Man Overboard

Where is the coastguard
I keep looking each direction
For a spotlight, give me something
I need something for protection
Maybe flotsam junk will do just fine
the jetsam sunk, I’m left behind
I’m treading for my life believe me
(How can I keep up this breathing?) 

~ “Into the Ocean” by Blue October


(Continued from Row, Row, Row Your Boat)


There I’ll be, just rowing along, relying on rubber bands and duct tape to hold it all together.

The skies may grow dark, but still I row. The wind may start to howl, and rain may start to fall, but still I row. The water may get rough and choppy, the swells may grow terrifyingly large, but still I row. Wave after wave crashes into my boat. The force of each rattles my bones a little more than the last, the saltiness stings my eyes just a little more, but still I row.

I row and I row and I row, until I’m weathered and callused, and my last drop of energy has been spent. I row until I’m nothing but hollow, shell of a person, going through the motions.

And then, just when I feel most exhausted, just when my desperation to see the sun break through the clouds and the sea begin to calm is most dire, a tidal wave of unfathomable size and strength comes crashing down on top of me.

And into the ocean I go, convinced I’m going to drown.

The above described process has happened so many times in the couple months that I’ve completely lost count. Each time it happens, it takes me a little less time to remember how to swim. Each time I am less convinced that there is an anchor attached to my foot dragging me down into the dark abyss below. Each time my fear that a large, hungry Leviathan is lurking beneath me, waiting for me to stop fighting and finally give in, seems a bit more irrational.

But the fact that I am making this slow progress does nothing to lessen that initial fear of drowning, and the terror that comes along with it.

It’s unnerving to me how unstable I have become. I’ve always considered myself a mentally strong person, I don’t think I could have gotten where I am if I wasn’t, but this injury seems to have struck my achilles heel. Nowadays I seem to lose it at the drop of at hat. One moment, I am fine, optimistic about the future and confident with who and where I am, and the next minute, I have lost all control. I am sad and anxious and hopeless. I find myself utterly paralyzed by fear – fear of not being able to get back to where I was, fear of not living up to my own expectations.

I’ll see a photo on Facebook of someone crossing the line of a race, and a pang of sadness and jealousy will course through me. Ill run into a friend who I haven’t spoken to in a while and they’ll ask me how my training is going, and my heart will sink a bit further when I tell them what’s happened. A race coordinator will accidentally send me an email reminding me to ‘get ready for next week’s race!”, and a softball-sized lump will form in my throat. And then, as I’m rummaging through my drawers trying to find my favorite comfy shirt, I’ll pull out one of my old Heps shirts.

And just like that, I am in the ocean. Drowning.

The people around me who care about me try their hardest to console me. They reassure me of my how strong and brave I am. They recount their own struggles and dark times, and how they made it through. They tell me that what I am feeling will pass, and that soon the sun will come out and I will be healthlyand feeling like me again.

Somewhere inside me, I know that they are speaking the truth, but no matter what they say, I can’t seem to shake the fear and doubt. I can’t help but entertain the almost unbearable thought – that things will never get better.

Before this injury happened, I really was trying to build an identity for myself that didn’t revolve around running. I was doing new things and exploring other interests in my life. I wasn’t abandoning running or pretending that part of myself didn’t exist, I was simply opening myself up to the possibility that there could be other parts of my life as well.

My plan was to transition slowly. I was going to take baby steps. I was going to take my time, scaling back things in the running world in stages, introducing and experimenting with the outside world bit by bit. It was going to be a smooth, painless process, one that never felt scary or overwhelming at any given time.

That plan was completely thrown out the window when this injury forced me to take one giant and terrifying leap forward.

As I said before, it is being unable to exercise in general, rather than run specifically, that bothers me the most right now. I’ve discovered that, although I have always been more vocal about the runner aspect of my identity, the athlete/exercise-enthusiast part is just as strong. After 8 years of having at least some form of exercise be an integral part of my day, whether running or cross-training, I have been essentially reduced to nothing more than a couch potato. This jarring turn of events has allowed me to come to one very real conclusion: exercise is a powerful drug that I am completely addicted to, and right now I am going through withdrawal.

A quick google search led me to the following as emotional symptoms for withdrawal:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration
  • Depression
  • Social isolation

Check, check, CHECK, check, meh, check, check and check.

I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that the evidence is, as Dumbledore once so famously said, incontrovertible.

The fact of the matter is, exercise is the standard to which I pretty much base my entire life off of. Days of the week are not simply days of the week, they are workout days or long run days or easy days. Dinner is either a normal dinner or a post-workout recovery meal, one where I need to make sure I’m eating a ton and getting an adequate amount of protein. Contrary to popular belief, there are not four seasons, but only two – training season and racing season.

When I exercise, especially if I do it in the morning, the entire rest of the day I feel great. I feel alive and accomplished and deserving of having fun and enjoying my life. When I don’t exercise, I feel none of those things. I feel off and lazy and jittery. This negative, restless energy wells up inside of me, and eats at me until there is nothing left.

Now when I go out for drinks after work, spend an entire Saturday watching Netflix, or cook a big, rich dinner with John, in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think, “Do I deserve this?” When I was training, I never had those thoughts or doubts. Eating whatever I wanted, being lazy, or having a bit of fun now and then was completely justified by the hard-work I was putting in. I had absolutely no problem considering those little extras and treats and moments of relaxation and rest as an essential part of my training. But now that I’m not training, now that I’m barely even exercising at all, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the concept of splurging or treating myself.

I know that this ideology is a huge contributor to the sadness and frustration that I am currently experiencing. And so, with the help of my friends and family, I will begin taking steps to dispel these notions I have long held onto. Disassociating exercise and pushing myself my to my physical and mental limits with whether or not I am deserving of treats and relaxation and other little things that make me happy is a new goal in my journey towards health and happiness.

No longer will I direct all of my mental and physical energy directed towards trying to be who I was, rather be who I am meant to be. No longer will I leave myself unstable, letting the slightest mishap or misfortune throw me overboard.  No longer will I down in fear and negativity and self-doubt.