Last weekend’s training wasn’t worth blogging about. On Friday night I started to develop the same sort of sore throat and headache that signaled the beginning of my Christmas break hell sickness. However, instead of turning to hell sickness on day three like it did earlier in the month, I am now on day six of an annoying sore throat with which I don’t know where the relationship is going. We went out for a 20 mile road ride on Saturday, but since then I have been exceptionally lazy, unsure of whether I should avoid further taxing of my body or just move on with my life.
I’ve been having a hard time since getting sick at the beginning of January, and the specter of another illness looming has done nothing to help me get on the right track. When we returned from our holiday travels, I was so motivated to jump into my planned training and prepare for my return to Death March glory (and by glory I mean hoping for another second place and maybe finishing less than an hour behind Scott and Janelle). Then two weeks on the couch sucked away any fitness that I already had and most of my motivation to train along with it. Somewhere in the last few years, riding for more than an hour on the road when it’s below 30 degrees became unacceptable to me, although the recent weather is proving that to be a necessity if one wants to both live in Central Pennsylvania and not suck at Death March. Finally, I faced the challenges of rushing to prepare for my project launch during the first couple of weeks back at work, during which I reached the point of thinking, “This is too hard; I can’t do it,” and fighting the urge to put my head down on my desk and cry at some point of each day during those two weeks. The upshot of this is that this January has left me physically and emotionally drained, and that I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to determine what I need to do about that.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve struggled with a binge eating disorder since my freshman year of college. I first brought it up because for about a year and a half when I was in the midst of all my other major life overhauls, I thought I was cured. It’s a bit ironic that for the year that I lived alone and could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with no one from whom to hide the wrappers, I was more-or-less binge-free. For several reasons, I’ve been slipping into my old patterns since moving to State College, where my ability to act on those urges is pretty limited. While I love that I can be honest with Frank about my emotional imperfections and have never once felt put down or judged by him for it, I’m not going to sit there and let him watch me eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and most of a box of Cheez-Its when I get home from work. One would think that never really being home alone to binge and having another person motivating me to prepare healthy home cooked food each night would keep the bingeing at bay, but like a true addict, it seems that not having the choice as to whether or not I act on my urges only makes them worse. This often leads to my sneaking unsatisfying quantities of whatever shitty junk food I can get my hands on at work, especially around the time that the “This is too hard; I can’t do it” feeling hits.
Having done all of the work on myself that I have in the last couple of years has at least made me self-aware, even if I’m nowhere close to cured. I’ve talked about my “hole” before: the deep feeling of something missing in me or just basically not being okay. During bleak times like the last month its nature becomes much more apparent: I constantly need a fix, a hit of dopamine or adrenaline, something to strive for and the belief that the effort required is worth it. And when the challenges pile up and the effort stops seeming worth it, I turn to food for my hit of dopamine.
When it manifests like this, I wonder what the “perpetual feeling of emptiness” that psychologists talk about really is. Do I truly have an emotional void that needs to be healed, or do I just have screwed up neurological wiring that I need to be aware of and manage? Also, do healthy people really just have quiet brains that don’t lead them to do self-destructive things in times where a reliable stream of positive reinforcement isn’t available? Sometimes I wish that I could take a tour inside an emotionally healthy brain just to understand what it feels like, the way this blog is my feeble attempt to give others a tour of what it’s like to live in mine and those of people like me.
When I look back at myself two years ago when I felt my most emotionally healthy, the differences are quite clear. The emptiness wasn’t any less than it is now; I was just in the midst of building myself a really awesome toolbox for combatting it. As a girl with well-manicured nails and terrible upper body strength, rock climbing not something with which I am very familiar, but I feel that I my vague understanding of it makes a good metaphor for the journey that I took in 2013.
With life events converging in a way to actually motivate me to climb out of the hole that I had come to accept would be the rest of my life, I tied my rope to the Death March. That was the line giving me gentle tugs on my journey and making sure that I didn’t crash back down to the bottom. However, I still had pull myself out one hand and foothold at a time, so that winter every time the feeling of being too tired hit, I scoured my surroundings for my next step up and resisted the urge to slip further down by bingeing. Each new step or pull was exhausting and scary: reaching out to casual acquaintances to be riding partners, sharing my painful secrets with others and by doing so taking away the power of those secrets, putting myself on the line to form new relationships that carried me to the top. Eventually, I got kind of good at finding a “fix” that didn’t include food when I needed one.
The work I did during that time lead me to a life that’s much more nurturing at its baseline: I’m in a loving relationship that makes me feel good about myself instead of inferior or flawed (I get enough of that from my own brain so I don’t need from the person with whom I share a home), and my job is the most fulfilling that I’ve ever had, even if the last month has been tough (a job is still a job). The problem is that in moving here I lost many of my foot and handholds, and also seemed to have lost much of my ability to find new ones. I can’t say enough times what a wonderful partner Frank is, but to completely rely on a single person to fulfill your emotional needs is unhealthy and likely destructive to the other person. Plus, I miss being able to go on rides and talk about chick stuff. The problem is that two years ago I converted acquaintances to friends, which, to someone with my level of social anxiety, was enough of a challenge in and of itself. Now I’m starting over with nine months’ worth of acquaintances rather than nine years’ worth from which to choose the good ones who might become real friends.
So those are the things with which I’ve been struggling lately: I’ve fallen back in the hole, albeit a better-lit, shallower one than before, and I can’t seem to find the right anchor for my rope, nor the handholds by which to pull myself up. Then there is the bigger question: Is the answer even to find a way out of the hole or to sit in it long enough to make peace? Can it be fixed, or will the rest of my life be about devising plans to get out and make sure that I don’t fall back in?
I don’t know the answers yet, but per usual, it helps me to write them down, and perhaps it will also help someone else who is reading and struggling with the same questions. I’ll let you know what I come up with.