Out of the Darkness

I’ve been quiet for months and to my two readers, I apologize. Let’s just say it’s been a rough winter and spring didn’t quite bring the quick relief I was hoping for.

December was a rough month for me. I got injured during my goal race at the start of the month and about a week later some events occurred in my professional life which brought a great deal of stress into my personal life. I am still dealing with the impact of those events today. Without my usual coping mechanism of running I felt the effects of those incidents even more. And then there are the holidays which bring the shopping stress, parties and family drama. I was looking forward to all of it being over and having a chance to decompress.

For most of us January 1st brings hope. It is the start of a new year, a clean slate and a change to start over. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

I woke up on January 1st in a fog of depression. Instead of feeling a sense of renewed hope, I felt a sense of dread. Instead of feeling peace and quiet, I felt anxiety and panic. I felt the old demons rising up. To compound issues, we experienced an unusual amount of snow this winter. Typically, I would make the most of it by getting out and skiing, but skiing was out due to my femoral stress reaction. I increased my medication. I tried to stay active in other ways. I tried to reach out to people in my support network. None of this was easy, however. I felt exhausted all of the time. I snapped at my family, the people who l love and who love me the most.

As the snow melted and the flowers began to peek up through the earth, I felt moments where the fog would start to lift. Simultaneously, my femur had healed and I was able to return to running, albeit slowly and very gradually per my coach’s instructions. I shared the story of my winter depression with some of those around me and learned that I was not alone. Often when we struggle we do so in silence, fearful of the judgment from those around us. But when we share our struggles with others we learn that we are not unique in our suffering and we are not alone. Sharing helps to normalize our struggles. If you are feeling lonely and depressed, please talk to someone. It is more common than you think. If you tell someone who does not understand, try someone else. There are so many people out there who do understand and who want to help. If you are on the receiving end of someone who is talking about depression, please listen. Just listen without judgment. You could be the light in that person’s darkness. I’ve learned through my struggles that I don’t always have to try harder, but sometimes I have to try differently. The same is true for running. Maybe I don’t need to try harder in my training, maybe I just need to try differently.

A runner who I admire and follow on social media (@paceofme) posted a photo of a Spiral of Healing recently with the following explanation:

The spiral of healing. 🌀

This image and concept resonates so deeply with me, on so many levels, and has for all my life though I didn’t really recognize it in this way until very recently.

I drew this in my journal the other day and keep coming back to it, feeling thankful for the symbolism and for what it represents to me.

When we embark on our healing journey (whether this is from a physical injury, or a broken relationship with someone you love, or patterns of thinking or behavior that are causing you pain and truly don’t serve you well, etc), we begin with awareness (often painful) at our low and as we do the work to heal, we SPIRAL UP. It’s not a straight line and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really have an endpoint really. And as we go and we grow, and learn and build strength and create a better way for ourselves, with certainty we will have moments where we stumble or fall or simply just feel like we have plummeted into complete despair.

But look, we hold on, and we spiral back up and we keep going! We aren’t where we began. We are better than before. I think it’s important to recognize that it’s a process, and to give ourselves space for the down-dips and trust that there is a purpose to them – they can almost act as a spring to catapult us up even farther I believe.

So I want to share this with you, because maybe it will resonate with you, too. We are all in this together, this beautiful messy thing called life. 💗🌀

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Her words and this image resonated so much with me that I wanted to post them here as well. Progress is not linear and just because I am not moving in a forward line (with running, with my mental health, with my career etc.) doesn’t mean that I am not making overall positive gains. No matter how many times I fall down, I know that I have the tools to continue getting up and moving forward.

 

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Houston We Have a Problem

For my upcoming 40th birthday, my husband planned a trip to Houston for the Final Four. We have both always wanted to go to the Final Four and this seemed liked a spectacular way to celebrate my milestone birthday. When we planned the trip I did not think my team, the Virginia Cavaliers, would be in the Final Four. In fact, I assumed that planning the trip pretty much guaranteed my Wahoos an early exit from the NCAA tournament. I was just hoping that the Final Four teams would be teams that I was excited about seeing and that the games would be good games.

When Virginia played well in the Sweet Sixteen and beat Iowa State, I was ecstatic. We had made it to the Elite Eight for the first time in 21 years! If we beat Syracuse on Easter Sunday, we would go to the Final Four. Living in Idaho, I do not get a chance to see my Wahoos play often. In fact, I have not had an opportunity to see them play since our beloved Tony Bennett became head coach seven years ago. The idea that I might have the chance to see them in Houston had me so nervous I could barely stand it. I would hardly allow myself to think about it for fear of getting my heart broken. I have been a Cavalier my entire life and indeed know the heartbreak that can come along with being a Wahoo. When we were up by 14 against Syracuse at half in the Elite Eight, all of my rational thinking went out the window and I allowed myself to feel the excitement of possibly getting to see Tony Bennett and the boys in Houston for the Final Four. Just 20 more basketball minutes and that would happen. We had been a second half team for much (most) of the season, so it did not seem like too tall of an order.

But alas, it was not meant to be. Syracuse would go on a 20-4 run in the second half, Virginia would collapse and my heart would break into a million pieces. I was absolutely stunned, shocked and heartbroken. Yes, over a basketball game. My friends and family who do not watch college basketball or sports do not understand at all, but fortunately I have many friends and family who get it. A loss like this one is painful. Exacerbated by the fact that we have tickets to the Final Four and I now have the pleasure of watching Syracuse play instead of my beloved Wahoos.

Immediately after the Elite Eight loss my tears flowed freely. I could not watch the post-game press conferences, nor could I bear to watch the next game between North Carolina and Notre Dame. My sweet kids tried to console me and my daughter made Virginia a beautiful trophy just from her. (Disclaimer: I felt embarrassed about my poor display of sportsmanship and have since spoken with my kids about it. However, I am human and my emotions were raw and real.) I did watch the post-game press conference the next day and I was nothing but proud of my team and my coach. They display pure character and class, and even after a gut-wrenching loss are the epitome of the Five Pillars upon which Tony Bennett’s program at UVA is based: Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood and Thankfulness. After the loss, Coach Bennett said he told the team that he had an old church hymn ringing in his ears that said tears may endure for the night, but joy will come in the morning and that he believes that joy is coming for this team. Hearing him say those words eased my heavy heart and I clung to them like a child clinging to her favorite blankie.

However, for me joy did not come the next morning. Or the next. Or the next. You see, to make things more complicated, I struggle with depression. And I never know which seemingly inconsequential life or seasonal event is going to send me into a tailspin. It could be the change of the weather, a fight with a friend, or, in this case, a gut-wrenching basketball loss. To even further complicate things, running, which helps keep me sane and level headed, is not happening for me right now. About a week ago against my better judgment I did a speed workout while sick. Towards the end of it my right foot started to hurt. By the end of my cooldown it was hurting so much I was limping. I ended up taking a week off, tried to run again, and same issue. My left foot is bothering me as well in a different area. So I have concerns about a stress reaction or fracture and cannot run. Running is a major component of my mental health regimen and not being able to do it causes issues for me. So it has been a rough week on multiple fronts.

On an unrelated note, I halved my antidepressant medication several weeks ago. I had been feeling great, I have the ultimate goal of weaning off of it one day, and with the warmer weather and longer days coming I thought the timing was good. The side effects of cutting down the medication were rough at first (I felt lightheaded and dizzy for weeks), but I was finally feeling normal and good. Until Sunday night.

After about two days of watching me mope around the house over a basketball loss, my husband told me it was time to re-up my medication.  His comment made me angry. I thought he was not giving me proper credit for my ability to fend the depression off myself. I am tough. I am strong. I am a working mother of three who runs marathons and has successfully fought depression my entire adult life. He was not giving me enough time to tough it out.

But that is the thing about depression. It does not care who you are, what you have done, how tough you think you are or how determined you are. Depression takes over the rational part of your brain. It renders you unable to see or feel the good in your life. Stifling out the sunshine and beauty, you feel like you are walking through mud. Basic tasks like taking a shower and getting dressed feel Herculean. Depression is a silent killer because many of those who suffer are so stoic that you would never know they are suffering. But make no doubt that it is indeed a killer. When left untreated or treated improperly, depression can be terminal.

I wrestled with the demons in my head for a couple of days about going back to my full dose of medication, but I got tired of walking through the mud. My husband and kids deserve more. I deserve more. If I were a diabetic using insulin or a patient with high blood pressure taking high blood pressure medication to manage my blood pressure, I would not deny my body the medication that it so badly needs. And although we do not have a test to medically quantify it yet, I have a deficiency or imbalance in my brain that the medication helps repair. I know this because just two days after returning to my full dose I already feel better. I can get dressed with ease. I do not feel like I am going to burst into tears at any second. I do not feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. And I can get on the plane to Houston with my family and feel the moments of joy as we spend time with friends celebrating my birthday and watching the Final Four. Yes, I still feel sad that Virginia will not be there, but I feel proud of what they accomplished this season and I feel hopeful that one day they will make the Final Four, Tony Bennett will cut down the nets, and when they do it will be that much sweeter. And I will get to cry tears of joy.