Thursday, June 7, 2018

March 2018 Confessions

It's in the mid 40's right now. Sunny. Clear. Crisp blue skies. Really the perfect afternoon for a single long sleeve and shorts if my pace is relaxed. How 5 weeks can feel so long is best explained by the nagging feeling of unknown.

No timeline. No reassurance of safety. The only surefire way to ever avoid it is to not run. But that seems like an unlikely scenario. I thought it would be easiest the further removed I was from those last steps.

Those last steps were pretty unremarkable. They were on the treadmill on a rainy Sunday afternoon watching a stream of the Dubai marathon on YouTube. Adam was at work. Moe was standing on the windowsill waiting for a neighborhood kid to walk down the street so he'd have someone to bark at. Tory was curled up in a ball on the floor, undisturbed by the pounding of the treadmill or TV.

It certainly would make for abetter story if the last run was interesting in some categorical way. But perhaps, it is interesting enough because it was so unremarkable. I'm hoping that it looks and feels like a brief pause. But only when time is stretched out will it feel that way.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to zone out while lifting, cycling, or swimming. When I find myself returning to reality, it is an acute reminder of the part of running I miss the most. That escape into another part of my brain that somehow, magically, coincides with my legs striking the ground without thought.

I know running pace. I can click off distances and times without any thought of calculations. The measurements of success are ingrained in my thinking. But with these other disciplines? I am stumbling through a foreign language. Rarely does anything feel fluid. It certainly gives me a new perspective on how it feels to be a beginner.

Boston is 40 days away. Best case scenario is getting the boot off in 2 weeks and the doctor clears me to run. He's already told me Boston isn't a good idea. I'm very aware of the repercussions. And as much as I want to be cautious, I find myself on the other side of the risk.

We all make choices. Everyday. Some are easy and comfortable. Some are harder and the gamble is tough because there is more to lose. But I can't say I'd be happy sitting on the sidelines knowing I didn't try.

Perhaps you are smarter than me? Maybe you have the ability to exercise more caution? Maybe you see the reward is not worth the risk? And that's okay. The conservative part of me (what little there is...) wants to see me sidelined as well. I don't want to wear the boot another 6 weeks or longer. I don't want to push back any progress I've made. But I don't want to wonder what if the rest of my life either. I've played that card too many times.

"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." - Eleanor Roosevelt

My life is not adverse. Even when I think I'm struggling, it is so far from difficult that I feel embarrassed when I complain.

Complain because traffic was horrible on my commute this morning. I have a car! I have a job!

Complain because some man made a snide remark about not waiting to wait 30 minutes for a pool lane yesterday. I can stand up to him! Better yet, I can offer to share my lane!

I complain it's not fair Adam has multiple sclerosis. How silly I am to complain when he is still so capable of doing so much! And how lucky am I to have a husband who is able to make me belly laugh and listen to my fears all in the same conversation? 

I complain my own foot has been bundled in a boot for 5 weeks. What's 5 weeks when I've been given the gift of the ability to run all the other days of my life?

I don't get it right most of the time. I'm human. I complain. I gossip. I am always certain that I've done it the right way until I discover I've done it the wrong way. I don't always stop and smell the roses. And I most certainly have been envious of anything and everything I don't have.

But sometimes I'm lucky to be happy in the moment and truly just feel at want for nothing. What a pleasant and strange sensation that is. 

3.14.18 - 3.15.18
It's dark and has been now for an hour. I am driving home, hair wet and the overwhelming smell of chlorine permeates the air. Something about this feels incredibly familiar, but is also very different. I want to make correlations because it seems safe and right now, I need that feeling.

In the morning, Adam and I will be traveling in the same direction, but missing each other by a few hours. I will think of him as the sun rises slowly over the clear sky of the cold morning and wonder if he is watching the same sun from the plane.

1 year and 1 week ago I was on my last trip I would take with my former company. I would be a liar if I didn't say that the loss still stings. Even though it was the catalyst I needed to leave retail and discover life in the corporate world, it was not the path I would have chosen to get here. Accepting change is hard under any circumstance, but worse if it is not by choice.

I tried very hard to take advantage of a few weeks without work. But the need to feel productive and contributing made it impossible to truly relax. There was no acceptance that it was okay to feel free. How strange it is to mourn the loss of something that often caused so much stress.

The next chapter has been incredibly kind all things considering. However, the nagging feeling of being new still tugs deep. I'm eager to grow and learn, but these are the things that only time can take care of. After being the teacher for so long, it is odd to be the student.

Comparison is the thief of joy. But it also is something we cannot escape as humans. It is a measurement we use when evaluating ourselves. And March seems to be the precipice for big changes. My lowest lows and highest highs are far from any pinnacle of humanity. But they are mine to compare to myself and we know who is the harshest critic of them all.

The highs are safe, braggart and unexceptional except how they feed my own memory bank. I started dating Adam in March 2004. I went on my first international trip in March 1992. I crushed my own expectations in the marathon in March 2017.

There is something evolutionary about knowing someone else's weaknesses. It's why we are drawn to stories of those who are entangled in bad decisions or who have fallen from the top.

March has certainly unveiled a few of my weaknesses. In March 1993, I was in almost 11 year old kid struggling to get through life with obsessive compulsive disorder. I saved everything, including trash from my lunches at school and my mom would have to go through my backpack to routinely keep things sanitary. Brown paper bags containing orange peels and empty juice boxes were stuffed under a layer of innocent looking papers. My compulsory number was 8 and everything I did had to be in sets of 8. Brush my teeth in sets of 8. Walk across a room in sets of 8. Chew my food in sets of 8. Even more maddeningly, I had to distribute between the left and right side equally.

In March 1997, it was the demise of my body. I would limit my food intake to less than 1,000 calories a day. I ate pickles and mustard because of their low calorie count. It feels odd to compartmentalize a piece of my own history and to wrap it up into summary form. Teenage girl gets braces off and loses a few pounds through dieting. Feels better about herself, continues stricter dieting. No number becomes low enough, diets until parents intervene. Hospitalized, inpatient care, outpatient care, group therapy, individual therapy. Decides one day she is good enough to survive. Begins eating again. It was 21 years ago, but the shame of self-hatred and secrecy of my thoughts lives on.

I have distinct memory of searching for ipecac in my mom's medicine bag. She always had a full arsenal of supplies for any given medical situation. My sister had a penchant for keeping the poison control hotline busy when she was younger so I was certain I would find something to clear my stomach in the bag. The family had gone out for Chinese food and I had eaten a vegetarian dish chocked full of water chestnuts and baby corn. All this time later, I can conjure up the taste of the syrup with just the memory even though it would be the first and last time I ever made myself throw up. The convulsions in my stomach were enough to make my eyes water.

I would lie in bed late at night, running my fingers over the tops of my hip bones. Feeling strangely satisfied the more they jutted out. The skin grew more and more taut over time. It stopped being about aesthetics early - something far more compulsory roped me and gave me the sense of the satisfaction the further down I went. Stepping on the white scale of my mom's bathroom, I would cover the numbers with my toes first. Then, slowly lifting them away, I could determine my own worth. 

My mom's youngest sister died of cancer in March 1997 and my memories of that week are entrenched in my own narcissism. We had indoor track practice due to weather - it was probably raining and upper class suburban teenagers likely caused an uproar about getting wet. I remember thinking it was odd that my mom came into the gym in the middle of practice. She stretched herself thin between 3 kids and a full-time job; she was always there to pick me up or drop me off, but it would have been weird if she was watching at practice. I knew something was wrong right away.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, the tone of the weather seemed to match our moods like something out of a movie. It was cold and grey and the few degrees of latitude north meant winter still had its grips on this part of the world. I remember running big loops around the hotel parking lot so that I would not lose out on track practice while I was gone. Funny how now I see it as the only way I could be in control of something. I couldn't control the death, the feelings I had for the death, or the odd, tiptoe way every acts around death. But I could run and if I did it long enough, hard enough, I might forget about my other pain for awhile.

The day of her funeral was clear and sunny. Standing in the cemetery watching my almost 4 year old cousin lay flowers across the grave of his mother sent a ripple of emotion through the small gathering. I was keenly aware of my in-between position of the day. I lacked the innocence of a child, but I also lacked the wisdom of the older generation. I understood death, but naivety made it impossible for me to contemplate my own. 

Everyone around me knew what was going on. I knew what was going on. But I refused to acknowledge it to myself. It was easier to keep up the ruse and continue to tumble rather than stop my "progress". Childhood friends slowly stepped away. Who could blame them? I was so wrapped up in myself that I couldn't even see how I was destroying the relationships around me.

Late yesterday afternoon I stood in the water at the edge of the pool lane, breathing hard. It was nowhere near the limits of my exhaustion, but I was tired enough. I pulled myself up onto the shallow steps and rested my elbows on knees.

Swimming tired feels different than running tired. There is a hollow feeling I get when I'm swimming tired. Like someone has scooped out my insides slowly as I crawl up and down the lane. I wonder how I can run for the same amount of time and go about my day fairly normally, but the same amount of time swimming leaves me far more racked.

The answer of course is that I'm not conditioned to swim. 8 sessions in and my only comparison to running is time. I swam on the neighborhood team as a kid so my stroke skills are decent enough to get me from one edge of the pool to the other with a certain degree of comfort. I don't have any inherent fear of the water. But I just seem to lack any sort of rhythm for more than one length at a time. Of course, the 8th session feels much more fluid than the first.

If I were to continue this mumbo jumbo, I would consider honing my skills with professional help. But truth be told, I really want to just be running. There is the don't be a dumbass part of my brain that is screaming loudly at me to continue some sort of regimen in the water to avoid future injury. But then I want to yell back stop being scared of something that hasn't happened.

I was asked early on if I was upset at myself in some way for racing so hard in December. Like, maybe I could have prevented this silliness of the boot. But even if I could pinpoint my injury to those specific events (which I can't, it's just speculation), I don't know that I would do anything differently. Is that stupid? Perhaps... But I would rather go after those goals than hold myself back for fear of injury.

Oh yes, I am aware of the entanglement of compulsion in my own story. 25 years is enough to recognize the trend over time. It is a constant check-recheck-check-recheck in all that I do. When you cannot carry on your life as "normal" because of a compulsion, "normal" says you have a problem. Running is an odd compulsion. It does make me feel happy. It makes me feel confident. It makes me feel good about myself most days. But I'm not going to sugarcoat the compulsion part of it.

It's tricky to walk the line of dedicated in runner. If someone is squeezing in a long run at 4:00 a.m. or trying to figure out how to get a few miles in during a family vacation, one might call the runner dedicated. But I think it is safe to say that many distance runners have made choices that they would later recognize as feeling more compulsory than dedicated. We get caught up in more, more, more and more in some cases is not always better.

It's a big you do you world though. Who am I to judge what works in your realm? Just like asking someone how they like a pair of running shoes, you'll get an answer, but there is no comparison to your own experience. Some runners have those compulsory feelings at 20 miles a week. Some have them at 100 miles a week. Some runners never feel it is compulsory.

Tangents. So many tangents.

I laid in the sauna for a few minutes. It felt oddly luxurious. When I hobbled to my locker, I noticed Adam had called. I decided to put on dry clothes first and then call him back. My skin still damp and warm from the swim/sauna made it twice as difficult to put on a sports bra. It was like upper body Bambi struggling to get the elastic down.

Breathing hard once again from getting dressed, I called Adam and he told me he'd call me right back. I knew he was trying to get new tires after a leaky one lead to the discovery of extreme baldness. The timing of outlying $700 for new tires seemed bad, but these kinds of things never have a good time.

He called me back and updated me about our plane ride back from Boston that he'd accidentally booked a week later. JetBlue waived the change fee after Adam full on humbled himself with I'm a complete idiot and booked the wrong dates. Maybe JetBlue is always awesome? Maybe he got the right person on the phone? We still paid the price difference, but it stung a lot less.

But the real purpose of his call was to let me know they were considering taking his mom off the ventilator today (Sunday). I was standing up in front of the mirror in the locker room at the time, pressing the skin around my eyes where my goggles smooshed my face. Upon hearing this news, I walked over to a nearby chair and sank down.

I'm not sure why it hit me then. I lost my words and waited for something to come bubbling out of my mouth. Perhaps there was always a way out before. Something could get better. There was no finality to it. But this was more black and white than it had been for 2 weeks in my eyes.

It was more shock than sad. How can this be something he has to deal with? How can this be something his family has to deal with? Least important, how can this be something I have to deal with? We all ask why, but this is one of the few certainties in our lives so it feels strange that there is never enough time to feel prepared for it. We all deal with it in our own ways. 

The urge to run, to escape it all for just a few hours washed over me. I want to choose flight over fight.

We talk for a few more minutes. About the logistics. About best options. It seems sterile and adult. Inside, it's messy and complicated. I don't want to face my emotions. I clamp down on the urge to let tears well up in my eyes.

It seems heartless to walk out of the locker room and lift instead of going home. But I need the separation for the moment. I don't have to talk to the weights. They don't ask anything of me. I grab a set of dumbbells and go through motions. When my mind starts to wander, I finish the set and grab heavier weights. My shoulders and biceps quiver lightly at first and then shake until I've maxed out my ability.

I am elbows on knees again. Exhausted for the moment.

Fuck you 35.

We get in the car around 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. In Miami, the sun is out and the palm tree fronds sway slightly in the breeze. It's warm and clear, but the humidity isn't stifling. Day Tripper plays at a medium level, drowning out any chance of uncomfortable silence.

I don't remember what we talk about on the way to the service. I stare out the window at the large Spanish-style estates as my father-in-law navigates the streets. The trip to the church-turned-temple is short and soon we are standing inside a room full of bustling people setting up tables and spreading out food. I recognize a few faces and the smaller group is friendly, kind, and calm.

The sanctuary is ice cold. The family quickly separates and the unspoken rift is now physical as well. I cling to Adam, greeting family members that I saw last under a similar somber occasion. 9 years seems like yesterday and so far away. But they are exactly as I remember them. Gregarious and warm, they pass the time with the idle conversation until we take our seats.

I'm on the last seat of the front row. I listen to the rabbi with full attention, curious to hear what he has compiled from the family. I didn't provide any input, but frankly, it wasn't my place. Our relationship was good and I never felt strained in the way traditional mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law often do. But we lived so far away and our day-to-day lives were divvied out in snippets. From both sides, we could hide the skeletons a little easier.

I do recall a couple of lengthy conversations we had at the kitchen table over the years. What we discussed has long left my mind, but the feeling of being comfortable in her presence is what strikes me most. There was never any hesitation to welcome me into her life and when I visited for the first time 14 years ago, she treated me with the sort of relaxed kindness that feels real.

My mind starts to wander at the funeral during the Hebrew-spoken portions. I stare out the window and think about how strange it is that a room full of people are inside morning the loss of life while a few hundred feet away, people are driving by without any knowledge of what is going on.

As the family started to speak and share about her life, I felt my eyes well up with tears. I thought about my own sister, my own mother.

When Adam called me at work on Monday afternoon to tell me the news, I thought I was okay when I hung up. I looked around my desk for about 30 seconds and then felt the wave of emotion hit me. I gathered my keys and hung my head as I headed out the door as quickly as possible. When I hit the outside air, my stomach started to heave the tears forward and a co-worker asked if I was okay as I hobbled to my car. Inside my car and alone, I let it go. I immediately thought about how I wanted to be around my own mother and what a strange thought it was given the situation.


After the service, we convened in the first room again. It was crowded and loud. Adam and I stood, not wanting to wrestle with the buffet crowd and not wanting to converse with people saying the well-rehearsed adages we all are guilty of in these situations. I thought of the Homer-Simpson-fading-into-the-hedges GIF and wished that I could just let the walls swallow me. Not because I didn't want to grieve, but because this was not how I grieve.


That morning, I walked outside with my running shoes on for the 3rd time in 2 months. It was probably a bit reckless to go for a run the day after I had done my 2nd run. But I needed it. I craved the mental outlet, the familiarity, the escape. I crossed the street into the park and walked along the path. I fought the urge to run immediately and walked for 10 minutes or so through the park.

As soon as I reached the other side, the familiar break into a run stride was just what I needed. Without any care of pace, I just let my body tell me what was comfortable and slipped into my happy place. My legs were sore, my throat was raw from some flare up of allergy or illness, and my heart was heavy with grief. It was only 3.5 miles total, but it was enough to make me feel like something was angling right in my world.

It's 5:30 a.m. and we are now headed to the airport to go home. I'm happy to go back to the familiar, but I also recognize that everyone now faces the new normal. Adam and his dad talk nearly most of the ride and I just listen. I'm mentally and physically exhausted and know that the past 7 days have touched every single emotion possible.

At physical therapy, I want Adam to go home with the new brace, but the battery in the heel insert is dead. How strange it is that this isn't the most important event of the past week. I truly do enjoy seeing the facility and I'm happy that he is optimistic about the future.

Back home, we unpack, start laundry, and I crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon. Adam and the dogs soon join and the 4 of us spend Monday afternoon sleeping.