Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Running 50 miles while in a Cocoon of Self-Preservation


Sunrise on the river the morning of my first 50 mile run

Back in February I had just finished running with a friend and told him I was thinking of running the marathon distance of an upcoming trail marathon/50 mile race. Without hesitation, my friend said I should just run the 50. This is a friend who has no problem telling me when I am doing something really dumb. Do you have a friend like that? If you do, you’re so lucky. If you have a friend who’s not afraid to tell you that you’re about to do something really stupid then you know you can trust them when they tell you there is something you are absolutely ready to do. Even if it feels huge.

So I did it, I signed up for the 50 mile race that was scheduled to happen on May 16th, 2020. I was training and not really feeling strong, but I was getting some long runs done.

Then enters COVID-19. On March 15th St. Louis County shut down. We were on a mini vacation in Branson, MO and decided to avoid the large crowded areas but to continue our trip. It was a nice and relaxing trip and when we returned home, the whole city was sheltering in place. While we navigated through the next few weeks, all events were cancelling, one after another. Including my 50 mile race.

I continued to run, not really with a plan but more with just a lighthearted sense of doing something I really love. As we all began to define what social distancing meant for us, I made the decision to run alone and to not run with anyone at all. Deciding whether to run alone or with a group put many people in the running community at odds with one another. Friendships ended over this. It was sad to watch. I genuinely believe all of us were and are doing the best we can to cope with the situation in which we find ourselves.

What was best for me was running alone. And before I knew it, I was hammering out more miles than ever before.

Another part of this is that I was and still am spending more time with my beloved little family than I ever have. Being home with my family, and seeing them all day everyday allows me the flexibility to be guilt free about spending more time than usual on the weekend on the trails. So that’s exactly what I did.

I spent most of my time training on the trails in Weldon Spring, MO. They are some of my favorite trails and hold thousands of memories of races we put on, of hikes I’ve done with my little family, peaceful sunrises along the river and nighttime miles with friends. Those of us with a special connection with this group of trails say there is magic out there, and I truly believe there is.

I had been running about 35-40 miles each week, with back to back runs on the weekend of 13-16 miles each. One day it was extra crowded when I finished my first of two 8-mile loops, so I decided to cross over to the other side of the highway to add on some miles where there were fewer people. I got to a split where I could either turn right and land at a 20 mile run, or turn left and land around 15. I stood there for a minute, and decided to do the 20.

I had only run 20 miles alone once, and it was nearly two years ago. I’ve done that distance many times in races or with friends, but only once on my own. Finishing that 20 mile day feeling strong, knowing that it was me and me alone who set out to run it, left me feeling so incredibly strong.

That run was a game changer. With my 50 mile race cancelled I am not really sure what I was planning, all I knew was that I was feeling stronger than ever before in my running, and I was doing it for me and for me alone.

The same friend who encouraged me to sign up for the 50 reached out and complimented my solo 20 miler, as did many other friends on social media. I’m telling you, there is something about 20 miles solo. A couple of weeks later, a week before what would have been my first 50 mile race, I hit 50 miles in one week for the first time. I told the same friend that I felt great and wondered what I should do with all of these miles and this fitness. He said:

“I think you should run 50 miles”

Then he gave me probably the best advice possible. He told me I should hammer out two weekends worth of back to back 20 mile runs before I try to do the 50. This would give me more strength and more confidence rather than rushing to run the 50 mile run just a week after my first 50 mile week. This put 50 mile run day on May 30th. The date and training was set.

So the next two weekends I ran back to back 20 mile runs. My friend joined me for some of the miles but I did most of the miles alone. I spent the first year of my running life running alone. Slowly over time I opened up and started running with groups. Then I started hosting group runs. Then I ran with a group of the same friends nearly every weekend. While all of that was certainly enjoyable, running alone has proven to be what I need at this point in my life to reach my goals.

I want to talk about that for a minute. I am an empath and spend my life deeply feeling and understanding the feelings of others, particularly their pain. It is not something I have chosen, and I truly cannot help absorbing the feelings of those around me. When COVID-19 first hit our community, many people around me were drastically divided in their approaches to group running, social distancing, mask wearing, media believing, etc. I worked hard to try and keep friendships strong and to keep harmony amongst everyone.  

Eventually, this completely wore me down. I retreated into what I have been referring to as a cocoon of self-preservation. I retreated from anything or anyone that would need anything from me besides my little family. I said no to any run invitations. I declined facetime calls. I silenced social media accounts that I didn’t want to see. I retreated so far into myself that I began to be able to be exactly what I needed to be to myself and to my family. My cocoon of self-preservation allows me to truly care for myself and deny giving anything more than the bare minimum to anyone else. This might be the first time in my life that I have ever protected myself in this way. It is the biggest boundary wall I have ever built. And it is strong.

So in this place, where my relationship with my husband and my boys has grown so incredible strong, so has my running. I just run. I don’t think about pace, I don’t think about anyone else. It is me and the trail and my goal to run 50 miles. On one long run my knee began to hurt, so I practiced power hiking and didn’t stress over it. The next day my knee was fine. All the signs were pointing to the fact that I was ready to run 50 miles.

The two weekends of back to back 20 mile runs were nearly perfect. There was sunshine, rain and mud, perfect weather, cold weather, insane heat and humidity too. I was trained for whatever came on 50 mile run day.

The week leading up to the run wasn’t too stressful. Keeping in my cocoon of self-preservation, only my little family, my friend who had been coaching me along who would be pacing me, and 1-2 random friends knew I was going to do this. I didn’t want to tell anyone. This was about me vs. me vs. the trail. I wanted to keep it private and know that if I really needed to, I could stop and do the run another day. Anyone who knows me knows how damn stubborn I am and knows that I would have walked all night long to finish what I started, but having the option to quit if I wanted was some pressure relief one doesn’t find at a race.

The run was as perfect as I could have expected. The weather was gorgeous, my first loop alone was a little faster than I intended and the second loop running with my friend was smooth and fun. At one point, as I talked about how much I was enjoying myself, he said something that basically gave me permission to complain if I wanted to. But I had nothing to complain about.

I am so grateful for the fact that life has put me here in this place where I can and want to run 50 miles on beautiful trails. So many people do not do this. They either don’t want to, don’t believe they can, or maybe want to but their health or circumstances don’t allow for it. Here I am in this place and time where everything has come together for me to spend 12 hours on my favorite trails, with a really good friend with me and my beloved husband and boys waiting for me to finish. I cannot think of anything that would make this situation anything but beautiful. I am so grateful.

The route I took ended with a 5-mile loop from my car, so I grabbed my handheld and took off down the trail I have probably run a thousand times. That’s when it hit me that I was actually going to run 50 miles. I texted Nate to let him know the timeline and we managed to run a lot of that last loop. My legs felt strong and were it not for a nasty blister on the bottom of my foot, I would have been nearly pain free. Tired yes, but certainly not miserable. Absolutely grateful.

So 50 miles is done and I feel amazing. I’m not sure what is next, but I do know I am not interested in slowing down. 



“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

~Mahatma Gandhi


Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Way Life Should Be

I work with people who have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The people I work with day in and day out, are dying from a disease that has no cure and no known cause. ALS impacts the way a person’s brain send messages to its muscles, and as the messages become more infrequent, the person loses the ability to use their hands, their arms, to walk, often to speak and ultimately to breathe. ALS is sometimes a long and slow process of watching a once active and vibrant person lose all body control and function.

While this disease is awful, I love what I do. Every single person I meet has a story to tell, and I am always so appreciative to be in a position to share some of the most intimate moments that come along with end of life with another human. The reality a person must face when they are dying brings with it fear, uncertainly and often clarity. With each person with ALS that I meet and each new way I see someone coping with this hand they have been dealt, the more I learn about the strength of the human spirit, and the differences in how people react to trauma and tragedy.

It is May of 2020 and we are deep in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been working mostly from home since March 13th with a much unknown end faintly in sight. Our boys’ schools are shut down, summer camps are cancelled, the misinformation is flying all about and the level of uncertainly of what our future will bring continues to deepen. My mood shifts from being ever so grateful for this beautiful time of slowing down and deeply appreciating this extra time with my family to being so stressed by the uncertainly of the future that it feels difficult to even get out of bed. 

I go to the grocery store on Monday or Tuesday nights to avoid the crowds. This week I was walking through the store and paused, looked around the store and saw everyone with masks and gloves, with people avoiding each other, food missing off shelves, paper product shelves stripped bare and I was overcome with sadness and thought, “this is not the way life should be”. 

Working with people with ALS I have seen two pretty distinct differences between people who seem to cope positively (for the most part) with the disease and those who struggle the most. The biggest difference I have seen is between people who can't seem to see past the way their life *should* be and those who seem to let go of what should be and embrace the way life is, ALS and all. 

This difference runs very, very deep. In the people I have seen, this difference is a fundamental difference of belief in life and living. The difference is truly astounding.

A man I became very close with following his diagnosis died earlier this year. He had ALS, but he did not die from ALS. I worked with him for about a year, and throughout that time we had many deep conversations about finding meaning in life. We talked about what he would be doing in life if it weren’t for ALS. He was active and vibrant and while he looked at others with the disease who seemed to be adjusting with awe, ultimately he knew he would never be able to cope with losing his function and dying from ALS. 

He wrote me and said just that, he had no desire to die from ALS and instead chose to travel out of the country to pursue a physician-assisted death. We said our goodbyes and I was sad beyond measure over the loss of my friend. I also understood and respected his unwillingness to let go of what life *should* have been like for him. He died peacefully surrounded by his loving wife and daughter. His service was filled with people telling stories about his incredible life and with each story I understood even better why he and I liked each other so much. He visited me in a dream a couple of weeks after his death and when I woke from that dream, I felt like I understood life just a little bit more. I am so grateful for him and that life allowed me to walk alongside him for a short while.

So when I say that there is this difference between people who seem to be more able to move past what life should be like and those who are not able to so, I don’t mean that one way is better than the other. We are all made up of so many interesting characteristics, it is unreasonable to think it is as simple as bad or good, right or wrong. I do know that my friend worked hard toward accepting his disease and ultimately decided not to. 

Working in a job where every person I am hoping to help is dying, I guess it is expected to also wonder how I might cope with a diagnosis or disease like ALS. My cancer diagnosis certainly tested my coping mechanisms and approach, but not to the extent something like ALS would. 

I am a positive person deep down to my core. I genuinely believe that the universe is a friendly place and that anything that happens in my life is happening for me, not to me. I am currently in a rough place though. The state of the world in the midst of COVID-19 is a difficult place to be. I hear myself saying what should be happening and wishing things were different. My son's missed starring role in theater, the other son's baseball season, pre-pubescent exploration with friends, summer camp, birthday parties and winery trips. My first 50-mile race. I notice it being more difficult to concentrate and am losing focus. I am sad about the ways things are and unmotivated to try and change them. It’s an unfamiliar place and it is not enjoyable.

As I began to write this blog I googled “the way life should be” assuming someone probably wrote something along these lines before and it could provide some guidance as I wrapped my head around what I wanted to say. I did find a couple of quotes from a book of this same title that I have never heard of:

“I have found that the biggest moments in life, the ones that change everything, usually catch you by surprise.” 

“Every decision I make is determined solely by the spark and limitations of my own perspective”

“It’s a longing for things to come, possibilities unfolding before me, the charged expectation of change.”

― Christina Baker Kline, The Way Life Should Be: A Novel

Those who know me well know I will probably never read the book since I have many unread (un-listened to?) books and unused credits on Audible, but these quotes hit home. As my days have blended together I have felt both desperate for certainty and bored by it beyond measure. It’s an interesting and frustrating dichotomy. I realized yesterday I needed to shake something up.

One thing that is on fire in my life right now is my running. I am pounding out the miles and feel so strong and trained. I am able to spend 2 long runs on trails on the weekends which is building my strength and confidence and helping me grow into a really strong long-distance runner. 

I decided to get up early today, drive to my favorite running spot and throw down some mid-week trail miles. This is very unusual for me and it felt like a really special treat. This last quote seems to positively accompany this photo I took today as the sun was rising over what has become one of my very favorite places to visit. 


“... I am halfway between two worlds, the known and the unknown. I feel as transparent as the wind, as if my spirit is hovering in the sky, waiting to land. I am driving toward a future I can't see, leaving behind a past that already feels distant. Nothing is clear - and yet the trees are sharp against the sky; I can see the hard outlines of everything.” ~ Christina Baker Kline

Cheers friends to accepting things as they are, while holding out hope they will soon return to the way we think they *should* be.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Vomit War of 2020

Alternately titled: That One Time the Stomach Flu Made My Son Shit His Pants and the Dog Run Away In the Middle of the Night.

There is a lot of chaos going on in the world right now. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is wreaking havoc on the world, our country, and my little community. I told this story on my trail run this morning and my friend said I should write a blog about it. I haven’t blogged in a while so I thought, why not? Let’s all have a common laugh over bodily fluids and midnight antics, shall we?

So N has been traveling a lot for work. He left Monday night and we did all the things on Monday and all the things on Tuesday. I fell asleep on the couch at like 8pm, so I woke up at 8:30pm to put the boys to bed. Bedtime is the best time in our house. We snuggled and goodnight kissed and I went straight to bed myself feeling sleepy from the long day. I was prepared for the full night of sleep I am accustomed to now that my boys are so much older.

Then, at about 11:30pm I got the nudge…”mommy, I threw up”

Ugh. “Okay buddy let’s go get cleaned up” We walked into the hallway, he went into the bathroom and I went into his room. I am not sure I was fully prepared for what I was about to see. I clicked on the light to see more vomit than I have ever seen. It was everywhere. The bed, the floor, on his books, on his carpet, on his slippers, under his bed. It was freaking everywhere.

I started cleaning it up not really knowing where to start. I got some cleaning going and walked back into the hallway to see him standing in the bathroom kind of frozen. I turned the light on to see that he had vomit all over his face and hands. He had been standing there for who knows how long, likely unsure of what the heck just happened to his body.

I helped him wash his hands and face and we decided a bath was in order. Then, he turned toward the toilet and vomit came flying out of his face again. At least he’s facing the toilet, I tell myself. Then I saw it. The splashing, so much splashing! The toilet seat was down. For the love.

I grabbed the trashcan to catch the rest but the damage was done. Vomit was everywhere. Again.

I started to help him take his clothes off when he said so quietly, “mommy, I think I pooped my pants.”

Poor little buddy. This virus was sending itself out of every possible hole it could in a massive attempt to escape his little body. I cleaned him up in the true pre-bath style and got him set up in the tub.

It was around this time that I saw the animals milling around his room and the vomit I had yet to clean up. I decided to let the dog outside since he was losing his mind about why we were all awake at this hour.

With the dog outside and the boy in the tub I knew what I had to do. Clean up as much vomit as possible so the boy and I could get back into his bed.

Towels, paper towels, strip the bed, wipe off the books, trash bag for the book casualties of the vomit war of 2020. Make the bed, add some towels, dry the boy off, get him a bowl, back in bed.

Oh crap, the dog!

Back when I thought he was a good dog.

It’s about 12:15am or so by now, so I go outside and the dog is…gone. Freaking gone. We don’t have a fenced yard but it is tree-lined and the dog usually stays in the yard. Not tonight though, of course.

I put a glowing collar on him at night and he is nowhere to be seen. I put my shoes on and start walking back toward the woods, whisper-yelling his name. I hear nothing. No crunching leaves, no other dogs barking. It is silent and he is freaking gone.

I go back inside to be sure the boy didn’t vomit in his bed again. I look outside to see if the dog came back. I look at the front door to see if he’s waiting. Nothing. Back outside, whisper-yelling his stupid name and asking myself, why do I love this dog??

About an hour goes by, yes an HOUR!! I wonder if I should go out and drive around to find him but decide a lost dog is better than repeating the great vomit war of 2020 because I wasn’t in the boy’s room to catch round 2. Finally I look out the front door and the dog is there, looking quite proud of himself likely because he found his way home from his big adventure.

I went back into the boy’s room and thankfully, there was no vomit yet. He would go on to vomit about every hour on the hour until 11:30am the next morning. Poor guy was so sick.

So there it is, friends. Just another Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in the Z house when N travels, LBZ has the barfs and the dog runs away.

The End.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Anna's 5 Stages of Dealing With Disappointment


I am no scientist. I like to read science-y things like research and theories and stuff, but I did not do any of that before typing this blog. I don’t know if someone else has developed a list similar to this or not and I certainly do not claim to know that everyone will experience disappointment in this way. All I can say is, this is what I have discovered about myself, and my goal is to move from initial disappointment to the final stage in as little time as possible. I almost always get there, but the length of time depends on many variables.

Stage 1 – Sadness and Self-Criticism

Disappointment effects people so differently. When something doesn’t go the way I want it to, I am immediately sad. I typically welcome sadness when needed, so it isn't a surprise that this is my initial reaction. Next I turn inward and beat myself up. When my 8yo experiences disappointment in a missed soccer goal or a poor video game outcome, he lashes out and says how unfair the world is and expresses anger. I turn inward and criticize myself and the many ways I allowed myself to mess up or contribute to the disappointment. This coupled with the sadness I feel for things not turning out as I hoped is a dark place for me.

It might be easier to illustrate this by using an example. Let’s take a recent race, which did not go as planned. I was cruising along feeling really strong (while ignoring some knee pain) when at mile 8 I realized I had to stop running. The realization that this race would not end the way I hoped brought me to almost instant tears. I then immediately began berating myself for a variety of things I was certain contributed to this disappointing situation in which I found myself.

Totally faking it and smiling through the knee pain.
Photo Credit: Janzow Photography

Stage 2 – Pity party, Why Me and Poor Me

After sadness and beating myself up over the initial disappointment, where I hate to be but can tend to stay for a while, comes the big ol’ pity party. I start feeling really sorry for myself. I think of all of the other disappointments that have come my way and wonder why nothing good ever happens for me. I feel like I am the only person in the world who has ever had something disappointing happen to them and I am so sorry for myself. Boo freaking hoo. I might even have some anger here at those I view as never having to face a challenge like whatever it is I am dealing with.

In relation to the race, I kind of went back and forth between pity party and sadness during the actual race. I was able to finish albeit hobbly, which definitely made things feel more positive, but as my knee pain persisted throughout the weekend so did the feeling really sorry for myself and my injured POS situation.

Happily, I don’t usually stay here very long. This is an important place for me to go though, for if I don’t go to this place, I can’t access my thoughts and feelings surrounding why this story I am telling myself is not the truth. If I don’t spend at least a little bit of time here, I can’t get to Stage 3.

Stage 3 – Gratitude

This is where I think of the many people in the world who have it so much worse off than me. My mind goes to my friends who are strong and fierce and who have disabilities that do not allow for them to experience the beauty and rush of a trail run. I think of the people I work with who have a debilitating disease that would love nothing more than to be out living their lives as opposed to being trapped in so many ways by the disease. It is here where I find my grateful heart and can appreciate all that life offers me, even in the times when what is happening might not make the most sense.

This stage initially happened during the race, which is why I could finish at all. In the race example and I imagine throughout lots of examples in my history, I spent some time dancing between these 3 stages. Sadness and self-criticism, poor me, why me, wait I’m grateful, this sucks, people have it worse than me, I’m sad. Eventually though, without a doubt, I move into Stage 4.

Stage 4 – Problem Solving

I know I am a creative problem solver. It is one of my superpowers and I take great pride in my ability to think of creative ways to solve problems. In times of disappointment though, I forget this is my power. It takes me a while to get here, and I often need to ask for help. I have people in my life I can reach out to who will remind me I am strong, who will build me up and help me see that I nearly always hold the key to my own success.

I know the root of my knee problems that keep derailing my racing goals is my gait. I know this, and began trying to problem solve on my own after the race and became quickly overwhelmed and discouraged. I tried to do it by myself and had not yet remembered my superpower. I reached out to a friend who reminded me of my strength and who helped me sort through the ridiculous amount of information, which is where the planning happens. I need to have a plan when things don’t go the way I hope they will. Problem solving and planning have to happen before I move into stage 5.

Stage 5 – Acceptance and Total Domination

Okay that might be a little dramatic but it really can feel this way sometimes. Once I accept that this is my story and I develop a plan that I begin to execute, I feel like I am totally dominating my own life. I got knocked down, but I am back up and better than before. When I face a disappointment or challenge or things don’t go the way I want them to, Stage 5 is when I use that experience as fuel for my learning fire. It is where I grow and become better. It is through these hard things and challenges that I become a better version of myself. When I can say “yes this bad thing happened, and it was the best thing that could have happened for me” I am accepting and I am dominating. I am in stage 5 when I realize that this situation didn’t happen to me, it happened for me.

***

In the race example, I moved across all of these stages in about 2.5 days. I finished the race Saturday morning and had made it to stage 5 by Monday night. My goal is to move through these stages in as little time as possible. Some issues or challenges take more time, and others it may be lightning fast. 

For an example of fast, say I am on my way to work and I hit really bad traffic. I’m going to be sad and criticize myself because I’ll be late and what does it say about me as a person to be late? How could I not be the super prepared person who knows better than to be late? (Stage 1) Then I’ll feel sorry for myself and say man, this always happens to me and why me and feel like the only person who has ever been stuck in traffic. (Stage 2) I’ll realize in the grand scheme of things how lucky I am to have a job and a place to be and will recognize the many people who don’t. (Stage 3) Then I’ll realize the people I work with are reasonable and will totally understand that things happen. All I need to do is make a call or send a text and it’s fine. (Stage 4) Lastly, I’ll recognize that this traffic could be preventing me from some other type of challenge, like an accident if I were in the wrong place or if I were driving faster (Stage 5). This thought process probably happens in about 2 minutes, if that.

Other times with big stuff, like my cancer diagnosis, I moved repeatedly through these stages and certainly not in a straight line. I can still look back and break that time into the various stages though.
Like I said, this is not based on any science besides my uber observation (read: over-analyzing/obsessing) of myself when I face something challenging. I think it is valuable to understand the ways in which we face challenges and discover the positive ways we cope.

There are some issues I face where I just can’t get past the pity party. I might sit there for weeks with a given situation and until I reach out for help to remind me of my problem-solving super power, will sit there frozen and totally prolonging advancement to the next stage. I feel strongly that the more we understand who we are and how we do things, the better we are as people. I am no expert, but I do feel a sense of empowerment by outlining all of this and being honest about the way I deal with things in my life. 

For those who know me well, let me know if you think I missed anything!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Space Between

About 10 years ago, when BBZ was a baby and blogging was huge, I read a post somewhere called “The Space Between”. The writer was a young mom who described this space as the space between the mother she was, and the mother she wanted to be. She talked about wanting to be the mom that encourages her children to take risks. The mom who knows life is short and the one who wants them to experience all that life has to offer. Meanwhile, the mom she felt she was wanted nothing more than to wrap them up in bubble wrap and protect them from the world we adults know is far from ideal. At the end of her post she wrote something along the lines of, "because the pain of living in a world that once knew them but they then left would be too much pain to bear."

My friend’s 7-year-old son died 5 days ago. He was healthy, then he wasn’t, and then he died. A sore knee and a bad headache was soon diagnosed as cancer soaring through his little body, ultimately causing multiple strokes from which he could not recover. Just like that. He died. Just like every mother I know has envisioned and prayed against since that precious baby was placed in their arms. There isn’t a mother in the world who hasn’t envisioned their child being taken away from them. It is a primal instinct to do everything in our power to protect our children, and we can only do this with the realization that they could be taken away at anytime. 

I had lunch with a social worker colleague recently who has spent her entire career in the field of grief and loss. She shared with me that when she is not teaching at a nearby university, she runs group and individual counseling for mothers who have lost a child. When she said this I immediately balked with the feeling that “I could never do that”. Familiar with this reaction she says to me, “I can do this work because I have a worldview that says short lives have a purpose in this world. My worldview believes that young and little souls have a place here, just as old souls do”.

A worldview. We all have our own way we see the world. Her worldview supports this idea of souls leaving this earth earlier than most foresee, so she is then able to support others who are struggling with how their world has been completely undone. This is not a worldview that many hold, yet it exists in her so she is able to support others. I find such beauty in this.

The space between. As I have been writing this post in my head I have really been exploring this idea. Do you know what is in that space? Do you know what lives in that space between who we are and who we want to be?

Fear.

It's fear that takes up that space. I have been trying my hardest lately to embrace my fear, be energized by it and to run toward whatever scares me. It has lead to some really incredible things in my life recently.

I ran on a trail at night for the first time and discovered the exhilaration of running through dark trails with a headlamp and a new found child-like energy. I was scared of night running and wanted to see myself as brave and strong and able to complete night races sometime in the future. The only thing standing in that space was fear. Dealing with a knee injury dating back to October, I completely backed off running and have been going to the gym and even working with a trainer. I wanted to gain upper body and core strength but the gym seemed unfamiliar and scary. For years I have wanted to strengthen my muscles in the gym, yet my fear stopped me.

The space between the person I am and the person I want to be is full of fear.

There are so many things I hope to be. Yet the fear that lives in this space often seems bigger than what I can face. I want to be an exceptional wife who can love and be loved freely, I want to feel in control and caught up with all of my tasks at work, I want to be vulnerable and brave and adventurous in this life, I want to be a good friend, and I want to love myself with all of my many imperfections. Some of the fears living in the space surrounding these hopes will take a lot of hard work. Harder then showing up to a gym or a dark trail, anyway. Some of the fears living in these spaces run deeper than I even realize.

Experiencing this season of life with my friend is heart wrenching. I am fighting with myself to continue to fully experience joy as I am watching as someone I care about copes with one of the biggest fears a mom has - the loss of their child. I want to be the mom who doesn't waste a minute fearing the future, one who stays present and fully experiences each moment with them. Right now though, I am distracted by thoughts of how it would feel knowing they would not make it to the next grade, or of not being able to wash their hair in the bath again, or of walking through the child's section at the store knowing I no longer need to buy their size. These are all fears I have thought about as I envisioned what my friend will experience. The fear held in this space is so strong. 

Yet as parents we take on this role knowing that at any moment, our lives can be interrupted by tragedy. We willingly face the fear of bringing children into this world knowing the risks life ultimately brings. Yet we do it. We face our fear each day we send them into the world without the bubble wrap, with a zest for adventure and a desire for them to face their world without fear. We teach what we know, whether we mean to or not. If I want my boys to be willing to test the space between who they are and who they want to be, I need to approach them without fear. With the realization that if they are meant to be taken before I am ready, that it is the way my story is meant to be written.

We do our best to show up. We face our fears and try to teach our children well, with the plan to release them into the big bad world. If we're lucky, we challenge ourselves to test our own fears and eliminate the space between the person we are, and the person we hope to be.

Unfortunately, I have been to more funerals than I can count. When someone in my life dies, I am made to be face to face with how fleeting life really is. I see the world differently. It is now, in this delicate time where the truth about this precious life is so raw that I can explore some really hard questions...

What do I want?

What do I need to do to get there?

What fear is living in the space between where I am and that place I want to be?

Life really is short, and we don't have time for fear to stop us from being the person we are meant to be. To ourselves and to our children. Thanks for reading, friends.


P.S. Did anyone else sing "The Space Between" song by DMB during some of this post?? I sure did :)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Triggered

Trigger
3: to cause an intense and usually negative emotional reaction in someone

Being in the counseling space I’ve heard the word trigger for years. I’ve even used it a few times when talking about something sensitive in an attempt to keep someone from reliving a trauma in reaction to something I am about to say or do. I have even experienced some triggers in the past, but I never really suspected I had anything that I needed to be cautious of related to triggering past trauma. Yesterday and today has me rethinking that.

I had a doctor appointment yesterday to address nagging knee pain that hasn’t really improved since I hurt it during the Rockin’ Rockwoods 53k I ran back in October. I have seen my chiropractor regularly since then, and the knee pain would improve, then act up, then improve, and now 8 months later he and I agreed that we should probably look into what else might be going on (besides the really tight quad and calf that we have been working on).

A good friend recommended a particular sports medicine doctor and I was delighted to get in to see him within a week. I met with him yesterday and thought to myself when I got there how typical a doctor’s office is. They mostly ask the same questions and gather the same information. Weight, height, allergies, medications, etc. I noticed two differences this time: first, no one balked at the fact that I am an ultrarunner and have been running on the knee that’s causing pain for 8 months and second, this is the first new doctor visit I have been to in the last few years where I didn’t have to take off my pants. Dealing with a reproductive type of cancer, it seemed that every office I entered had this requirement. I noted this difference and reflected on the other visits I’ve had where I sat in the room for often more than an hour with no pants on and a sheet draped over my waist.

The appointment was pretty awesome. This doctor knows my chiropractor well and noted that if he wasn’t confident in that chiropractor’s care, he’d refer me to PT before doing anything. But because he knows him and is familiar with the level of care he provides to his patients, he was confident that we are past PT and needed to go in a different direction.

They took x-rays and I didn’t have to wear one of those long blanket things to cover my reproductive system because, well, most of it is not there. The x-rays were mostly normal but showed a couple of areas he wanted to look at more closely. He said we could do a cortisone shot which would definitely help, but if something else is happening in the knee, like a tear in the meniscus that he and my chiropractor hesitantly suspected, it will resurface later in life and could be detrimental in not only my running but even my just walking around. Next suggestion: a MRI.

So I had never had a MRI. I really didn’t even know what it was. I set the appointment for 7:45pm last night and googled to see what, if anything, I needed to do to prepare. It looked pretty standard so I figured I’d show up and go from there.

I won’t go into the details of the MRI, instead I’ll just say that I used lots of deep breathing and mindfulness meditation to get through it. The noise was intense and as I left it felt like my face was melted. Something happened in there that doesn’t feel safe, for real. I'm a believer in medical necessity but am also super comfortable with it being a last resort. I know it's supported by science as safe but for real. Face Melted.

Anyway, it’s done and the results are in and while he did see some "fray" on my meniscus that is a bit concerning, since it was only on one vs. the three angles that would necessitate a scope, we opted for a cortisone shot. Holy crap that hurt! I'm not afraid of shots at all. I have had more shots than I can recall over the years working in the healthcare field. Hep A, TB tests, etc. were just a part of the job. This was crazy and unexpected. I guess I should have googled cortisone shots first. Actually, maybe not! It's definitely a better step than a procedure like a scope that would require anesthesia though.

Thankfully this was all good news. What I didn’t expect in any of this was how this seemingly unrelated event would trigger so many memories for me. For the MRI, I had to remove all of my jewelry and place it in a bag in a locker, I had to do that before my other two cancer related surgeries. While the MRI tech at the hospital was quite friendly and kind, he is also there for his job and I am just another person on his schedule. It’s hard to not feel at least a little dehumanized when someone is hooking you up to stuff that you don’t understand. At least I was wearing pants this time, I thought.

Also, waiting for the results brought up so many feelings. For months and months I waited for results from test after test after test. Each one building upon the last that lead up to the final answer...cancer. I was so glad that this new doctor reached out to me almost first thing this morning to call me in for the results. There was no 3+ weeks waiting to find out what I was dealing with. That was a huge relief.

There is one tiny round spot on my MRI that he said something about but said was likely no big deal. Guess what I told myself it was? Cancer. Once it has been somewhere in your body, and the reality that it doesn't just happen to other people, it is a much more common concern. I'm other people to other people. It happens. It did happen. To me. And while unlikely it is a very clear fact that it can happen again.

My experience related to my cancer is something I thought I moved past. Never in a million years would I imagine that all of this would come flooding back to me after a seemingly unrelated doctor visit for a sore knee.

As with all of my past experiences, this is part of my life now. Each experience related to my cancer journey was traumatic in it's own way. The motion of moving from the gurney onto the surgery table scared and unsure of what was about to happen was extremely similar to the feeling of crawling onto the bed thing outside of the MRI machine not knowing what was about to happen to me. I think I have great coping mechanisms and do not feel like I repress these feelings, yet they jumped up out at me like it all happened yesterday. I remember each detail and can't help but find similarities.

Trigger. It's a real thing, even for people who cope really well with bad shit like I do.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Fully Experiencing Joy


It’s been quiet around here on this blog but things in my life have been less than quiet. Things have been joyous, and I have been soaking it up and basking in the belief that this life is so wonderful. It has not been without challenges, by any means. But after facing something like cancer, the definition of a challenge changes. I am incredibly grateful for where I am in this very moment.

Before I go too much into what I’ve been up to, I want to bring a concept up that sits in the back of my mind and reminds me to feel the joy I feel deeply, without foreboding. 

I have shared many times that Brene Brown is one of my very favorite public figures to follow. Her research-based approach to people and how we interact with the world around us has been life changing for me. One topic she discusses frequently is foreboding joy. She describes joy as the most vulnerable feeling humans can experience. The best example she has shared is that feeling of looking at your child sleeping, and you’re in awe of how much you could possibly love someone and how incredibly happy you are that they are in your life. Then immediately you imagine something awful happening to them. Basically you imagine your incredible joy being ripped away from you. In that moment of foreboding joy, we interrupt the full experience of joy out of the fear of losing it. That is the vulnerability associated with the feeling of joy.

Brene also explains that the antidote to this as gratitude. In those moments when I am snuggling with one or both of my boys and I breathe in their sweet smell and cannot imagine what my life would be without them, that feeling tries to sneak in, but I don’t allow it to. Instead I think about how grateful I am that they are in my life at all. I genuinely cannot imagine what life would be like without them, but I can promise that I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with them for anything in the world. If my story would include losing one of them, I wouldn’t do anything different. I would never go back and choose to NOT have them even if I knew I’d lose them. I, and the world around me, is a better place because they have been here. I am so grateful for every minute I have with them, and I will not waste one of them imagining something that hasn’t yet and very likely will never happen.

So all of this to say, I am fully experiencing the joy that is in my life right now. I have a job that is challenging and makes me work hard. N and I are adjusting to his new schedule and are enjoying the quiet life we have built for ourselves. The boys are strong and healthy and happy. I am running more miles and feel stronger than I maybe ever have in my life.

N bought me season tickets to the Broadway series at a St. Louis Theater for my birthday, so I saw some awesome musicals this season.


We added this handsome boy to our family.


I completed another 50 kilometer ultramarathon.

(Photo credit: Mile 90 Photography)

I ran the color run with this incredible group of ladies. They are strong and supportive and my own unicorn tribe.


I was invited to speak at the hooding ceremony where I went to graduate school.
From that talk I was invited to speak at another upcoming event.


I raced a 10k race and set a 2-minute PR.


I have made friends with a group of trail runners who I connect with in a deep and beautiful way. They make me laugh everyday and have offered to change my dirty socks during a run. Now that's friendship.


My heart is happy and full.

Life is good and I am enjoying it as much as I can. It’s funny but as I write this I feel how vulnerable it feels. As though since I am putting this happiness out there it is somehow going to curse me and make something bad happen. Isn’t that crazy how we do that? It’s the knock on wood theory, right? If you say something hopeful out load you have to follow it up with an understanding that it might go away. How crazy is that?

It’s the fear of fully experiencing joy, and I won’t entertain it. I will practice gratitude and recognize all who are hurting right now. I am not hurting, so I am not going to waste my time worrying that I might hurt later.

The new job I started earlier this year is going so well. I work with people with ALS, which is a terminal illness. There is no cure, and there are very few treatments. ALS causes a series of losses that slowly but surely take away all physical abilities from a person, ultimately including the person’s ability to breathe. I work with people in their homes and at their doctor’s office. Sometimes, I am the first person they see after they are told they have this awful disease. 

Can you imagine that for a moment? Seriously. Read this and then close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to sit in a doctor’s office and be told that you have a disease with a prognosis of 2-5 years. A disease that will take your ability to walk, to talk and eventually to breathe. Pause and try to experience what that might be like. Who would you call? How would you tell them? What would you tell your friends and family? What would that pain be like?

I have sat with people who have this disease and I have looked them in the eye as they face their pain. Seeing this kind of pain makes the rest of the world look pretty bright. Being invited into this intimate moment of their life is an honor. Not being able to fix it feels helpless. I cannot fix it, but I can sit with them and assure them that I will not look away. I will not look away from their pain and leave them there to hold it alone. Being able to give them this is one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the position I am in to be able to do this. It feel like it is what I am meant to do.

I practice something similar at home. My LBZ is 7.5 years old now (WHAT??), and he is what I would call a very emotional little guy. When he feels something, he feels it with his entire self. He wears his happiness like a colorful cape that follows him around and shines in the sunlight. His fear and pain come out in bursts of uncontrollable tears and yelling. He is full of big and beautiful emotions.

While he is mostly happy, occasionally he is overrun with sadness. It often happens at night, and his little tears flow and he tells of all of the horrible things that happened in the last few months that feel like they happened in the last twenty minutes. He wraps himself up into a ball of tears and sadness and it can make me feel so helpless.

In these moments though, he doesn’t need me to fix those things that happened. He doesn’t need me to problem solve or tell him that everything will be okay. What I say to him is always the same:

“You are so sad. Everything feels sad. I am so sorry that you’re feeling so sad. I am going to stay here with you so you do not have to feel sad by yourself.”

Isn’t that what we all want when we are feeling sad and overwhelmed? We don’t need someone telling us how to fix it, that only communicates that the person giving advice is better at life than the person struggling. What we want is validation and the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, the person will not turn away from it. It’s a gift we can give someone, to be willing to sit with them and their pain.

So my job is a unique combination of holding space for feelings and helping them to solve the problem. I need to be able to do both, which is a nice fit and combination for my personality style. One of my favorite things to do is problem solve. A man I work with loves to cook but gets very tired when he stands in the kitchen and was looking for something to help him conserve his energy and allow him to keep doing this task that he enjoys so much. We talked about a wheelchair but he doesn’t need that yet. We decided to try an office chair that he can perch up high and roll around from the kitchen to the dining room. I’m excited to see if this works.

Another man I work with explained that he felt incredibly tired after his last doctor appointment because of the long walk from the garage to the clinic. We talked about a manual wheelchair and he is resistant to doing this because the wheelchair means that things have declined. This is a very common issue for people who need adaptive equipment. They see a cane or a walker or a wheelchair as a sign of decline. I work with people to reframe their outlook on the equipment and to try and see it as an avenue for independence, not a sign of things worsening. If he uses the manual wheelchair, he will have the energy to make it through the doctor appointment with a clear and fresh mind. Although as we talked we decided it would be much cooler to have a golf cart driving around the doctor’s building giving people rides. That was a fun discussion.

I know firsthand what it’s like to sit in an office and get news that I didn’t want to hear. My disease had a treatment. My disease had a cure. I can honestly say I have put it behind me, although I do feel a loss I didn’t expect. While N and I were clear that we didn’t want more children, there is a big difference between choosing not to have more children and being unable to have more children. It is a loss I didn’t anticipate that shows up as sadness occasionally. Sadness for what might have been had things been different.

Not that I really wanted more kids anyway. Starting all over with an infant would be SO HARD!