Fear and Planning

frozen lakeMy dad had a volcanic temper. By volcanic I mean that it was powerful, unpredictable, and it hurt everything in its way. I’m not a doctor, so I hesitate to make an armchair diagnosis, but I suspect a history of untreated mental illness. He had long mood swings with big highs and big lows. He had an addictive personality – he drank copiously and his heavy smoking is ultimately what killed him at age 59. And then, of course, there was the temper.

I loved my dad. Despite what I said above, he was also smart, funny and could fix absolutely anything. He and I liked the same kind of books and movies. We liked to fish, cook and work on projects together. I still miss him.

However, when you grow up with someone with an explosive temper, life becomes tricky. The thing with my dad was that he was absolutely great when it came to big things. My sister and I both have smashed a few cars in our days, and every time, he came to our rescue and was nothing but supportive. However, if something small happened that offended him in someway, well, Lord help you. Here’s a quick example: I was in high school and my mother had bought me a beautiful pale grey mohair sweater. I loved that sweater and wore it as often as I could. I got home from school one day and was just lounging around watching tv. My dad, who happened to have the day off, was working on a woodworking project in the basement. He came up and asked if I could give him a hand and hold some boards while he cut them. I told him I would – but I had to first change my sweater. I didn’t want a bunch of sawdust on it. My dad threw a fit – went nuts. Accused me of being lazy and said things along the line of, “See if I ever help you out with anything again.” After the tantrum? He didn’t speak to me for over a week. I was fourteen.

This is what I grew up with. One of my first childhood memories is walking up and down the block in front of my house with my mother. I was less than 4 years old. It was a cloudy, cold spring day. Neither of us had coats. She held my hand as we circled our street over and over. Why? Because my parents had gotten in an argument. Mom took me out of the house so I didn’t hear dad yell. When she left, he nailed the front door shut.

Yes, you read that right – he not only locked the door – he nailed the front door shut so his young wife and 4 year old daughter couldn’t come back in the house.

Growing up the way I did, I quickly realized that I couldn’t trust anyone. When you are a kid and you have no idea what will set dad off this time, and your mom doesn’t know how to stop it – or defend you – you just learn to rely on yourself. That’s what I did. My mother claims I came out of the womb independent, and that is roughly true. I think it was a combination of genetics and good old fashioned fear that made me learn how to take care of myself.

I don’t blame my mom. Maybe when I was a kid she tried to stop him – I don’t know. Stopping him when he was on a roll though was like trying to stop a freight train. If she got in his way, he’d just flatten her too. I should say – he never raised a fist to me. His abuse was purely emotional. I don’t actually like the word abuse – at the time it didn’t exactly feel that way, it just “was what it was,” but I know now as an adult, it was no way to treat a child. The worst part of his temper was that he knew exactly what to say to you to get you in the guts. It wasn’t just yelling or name calling, it was saying the one thing or two that he knew would make you cry. And he could do it every time.

My mother’s coping mechanism was just to stop talking. She’d leave the room and just not say anything. It wasn’t particularly effective when the anger was directed at her – and it wasn’t at all effective if the anger was directed at me or my sister. Nonetheless, that seemed to be all she knew how to do.

So, what does this mean for me? He’s been gone for over 12 years, why write about this now? This off-kilter childhood of mine is part of what made me into the woman I am. One result is that I don’t trust easily. Relationships, friendships, they are like giant frozen lakes. I move across them slowly, always testing for weak ice. It takes a long time before I truly trust a friend. Honestly, I don’t mind if there is weak ice – I just want to know where it is. For example, I have a friend who is never on time. If I didn’t know that about her – and that it had nothing to do with me – I could be really hurt when she doesn’t show when she says she will. It could seem personal and unreliable, but because I do know it, I can still have faith in her… just not in her punctuality.

My friendships are all with people who are self sufficient. It makes me nervous to be needed too much. I’m not the type that will call regularly, or email, or even set up coffee dates. I may go months without seeing my friends. It isn’t personal. It’s just that I have so much to take care of, but only so much time, energy and willpower. They understand that about me. The also know I don’t do surprises well, I don’t like unexpected company and I sometimes have a hard time with unexpected changes in plans. I like my scheduled plans, my routines, my lists and systems. Since I am responsible for everything in my life, I need those systems to keep everything going.

I don’t ask for help easily, but when I do, I don’t actually expect that I will get it. On the other hand, I feel my own responsibilities very strongly. I take care of the people I love and I hate letting them down. I am loyal and I do my best to balance my time with others with my much needed time alone. I love long talks with friends and loved ones, but I need time alone just to breathe.

I feel very strongly that every responsibility in my life – my career, my homes, my health, my dog, my relationships, they are all on me to maintain. I cannot expect to lean on anyone. It can be a lonely place sometimes, but at least I never pull the rug out from under my own feet.

This is the first time in my life that I have looked at this stuff objectively. It’s how I’ve looked at life as long as I can remember, but now I’m seeing why – and how this is a perfectly logical reaction to what I faced as a kid. There are thousands of ways I could have handled it, (I’m sure each person who has had experiences like mine has dealt with it in their own way,) but this is it for me. Since I’ve been spending time examining my life, I’m seeing connections that I had only guessed at before. How this all fits in with my health and fitness, my plans for the future and this blog that I write… I have no idea, but it does, somehow. I’m going to keep exploring it and let you know what I find out.

 

Photo credit: bjaglin via flickr

 

The Call of the Gym

Not my bag, but I regularly haul one around that looks a lot like it!

Not my bag, but I regularly haul one around that looks a lot like it!

Recently my boyfriend Julian and I were spending the day running some errands. We were having a nice day, but somewhere in the middle of Costco, I lost my good mood. I’m not really sure what happened. I’m not a huge fan of crowds. I don’t mind speaking in public in front of people, but large groups of people milling about can get under my skin, and Costco can be crazy. Or it might have just been a little “shopper’s fatigue.” In any case, I started feeling grumpy, and my good mood disappeared. (I do hope whoever found it, dusted it off and enjoyed a very pleasant rest of their day!)

Julian saw I wasn’t quite myself and asked me what was up. I said something I never thought I would say in my lifetime. “I need to go to the gym.” In that moment, I wanted to feel better and the only thing I could think of that would give me immediate results was working out. Fortunately I had signed up for a class later that day.

Before I started losing weight, I thought gyms were stupid. In my mind they were expensive, embarrassing, sweaty levels of hell that only the super athletic dared to tread. I have a friend who loves the fitness classes at her gym and would often talk about how great they were. Frankly, I thought she was nuts. About the only thing that sounded more hellish than working out in a gym… was working out with other people. Double yuck.

…and now for my birthday I bought myself an unlimited membership to a fitness studio, where all they offer is classes… and I love it.

I was thinking about this the other night. Just why do I love going to my studio so much? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Okay, the first and most obvious thing is that working out releases endorphins. Endorphins reduce feelings of pain and improve positive feelings. So basically, it changes your body chemistry. All I know is that when I am done, I am sweaty and happy. My voice lifts, my eyes are brighter and I’m tired but feeling great. But you know, I heard about all this happiness before I started working out and it in no way motivated to try it for myself. What I didn’t know was…
  • The atmosphere in the studio is great. I was always worried about people who were better than me judging me or just feeling stupid because I didn’t know what I was doing. What I have found is the opposite. If anyone judges me, I haven’t seen it. Instead, everyone I have met, from the instructors to my fellow classmates have been nothing but supportive, helpful, and fun to be around. Some of my instructors are tough, but they also take the time to come over and show me how to improve my technique. My classmates laugh with me and are great about offering a high five or a boxing glove fist bump after a particularly hard round. There are people at all levels, from the classic blonde who works out like a machine to the older guy who dutifully huffs and puffs his way through. All sizes, sexes, colors and fitness levels seem to be there. It’s great.
  • At the studio, I am responsible for no one but myself. In my day to day life, my job and my former volunteer work, I’m a manager of people. I am responsible for their happiness, their work, their problems, and so on. I enjoy being a leader, but it is also really nice to go somewhere where the only person I need to worry about is me.
  • The zen-like state of exercising is awesome. The classes I like the most are so hard that I don’t have time to think about anything but what I am doing at that exact moment in time. There is something really freeing in that.
  • I am feeling more self confident every time I go. The joy of being a beginner is that it doesn’t take much to see an improvement! 🙂 But seriously, every class is an opportunity to improve and I can feel that. Each time I leave, I feel a little stronger and a little better. It’s not just brawn – it is also brains. I love school and love learning, and this is a version of that.
  • I’m meeting some new people. Like most people over 20, my social circles are pretty developed. I don’t meet a lot of new folks. There are people at this studio that I already knew slightly and a lot more I haven’t met yet. We don’t have time for long conversations or anything, usually it’s no more than a few minutes between classes, but it’s nice. I have an amazing circle of friends, I am not looking to expand that, but getting these new acquaintances is fun.
  • I can work out regardless of the weather. I love biking, kayaking, hiking and walks, but last year I felt like my blog became a constant weather report because unless the weather was good, I couldn’t work out. Now it doesn’t matter. But I am frequently biking to the classes which is fun!
  • I don’t have to run. I still haven’t found the love for running. I do it, but I haven’t discovered the runner’s bliss that so many of my fellow bloggers have. That’s okay – I can get a great work out that I enjoy. I am determined to keep the weight off and get stronger, but I can only do it if I find things I enjoy. For me, this is it right now.
  • Working out keeps the thunderclouds at bay. Whether it is a short term case of grumpiness or helping with my depression and anxiety, exercise is a healthy way to keep all that to a more manageable level. I’ve mentioned before that one of the side effects of depression and anxiety is body aches. They also really undermine your motivation and make you feel tired. Recently I was under a big cloud and ended up canceling two of my classes. After actually making it to a third class, I realized that canceling the other two had been a mistake. I felt so much better afterwards, I wish I had done it sooner. That’s when I made a vow that it is okay to cancel if a special event comes up or if I am just plain out sore and exhausted, but if that soreness and tiredness is from mental stuff rather than physical, I have to get up and go to the gym. It’s just worth it to feel better.

 

 

Photo credit: Dean Jarvey from flickr

Depression and Me

Rain washed fenceI’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile. I planned to write it shortly after the one on anxiety, but just about that time I learned of the death of Robin Williams. Not wanting to look like I was comparing myself to Mr. Williams, or add to the already numerous articles about depression, I decided to wait a bit. I want to be very, very clear, what I am describing is my personal experience with depression. I am not in anyway comparing myself to anyone. Nor should you take my experiences as gospel for what other people feel. It’s very much an individual thing. Here’s what it feels like to me:

  • My blood feels like it was replaced with cement. It’s hard to move, hard to even get up out of a chair. Activities that I do every day suddenly seem overwhelming.
  • Likewise, my brain feels like it is coated in molasses. The synapses feel like they just aren’t firing like they should – like everything has to pass through goo to work. My thoughts are slowed down. It’s an effort to think. I even talk slower.

Here is something important – I don’t feel sad. Because the symptoms mimic sadness, I think it is something that is misunderstood about depression. Mostly, I’m apathetic. Sadness and emotions? They take too much work. When I am depressed, I don’t have the energy for emotions.

You see, I think “Depression” needs a new definition. Thinking about depression as sadness is the wrong way to look at it. Here’s a better way: imagine there is a pipeline that pumps happiness, joie de vivre, energy and motivation into you. Everything you do during the day uses a bit of that energy, but it is okay, there is more coming in all the time. Now, imagine that someone has “depressed” a button or a plunger that stoppers that pipeline. All you are left with is a tiny, tiny pool of energy at the pit of your stomach. Your instinct is to protect that pool since every single thing that you need to do draws from that pool: from getting out of bed, to getting dressed to eating food. It all sucks that energy away. It feels like if enough energy is sucked away, you won’t have enough to breathe, or even keep your heart beating. To make things worse, you have absolutely no idea when the depression will go away and the energy will return.

The thing about sadness is that it eventually goes away. The body can only sustain true grief for so long before it turns into other things – anger, frustration, even gallows humor. Depression is different, there is no way of knowing when it will end. It feels like it is coming from the outside – as though someone else is inflicting this – and you don’t know why. It’s heartbreaking. It is also so frustrating to know that something that was so easy a few days ago, suddenly seems so hard.

I’ll give you an example – I’m sort of a foodie. I love great food and I enjoy eating. I’m also a planner, so I have preplanned out what meals I have available for the week. It’s not so strict as to be a daily plan, but it’s a list of what’s ready to make in the fridge. Recently I had a morning where I woke up depressed. I won’t go through what it took to get up and get going, but when I got to the kitchen I realized I didn’t have the energy to make breakfast. I thought I’d have yogurt instead. And I found myself standing there, looking at the silverware drawer, completely drained by the very idea of how much energy it would take to get out a spoon. A spoon! It isn’t like my silverware drawer is in a safe! This thought actually ran through my head, “Why bother? And I am just going to have to eat again later.” It all seemed so pointless. And believe me, eating has never seemed pointless before! In fact, I am convinced that that is why most “comfort food” are things that are easily chewed and don’t require many utensils. Think about it. Comfort food used to mean the casseroles and foods of our childhood, but it’s grown to mean things like fast food. I swear that’s because no one who is depressed has the energy to make a roast or their mother’s apple pie – they barely have enough to pull through the drive through. (I don’t actually eat fast food, even when depressed, but I get it. Boy, do I get it.)

Here’s one more example – I drive a stick shift car. I don’t usually think anything about it. If I do, it’s that I love my little rocket ship of a car, but when I am depressed, the idea of having to go from second to third and back again, just seems ridiculous. It’s so draining!

I have a lot of things to be grateful for, however. For me, depression is a fairly recent thing. It is not something I have suffered with my whole life. I also have a wonderful group of people in my life who are incredibly supportive, including my boyfriend who has been awesome. I’m getting help, I am privileged enough to have a job that affords me good health insurance and I’m seeing a therapist. My truly bleak days have become fewer and fewer.

There is one other thing I am grateful for – my love of fitness classes. They help tremendously. I’ll write about it more later, (I have a whole post planned on this subject,) but I’m finding that regular exercise is helping me keep the thunderclouds at bay. I’m glad I discovered that while I am still all new and excited about it, rather than when things had become routine. I’m not sure it would have been quite as effective.

If you know someone who is depressed, give them a hug, bring them a meal, and give them a ton of credit. They are probably doing the very, very best they can.

Photo credit: Priyambada Nath via flickr

Falling Out of Love with Fall

Hermes admires some Fall decor.

Hermes admires some Fall decor.

I used to love Autumn. Summer was my enemy. It was always too hot, too sticky and too sunny. When the weather started to turn, I was in heaven. The cooler nights and walking through falling leaves made me happy. I felt settled. This year, all that has changed.

This year I embraced summer. I ran, hiked, biked, kayaked, swam – even tried stand up paddleboarding. For the first time since being a kid, I’m actually tan. I’ve loved being this active and being out in the sun. Autumn, however, has come very suddenly to the Midwest. For the past week or so it’s been cold, rainy and windy. Since getting a dog, I feel much more attuned to the seasons. I am outside every morning and every night with him and I notice the shortening of the days more than I used to. I see the fading flowers and the landscaping changing, and I notice the flocks of birds moving south. I keep an eye on the weather. I watch out for thunderstorms (since my pooch is petrified of them,) and I now have to dress for the temperature. I’m already adding more and more layers.

I’m finding my mood is getting dark too. I talked to my therapist about it and she suggested reframing the season, to find things to love about autumn again. I thought it was good advice – it doesn’t make sense to try and fight Mother Nature, she always wins. So, replaced all my desktop photos of the lake this summer at the cottage with photos of pretty Fall foliage.  I took my hot pink toenail polish off and replaced it with a silly OPI color called “Wooden Shoe Like to Know?” I’ve started putting funny little Fall window clings on my door – not as decor for people coming in, but to make me smile when I leave. I bought some new candles in scents called “Harvest Apple” and “Flannel” and have been lighting them when I get home. (No “Pumpkin Spice” though… I have to draw the line somewhere.) I’ve even started pulling out my favorite sweaters.

I’m trying. Sometimes “fake it ’til you make it” is all you can do. I am very grateful for my fitness classes right now, though. Last year I had trouble staying active this time of year, this year I am actually ramping up. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Depression is a Jerk (And So is Anxiety)

Storm clouds by nicgep114I wrote about my excitement in getting a compliment from the instructor in my boxing class on Thursday, but what I didn’t tell you that a few weeks ago I skipped class. At the time I didn’t think that much of it. I love this class, but I had woken up that morning tired and sore. My body felt sluggish and every muscle ached. I figured I had just overdone it a bit and maybe needed a break. But a couple of days later when the next class came up, I still felt the same way. I didn’t want to go to class. In addition to feeling exhausted and painful, I was also afraid. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it through, that I would get sick or even pass out. I talked to my boyfriend (who, remember, is studying to be a therapist) about all this and he agreed that it could be that I was just overworked, but then he said something I didn’t know, “Or it could be your depression. Depression causes body aches.”

What?!? I guess I remember seeing some tv commercial for some drug that helped with body pain associated with mental health issues, but I hadn’t understood what that meant at the time. I said to him, “So, exercise is good for alleviating depression, right?”

“Right.”

“But depression can make your muscles ache… so you don’t want to exercise?”

“Yep.”

“Depression is a jerk!”

And depression is a jerk. Anxiety is too. What do you think it was filling my head with visions of throwing up in class? Anxiety. Both depression and anxiety actively work against activities that make things better – it’s almost like they have their own willpower. That’s what’s tricky about these two. Usually I can tell when I am struggling with them, but in this case they hid themselves in something else, everyday muscle aches, the kind of thing I get on a regular basis. Grrrr….

Julian encouraged me to go to my class this time. He reminded me that this class is like “medicine” for me. It makes me happy, boosts my mood, lets me work off my stress, and so on. (We all know the benefits of exercise.) As such, I should go as often as I could. And so I went. It wasn’t a great class, but it wasn’t a bad class either. I didn’t throw up, or pass out and I made it through just fine. But that is one of the things I didn’t understand before I had to deal with depression and anxiety, that they work against your very efforts to get well.

Jerks.

 

Photo credit: nicgep114 on flickr

We Are All Brave

My bike on the rail trail.

My bike on the rail trail.

Up by my cabin there is a long and wonderful rail trail. It is completely paved, more or less flat, and perfect for biking. I’m still a biking newbie so trails like these are great for me. Since I don’t yet know my limits, I would set an alarm on my armband for 30 minutes or so and head out to see what happened. I was testing questions like, “Can I ride for an hour?” (yes.) “How many miles can I ride in an hour?” (Eleven.) “Where are the ice cream shops?” (About 8 minutes from the cabin, near one of the trail heads.)

So, one afternoon I am riding along, enjoying the scenery, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of a gunshot. This really isn’t that uncommon. My cabin is located in a rural area where people do a lot of hunting, and naturally, they practice target shooting. I looked around, but surely no one would be firing at the trail, right?

And that’s when it hit me. I was out here on my own. If something went wrong, it was up to me to deal with it. Sure, I had a phone with me, but I am miles down some rural trail, how do I even tell someone where I am? By the old railroad mile markers? On top of that – who do I call? It was just me and the pooch up at the cabin that weekend, and I haven’t yet taught my dog to drive. This is when I started thinking about other blogs I’ve read of women cyclists. I read some awesome blogs with some badass gals who bike. I’ve noticed though that they have all mentioned fear at one time or another – whether it was with traffic, or riding alone or using a new bike. I always think they are so brave… and here I was, biking alone, in a new area, and guess what? I was being brave!

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but lately I haven’t been feeling very brave. I think my friends would say that I am, but that’s because I talk a good game. In truth, this depression and anxiety stuff has taken a real swing at my self confidence. It’s been hard. There are times when I feel like I am mired in a rut and don’t know how to find my way out. I’ve lost some of the faith I’ve always had in myself.

As I rode my bike though, I felt great, and as the miles passed, I started to think of other incidences when I’d been brave:

  • Getting married
  • And then getting divorced
  • Buying an old house
  • Choosing to live in that house, despite a lot of reasons not to
  • Deciding to get fit
  • Joining my boxing studio
  • and so on….

Even things that I am a little embarrassed about, like getting divorced, changed completely when I looked at them in this new light. It stopped being a failure. I made the brave and bold choice to marry someone and try to make a life with them, and when I knew it wouldn’t work out, I made the brave and bold choice to end it. I have a tendency to look at decisions where things went wrong (or didn’t turn out as I expected) as a failure on my part. I didn’t plan enough, I didn’t prepare enough, I ignored the little warning signals, this is my fault. Instead I started to turn them around to think of those choices as bravery – being brave means stepping out of your comfort zone, and sometimes ignoring your own warning signals and doing something anyway.

We are all brave. Each of us had made leaps of faith. Even if they didn’t turn out as we wanted, we had the guts to take that step. That’s something to be proud of.

Anxiety and Me

Here’s what my anxiety looks like:

  • It’s the hyped up, heart racing jittery rush of being over caffeinated. It’s as if I consumed a half dozen expressos, a couple of candy bars and few handfuls of PopRocks. My breath feels short, I’m sweating and I have a stress headache.

    I'm so disappointed...

    I’m so disappointed…

  • There is a nagging feeling I have forgotten something, something really important. It’s a “I’ve left the oven on in Patrick Stewart’s condo and it’s going to burn down if I don’t turn it off soon.” kind of feeling. (You can pick any celebrity here, or anyone from whom it would be devastating to hear the words “I’m not angry, I’m just really disappointed in you.”) The problem is, I don’t actually know what it is I have forgotten. Truth is, I haven’t forgotten anything, but that reality doesn’t change how I feel.
  • I’m distracted, irritable and frustrated. I react too quickly. I want to punch the coworker who stands to close, sneer at the woman wearing that obnoxious shade of purple and scream at basically everyone on the road at the same time I am. While this is happening, I am perfectly aware that it is all me, so I try to be nice, I try to be calm. (It isn’t easy.)
  • At the exact same time, I am fragile. I am afraid of offending or hurting someone – particularly the people I care about.
  • I have a hard time settling down. I’m thinking about everything… and nothing all at once. My brain latches onto a thought and I run it around and around in circles in my brain, gnawing at it, until the thought becomes completely abstract. It loses meaning. Then another thought pops in.
  • I rush through things I should enjoy. I can’t relax in the garden, I have to hurry through it… though I don’t know why. I go for a walk on a beautiful morning, but I don’t enjoy it. All I can think about is getting back home, even though there is no reason to hurry.

The good news is that my anxiety isn’t debilitating. I can go to work and function just fine. At most, my coworkers might notice that I am a bit more quiet and considerate. I am aware of when anxiety is getting to me, so I take special care not to say, or do, anything I will regret. However fortunate I am that I can still work and take care of what I need to, it’s still hard.

The last couple of days I have been struggling with this. I went to boxing class last night hoping that I could work some of it off. Boxing is so intense that I was hoping I could release some of this uncomfortable energy. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped.

To start with, there is a reason why boxing is called “the sweet science.” It isn’t about just flailing away at something as hard as you can. There is a level of concentration required in how you hit. If you aren’t being deliberate, the bag will start to spin. As my instructor said, “Now you are hitting him in the back of the head… that isn’t so bad for street fighting, but it’s not allowed in boxing.” The class was a good distraction, (it’s hard to think about anything but the class,) but it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for.

The other problem was that I tired. My whole body was exhausted. I think the SUP class I took earlier in the week was harder on me than I realized. I didn’t feel as strong in the class as I usually do, and at the end I was completely exhausted – but not in that giddy “I left it all on the floor” kind of way that I usually do.

In fact, the best moment of the evening was when I was riding my bike back home from class. I was tired, but it was a beautiful night and the ride felt great. As I neared home, I decided to go an extra block and take the long way around, just for fun. I found out that the street leading to mine is one long, slow downward hill. I had this beautiful moment of sailing down the road at my top speed – wheeeee! Plus I knew that my house was at the bottom and I didn’t have to go back up! (Which is what I’m usually thinking about when I am coasting down a hill!)

So, I am just going to take care of myself this weekend and try to relax and remind myself of this quote by TS Elliot:

quote-T.-S.-Eliot

 

 

Life Changing Thoughts

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to write a post on therapy and how that is going. It’s hard though, really hard. Talking about my physical fitness adventures is a lot more fun! It also seems a lot less private. But let’s give it a go again and see if I can get one out of the draft box and into the published space, shall we?

Bravery

I’m going to start with a revelation I had while biking. That might be easier – I like writing about biking! I wrote about taking my bike up to the cottage a couple of weekend ago. While riding, I figured out something very important. It’s completely changed how I look at my life.

Spotted on the rail trail. (Yes, that's a pun!)

Spotted on the rail trail. (Yes, that’s a pun!)

A Little Background:

The week before I went to the cottage I had read a blog post by a woman who competes in triathlons. She was struggling with the bike portion – she wasn’t enjoying riding with certain groups, but at the same time, said she was afraid to ride alone. We’re talking about serious racing and long distances, not just little neighborhood jaunts or rides in the park like I do. I empathized with her dilemma.

Fast forward to the weekend at the cottage:

I’m tooling around on my one speed cruiser and meandered my way to the ice cream parlor. I thought it was going to be a fairly decent ride, but had grossly underestimated the distance. It took me… eight minutes. I had my ice cream, but the plan had been to take a nice long ride and then get ice cream. I felt a little cheated, and not quite ready to pedal home, so instead I went over to the nearby rail trail. It was nice. It was gorgeous going through the woods, wildflowers were in bloom everywhere. At first, I saw other people pretty regularly, but the further I got, the fewer I saw. Then I heard it –

The unmistakeable sound of a gun being fired.

This rail trail goes through some pretty rural country. You are on the backsides of farms and pretty rustic homes. A gun going off isn’t really that surprising. There are hunting ranges nearby and undoubtably a fair amount of target practice going on. I was dressed brightly and I was mostly sure that no one would fire a gun towards the trail, but still, it gave me pause. If I got into a jam, there is really no one I can call. It’s not like I can call my dog and have him come pick me up, (he’s a terrible driver and I don’t let him have a cell phone.) I have the phone number of one neighbor by the cottage, but how could she even get to me? I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Let’s put aside the shot for a moment, what happened if I got a flat tire or hit a root and fell off my bike? What do I do?

And that is when I remembered the blog about why the triathlete doesn’t like riding alone. I thought about it as I rode. I didn’t feel particularly scared, just a little cautious, and suddenly this thought floated across my brain….

You are brave.

This is something I have been struggling with. If you have been following this blog at all you know that I am really excited about all this fitness stuff that I’ve been doing, and one of the great things about it is that it makes me feel brave. I do things now that I never would have done a few years ago. Part of the reason this has been so important to me is because I haven’t been feeling very brave. But in that moment, with that one thought, everything changed.

I thought about it all the way back to my cabin, and then was so caught up in the idea that grabbed an old notebook and went to sit on the picnic table to write and think about it some more. There are a couple of big things that happened in the last 15 years or so that really kicked the snot out of my concept of bravery. They’ve stuck with me and made me feel out of control and sad, but as I sat writing at the picnic table that night, brave things started popping up. There are things I’ve done that are brave. 

  • I flew cross the country to meet my father’s long lost cousins, on my own, barely knowing anyone. I had met one of the cousins once, for about an hour, but when she invited me to come out and stay a week with her and her family, I just got up and went.
  • I own my house (which is a rental unit, so I am a landlord,) and my cabin. I take care of both these somewhat complicated properties on my own.
  • I got married.
  • I got divorced. (Both were acts of bravery.)
  • I regularly give seminars in front of large groups of people. I fly all over the country, by myself, to teach.
  • I stepped out of the familiar and decided to lose weight for the first time ever.
  • I started lifting weights.
  • and so on…

As I wrote, more and more acts of bravery started pouring out of my head. Even things I had earlier classified as decisions made on fear, I was able to turn around and see the brave acts within them. It completely changed my perspective on my life – in particular those parts that hurt.

I also realized that I have been struggling to regain my sense of bravery, and that a lot of my work over the last year has been trying to get back into my old groove – to feel like myself again. These rail trail bike thoughts helped enormously. I’ve got some decisions to make coming up, and it is hard to choose the right path when you are hamstrung with anxiety. Recovering my sense of strength is a step on the right path.

Flooded Heart trail

Yet Another Fitness Adventure!

Guess what I tried? Stand Up Paddleboarding!

If you are wondering what we are all looking at, the instructor is in the middle giving a safety lesson. Yay paddleboards!

If you are wondering what we are all looking at, the instructor is in the middle giving a safety lesson. Yay paddleboards!

Yep, it was another adventure! My boxing/fitness studio offered the class. The owner said that in summer fewer people go to the gym, so the studio offers some speciality programs to keep people motivated. Sometimes it’s high intensity classes in the studio and sometimes it’s one-off classes like this.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. The studio emailed us about the class back in June. At that time I assumed that by late July it would be hot. You know, the way late summer usually is. However, this has been a particularly cool summer here in the Midwest. How cool? Well, that morning when I got up, it was 58 degrees. We also had a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms that night. On top of weather concerns, I had “first class” jitters. You know what I mean – those silly butterflies that say things like:

  • You are going to fall in the lake many, many times, and unlike when you fail at other things, everyone will be staring at you.
  • You do not have balance. You do not know what you are doing. Why are you taking this class?
  • You do not know how to dress for this. The email said to bring layers… but you are on a board on a lake, what does that even mean???
  • It is going to storm.
  • The lake will be cold.
  • You will fall in, then lightening will strike your head.

(Okay, maybe I wasn’t really worried about that last one.)

But you know… I had said I would go. Plus there was a nonrefundable equipment rental fee. And the thunderstorm warnings were moved until later that night. So, I packed a bag with everything I could think of (two towels, water bottle, sweatshirt, spare shoes, etc.) and after work, headed to the lake.

I didn’t need worry. Standup Paddleboards are a lot more stable than they look. In fact, the only time I got wet was carrying my board out of the water to the shore. I never fell in, and even if I had, everyone was super supportive of the folks that took a swim. As one gal said, “Once you fall in, it stops being scary. What’s going to happen? I’ll get more wet?”

This class was awesome on a number of levels. First of all, one of my goals with fitness is to try everything. I am so, so new at all this. I hated sports as a kid and for most of my life, I was not athletic. I’m still learning what I like, and what I don’t. I figure that the best way to learn that is just to try everything. That’s also why I took Pilates the other day – it’s all about new experiences.

I’m trying to be anti-fragile. Nerd Fitness has a great article about that here: Becoming Antifragile: How to Prepare Yourself for Chaos. If I am going to make fitness a way of life, I don’t want to be locked into anything. I know myself, I can become obsessed. Then, if something goes wrong, I have a tendency to drop it like a hot potato. I don’t want that to derail me. Having a huge list of things that help me keep active that I love is much better than being obsessed with just one thing.

Another great thing? I got out on a new lake! This particular lake is really close to my house, but I have never had the opportunity to get out on it. We didn’t go all that far around, but even still I got to see the lake in a whole new way. I love that.

To my surprise, I was fairly decent at it. For most of my life I’ve been the slow one, the uncoordinated one, the one who didn’t understand the rules, the one who sat on the sidelines. Being picked last for kickball – after the kid with the leg braces – can be really hard on your kiddo self esteem. As an adult, I don’t mind it as much. I’m much better at accepting that I have a higher learning curve when it comes to physical fitness than others. I spent most of my life in my head, wrapped up in books and art, this fitness thing is all new to me. I can accept that and be comfortable with the notion that I can get better with practice. However, in this SUP class, I felt like I held my own. I wasn’t in the front of the pack, but I also wasn’t in the back. I’d say, front of the middle. At the end when we held a relay race, I did my part and felt great about it (there were some who were too scared to try.)

Which brings up another thing – I did it! Like I said, I was nervous about it, but I did it. (And I would go again in a heartbeat.) All this fitness stuff has given me a confidence in myself that I’ve never had before. I always knew I could trust my brain to get me through most situations, but I have never had that kind of faith in my body. SUP requires your whole body – from toes to head – and I felt good about it.

When I called Julian after the class he answered the phone with, “Hello Adventurer!” It was the best thing he could have said.

Thoughts on Therapy

I saw a little guy like this in my garden the other day. It is sheer joy to watch them.

I saw a little guy like this in my garden the other day. It is sheer joy to watch them.

Therapy… I want to write about it, but I am not sure what to say. Let’s start with some basics. It took me a few calls and a fair amount of time on my insurance company’s website to find someone. I’m delighted that my insurance covered it. The last time I saw a therapist, (during my divorce,) they didn’t, and I had to pay out of pocket. It’s pretty pricey that way, worth it, but pricey.

That first time I saw a therapist, the center was in an old converted Victorian home. The waiting room was the former dining room and it still had the chandelier and an oak dining table. My therapist’s office was in the den. It had bookshelves, a fireplace, heavy, thick furniture and hunting pictures on the walls. Her big wooden desk was in a bay window that overlooked a cherry tree. In short, it was exactly what movies lead you to think a therapist’s office should look like.

This time it’s a little different. This facility feels much more like a doctor’s office, and for good reason – they offer a lot more than counseling. They do occupational and physical therapy, sleep studies, neurological testing… all sorts of things. So, their waiting room is just like any doctor’s office waiting room. Perhaps it is a little more modern, but it’s your basic “chairs and magazines” set up.

My therapist is a woman. I like her well enough. We’ve met twice now. The first time, her office was in a doctor’s exam room, except that instead of a table she had chairs. The second time she had moved offices. Now she has a suite with a big window, actual art on the walls and comfortable seating. It turns out that the first office was temporary while the other was undergoing renovations.

Does it matter? To me, yes. I’ve mentioned many times that I do freelance work. That work is in theatre. And to me, set decoration, props… they all matter. If I am seeing a therapist, I want it to feel like I am seeing a therapist, not like I am getting a physical! (I was effusive in complimenting her on her new location.)

I feel like we have gotten a good start. We talked about what I’ve been feeling and she asked some good questions. She’s given me some techniques to try when I’m feeling anxious and some things to think about.

What I am dealing with is – I feel walled in. Normally, I’m a fiercely independent and confident woman, but I feel like circumstances have got me in a rut. I think that is what is causing anxiety. The hard part is that I know the steps to take to get out of the rut, (or at least some of them) but I can’t seem to find it in myself to take them. I’m hoping she’ll help me figure out what’s holding me back.

Here’s the thing about therapy – it doesn’t “fix” you. How I think about it is this: Anxiety feels like a giant pile of rocks sitting on my chest. Therapy does not remove any of those rocks, but it does loosen them a little. And a huge pile of slightly loose rocks is a lot more manageable than a giant pile of rocks cemented together. If even one rock loosens, it feels like there is hope. There is a solution somewhere. As long as the cement holds though, it’s almost impossible to imagine change. I don’t expect my therapist to have all the answers. What I hope is that she’ll poke at a few of the “absolutes” and turn the impossibles into merely “really difficult.” Really difficult I can handle.

 

Photo credit: Kevin Cole via flickr