Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best news of the week so far

Not related to the best news of the week so far, BUT: I'm feeling better about the marathon. First of all, I FINISHED A MARATHON. So right there I should feel pretty good. Moreover, I felt great for most of it and my pace - for most of it - was consistent. Also, the Space Coast Marathon has fabulous medals.

This is not to say that I am totally pleased with how everything went, but at least now I'm not borderline despondent. I'm already thinking about the next marathon and what I can do to avoid the mistakes I made this time around.

The plan from here:
  • Lots of Xtend Barre for the next couple of weeks. I went to a class tonight and was surprised that I could still plie, given how sore my quads have been (yesterday I could barely walk on anything but a flat surface; I nearly took a header stepping off a curb)
  • Run tomorrow and/or Friday - short runs of ~3-4 miles
  • Sunday: Longer run of 6ish miles
  • Next week: start ramping into post-marathon training
  • End of December/beginning of January: start training for next marathon (likely one at the end of March)
Does anyone know of a good training plan for after a marathon? I want to give myself time to recover from the 26.2, but I also want to maintain my fitness level. In particular, I want to be able to continue doing long runs that are between 10 and 16 miles.

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Best news of the week so far: I found out that my town offers a shuttle to and from the city. I tried it out yesterday, and it felt like heaven! Comfy seats on a tour-type bus, CNN on the bus televisions, electrical outlets for plugging in my computer, and the best thing: I didn't have to deal with the traffic. I just sat there in my plush chair, drank my coffee, and started a report I've been meaning to get to. The ride back in the evening was much the same.

Commuting has been an enormous stressor for me. Traffic around here is truly awful. I've lived in the Bay area, which is notorious for its traffic, but I honestly think it's worse here. At least twice a week I end up stuck behind an accident, usually involving one person rear-ending another right in the middle of the highway. Even without accidents, there's the normal rush hour slowdown and the folks who insist on going 20 miles under the speed limit in the middle lanes. Aside from the focus, grit, and patience it takes to deal with driving, the other thing that wears me out about commuting is that it is a daily two-hour time sink. I try to use the drive as a time to plan out my day and listen to music, but there are so many other things I'd rather be doing with those hours. At least on the bus, I'd have time to get a few things done, read some books, catch up with the news...

The price of the commuter bus is a little steep at $4 one way. I think the way to really take advantage of this would be to buy a ticket packet, which is offered at a discount, and ride the shuttle on a regular basis. In the long term, I'm pretty sure we'd save money on gas, car repairs, and parking. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Marathon: I'm going to need time to work through it

The Space Coast Marathon was yesterday. We finished in 4:42 and some change. The first 21 miles went really well; we ran between a 10 and 10:30 pace, hydrated properly, ate a few gels, and cheered on the faster runners who had already looped back around (it is an out-and-back course). RF and I wore matching shirts and shorts, and everyone kept calling us "the twins," which was kind of fun/funny - especially since I am about 30 pounds heavier than she is, and 7 years older.

Between miles 21 and 22, I hit the wall. It happened so quickly and suddenly that I truly did not see it coming. One second I felt fine. The next, it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My legs felt like concrete and my brain shut down. I did not want people to cheer me on. I did not want RF's encouragement. I wanted to be invisible so that I could fight my way through the last few miles entirely on my own. At one point a well-meaning spectator yelled at us to go faster and it was all I could do not to turn and scream "FUCK YOU" while flipping her off.

A weird thing happened with RF around mile 23 or 24. She was clearly feeling totally fine, and her chipper comments to me and to the other runners were wearing on me. I knew I was holding her back and I felt horribly horribly guilty about it. So in addition to the mental challenge of simply continuing, there was also this overpowering sense that I was failing her. I asked her to please run on ahead, and I meant it. It would have made me feel better - less guilty and more focused. In no way was I testing her loyalty. She refused. A few minutes later I asked her again, and she turned and snapped at me, saying that I was trying to make her feel bad.

At that point it was all I could do not to cry. I also hyperventilated a few times - literally could not breathe, and had to pull to the side and put my head between my knees.

In the end, the physical pain was manageable, but the mental/emotional confusion was nearly intolerable. Truth is, I cried at the finish line, cried in the shower, took a break from crying to eat lunch, and then cried for two straight hours in the car. And it wasn't crying out of relief or crying because the race was hard (which it was)... It felt more like the kind of crying that taps into old sadness.

I can't say I feel particularly good about the marathon. I know we went out to fast; had we reined it in more, I would have had more gas in the tank at the end. So I feel bad that I did not follow common running sense. I know my friend was capable of a faster time, and the way she kept checking her watch made me think she wanted to do more than finish. I don't really understand what happened to me mentally at the end; it was much worse than the soreness in my legs. And I feel bad for not having a more positive feeling about this run. Why can't I have a sense of accomplishment? Why do I have to be so negative?

My outlook might change in the next few days, and I'm going to give it time. Right now my brain is just worn out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This marathon brought to you by NEON

The marathon is on Sunday.

It's Wednesday night. 

This tapering is making me crazy!

I wish I could run it tomorrow - not because I want to get it over with but because I am just so darn excited about this thing. I may not feel that way at mile 22, of course, but I'm pumped about the challenge. Plus, I really want to run. It's weird to go from doing weeks of 40-50 miles to weeks of ~10-15 miles.

This is the Space Coast Marathon, so RF and I have decided to go with a neon theme. Because, you know. Space = aliens. Aliens = neon. Or something. For whatever reason, the neon seems entirely appropriate.

My running outfit is all planned out:

Neon yellow socks.
Bright pink sleeves for the first few miles when it's cold (this thing starts at 6:15 a.m.! I'm going to freeze.)
Neon yellow and pink shirt, which we plan to decorate with neon pink duct tape.
Neon headband.
Neon fingernail polish.

Oh, and shorts. They're not shown here, but not because I plan on running pantless. They're pretty understated and nondescript compared to everything else. I wish I could do more of a costume-type thing, but I've never tried that before, even for a short run. So that'll have to wait until I'm more marathon-savvy.

Now that that's all planned out, I can go back to watching Honey Boo Boo and twiddling my thumbs.


Is it normal to feel like a Chihuahua on crack three days out from a marathon? 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Depression, etc.: How important is a diagnosis?

At my second therapy session three-ish years ago - right after Therapy Guy finished my intake questionnaire - I asked him what was wrong with me. I wanted a diagnosis. I'd already done my research and had narrowed down the possibilities, so I was quite prepared to handle whatever answer he gave.

"There is nothing wrong with you," he responded. 

Except that answer.

It pissed me off. A lot. How did he know? Had he lived inside my head for the past two decades? Nope. I knew something was not right. He simply didn't know me well enough. Because if he did, he would surely see that there was something very, very, very wrong.

Now that I am familiar with him and his compassionate, kind nature, I know that what he didn't mean was, You're making all this up. You're just some thirtysomething suburbanite with too much time on her hands, and you don't need to be here. Instead, what he meant was, You are perfectly fine and worthy just as you are - you just don't believe it yet. You may be struggling but you can make your life better. 

For a long time, he would give some version of the "There's nothing wrong with you" statement every time I asked him what my problem was. Even when I brought in journal entries that made me sound insane. Even when I cut myself. Even when I called him really late at night from two time zones away, crying into his voicemail. He always insisted that I was an acceptable person, deserving of concern and care, and that there was nothing innately wrong or bad about me.

Therapy Guy is not a big fan of the psychiatric diagnostic manual. He views it as a collection of symptoms ("experiences," he calls them) packaged in a variety of convenient ways. Patients in the mental health system are typically labeled with one of these "experience packages," even though everyone's set of experiences is unique, and even though the labels are often given for the primary purpose of appeasing insurance providers. That is why Therapy Guy doesn't deal with insurance companies, and why he treats the individual, not a diagnosis. I see what he means: looking at the diagnostic manual, I could probably give myself a whole slew of labels, and yet none of them would really fit exactly what I deal with.

On the other hand, his reluctance to offer a diagnosis has always bothered me a little, and when I finally did receive one from my psychiatrist early this year, it was kind of a relief. I deal with symptoms of depression. I deal with symptoms of PTSD. And while that doesn't mean I equate them with who I am or the change I am capable of, yes, it's really nice to have a framework of reference from which to work. (I now realize that Therapy Guy was already working within that general framework, so it's not as if I was totally off track in terms of trying to get better.) My psychiatrist's choice of antidepressant - Zoloft - was based on research indicating that it is effective for PTSD. That's why she picked it as a starting point for me. Pharmaceutically, it gave us a place to begin.

Moreover, it's nice to feel that I am not alone. When I hear someone say that they struggle with depression or PTSD, I know that even though our experiences aren't exactly the same, we share some common ground. I can relate to the challenge. It's comforting. The label - while limiting in some ways, and inadequate - creates a sense of community, and for people like me who often feel isolated and different, that sense of community is meaningful to me.

The important thing to realize about mental health diagnoses (as with many physical health diagnoses) is that they aren't necessarily permanent. Mental health is a fluid thing, and our personal choices play a big role in it. Most psychiatric conditions are treatable. Doesn't mean treatment is easy, but it's possible. So even though I was diagnosed with PTSD in February, I may not always have PTSD (there are many, many excellent treatments for PTSD; with enough time and support, people do recover). And even though I may have a genetic predisposition to depression, I may be able - with help and vigilance - to avoid the worst relapses. 

As Therapy Guy likes to say, People have an immense capacity for change.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Re-establishing the gluten-free habit

I got glutened this past weekend during a camping trip for a class that I'm teaching. Or rather, I glutened myself, which is a much more accurate way of putting it. And I have felt unwell ever since.

We were in a rural area with few food options. We made a delicious, GF (gluten free) camp meal the night we arrived, but I'd forgotten to bring lunch or any truly substantial snacks for the next day. We got up early and drove from stop to stop, and I quickly felt my stomach begin to gnaw on itself. I had an apple handy, and a Larabar, but these were no match for the bottomless, insatiable pit that is my stomach.

By lunchtime I was beginning to feel dizzy and cranky. I could feel the hangriness coming on. So when we stopped at McDonald's (don't ask, not my choice but the only restaurant option where we were), I threw caution to the wind and ordered a snack wrap, fries, and a soda.

Thing is, I've started to wonder recently just how intolerant I actually am to gluten. I've never been officially tested for Celiac disease. After three years of following a GF lifestyle, I've been thinking that perhaps I made the whole thing up just to ride along on the now-crowded GF bandwagon. And I decided to test that hypothesis at a notoriously unhealthy fast food joint... while hundreds of miles from home... during a trip where I was responsible for driving and relaying information to 20 students.

Did I mention that I washed down my lunch with a pack of peanut M&Ms?

Clearly it wasn't just the gluten - McD's is probably tough on even the hardiest stomachs - but I now recall WHY I went GF in the first place. Part of it is the whole bathroom situation. It's partly the really odd, inappropriate gurgling sounds reverberating throughout my belly. Part of it is the fatigue. But another big part - the part I'd completely forgotten - is the feeling that my abdomen is swollen. It's like my insides are sore and inflamed. It's unnerving, and it can last for several days.

I haven't been eating all that well for about a month now. Training for a marathon means that I am hungry all the time, and I've been traveling a lot, which means that I've relied fairly heavily on high-sodium restaurant food and "healthy" snacks from gas stations and airport kiosks. Seeing friends whom I haven't seen in a long time at conferences means that occasionally I've consumed more alcohol than I normally would. So even without the gluten, my digestive system has been suffering. This was just the final blow.

But I'm back on the GF track now, and I'm going to be very careful - especially in these weeks before the marathon - to eat what I know my body likes. Also, I'm going to have to be more diligent about preparing myself for situations where healthy food options might not be readily at hand.

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Tonight my son and I made brownies for his school's bake sale tomorrow. They're gluten free, dairy free, and oil free, and based on the little nibble I had, they're pretty darn good. I hope they sell.

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The marathon is a week from Sunday! I'm so excited. As the event approaches, I'm sure I'll also feel a bit nervous. But mainly I am looking forward to being in Florida with my family and tackling this challenge with my friend.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain

Today I saw my therapist for the first time in several weeks. His wife just had a baby, so he's been taking a paternity leave.

Two years ago, a year ago, even six months ago, his absence would have been very difficult for me to cope with. The inability to reach him by phone, to set up an emergency appointment, would have made me feel panicked and abandoned.

(I know that might sound weird to some of you. All I can tell you is that when you have grown up feeling like you can't really depend on or trust anyone because they will eventually screw you over, and when you have so many relational hangups that are so ingrained in you that for the longest time you don't even realize they are there, when someone trustworthy and parental finally does come along and sticks with you, the bond is very strong. And age does not matter.)

But this time, I just felt happy for him. I was so busy with running, working, traveling, parenting, having fun with friends and my husband, and - dare I say it? - thoroughly enjoying my life that when my therapist finally did call me back to set up a new appointment, I didn't get around to calling him back for nearly a week. I was just in my zone, and I wasn't in a hurry to see him again. As it was, I felt like I had little to discuss.

Fast forward to my session with him today. We talked about recent goings-on, how being nice to myself by "talking" to myself in a positive way is actually working, about how even though circumstances haven't really changed (including the common presence of difficult emotions), my way of handling them has. I have worked very hard to change the way I treat myself, to be more self-aware, and to give myself space and encouragement. What I've recently realized is that little by little, I have established an internal "new normal." 

These are all very good things, but I ended up crying quite a bit during the session . I don't quite understand why, but I think part of it is the sense that this very difficult part of my journey is coming to an end. And although this journey to deal with the past and rewire old behavioral patterns has been hard, it has also been intensely profound. One amazing thing about it is the bond I have developed with my therapist. It is a deep and meaningful relationship, as is any relationship in which individuals overcome an exceptionally difficult challenge together. 

But I don't need my therapist the way I used to. Even if I do feel depressed again, even if difficult situations arise (as they surely will), I am simply less dependent on him now, and that likely won't change even if circumstances should nosedive. It's a good thing, but it makes me feel sad, too, because it means that our paths are starting to diverge.

It's not just about him. It's also about the hard things I have realized, the difficult memories I've had to look full in the face, the struggle to take responsibility for my own life now. I'm not the same as I used to be. And even though I like my life now, I guess there is some sadness in realizing that there are certain things I am moving on from.

This post sounds sappier than I intended it to be. I heard this song on the way home and was struck by how it mirrors the mood in my head right now:

Two Fingers - Jake Bugg

"So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain
Light a cigarette and wish the world away
I got out, I got out, I'm alive and I'm here to stay
So I hold two fingers up to yesterday
Light a cigarette and smoke it all away
I got out, I got out, I'm alive and I'm here to stay

There's a story for every corner of this place
Running so hard you got out but your knees got grazed
I'm an old dog but I learned some new tricks yeah"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reasons to Run: Breaking Down Barriers

Running has done so much for me - physically, mentally, even spiritually, depending on your definition of spirituality. It's helped me get, and stay, in reasonably good shape. It's been a lifeline when I'm depressed; sometimes it's the only thing that gets me up and on my feet. And it's connected me to a larger community, an inclusive, welcoming community with common values and objectives. It's made me feel less alone.

One goal I have for this blog (assuming I don't fall of the blogging wagon again) is to share the "gospel of running," so to speak. ;-) That may sound a little silly, but I think running is one of many potential catalysts for personal change and growth; it's also one that happens to be relatively inexpensive and doesn't require much equipment. I realize that not everyone wants to run, and that other people use other activities - yoga, climbing, religion, therapy, etc. - as catalysts for change. But it's worth touting running as an option.

One reason I love running is because it breaks down so many internal and external barriers, allowing people to be more real and vulnerable with themselves and one another, and more accepting of differences. For instance:

1) In running, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, country of origin, political beliefs, etc. do not matter. They just don't. None of these factors have anything to do with the act of running. Running bypasses, if not destroys, superficial barriers that seem to cause so many problems in our world and that blind us to our common human experiences.

2) In running, weight and appearance do not matter. When I started running, I was embarrassed to run on city streets because I felt fat and thought people were laughing at me. Granted, it is possible that someone may have made fun of me - but certainly no other runner has ever taunted me. That is simply not the running way. True runners respect and encourage other runners - regardless of how they look or what their pace is - simply because they are challenging themselves. As for bystanders who make fun of a runner's appearance? ...Well, they're the ones just standing there, or sitting in their cars in morning traffic. Who are they to cast judgment?

If you're afraid to start running because you're worried about how you look, try to find a place where you feel at least a little safe from the eyes of others, like a quiet park. Better yet, migrate to where the experienced, dedicated runners work out, like a local track, because even if they're in better shape, there's at least a 99.9% chance that they're going to support you and respect you just for getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other.

3) In running, people understand that everybody poops! Run for a while and you will quickly discover that the usual societal taboos regarding bodily functions don't really apply in the running world. Pooping, passing gas, puking, intestinal distress, figuring out where to pee when there's no bathroom available - these are all topics that runners tend to discuss with enthusiasm. Most runners have their fair share of stories involving said topics, and most runners don't blink twice when their running buddies have issues with bodily functions during races or training runs. It goes with the territory. Run for a while and you are sure to encounter a situation where you regret last night's dinner or have to duck behind a tree.

Poop levels the playing field. Again, it's about shared human experiences.

4) In running, pace does not matter. Well, it does matter a little in that if you run with other people, you have to figure out a way to accommodate different speeds. Either you have to split up (which is fine - you're still running together in spirit), or someone has to run faster while someone else runs more slowly (also fine, as modifying your pace will offer an additional challenge to the workout). But generally speaking, runners recognize that it's about the personal challenge. For some, moving from a 10-minute-per-mile pace to a 9-minute pace is a huge accomplishment; for others, running 20 miles at a 9-minute pace is a relaxing run. The important thing is that people meet their own personal goals and, if they so choose, set their own personal records.

5) In running, there's not much room for faking it. Especially if you're pushing yourself. When you run, you're breathing harder, you're focusing on how your body feels and on how far (or how long) you've been running, and there's less room for worrying about what other people think of you. And that is a really good thing, especially when you run with other people. As I've mentioned before, I've had a tough time making and keeping friends because I'm very self-conscious. But with the people I run with, I have little choice but to be myself - even when that means I'm frustrated or tired or grouchy. They see me when I'm not at my best, and that vulnerability provides more fertile ground for these relationships to develop.

6) Running breaks down mental barriers and perceived limitations. This is one of my favorite things about running. When I started, I thought I couldn't run for 10 minutes without stopping. Then one day I did. I thought I couldn't run for 30 minutes without stopping. After a while, I could. I was sure I wouldn't be able to run a marathon. It was a struggle, but I crossed that finish line. Running gives me an opportunity to surpass my own expectations for myself, and that in turn gives me hope/confidence that maybe, just maybe, I can surpass my own expectations in other areas of my life. In this way, it's helped me see that I am capable of change and growth, even when I feel stuck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Running as a way to mitigate depression and anxiety?

I've been away - not at the loony bin (though sometimes it's certainly a distinct possibility), but at a professional conference. Actually, wait. This professional conference IS like a loony bin, except that few of the people there actually recognize they have issues and the majority of them don't see psychiatrists. Same issues, less recognition. Always interesting.

Anyway, so first I was preparing for this conference (in the form of putting together a talk, which took a ridiculous amount of time and which put a spotlight on my poor graphic design/PowerPoint skills), and then I was at the conference, and then I was drinking and eating and giving my talk and reuiniting with people I hadn't seen in a while. And drinking more. 

Very little running was involved, unfortunately. I mean, I DID run, but they were relatively short workouts on the hotel treadmill. I should have run 18 miles on Sunday and it just didn't happen. Good thing I am in taper mode, since the marathon is in only 2.5 weeks away. I'm thinking of doing 18 miles this Sunday even though I suppose Hal Higdon would not approve. But would it really pose that much of a problem? I have two weeks after that to rest.

Speaking of running...

The last conference I went to was last June, and for whatever reason, it left me reeling and depressed. I don't know whether it was the stress of traveling, dealing with huge crowds of people, being away from my family, or what, but all of a sudden I went from feeling really stable (for the previous 4-5 months) to hitting bottom again. The situation was not good. At one point I wondered whether I might need to check myself into a hospital. The trigger seemed to be this academic conference experience. Thus, I was concerned that this very recent conference - which involved just as many people, almost as much traveling, and a strong dose of stress - might send me reeling down the same path.

Thankfully, it did not. I've been trying to figure out what the difference was between now and last June.

Things that are the same: I'm still taking an antidepressant, same dose. I'm still seeing my therapist every other week or so (actually less these days). Actually, if anything, the summer conference should have been less stressful: I wasn't teaching any classes at that point. I had to present at both meetings.

So what is different? The only major difference is that I'm now training for a marathon and attending butt-kicking barre classes on a regular basis. So could the extra exercise be at the root of this newfound stability (relatively speaking)? In a way, it seems counterintuitive. Marathon training itself takes a lot of dedication and a certain amount of sacrifice. It cuts into work time, family time, and rest time. Then add to that the barre workouts - if I do them 4 times a week, that's another 6 hours where I'm not really attending to my responsibilities. And yes, on a day-to-day basis, it does feel like a lot. I do feel the strain.

On the other hand, my immersion in these activities means that:
(1) I have more energy during the day and I sleep better at night.
(2) I have less time to worry/stress, because when I'm working out I'm very focused on the task at hand.
(3) I'm forced to make transitions more quickly. For instance, even if my mind WANTS to stay in work mode all evening, when I get to barre class, it simply can't. There's not enough energy for that.
(4) I have a better social life. I'm opening up more to RF, getting to know her friends, and starting to get to know the people at Xtend Barre.

Ultimately, I keep myself so occupied that I do not leave as much room for ruminating, worrying, planning, obsessing. I think that's a big part of it. Maybe I've been underestimating the positive long-term effects of exercise on my mental state. Maybe it's kind of like the antidepressants themselves: one pill here and there won't make much long-term difference; you have to take them every day if you want them to work, and they don't work right away. If you miss a day, it won't hurt you much so long as you get back on track the following day. Perhaps the influence of exercise on the brain is similar: the long-term consistency is key.