Making happiness a means to an end.

I have been reading a wonderful book about meditation and running called Running with the Mind of Meditation, and I wanted to share a few passages from the book with you. The passages are from a chapter titled “Happiness”. But first, let me give you some background on why this chapter may have resonated so strongly with me at this time.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life. There are times that I consider myself ‘in remission’, and times when the disease (yes, I do consider it a disease) grips me and puts a strangle hold on my life. I am currently experiencing one of those times. To give you an idea of how I experience depression, I will describe what life is like for me on a typical depressed day. I wake up, but I am not refreshed, and my brain feels like someone has wrapped it in cotton. It is hard for me to organize my thoughts, and therefore difficult for me to focus and get things done. I am easily irritated by little things, and big things are downright show-stoppers. You know those depression medication commercials where the people walk around with paper plate smiley faces that hide their frowns? Yeah, that’s totally how I feel.

During these difficult days, I become obsessed with happiness. When will this be over? When will I feel better again? Mentally I pick apart each facet of my life, trying to find the thing that caused this dissatisfaction. The problem with doing that is, not only do I usually overestimate the part played by each little thing in causing my depression, the act of dwelling on it only makes me feel more miserable.

A few weeks ago, I was rather dejectedly reading Running with the Mind of Meditation when I came upon this short paragraph, which stood out like a lighthouse beacon to my stormy mind:

“Happiness is not a goal, but a by-product of mentally and physically healthy activities. If we engage in these, happiness of mind and body will ensue” Author Sakyong Mipham goes on to say that making happiness your main objective is sure-fire way to ensure you won’t reach it.

So if striving towards happiness is fruitless, what can I focus on? Sakyong Mipham has an answer. “The secret to long-term happiness is engaging in activities that are healthy, mentally and physically….Mental happiness comes from mentally healthy engagements, such as love, generosity, and compassion. Mental unhappiness comes from self-centeredness, anger, pride, extreme mental states, excessive emotions, and too much discursiveness.” (Discursiveness is too many competing thoughts-I call it mental garbage.)

I can exercise-move my body-which is positive. I can eat healthy food and drink enough water. I can think positive thoughts. One thing I have done in the past that I am going to start doing again is to write a small journal entry every day. In it I describe two things that made me feel positive feelings that day, and I rate the intensity of that feeling (on a scale from 1-100). The rating helps me find something to record each day, even if it only made me feel mildly happy.

I can meditate. Meditation is a form of mental exercise. Like training the muscles so they get stronger, we can train our minds to become stronger as well. By focusing the mind on something, whether it be the breath, or a topic such as love or compassion (my favorite is peace), we rein in our minds so that we are more able to control them. It’s kind of like taming a horse. The tamer the horse is, the more work we are able to do with it.

Making happiness a side-effect of good living, rather than the main objective of life allows me to relax (I no longer have to stress about being happy). Focusing on actions I can take to positively affect my life creates real intent–something tangible. And by making happiness more of a means to an end, and not the end itself, I can focus more on a much more important goal–wholeness.

I will probably always have depression and anxiety, as long as I live this mortal life. However, I find encouragement knowing that, when the bad days come, I can do something to ease my suffering. And in sharing my experiences, I hope I can help someone else who is struggling, too. Namaste, friends.

 

 

Thoughts: the predecessors of choice.

We make a thousands of choices in our daily lives. Some we are aware of making, but most we make unconsciously. Yet each choice has an effect on the course of our day. Some decisions have minimal consequences; we misjudge how warm it is outside and put on a sweater. As a result, we are uncomfortable and sweaty. Some decisions have much greater repercussions: we get angry and say something hurtful, and a relationship is wounded. Or we decide to skip that job interview and miss out on a rewarding occupation.

So how do we make wise choices? How do we avoid adding pain and suffering into our lives and usher in the good things?

I have a lot of thoughts on this. First, I think we need to look at how we make decisions. Our decision-making processes vary greatly depending on personality, past experiences, age, mood, health, and about a thousand other variables. All of these things influence our thoughts and that is where our decisions are born.

Our thought life has great influence on our decision-making. Our perspective on life, the way we think about ourselves and those around us, and our beliefs about what’s wrong and right, good and bad, are huge factors in the choices we make every day.

Our amazing brains generate thoughts almost 24/7 (Buddhists call this ‘monkey mind’). I picture the journey of thoughts through our minds as a sort of fast-moving, mobile buffet, laden with the wildest variety of food there is. Which foods do we choose? Sometimes we might choose an unfamiliar dish because we want to try something new. But I think 99% of the time, we would choose the foods we are familiar with, the ones we have tasted before. We would choose out of habit. I venture to say that this is the same way we choose what thoughts we dwell upon.

This can be either beneficial or detrimental. If we are a glass-is-half-full type, and we have a habit of choosing positive thoughts, the decisions we make are going to reflect our mindset. Because we believe in our abilities and our worth, we will choose things that affirm those beliefs. The reverse is also true. If we have a negative attitude or a poor self-image, our choices are going to affirm, and reinforce, what we believe. We can get caught in a vicious cycle.

While it comes easily to some, for most of us a positive mindset is something that must be cultivated. It takes real effort to look on the bright side of life. I’m not talking about being full of sunshine and rainbows every day: I’m talking about more of a quiet assurance that all will be well with oneself. And we each have our own crosses to bear. I grew up in an abusive household, and so I learned the habit of thinking that I wasn’t a very worthy person. I also suffer from depression, and even with medication, I still struggle from time to time. I think the thing that has really helped me the most is adopting this belief: our thoughts live in us, but they are not us. We exist separately from them. Therefore, if we don’t like our thoughts, if they aren’t serving us well, we can let them go.  

It’s easy, but it takes practice. As with any habit, you aren’t going to change the nature of your thoughts in one day. It requires upkeep, like any other part of wellness. But we can do it! We can choose healthier, happier thoughts-thoughts that affirm our goodness and bring us joy and peace.  *Namaste, my friends!*IMG_20170411_135322

The Power of Choice

Recently, I have been contemplating the power of making choices. A lifelong perfectionist, I have often viewed decision-making with dread; a difficult, even scary, process involving much option-weighing, hem-hawing and second-guessing. Even small decisions about what to wear for the day, whether or not to eat that piece of cake, what chores/activities to accomplish, could send me in tailspin. I would decide one way, then change my mind 10 seconds later, and so on, until finally I was either forced to make a choice, or the opportunity had passed.  Half of the time I would regret whatever course of action I chose, wondering if I should’ve chosen differently.

Over time, I have slowly come to the realization that, not only have I wasted a vast amount of time and energy worrying about making just the right decision, but in doing so, I have missed out on enjoying the outcome of that decision. Let’s go back to the cake example. I think most of us can relate to this; you’re at a party, and you want to eat a piece of cake. In the past, my thought process would’ve gone something like this: “I really want to eat cake. But I probably shouldn’t, because I’m trying to watch what I eat. But if I don’t eat cake, I’m going to spend the rest of the day wishing I had! But if I do eat it, I’m going to wish I hadn’t!” This mental monologue would continue for some amount of time until I made a decision. But I wouldn’t be happy with my decision, whatever it was, because, and here’s the real kicker--I never truly took ownership of my choice!

I am not a practicing Christian, but I have always liked this Bible passage: In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says, ‘let your yes be yes, and your no be no…’ This means when we make a choice, we need to go ‘all the way’, we need to fully possess our choice: either we eat the cake, or we don’t. If we eat the cake, we don’t berate ourselves for eating the cake, and if we don’t eat the cake, we don’t regret it.

It really is as simple as that. And the best part of learning to stand firm in our choices is that we can stop finding decision-making scary, and start finding it empowering! 

Learning to take ownership of my decisions has truly brought me a great deal of peace. As with any skill, I don’t always do it perfectly 100% of the time, but I am making an effort to practice at every opportunity. And in practicing making small decisions with confidence, I will gradually be able to make larger and more complex decisions with confidence as well. And hopefully, as I gain experience making choices, whatever they might be, I can start analyzing those choices and find ways to make better, wiser, more informed decisions. More on this next time!

Happy with what is?

Recently, I began reading the Harry Potter series to my young son. In the first book of the series, The Sorcerer’s Stone, there is a chapter about The Mirror of Erised, which is a mirror that shows not your face, but the desires of your heart. After Harry discovers this mirror, he visits it every night so he can sit and stare at the faces of his dead parents-for Harry would like nothing more than to have a proper family. On the 3rd night, he discovers Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, waiting for him in the room that houses the mirror. Dumbledore, after explaining what the mirror does, utters this little gem of wisdom,

“However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible….it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

I have my own Mirror of Erised in my mind, and I can’t tell you how often I have mentally parked myself in front of it, dreaming about what could be better. I have wasted my energy, frittered away countless moments that could’ve been spent enjoying what I have had, or working on ways to improve it. Instead, I have wished it to be different, wished it away. I have dwelled on dreams and forgotten to live.

After reading the above passage, I asked myself, “Why do I do it?” The answer, I am ashamed to admit, is that it’s the easy way out. It’s far easier to dream about the way things could be than to deal with situations, and people, the way they are. Real life is almost always less than ideal; real people have imperfections. Instead of facing that, and doing the work that brings forth fruit, it’s easier to ignore the problems and the pain and get lost instead in fantasies of what could be ‘if only’.

I’m not saying that it’s not OK to dream–not at all. Our ability to imagine ‘what if’ is what makes us human. It is the nexus of our creativity; in fact, without it, we would not be creators. This kind of dreaming is probably better labeled aspiration. No, the dreaming I’m talking about is the kind of stupor that we can allow ourselves to settle into in our day to day lives. It’s easy to fall into. We get into a routine, doing the same things with the same people, and we forget to really see, we aren’t really fully aware of our surroundings. Complacency sets in, and we become numb, to some degree or another.

So what’s the antidote to this state of mind? I’m not entirely sure. But I can think of one weapon that we have at our disposal at all times; choice. The power to choose to accept what is going on, right now, in our lives. The power to face hardships, whatever they may be, and work through them. And most of all, the power to enjoy what we have, even if it isn’t perfectly harmonious with what we think we want (more about that in another post).

With that being said, Carpe Diem! Use your power of choice to live as fully as possible in this day!

 

 

Musings

It’s the Monday after Spring break, and I’m enjoying the serenity here at home. I took a forced hiatus from blogging, from running, from my normal routine last week because my little guy, Elliot, was really sick. He had a virus which caused fever off and on for several days, low energy, and lots and lots of snot. This year has been rough on poor Elliot. He has been sick at least 5 times since January. We have gone through so many boxes of tissues my husband was talking about getting them through Amazon subscribe and save!

I was somehow lucky enough to stay healthy, physically at least. Emotionally, I have been struggling. Since I made my goal last August to run a half-marathon this April, I have done more than just training my body. I have also put a lot of effort into becoming a happier, more confident woman, but it can be easy at times to fall back into old thought patterns, especially when life throws me a curve ball.

Back in mid-February when I sustained an IT band injury, I knew it would be difficult for me to keep on track in my training and be able to race. While I was getting the IT band issue under control, I realized I needed to start managing my shin splints, especially now that my long runs were close to 10 miles. I tried lots of things–icing my shins, kinesio tape, massage, stretching…but the pain just kept getting worse. Deep down, I knew what my legs really needed was for me to cut down on my mileage and intensity. Which meant I would not be ready for the half marathon in April.

At first, I handled it well. I told myself it was OK, I could still train for the Churchill marathon in November, after my legs healed. First world problems, as my husband would say. But not being able to run like I usually do, to do something I really enjoy, has been hard. I miss the physical effort, the sweat, I even miss the little aches and pains. I miss being able to exert control over my body, to make it do what I want. I know that might sound silly, but my body has experienced things which have been out of my control…my miscarriage, for one.  I know I’m not the only woman who has had one, and it happened almost 3 years ago, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. I guess not being able to make my shin splints go away so I can make my body do what I want, has me feeling that same helplessness that I did after the miscarriage.

I’ve been struggling with my ‘career choice’ as well. When Elliot started Kindergarten this year, I made the decision not to return to my job at the Montessori school where he had attended preschool. There are many reasons why, but the most important one was that I wanted to get back into making art. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, and I have dreamed of being a ceramic artist since I was about 20.This seemed like the perfect time to work on that dream. I am beyond grateful to my husband for allowing me the space and time to do this, and I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining–but it is really difficult to work some days. It requires an ability to self-motivate, make and stick to goals, and keep going even in the face of failure (or perceived failure). There are so many days I think about throwing in the towel and getting a ‘real’ job again. There’s something comforting and easy about clocking in and doing your time, then leaving it all behind at the end of your shift. You can’t do that when you have your own business.

Saying that I am an artist, and telling people I own my own business makes me cringe, and I know it shouldn’t. I still don’t quite believe in myself or my abilities. I miss having a boss-someone who reassures me that I’m doing a good job. It’s easy to listen to negative voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough, that I’m not making nearly enough work, that I’m wasting my time. I’ve worked hard to fight those kind of thoughts, but truthfully, they still get the best of me more often that I care to admit.

Still, I know enough now to recognize the bad thoughts, to name them for what they are–lies–and to eventually show them the door. I’m not strong enough yet to always resist them, but I will get there.

We don’t always get to control everything in our lives. I am learning that the ability to be flexible is key to remaining happy when things don’t go my way. Flexibility does not come naturally for me. I tend to only see one possible way to get a desired outcome, when in reality there are many ways to get there. Flexibility is also being able to accept that achieving a goal won’t always happen on my time. I will run again. And when I do, hopefully I’ll be smarter about it, avoid injury. If I can find a way to do that, I can be ready to run the Churchill half later this year. If I get injured again, it just means I have more to learn. I have to be OK with that.

As for my art, I know I won’t willingly throw in the towel (and hopefully I will be lucky enough to be able to continue my business for many years). Maybe it’s OK to be insecure, maybe I don’t need to be completely sure about what I’m doing, as long as I continue to do it out of love and with honesty. I can’t control whether or not people like my work, or if they buy it. All I can do is continue to offer up what I have, how I see the world. The rest is out of my hands.

 

 

 

 

My rant again body shaming, and other thoughts about self image

Most of you who are reading this blog know that I have a fine arts degree, and if you’ve seen any of my recent Facebook posts, you also know that my current work is focused on athletes performing their sport. I have been privileged to portray a few of my friends, but I have also done pieces based on pictures I’ve seen on the internet. One of the first pieces I made (which has been bisque fired but not glazed) was of Major League baseball player Prince Fielder, who plays for the Texas Rangers. Now, I’m not a personal fan of Fielder-I really know nothing about him other than he is said to be good at his sport. Rather, I chose to portray him because I fell in love with his picture on the cover of ESPN magazine’s 2014 body issue. Fielder posed nude, in a stance that suggests he just smashed a ball out of the park. His head is cocked to the side, a slight smile on his face, and the impression I got from the photo was of an athlete who is proud of his strength and abilities.

Now if you have already clicked the link above, you have seen that Prince Fielder is a big guy. He doesn’t have the typical ‘lean’ build of most baseball players. I happen to like the way he carries himself. I certainly would not consider him to look obese, and obviously since he made it to the Major League, he is fit enough to get the job done. And that’s what matters, in my opinion.

So that’s why I was disgusted and disappointed when I found this article about people who trashed ESPN magazine for putting Fielder on their cover, and criticized the athlete for being ‘overweight’. Begin rant:  Really, people? We are collectively one of the most obese nations in the world, and I bet we are also one of the most body image-obsessed societies in the world. Is there a correlation here? YES!! We need to stop shaming people for the way they look!!! I mean, when we go as far as to shame a pro athlete for being a little on the stocky side, that to me is bordering on disorder! Not that they’ll ever read this, but to the people who dissed Prince Fielder, what the fuck have you done today? Hmm? Did you get out on a baseball field and hit under pressure? No? Didn’t think so. You probably didn’t even go to the gym. So shut up and mind your own business. End rant.

There are many reasons why our nation is so overweight, but I speculate that a big reason why overweight people stay overweight has to do with body image issues. We think we need to ‘get in shape’ so we can ‘look good’ like the thin, tan, sculpted, air-brushed models on magazine covers. Not only does this thinking perpetuate the idea that the only way to ‘be in shape’ and ‘look good’ is by obtaining a version of this esoteric body type that is far, far from the norm–if it is our only motivator for working out, we will quickly give up, precisely because it is unobtainable for 99% of us.

So why work out, then? Why bother, if we can’t look the way we think we should? We need to change our thinking, people!!! Why does Prince Fielder work out? Because he has a job to do, and he needs certain strengths and skills to do it. I like Fielder’s response to his critics:

A lot of people probably think I’m not athletic or don’t even try to work out or whatever, but I do. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn’t mean you’re going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I’m not going up there trying to be a fitness model.” -Prince Fielder

I like this attitude. Athletes don’t have to fit into the ideal mold of what we think an athlete should look like to be good at what they do. Neither do we! I have been thin all of my life, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always been happy with my body. At different points I’ve wanted to be thinner, more muscular,prettier, have less wrinkles and spider veins, etc. To a certain extent, this is normal. I’m not saying one can’t aspire to look one’s best. But we need to stop trying to look like somebody else. Why can’t we just be the best version of ourselves?

One more thing before I get off my soapbox. Here’s what I suggest: When you’re working out, what is your main motivator? Is it so you can ‘look good’? Is your main motivator guilt or shame? If so, I suggest a new motivator. Do something that you love, or that helps you to do what you love. 

I’m a runner. So my workouts focus on running, and doing things that help me to run better, like certain weight training exercises, stretching, and using an agility ladder. What do you like to do? Play tennis? Walk? Ride a bike? Hike trails? Whatever it is, as long as it gets you moving, do it! Enjoy your body for what it can do right now. Don’t focus on surface results like weight loss or looking a certain way. Just move your body. I guarantee you will feel better if you do.

And don’t let the way you think you look stop you. As I said, I am a small person. When I joined my gym last fall, I got a free session with a personal trainer. When he started talking about weight lifting exercises, I sort of laughed internally. There is no way you’ll get me in that weight room with all of those big macho guys, I thought. I was worried about looking weak and afraid of being looked down on if I made a mistake with an exercise. Then I started listening to a podcast by personal trainer Nia Shanks. (Not to digress, but ladies, if you haven’t read her articles or listened to her speak, you simply have to. She is amazing.) My thinking did a 180-I realized the only thing keeping me from lifting weights was ME, not my size, strength, knowledge, or what other people thought. Now I lift weights regularly. Those ‘macho’ guys I was afraid of have never laughed at me, and I’d like to think they might even respect me.

When I stopped focusing on how I looked lifting weights, I realized not only could I lift, but I enjoyed doing it! It makes me feel strong, and it has definitely helped me be a better runner.

In closing, I want to share something I wrote in my personal journal that relates to body image.

I am a woman. I am strong but not perfect. I am good at many things, and there are also many things I am not good at or capable of.  I accept my imperfections. I accept the fact that I have limitations. I am not a lesser person because of them. They make me who I am.’

 

Today, I encourage you to be yourself. Love yourself. Do your thing. And don’t let the haters bring you down.

Injury, rehab,and more training

It’s been a (busy) couple of weeks since I’ve written. The last time I wrote, I had made some breakthroughs with my training–running faster, longer distances, etc. It was very exciting and encouraging to make progress. Unfortunately, shortly after I wrote, I sustained an injury. During a long run, my right knee gave out on me. I was on mile 7 of what was supposed to be an 8 mile run, when all of the sudden I just couldn’t take another step. I limped off of the treadmill and out of the gym, and after some research realized I had IT band syndrome. For non-runners, this is a very common running injury that many times puts runners on the sidelines for weeks. So needless to say, I was more than dismayed to have this issue so close to half marathon time.

This is not the first time I have experienced IT band issues. I am a researcher by nature, so the first thing I did was research what causes IT band problems and what I could do about it. The IT (illiotibial) band is a thick band of muscle fibers that begins at the hip and runs down the outside of the thigh, attaching to the knee. It can get inflamed from overuse, causing a lot of pain. What I needed to know was how to rehab my IT band so I could continue running. The first thing was to get rid of the pain and inflammation, so I iced the area and took NSAIDs. The second thing was to strengthen the IT band by doing some resistance training. I added heel drops, hip abduction, and clam shell exercises to my daily regiment. I also decided to try to get a handle on another injury I’ve been struggling with–shin splints. Again, my right leg is the one most affected. So I’m doing some things to strengthen my calves and ankles, like calf raises, and using my new favorite piece of gym equipment, the agility ladder.

The agility ladder is simply a collapsible ladder you lay on the floor. There are a variety of different moves/footwork you can do that will not only strengthen the smaller muscles in your calves, ankles, and knees, but also give you a great high intensity work out. I knew soccer and football players used it, but had never heard of runners using the agility ladder before. I got the idea after I saw one of the personal trainers at the gym use one with a client. Now I use it every chance I get!

So far, the new exercises seem to be helping. I was able to finish my first ‘long’ race on Feb. 28th, a 15K (about 7.8 miles)! Finishing this race was a big confidence boost. I am now running 9 miles for my long run, with plans to do an 11 mile group training run (Ed Dibble Run) the first weekend of April. After this run, I will make my decision about running the Glass City half marathon.

I am excited about the arrival of spring, as it has meant more outdoor running! It is so nice to give the ‘dreadmill’ a break, and enjoy the birds and fresh air! Til next time!

 

 

Pain and Progress

Progress is often non-linear. A lot of times, it is impeded not only by physical challenged and limitations, but also mental hurdles that must be overcome.

Last week, I was having one of those weeks. I had a mild cold, and I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ when it came to running. I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I had plateaued when it came to total distance. I had been stuck on a top distance of around 7 miles for my long run for 3 weeks. I had also plateaued when it came to speed. I have always run about 6 to 6.5 mph during my longer runs, but I couldn’t seem to get it going during my speed work. I would get up to about 7.0 mph and feel maxed out (I’m not talking about sprinting, I’m talking about running a mile or two).

Last Friday, I was scheduled to do 8 miles for my long run, but around mile 5, my right foot really started to hurt. Half a mile later, an inner ‘alarm’ was sounding, telling me if I didn’t quit running soon, I was going to be sorry. Now, I’m no stranger to pain during running. There are times when I can work through it, but this was not one of those times.

I stopped at 6 miles. I was disappointed, but I knew I had done what was right for my body. I didn’t dwell on what was ‘wrong’ with me, but I was still bewildered by the foot pain. I decided to do some research on pain, and I stumbled upon this lovely article. It’s a bit lengthy, but very insightful.

Five Strategies to Help Your Pain (Part 1)

What I learned is that pain, like progress, is often also non-linear. We don’t always experience pain because there is actually something physically wrong. There are a number of complex reasons why an individual might experience pain. That’s not to say that, just because a person may not have a physiological problem, that the pain isn’t real. All pain is ‘in the brain’. But, I digress.

The next day was warm-ish for Ohio in January, so I set out on an outside run to try and get at least a few more miles toward my weekly goal of 20 total miles. I almost didn’t make it off my street. I realized that, mentally, I was just done. I did not want to run. I’ve said this before; every time I run, I am faced with a decision to either stop, or keep going.  This time I came so close to stopping. The closest ever. But somehow I knew that if I stopped today, that might be it. I might not run anymore.

I kept going. I had borrowed my husband’s GPS watch, and he had turned off the speed function. I am so glad I had no idea how fast I was going. I slogged out the first 2 miles, stopped by my driveway, got a drink, and ran another 2 miles. I had to do another 2 miles to hit my weekly goal, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was listening to my body, and my body told me it could do more. So I did. I finished the last 2 miles, tired and happy.

While I was running, I realized that I had been afraid. Afraid of running outside, where I couldn’t control the elements, didn’t have instant access to water, etc. Afraid of the distance, of the pain I might feel, and of getting an injury that could prevent me from running. I had a mental barrier, and I finally broke it.

That started a week of some of the best running I’ve done so far. When it was time for my weekly speed work, I let myself fly. I realized I had been holding back there, too. It’s funny how much your mindset can affect your physical body.

Yesterday I ran 8 miles, and I could’ve kept going. Today I ran my second fasted 5K, with a time of 27:30. And I increased my total weekly distance to 22 miles.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t have to let fear of pain keep me from making progress. Pain is not the enemy. Pain is an indicator. It means, ‘listen’. I’m listening.

 

Facing fear

After seeing the title of this post and the picture that accompanies it, you can probably guess that what I’m going to write about is fear about the upcoming race-the Glass City Half Marathon-that I’ve been training for. But I can almost promise you that what I’m actually afraid of is not what you think, and it’s about more than race day jitters.

What I’m about to share with you is going to be really hard for me, and it might make some of you uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it’s something I feel I must do. Because it’s exhausting to hide a part of yourself for years, even a part that you feel people will not understand or accept.

So why am I so afraid of race day? Because I have Social Anxiety Disorder. Simply defined, this disorder is the extreme fear of being scrutinized or judged in social or performance situations. People with SAD are afraid of things like public speaking or performance, or being around unknown people or in unfamiliar places (think unpredictable public places like city streets, crowded malls, etc). While I definitely deal with those two fears, the worst anxiety I experience is called paruresis-the fear of going to the bathroom in public. Now I know that most everyone has an occasional case of bashful bladder. However, SAD disorders go way beyond simple shyness–in fact, some people who suffer from SAD don’t even define themselves as shy (myself included).

Though I haven’t been officially diagnosed, I deal with social anxiety on a daily basis. When I want to meet a friend for lunch, instead of anticipating a good time with them, I worry about where the bathroom is. Will it be private enough? If it’s a private bathroom, will someone need to use it while I’m in there? Will they be listening to hear when I’m finished? Will they think I’m taking too long? What will my friend who’s waiting for me to come back think if I don’t come back in an ‘acceptable’ amount of time? Will they send someone to check on me? (I’ve actually had this happen, in a bar…guess the friend was worried I drank too much and passed out.)

Traveling is a nightmare. I hate car rides, especially when I’m the passenger. Asking the driver to stop so I can have a bathroom break is unthinkable. I imagine them pulling over and waiting impatiently while I try to pee, and me trying not to think about them waiting impatiently.

This anxiety is something I cannot control. I know I catastrophize. I know my fears are irrational. I realize that, most likely, no one cares if or when I urinate. I realize no one is consciously listening to me pee. I know that most people are courteous and will wait patiently while I have my turn in the stall. But the part of my brain that is responsible for my anxiety isn’t interested in rational thought. It is the same part that issues the ‘fight or flight’ response. I have about as much ability to stop my anxiety in the bathroom as a person can stop their palms from sweating and heart from racing during a true traumatic event.

In addition to paruresis, I also suffer mildly from agoraphobia, which is the fear of public places. While my agoraphobia doesn’t usually deter me from doing things I want to do, like taking my son to a kid’s playland on a busy day, I will still avoid things like baseball games and shopping on Black Friday where there are likely to be large crowds. I also suffer from mild depression.

So, my biggest fear on race day–using the bathroom in public– is the same as my biggest fear on any given day, only magnified times 100, because I’m also dealing with agoraphobia, and, yes, your typical race day jitters.

I know after reading this post, some of you will have questions. I will try to anticipate those questions now, as well provide a couple of take-aways (things I hope you will learn from me sharing my story):

  • I don’t know how my SAD began. I did have an experience in a public restroom at a baseball game when I was very young, around 8 years old. It was a hot day, and I had drank a lot of iced tea. When I got into the stall, I couldn’t urinate, and I remember I got very upset. I remember it clearly, though I don’t think this was the ‘defining moment’, as I went on to experience no further anxiety until I went to college.
  • There is no ‘cure’ for SAD, though there are treatments like anti-anxiety medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. I am not currently receiving any treatment for my SAD, but I am on a low dose of Zoloft for depression treatment.
  • Just because I have this disorder doesn’t mean I’m ‘broken’. It’s just something I deal with. I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t even expect you to understand. I just hope you will accept me for who I am. Please don’t scoff at my disorder or try to minimize my feelings. You can’t ‘talk me out of it’, though I wish that were possible. As I said before, the part of my brain responsible for the anxiety I feel isn’t interested in rationality.
  • If I’m at your house, or we are in a public place together, and I go to the restroom, just know that I might be a while. Don’t worry about me, and, for God’s sake, don’t send someone to check on me. I swear I’m not dead 🙂

 

In closing, if you have made it this far, thank you for letting me share this part of myself with you. While it was not easy, it is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I know that dealing with my SAD has made me a more empathetic person. There are so many people who are silently dealing with all sorts of issues every day. You can’t always know a person’s story just by looking at them. I know it’s hard, because I still do it, too…but when a person does something you don’t understand or like, try not to let your first reaction be judgement. You never know what the reasons for their actions might be.

And, NO, I haven’t signed up for the Glass City Half Marathon…yet. I’m not ready. And that’s okay. I did sign up for another race at the end of February, though. I need to get my feet wet (quite possibly literally, depending on the weather). Sometimes the only steps you can take are baby steps. It doesn’t matter–they’re still steps. I may not ever ‘get over’ my anxiety, but I refuse to let it rule my life.

MLKJquote

Who inspires you?

meandrenee

Me (left) and Renee (right) after a run.

We all need inspiration. It can come in the form of a book, a movie, nature, or even an ordinary moment. Or, if you’re really lucky, it can come from a special person you meet. No matter where you get it, inspiration is important, and so I’ve decided that a least twice a month I’m going to write an entry about someone who inspires me.

Let me introduce my friend Renee, and tell you a little bit about why she inspires me. I first met Renee about a year ago when my son and I were walking around our neighborhood. It just so happened that she and her son were also walking around the neighborhood at the same time. Her son was flying around on his bike, and my son began to chase after him. Little did I know, this was the beginning of a great friendship, both for my son and for myself.

As I mentioned in the previous post, my son has Asperger’s syndrome, and the fact that he took notice of Renee’s son was a good enough excuse to ask for her phone number. Then she told me she was training for a half-marathon, and I really got excited. I was not running at the time, and missing it, and was hopeful that I could at least run vicariously through someone else.  And then….she told me she was also pregnant! I was blown away that a pregnant woman would want to run at all–I remember having no energy in my first trimester.

Well, our friendships blossomed, and so did my beautiful friend Renee. Unfortunately, her doctor told her she had to stop running, and I know she was disappointed to miss the half she had been training so hard for.

She had a beautiful, healthy little baby boy this past October. Only one month later, she started running again. Again, I was impressed. I know she must’ve been so tired some days. But she got out there and did it anyway.

She’s training for the half again, and I really don’t have any doubt in my mind she will do it. She’s got the grit and the determination. She’s got the desire. That’s 90% of the battle right there.

Renee inspires me. She’s inspiring me to get my pansy butt outside even when it’s cold (for me, cold is anything below 50 degrees). She’s an amazing person, and that’s not lip service.

Who inspires you?