Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On Shame, Grief and Running

I've been back in DC for three weeks, and I haven't written anything about my fitness program since I got here.  I haven't written because I haven't trusted myself not to fail.  And while this blog is sometimes great at keeping me accountable, occasionally even I am bothered by the prospect of accounting for my inadequacies in public.

The first run I did, on my first morning back in town, I followed the running pattern I had been following in Maine--alternating between six minutes of running and two minutes of walking.  I thought it would be a lot easier on my nice flat run through Capitol Hill than it was on the hilly roads of Maine, but it wasn't.  It was hard and miserable and depressing.  So I did what I have done every time I've been in a fitness valley--I returned to my old standby, the Couch to 5K running program.  My 6:2 pattern was similar to the beginning of week five on the program, which alternates five minutes of running with three minutes of walking.  So I decided that's where I'd start.

In my experience, weeks five and six of the program are the hardest.  The first time I did the program, I got stuck on week five for nine months.  But I also knew that if I could make it through those weeks, I could finish the program.  I'm now in the middle of week seven (25 minutes of running), and while every run feels like a struggle, I know it is more of a mental struggle--pushing through the discomfort, remembering how to do that--than a physical one.

Part of the mental struggle is dealing with the shame I feel about having lost so much ground.  I think about the things I could do at the height of my fitness, and how good I felt, and I feel ashamed that I let it slide.  But today while I was running, another thought came to me.  I was thinking about all the emotional struggles of the last year, and about other times in my life that were hard.  I realized that this year is different than times past because this is the first time I've lost so much.  The year my dad was sick, he got better.  And when my marriage ended, I was the architect of that loss.  It was something I wanted. As I ran, I ticked off the losses of the last year:

  • The loss of the relationship I'd hoped for with the Summer Romance of 2015
  • The loss of not one, but two, sports that had been integral to my health and my identity
  • The loss of my mother, and with her the loss of the hope that I would ever be loved in the way a mother is supposed to love a daughter
Well, when you put it like that...it's a lot.

I say this also feeling a little shame.  Because I know that there are people in my life struggling with much more--sick children, terminal illnesses, grinding poverty.  Then there's the soul-crushing trauma  of war and poverty and natural disaster visited on innocent people throughout the world.  So, yeah, my emotional struggles are a first-world problem.  But they are real to me.

As I thought about this list, my breath quickened.  I could feel tears coming.  I knew they would ruin my run.  I looked at my watch: Five minutes to go.  I focused on staying calm, on not crying, on keeping my running form and pace.  I thought about how those five minutes were so representative of what I've had to do this past year.  I finished the run.  It felt like a victory.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Four months ago this week, I was in Barcelona.  I'd heard from my father that my mother had been discharged from the nursing home.  I couldn't understand why they were sending her home.  I didn't realize they were sending her home to die, although I knew that she was dying.  I was expecting to see her a couple of weeks after my trip to Spain.  I didn't know that I would never see her again.

In the chapel at Santa Maria del Mar, I prayed that whatever happened to my mother, she wouldn't be in pain.  Her life had been hard enough.  I prayed for blessings for the rest of my family.  And I prayed for myself, that I would know what to do when someone needed to know what to do.  I prayed to be wise and loving, and I cried.

Today, I flew back to DC after three months in Maine.  I don't know about wise, but I do know that love is the fuel that kept me going all summer long.  I didn't always know what I was doing, but I did the best I could.  I did what I had to do to help my dad, and I feel good about that.

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote, "Sometimes you change your life, and sometimes life changes you."  I don't know, yet, the effect that this summer will have on me.  I know I feel a little stronger, maybe a little more clear about my priorities.  I feel sad about leaving my dad.  Mostly, though, I feel numb and exhausted.

Remember that time I gave myself the gift of a year?  I don't think I can commit to another whole year of doing nothing.  But maybe a season.  I want to spend this fall taking care of myself, seeing people I care about and doing things that make me happy.  My year of doing nothing led me to roller derby.  I look forward to seeing where this fall takes me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Little Earthquakes

Today is the five-year anniversary of the DC earthquake.  Five years ago today, I was lying in bed recovering from surgery.  After over a year of recurring bouts of diverticulitis, I’d had a section of my intestines removed and then spent ten miserable days in the hospital with a post-surgical infection.  My dad was in the living room when the contents of my apartment started to rattle.  He’d come to DC to take care of me while I recovered from surgery.  Five years later, I’m in Maine helping him.

My life was very different five years ago.  I hadn’t yet become a DC Rollergirl.  In fact, I’d missed tryouts that year because I was in the hospital with yet another case of diverticulitis, the last straw that made me decide to have surgery.  I’d never even thought about powerlifting.   In fact, I couldn’t lift more than thirty pounds after having my abdominal wall cut for surgery.  In mid-September I would start the Couch to 5K back at square one, the start of a very long, slow upward trend in fitness that led to getting drafted by DC, eventually making the travel team, starting powerlifting and doing my first competition.  Later would come a period of overtraining and undereating, followed by burnout, my injury a year ago this month and a whole year of inconsistency and disappointment in the fitness realm.  It seems 2016 is the new 2011.

It makes me feel better to know that I am in far better shape today than I was on this day five years ago.  On the other hand, I know how much hard work it took to get me into the kind of shape that would allow me to do a powerlifting competition and a roller derby bout in the same weekend.  It’s daunting.  I’m also not sure I want it as badly as I wanted it five years ago having lived the supposedly glamorous life of a roller girl and learned first-hand it’s not all fishnets and glitter.  But I’m also pretty sure I’m not done with derby or lifting, so I’m going to have to keep thinking about what I want out of these sports and what the right balance is with the rest of my life.

I don’t have to figure it out right now.  All I have to figure out right now is how to start.  I don’t want to jump back into everything at once.  I know I have some emotional recovery to do after this summer.  I need some time and space to rest my heart and mind.  I want to reconnect with my support system in DC—a stronger support system than I had five years ago.  This summer has reminded me how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life, and I want to spend more time with them.  And I don’t want another strong start that fizzles out, a recurring theme this past year, so I’ll take a moderate approach to getting back to fitness, just like I did five years ago.

I’ve sketched out a preliminary plan for the fall.  It’s conservative, but I’ve always been more of a tortoise than a hare.  I’ll get where I want to go, once I figure out exactly where that is, and I’ll take care of myself along the way.

The plan:

Start slow in September.
Cardio:  Run three times a week. 
Strength:  Physical therapy, foundation training and light strength training at home three times a week.

Add intensity in October.
Cardio: Run twice a week and spin (or something else with high intensity intervals) once a week.
Strength:  Boot camp twice a week and pilates once a week to rebuild a solid strength base for lifting.

Return to Powerlifting in November and December.
Cardio: Same as October.
Strength: Twice a week powerlifting program.  Maintain boot camp once a week and pilates once a week for assistance work.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I'm Still Here

I haven't abandoned the blog.  I've just been busy and exhausted.  It has been 69 days since I arrived in Maine, and I have had exactly five days in that time when I wasn't working, cleaning, or handling other family business.  Since you know I love data, here are some outputs from my summer of cleaning:

  • 10 rooms, 1 barn and 1 attic cleaned
  • 1.88 tons of trash hauled away in a construction dumpster
  • 2 yard sales
  • 5 rooms painted (and two more left to paint)
In addition to these numbers, I estimate I made at least 15 trips to Goodwill and put at least 100 bags of trash out for curbside pickup. 

My fitness plan gradually fell apart as I grew more and more tired, both physically and emotionally.  For the last few weeks, all I've managed to do is run once a week, and even that has been a struggle.  I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to be more consistent, but I also think I have done the best I could given the circumstances.  

Even though the summer has been hard, it's been worth it.  By the time I return to DC, I will have gotten to spend three whole months with my dad, which was an unexpected gift despite the circumstances that made it possible.  I feel so lucky to have gotten to be here with him this summer.  I'd clean ten more houses for him if I had to.  (But I'm glad I don't have to.)

In the next three weeks I'll be finishing up the painting and finishing up some other odds and ends that need to be taken care of.  I'm hoping I can at least step up the running frequency as well.  I realized today that is has been just about a year since I hurt myself weight lifting.  A whole year that I have not been able to follow a solid, consistent fitness program.  I will spend some time in these next few weeks making a plan for the fall.  

I have a lot to think about when I get back to DC.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do about roller derby.  It wasn't much fun this past year, and I'm not sure what it would take to make it fun again.  So I'll need to think about that.  I'm sure there will also be many feelings and learnings and new perspectives to process from this summer.  I'll share them all on the blog.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

This is Not Your Baggage

After I wrote this post, I felt a little vulnerable.  It was pretty raw, even for me.  Even so, I left it up.  What I have learned from writing this blog is that if it makes me feel nervous, it probably needed to be said, it will help me to have said it, and it will probably help someone else to hear it.  What I mean when I say it will help me is that anytime you speak about fear or shame, those feelings lose some of their power.

This time another kind of help came in the form of an email from a friend who reads the blog.  And this email was kind of a revelation--it really helped me understand these feelings that I have in a new way.  So I'm going to share some pieces of the email.

My friend wrote:

You have always been "enough."  It's your mother who fell short.  It's your mother who was so broken that she could not accept your unconditional love.  That's very sad for her.

It's even sadder that you internalized her dysfunction as your own because you're actually completely innocent in this regard....You have ALWAYS deserved to be loved and that continues to be true TODAY.

This is actually your mother's baggage and issues.  This dysfunction is not yours.  You've picked her baggage up and have been carrying it around...Maybe your mother's issues have caused you to do or think things that are outside of your true character (like believing you're not good enough).  But the source for that is still your mother.  It's still her baggage and you can choose to put it down at any time.

In other words, it's not my fault.

Holy crap.  It's not my fault.

It's like he was speaking directly to that little girl holding her tinsel wreath.  How powerful is that!

And I've honestly never thought of it like that before--as her baggage and not my own inadequacy.  My mother didn't treat me the way she did because there was something wrong with me that made me not good enough, not worthy of love.  She was the broken one, not me.  It's her baggage, and I can choose not to keep carrying it around.

Of course it's not that simple.  I bet I'll need a lot of therapy to figure out how to put down that suitcase.  My friend suggested writing a letter to my mother to give her back her baggage, which I am not quite ready to do just yet, but it seems like that could be cathartic at some point.

It's not my fault.  It's not my baggage.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Coming to Terms with My Sedate Summer Strength Training Plan

It took a couple weeks of working with the personal trainer at the gym in my hometown to come up with a personal training plan for the summer.  At one point she told me she's not used to training people who are in such good shape, and I am not even in good shape for me right now.  Between that and her concern about my back injury, which I keep explaining is all better now, I've ended up with the most sedate strength training plan I have had since I started strength training.

In the beginning I was frustrated.   To her credit, she was responsive to some of my concerns, adding more dynamic movements, for example, after I explained the kind of movement that is required in roller derby.  Here are the basics of my workout: I start with a long, dynamic warmup.  This is actually a class that the trainer teaches called "stretch and move" or something like that.  There's a lot of marching and coordinated arm and foot movements.  Like jazzercise or something, I guess.  There's also quite a bit of core work, which is good.  After the class is over, I do some basic free weight exercises, low weight/high rep.  Some stepping up and down onto a box, dead lifts and squats, things like that.  Then I do some upper body exercises on the machines.  There's this thing called a graviton.  I leave feeling like I've done some moderate physical activity, which is not how I'm used to feeling after a workout.

Overall, it's a better plan than I thought I'd end up with after our first meeting, but it's not at all what I have in mind when I think of personal training. Even so, I've slowly been coming to the realization that it's probably exactly the right plan for me right now given how physically and mentally exhausted I am from everything else going on this summer.  By the time gym time rolls around, I usually don't want to go.  But knowing that my trainer will be there waiting for me, and that my workout won't require the kind of mental energy it takes to train really hard make it easier for me to get there.  Meanwhile, I'm getting my share of heavier lifting carrying boxes and bags and furniture out of the hoarder house, and I'm doing my running for cardio.  I might not get back to my post-injury fitness level before the summer is over, but I can still feel like I'm at least making some slow, steady progress.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Miss Independence

Yesterday while cleaning out the pantry, I found this wreath in a drawer.  I made it in kindergarten and gave it to my parents for Christmas that year.  I think I remember being excited and proud to give it to them, but my mother also wrote that in my baby book, so maybe her words are what make me think I remember.

Either way, the idea of me as a child taking so much pride in such a simple gift brought me to tears.  (And the only thing that sucks worse than cleaning a hoarder house, in case you were wondering, is cleaning it while crying.)  I imagined all the innocent, childish love that would have gone into a gift like that, and the equally innocent and na├»ve belief that our gifts, however simple, will be accepted, will be enough, when offered with love.

This weekend, I cleaned for four days straight.  Today was Independence Day.  When I consider that I spent the last two Independence Days crying over men who broke my heart—the Oyster Farmer and the Summer Romance—I suppose crying over a relic from my distant past is better.  Except that tinsel wreath speaks so much to what I am feeling these days.  I think about everything I am doing this summer, and sometimes it starts to feel like some kind of cosmic penance.  If I can just prove to my family, my friends and the universe that I can do everything that’s asked of me, even if it’s hard, will it be enough?  Will I be enough?  Finally?

Independence Day, indeed.