'm trying to remember that things will work out, even if not on my timeline, or according to my expectations. I'm trying to remember that I've learned to ask for help, that my marriage is so much stronger, and that we can be flexible. I'm trying to believe the net will appear with this leap.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Candy: One Month Update

So I've made it a full month without eating any candy. After I got through the hellish first week, I felt pretty fantastic. I even cut out dessert (homemade stuff) because I found that having any sugar really set off cravings. I can honestly say that I don't crave candy at this point. This feels right. I don't have the extreme exhaustion to contend with anymore (unless it's due to insomnia or too much coffee).

However, over the weekend I did eat chocolate...specifically Almond Bark. I followed this up with cookies yesterday...oh yeah, and also on Monday. What struck me most were the reasons I ate these things: I was sleepy and lonely and feeling like I needed a pick-me-up. I was stressed out and wanting a bit of an escape. I did not eat them because I wanted to taste them, or enjoy them. In fact, both seemed far to sugary to actually taste the flavor of the chocolate.

The other thing that struck me was this: I feel a deep fear that I cannot consume these things in moderation. That one bite will take me back to my secret candy stash. I'm not sure whether this is because I don't trust myself, or if it's due to the fact that I used candy for comfort for such a long time. I don't have the answer, but I found it interesting.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Running on Bad Knees?

Most of us do not have perfect biomechanics (a word I'd never heard until I started reading all of those running books). For most of us, our bodies have gone through hell and back - childhood sports and accidents, pregnancy, age, drink, life - so even the notion of merely decent biomechanics is a pipe dream. The words "gently used" come to mind when I look over the landscape of my own body.

Over the past several months quite a few people have told me they'd love to run, but cannot, and it's usually due to bad knees. (Of course, far more people have told me the very idea of running makes them nauseous and I must be crazy to like it...but those people can't be helped!) I am not a physician or a scientist, but I have read a lot of books on the topic and I've also watched friends with issues overcome them through running. I never believed I could actually run. The only reason I started in the first place was because I was tired of being so out of shape and I really don't like other sports. Every gym membership I've ever had has languished in my wallet.

Also, when I was a teenager I totally jacked my knees figure skating (all of those heavy landings, knees over toes, with brand new hips). I quit skating to avoid knee surgery (and I'll be honest, I was never a contender so there wasn't much to give up). For the next ten years I had on and off knee pain whenever I did too much. I still can't downhill ski. And when the weather changes the pain comes back.In the past, when I've tried to run I've always struggled with pain on the outside of my foot, with shin splints, and with knee pain. It usually went away after a few weeks (just when I was about to lose interest because it was still too difficult) as long as I didn't try to go to far. Too far was about 3K.

This time, by happy accident, I didn't experience any of that. I think there are two reasons.

First, I followed a "learn to run" training program consistently. Even three months prior to starting that program I was still trying to gut it out on my own, making little progress, and feeling too out of shape and too old to get very good. By following the program religiously and without question, I was able to get stronger. The most quirky thing about learning to run is that it takes your muscles and skeleton longer to adapt than your cardiovascular system, like A LOT longer. Which was definitely food for thought as I huffed and puffed along unable to catch my breath. By combining short, slow distances with consistency (3x per week every single week), the muscles and bones have a chance to build and recover. Over time, subtle shifts in the way we run happen naturally because the body seeks both efficiency and safety. Without rest or consistency, none of this happens. As an alcoholic both were an anathema (get fit NOW, rest when you're THIN), so following the program gave me a real chance to be successful (just like AA). It also changed my goals as I became more interested seeing what my body could do instead of what it looked like on the outside.

Second, I lucked into a fantastic pair of shoes by picking out the most comfortable ones in the store. They were discontinued Adidas and really had almost no technology - the shoe did not promise to "fix" my gait, or cushion my landing, and the heel was not a huge built-up thing. When they died, I was completely distressed, but the experience taught me a lot about the role of a shoe in the pain I've experienced in the past. More recently, I've read quite a few books about running shoes and injury - most studies indicate that motion control shoes simply do not prevent injury and many of the control shoes do not actually impact your pronation. This means that they don't fix what they say they'll fix. Moreover, the methods that running shoe stores use to determine your actual gait are NOT accurate, so their prescription will very likely be incorrect, unless your foot landing is extreme (which does happen...but only for 10% of us). My recommendation is to find the simplest shoe you can (I'm not recommending a barefoot shoe unless you want them) and to try it out. Run in it. If your feet, knees or hips hurt blame the shoe. If you  buy from a store with a generous return policy, you can return them and try another shoe without breaking the bank. If you have been prescribed orthotics by a doctor, wear them. If you hurt, try a short session without them. Approach running as though you are an experiment of one. Because you are.

At the end of the day, the only real way to tell if you can run is to try it. Find a really gentle program for learning to run. If it's too much, cut the time or distance in half and follow that for a month or more. Consistency is the most significant element, not distance. Many programs also have a walk program. By following this before doing the running program, you'll be able to build muscle and stamina without the impact. In fact, I've read that the closest approximation of running while walking is to go up hills.

If you have a more serious impediment to running and still want to try it, find a physiotherapist or doctor who specializes in running. Find out if there are exercises you can do to strengthen the joints and tendons in preparation for running. Find out if there's a reason you really shouldn't try running.

Hopefully that doesn't sound too prescriptive. I don't want to suggest that everyone should be running. If you feel no curiosity about it, skip it. There are a thousand other ways to spend your time. But if you feel the pull, I'd hate it if you held yourself back unnecessarily.

If  you have overcome obstacles to running please leave a comment with your tips - let's help each other.




Monday, July 9, 2012

Stressful Upheaval

So it is true. We are moving back to the United States. I won't miss winter. List complete. It's funny, because when we first moved here I experienced incredible culture shock. I thought I'd never get used to any of it. It felt so suburban and almost every trip took me on some kind of freeway. Now that I've been here for more than three years, what once felt strange now feels comfortable. I actually like it. I really hate winter, which sounds insignificant until it's clear that winter lasts about 8 months. That's quite a large chunk of time.

Anyway, the point of my post is that I'm freaking out. I have a long list of things that I need to do prior to the move and my nerves have been completely unsettled for the past week or so. I'm not sleeping well - my mind refuses to shut down and makes endless lists of tasks I'll need to complete. I fight the feeling that I'm running out of time. I feel like there isn't enough. This building exhaustion makes everything that much harder to deal with.

When we moved to Canada I drank. I felt the tied up stomach all day, but at night I drank to oblivion for a rest from the stress. This was probably helpful for two days. The rest of the time it meant that I was hungover and stressed out. Not an ideal combination. This time I don't feel the urge to drink. I do worry if it's the right thing to do. It seems like each time I settle on a "yes," I start coming up with other obstacles, other worries. I'm working on turning it over, on recognizing that I can only do so much...I can only control so much. I'm trying to remember that change really does equal growth if we're open to it, and that nets truly do appear.

But it feels so very hard.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Training Runs

I've been sick for the past two weeks and have run very little as a result. Very little. I miss it. I find myself grinding my teeth during the night, waking with an aching jaw. It could be due to the lack of running, or it could be the cold. I'm tempted to think that because running does so much to reduce my stress levels that without it, I've gone back to an old habit.

This morning I remembered one of my hardest training runs before the marathon. It was the first time I completed 18 miles. My loop was a bit short (I missed a turn in an unfamiliar neighborhood) and the clouds turned to rain, which then turned to sleet. I kept going although I was completely drenched. I kept going because there weren't enough weeks left to cut it short and complete the training before the marathon. I honestly never considered dropping out (until I was in the actual race); I maintained my focus on the goal and did everything I could to get to the best place I could.

Taken too far, this can be detrimental. Perhaps I should have taken cover when the sleet hit. On the other hand, getting through that really showed me that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for most of the time. Slogging through endless miles because it has to be done has shown me the value of patience and small incremental gains. I've learned to divide big projects into smaller manageable tasks. I've learned to hold off my evaluation (and when I cannot do so, I leave my GPS at home). I hope it's made me a more patient person.

I am trying to apply that patience to the simple fact that I can't run right now. I fear that I will not get better without the rest. I fear I'll never get back to it at the same time. And I miss it. So I'm trying to remember that the incremental gains in running don't disappear wholesale and that it will be there when I'm feeling better. It sounds strange to miss it like this - nine months ago I wouldn't have even cared very much. That said, sometimes you have to duck out of the sleet and rest. This is one of those times.



Sunday, July 1, 2012

What Other People Think

When I first took my current job I was still drinking. I left my old job because it was so high stress that I couldn't conceive of quitting. My hope in taking this one was that the sleepy b-to-b would give me the space to unwind and decompress. It was my hope that I would drink normally. While that plan fell apart quite quickly, it was definitely true that a lower stress job gave me the space to quit drinking. Because I worked from home, no one witnessed my painful first steps. Then, as my marriage hit crisis, I began to fall apart again. This time there were more witnesses because we'd obtained an office. I was more self-aware at this point - I could more realistically see the effects the stress at home was having on my performance.

Recently, one of my bosses was in town and said that he was astonished by the change in my personality. We spend minimal time together so it makes sense that there would be a time-delay in his assessment of my potential. He said he was greatly impressed with my professionalism. When I heard this, I really racked my brains to determine what specifically I'd said or done to deserve this praise. You know what? It was a regular week. There were no heroics to point to. He was talking about regular me.

This is significant because I have spent a lot of time wondering why I didn't get that promotion. I've felt intelligent, capable, and deserving. What I couldn't see was that while I was drinking there was always something kind of "off". I'm sure even my various bosses wouldn't have been able to put a finger on what it was, because I was very capable. At the same time, there were mini-crises that could have been averted that weren't. There were the excuses made to account for time off. There was a general lack of long-term vision. It's difficult to explain, except to say that I see it now and there's no way I could have seen it then. If you're an alcoholic  maybe you know what I mean.

It's funny to see that the small, simple, consistent and responsible decisions can have so much more impact than the grand gestures.
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