Lessons Learned, and Muscles Pulled, in 2015

2014 was a surprisingly good year for me. In a past post I reflected on it as the year of me. I accomplished goals, unexpectedly, and felt pretty darn good about it. From my personal to professional, pieces fit together in 2014 and I was riding high on life. It all felt too good to be true. Until the end of the year when I pulled my hamstring at a race. I remember it clear as day. I woke up, the day after the race, with a sore leg and a cold. And I kept running. The following weekend, on a cold, icy morning, I went for a run with friends. My leg and chest were both on fire and I had to walk intermittently. I was pissed off at myself and embarrassed that I couldn't keep up my friends. Later that afternoon I brought Caroline to her riding lesson and ran up and down the icy road at the barn in 1/2 mile dashes. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, in the bitter sleet, until her lesson was over and I was exhausted. It didn't matter that I was already exhausted when I woke up that morning. I got in the miles and ignored all of the pain from my head to my toes.

I continued to ignore the pain and ran another race and then, as the Christmas holiday closed in, and my cold persisted past six weeks, I threw in the towel, tucked my running shoes into the closet and let dust settle on my Garmin. For the start of the new year I took to the pool, discovered strength training on YouTube, and then yes, I started running after only a few weeks. The first quarter of my 2015 was filled with sadness, frustration and doubt. I was sure that I would never run again, and certainly not ever run a marathon again. I was worried that my running mistake would carry over into the rest of my life. This fear made me crabby and I found myself sulking between doing daily life duties.

Despite having just started my new role as director of my office, a long-sought after professional goal, and general happiness at home, in the back of my head I could tell that I'd stepped onto the slippery slope and I was sliding. My mistake, the injury, was my curse, my bad omen. This is silly, you are saying to yourself as you read this. How can something like not being able to recreational run ruin someone's year? I'll tell you: running is my religion. It is my meditation. It is my zen. When I am running, I am at peace. I won't go into much detail as I've professed my love for running on these pages already. I'm also highly regimented, have an addictive personality, and strongly identify with being a runner. Taking away my running schedule took away my consistent comfort zone. During the bitter and dark days of winter I wasn't sure what to do with myself when I was supposed to be running. I missed running with my friends, a required peer therapy for me. I was jealous when I saw a runner on the road or on weekends when I missed a favorite race. Who was I if not a runner? It seemed that this piece of my puzzle, small, and unimportant to outsiders, is very big, and very important, to me.

There you have it. My anxiety about not running set the tone for the rest of the year making 2015 the Year of Anxiety. I've always been a nervous person which is the reason I give people who ask how I "stay so skinny". My nervous energy just burns calories, I always like to say. As a kid I hated change and, as a teen, I started having small panic attacks, yet it never really got in the way of relationships or me accomplishing my goals. Being rigid is me. I am rigid. However, when I was younger I was also more impulsive and passionate and those emotions seem to overpower my anxiety and fear. Of course, when one has kids, anxiety and fear is par for the course. We have babies and all of a sudden we are weighed down with fear and anxiety over our children's health and safety, at every moment of the day- and night. Along with kids comes less impulsiveness and passion channeled in a much different way. I'm now passionate about sleep and making my kids wipe their own butts. With all that passion and impulsiveness gone, and additional fear and anxiety added, I had my very own recipe for a meltdown.

There I was, as the months passed, sliding down the rabbit hole. At first I tried to stay positive and blamed it on the winter. Yet, as the ice turned to mud, I felt no different. I was too busy, however, to pay much attention to the sliding. My 17 hour days were scheduled to the moment and full of responsibility. Someone always needed me and I wasn't about to let anyone down. Or let anyone know that I was down. I told myself I was going through a bitchy phase and hoped it would pass.

By the time the sun came out over the summer I was trapped inside both literally and figuratively. A perfect storm of a series of unfortunate events took place in June with me heading into my first summer at work in eight years and my employer experiencing a reduction in staff. For the first time since Caroline was a baby, I was not a summer stay-at-home mom. I missed the kids terribly. I missed the feeling of the sun on my skin and the way the lake wind calmed calmed me. I missed wearing shorts and forgetting to brush my teeth and hair until 10 or 11 am. I missed packing sandwiches and spending 8 hours playing in the sand and the water. I missed staying up late and not caring.

On the work front, we were all in shock and sad and there I was, the boss of my team, a team that went from five to three at a moment's notice. It was hard and it was sad and I was already sliding down the hole you see, a hole filled with anxiety and lacking passion. A hole that made hurdles feel like mountains and not the kind you climb on a warm fall day and get to the top to see the rainbow-leafed valley below. It felt like K2 without air tanks or sherpas. We pulled it together, as most professionals do when the going gets tough, but I was doing a poor job of stuffing my stress in the sock drawer. Nothing could bring peace to me, not a trip to the ocean, time with my mom, or weekends at the lake with the kids. I was 9-5 grinding and grinding with difficulty. And also grinding my teeth to the point that they started to, noticeably, inch closer together. I felt trapped inside myself and I couldn't figure out how to get out.

Before I could miss summer any more, it was already fall and it was time to celebrate. Charlotte entered Kindergarten, Caroline was off to a great start (after her own bout with anxiety in the spring) and it seemed that a three legged dog could learn to run. While my hamstring was still stiff, I managed to start increasing my mileage and even ran a half marathon in September. My body adapted to my injury and I was thrilled to embrace the season by pounding the pavement. Unfortunately, my return to running came a bit too late in the year to salvage my attitude. By this point I knew that the bitchy phase was lasting much longer than usual and something wasn't right. Sure, it started with the injury but even after getting back to running, I still felt crummy and that made me angry. I became angrier at myself and ashamed. As each day came along, and I forced myself to get out of bed, I hated myself. Every little thing got under my skin and it seemed like I'd cared so much about everything that I no longer cared about anything. How dare I be dissatisfied with this life? People around me were announcing cancer diagnoses, lost loved ones, lost love, lost jobs and here I was feeling like the tasks of every day life were insurmountable. The hole felt longer. And narrower. I thought if I hid down there maybe I'd disappear and nobody would notice.

I was glad I was running again because I wanted to run away. I thought some weekends away, at races, would be the remedy. I just needed some time away, to think, to find peace. Then, it hit me. I had two anxiety attacks within a few weeks. I was confused, disoriented, and couldn't breathe. I was paranoid and scared and helpless. I had to call Andy home from a trip, although, he later told me, he had no idea what I was saying on the phone but knew he had to come home. I let Andy, and my friends, see me in a state of weakness and with very little control over myself and my actions. It was a very low point for me, and I can't say that having an anxiety attack was the wake up call I needed, but being unable to hide my sadness any longer was what I needed to start climbing my way back out of the hole.

As the year came to a close, I felt like I was back on solid ground. I was filling my toolbox with ways to manage my stress, remembered how amazing it is to wake up every day to two sweet children and to have a husband to make me 13 dozen cookies for a cookie exchange party. I felt hope for those around me who were rebounding from loss and finding strength in the process. We were fortunate to spend a week's vacation at Disney and I returned from the trip to find myself falling in love with Upstate. The clean air feels crisper. The grass is greener (yes, the grass is green even though it's winter!) and the sunsets have been stop-the-car-in-awe brilliant. Not to mention that my hamstring healed at long last and I ran several races, and beat my record times, at almost all of them. Exactly a week ago, I was enjoying the warmth of this winter and went for a run- the fourth day in a row- and strained my calf muscle. As I hobbled along the road, and cursed myself for not having a phone, I decided I would not let this injury set the tone for 2016. I'm a bit wiser this time around. I was pushing myself when I shouldn't have been and I accept this injury as a gentle reminder that I need to stop pushing myself all of the time. I'm going to choose to take this time to recover and rest so that I don't start to slip down the hole again. I will not let the mistake of over-running run me down again.

On New Year's Day, one of my super strong and resilient friends sent me this quote from Neil Gaiman:

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself." This struck a chord with me because, I realized in 2014 I really surprised myself and did things I didn't think I could do. In 2015, I surprised myself, in a bad way, by finding myself feeling helpless and thankless. I liked this quite so much I decided to check out the author. This is what he writes for this year:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something. So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it."

Here's to 2016 and to good surprises and good mistakes. And good running.

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