Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Brain Dump

I understand the things that keep you up
And I know that you still feel
And I know your heart is hemorrhaging
And needs some time to heal
And now the traffic lights there on your street 
Flash yellow all the time
And that mirror in your bathroom 
It looks cracked in the wrong light
But walk out through your threshold
Fill your lungs up and move on down the stairs
And let the things you love come back to you 
In time we'll all get there

It would be real nice just to fly a way
And escape everything
But little bird looks like you've got a broken wing
Now anything so easy
It might not make you weak
But it sure won't make me believe

Christmas break has come and gone, and having returned to real life and kicked off 2016 training, I’ve been feeling weird about the contrast between my last two posts and the fact that I’ve let it sit on a bummer note for three weeks now. There’s the obvious answer of having traveled to Oklahoma for a week of that period, but a lot of it was just not being back to a place having something nice, or at least coherent, to say. I still don’t know if I do, but perhaps a brain dump is what I need.

The underlying theme of my recent breakdown is much the same struggle that I’ve had the whole time since moving to State College. Basically, it’s that I can’t have all of the things that I want at once. Three years ago, I realized how badly I’d let my life become devoid of human connection and started fighting to change that. Since more or less the only people I knew were through bikes, all of my efforts to reach out to people involved riding.

I had a new found determination and a plan to improve myself. Even when I didn’t have plans or people to ride with, I was very good about keeping up my training and eating well, so that I would feel good when the opportunity to ride with others came up, rather than falling into my old depressive behavior when I was alone. After years of struggling with inconsistent training and binge eating, which made me feel gross and shut myself off from the world, I ended up getting in better shape and getting leaner than I’d ever been while training to make friends than I ever did training for a goal race.

When I started relying on people and bikes in tough times instead of food, I started to make friends quickly and have a much busier social calendar than I ever could have imagined. And I handled it so well! Late nights, exposure to “trigger foods”, and overnight travel used to be big fears for me, but they were suddenly minor prices to pay to spend with all of my new found companions.

The one thing I was missing was a romantic relationship, which was an important thing motivating my change. The realization that 32 was still too young to give up on love and sex was what gave me the courage to leave a comfortable but disconnected marriage rather than just living out my life trying to get what I needed from platonic relationships only. However, I was definitely not expecting commenting on a stranger’s dinner on Instagram to escalate into true love within three months of moving into my own place.

It’s almost as if success came too quickly to last. In less than a year of the vague realization that I was putting my energy into the wrong things, I suddenly had my own place, a tiny lime green car, a badly-behaved kitten, lots of friends and things to do, and a dude who I was madly in love with, while also managing a previously unknown-to-me level of fitness and 14% body fat on the side. I found it hard to maintain as the months wore on and more and more of my energy went into driving back and forth to Pennsylvania, and less of it went to other friends or bikes. My friends all had lives and significant others of their own, and Frank was by far my favorite person to spend time with, so the friendships that hadn’t yet had time to establish deep roots started to suffer.

Then, after less than a year in my own place, I made the jump to come live in State College with Frank full-time. It was basically the culmination of what I’d hoped to achieve when I first set out on my journey, but I’d had no idea of the other things that would be gained and lost along the way. I quickly lost touch with my friends in Indiana beyond the occasional text, and I no longer wanted to reach out when I was feeling down for fear of being seen as a drama queen or crisis-only friend. For a variety of reasons, my fitness plummeted during my first year in State College, and the binge eating started to reemerge shortly after the move and continued in new and varied forms to be as bad as it ever was.

I’m glad I moved to State College, because ultimately I’m better off here and my relationship with Frank has been everything that I’d hoped it would be, but I’ve admittedly spent a good chunk of the last year and a half mourning the things that were lost along the way. Obviously, I feel bad about the friendships that blossomed and then withered so quickly because I didn’t put enough into them, and I miss the way my body felt those months of my life. Mostly I miss how emotionally strong and resilient I felt, and I guess I’m kind of mad at myself not being able to maintain that level of stability through a cross country move, the change in lifestyle that comes with actually *living* with another person rather than just sharing a house, and working in a job that, while much more intellectually stimulating than the one I was in when I had all that capacity for self-improvement, also takes up a lot more of my energy.

The last few months have provided some glimmers of hope that I might, in fact, be able to restore balance among the things that I care about once again. Learning to climb all of the things in Rothrock last summer was a big inspiration for me training-wise, although it didn’t seem to help my ‘cross season much, and I started to regress as my weekends were taken up by racing and weekday evenings turned dark. Now that fat bike season is giving me not only the freedom to do long rides, but the necessity, my biggest challenge is making something useful of the dark weeknights between now and daylight savings time. Getting to know the Laser Cats has also been a huge help in starting to establish a much-needed East Coast bike family, and I still get enough reminders that Frank and are never forgotten amongst our little clan in Illinois. It’s a good reminder that even though I can now see my favorite person without ever leaving the house, there are important rewards to finding the energy to venture out and see the other worthwhile human beings in the outside world.

I guess the biggest struggle these days is really that I’ve full-on regressed to abusing food a coping mechanism for whatever else is going on my life. It’s not just about my weight and health, although it is a lot nicer living my body when I’m treating it well. I think it’s really about not wanting to be dependent on something that is bad for me, and feeling in control of my actions and life. When I began my positive changes before, getting my eating until control was actually the first thing I accomplished, because I found that reaching out to people felt good and eating for comfort felt bad. Then not feeling crappy from binge eating was what gave me the strength to achieve even more positive effects.

The problem is that when it happened before it was sort of like a magical switch was flipped for me. One positive interaction killed my desire to binge eat for a couple of days, which made me feel better physically, which further made it easier not to binge eat. The successes built one brick at a time. Once I moved to State College, it was almost a reverse effect. One slip-up lead to another, and another, and I kept hoping to find that old magic switch again to make it easy, but I never did. My old tricks for getting by don’t work as well in my new lifestyle, and I have yet to find any new successful coping mechanisms. Right now I’m a few days “clean” by white-knuckle power alone, but that’s never really held up long term in the past, and typically when I do fall into a bout of depression or anxiety a big part of it is because I’m afraid that I will never be able to handle life without abusing food again.

So it’s clear that I won’t be really be happy until I’ve fully and successfully got binge eating’s butt kicked again. Without that magic switch that I’ve been waiting on, I’m still not really sure how, but I need to figure it out.

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