Thursday, January 29, 2015

Needing a Fix

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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Transition Week

Last week I finally emerged back into the world of the living, although I admit it was a bit of a tough transition. After 3.5 weeks off from work between planned vacation and then being sick, I came back to an unfinished major project and a very compressed timeline. It was already a bit behind before break due to the development work taking longer than expected, but I thought that the two weeks that I had after break would be enough to make up the time on my part of the project. Cut that down to one week due to my being sick, and what I’ll be bringing to the users this afternoon is not as bulletproof as I had hoped, but still pretty good, I think. The main thing lacking is that I didn’t have enough quality assurance time to provide irrefutable proof of its bulletproofness, which is an extra bit of confidence that I would have liked to have had.

Anyway, I only touch on the boring details of worky stuff to provide context for what was going on as I tried to pull myself from the freedom of physical incapacity to the realm of, “Okay, you’re not *actually* sick anymore, and Death March is eight weeks away, so you need to get moving.” The problem, it seemed, was that the “kill it with fire” round of antibiotics that the doctor had prescribed on my third visit had also killed the fire in my belly that was burning hot when I returned from our holiday travels. I was suffering the effects of giving into physical incapacity lingered beyond my actual incapacitation. Admittedly, I was still very tired, very stressed, and still had a injured rib muscle, but I also realized that there is a time when one’s lack of energy is more from inertia than from actually being sick.

I made it to the gym for a short, light weight training session on Monday, but getting through the rest of the week proved to be enough of a challenge on its own. So it wasn’t until the weekend that I decided I absolutely must start physically moving forward again, in one capacity or another. My much-belated first bike ride of 2015 was unimpressive, but it served its purpose of getting me moving again. Since the temperature was predicted to max out in the high 20’s on Saturday, but the amount of accumulated snow wasn’t too bad, we rode our singlespeeds out to the little 2.5 mile, in-town mountain bike trail and did a couple of laps there. Riding a rigid singlespeed on winter-condition trails (combo of snow, leaf piles, and frozen ruts), even flat ones, might not be the best choice when you’re already feeling weak and out of shape, but it was a good way to get us out the door in such cold temperatures.

 I had wanted to get back to endurance riding on Sunday, but after my experience on Saturday, I conceded that “endurance” was going to have to be really relative for a little while. I decided that 20-25 was probably as far as I should push it my first time back on the road. The first five miles felt absolutely terrible, with me slumped over my bars mentally repeating, “Pedal, pedal, pedal.” After that, I guess I warmed up a bit and was able to comfortably spin through the rest of the ride at a decent pace without pushing too hard. My sit bones were about done at the end of 21 miles, so I guess the conservative approach was best. It’s just annoying to be so far off from where I wanted to be at this point of the year.

So the next few weeks I’ll just keep trying to rebuild what I can before Death March. I’m admittedly less stoked than I was a few weeks ago, knowing that our chances of actually being competitive have rapidly gone downhill. I guess eight weeks is still enough time to see some improvements, and if nothing else, it will be a good investment in my return to mountain bike racing later in the spring.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Letting Go

His hands are in my hair
His clothes are in my room
And his voice is a familiar sound
Nothing lasts forever
But this is getting good now

It would be an understatement to say that my carefully laid out Death March training plan that I outlined in my last post isn't exactly working out as I had hoped. Since then, we went on an epic holiday trip that included driving from PA to OK to IL and back in ten days. I managed to get in a few good gravel rides over the course of the trip, and I even set out for a 52-mile "rip the Bandaid off" ride the day after we returned. It was honestly pretty awful, as Frank was sick and I have not done a solo pavement ride that long in probably four years. I wanted to get out and get it over with, though, knowing that each successive ride would be less awful and more productive. Or so I thought.

The next day I succumbed to Frank's bug, which had been an unwelcome Christmas present from my mother, but it seemed to hit me faster and harder than it had either of them. After nearly two weeks and three trips to the doctor, I can't say exactly what it was, but the most likely candidate was just a sinus infection that somehow triggered some latent asthma. All I know is that I spent a week unable to sleep in the bed at night without feeling like I was choking and going into violent coughing attacks. It took an inhaler, a round of prednisone, and eventually some antibiotics to finally beat the inflammation in my lungs back into submission. At this point the sickness is more or less gone; I'm just working on recovering from the weak/tired feeling, getting my voice back, and healing the pulled rib muscle that I injured during a particularly bad fit of coughing.

Doctor Visit #1: The Nebulizer
The interesting part was that as the illness dragged on I realized a) I wouldn't be able to ride in the 50 degree temperatures last Sunday b) I wouldn't be making it in work all week, despite needing to prepare for a huge project coming up c) I definitely would not be riding this weekend, either. Through each battle lost I remembered the freedom that comes from physical incapacity. It wasn't as strong as when I had my pancreas surgery a few years ago, but I definitely got to the point where I had to say, "Fine. Whatever happens, happens" in regard to work and Death March preparation. At some point I had to admit that it was beyond my control and there was no point in beating myself up for the setbacks.

This year's Death March campaign was already my way of grabbing at the last straws of perceived control in my life. Now even that is out of my hands, and I feel oddly free. You see, most of the fall was spent worrying about Frank's job search for next year. He applied all kinds of places, and each time I would research the local cyclocross scene, mountain bike trails, etc., so that I could somehow make myself okay with moving there, if needed. He applied to jobs at James Madison University and Appalachian State, so there was a chance that things could actually just fall into place at an okay school in a great mountain biking town, and we would move there and live happily ever after. I never let myself get too attached to that idea, though. I spent my time trying to figure out how I was going to adjust to less-ideal conditions. Then it turned out that he didn't even get a phone interview for any of the jobs, and I was just left with my jaw hanging, as that was the one possibility for which I hadn't prepared.

In some ways, I'm quite happy to stay in State College for another year, but I'm disappointed for him not being able to achieve his goals as quickly as he'd hoped. I'm also anxious because I just want to be on the other side of the uncertainty. I'm more okay with settling down in a place not as good as State College if it's permanent. As it now, I don't want to get too attached. A big part of me just wants to go wherever it is we're going to go and settle down, make friends, buy a house, get married, adopt a dog, and all of that. I want to be done. Then I realize, what are we going to do when we're done?

That is why it is easy to focus on bike racing goals; because they are impermanent in their nature. You put in a few week or months of work, and then what you want happens or it doesn't. Then you move on to the next goal. It was never meant to last. And if, say, a two-week illness messes one up, there's always another.

So I guess my recent imprisonment on the couch has been a good reminder that even when I think I'm in control, I'm not. With both bikes and life, I just need to do the best I can for now and enjoy it while it lasts. Our life here is State College is pretty good, even if it's not what we want in the end. Since I now admittedly have no idea what's going to happen at this point, I guess that also means that "the end" may end up to be some place more awesome than I had could have imagined and totally worth the wait. Either way, it seems that trying to predict the future is not very fruitful, so I'm going to my best to stop trying.