Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Social Butterfly and the Loner / Knowing Your Limits and Asking For Help

I am alone in the wilderness 
I've swallowed the whole world 
the songs and dances of a thousand people 
in a thousand languages 
so I am not alone


Running and training at this time of year is an isolationist hobby for me. I end up going out alone in the cold, snowy or slushy New England roads about five times a week. I try to hit my 25 mile goal, which this year is actually become a 30 mile goal as I need to build more hill work in before Big Sur in April.

The problem is that my friends, although great New Englanders in their own right, don't like the cold much. Or the wet. January has been fairly nice so far, tolerable. We have had our share of days in the 40s. But as we are approaching February, we are starting to talk snowfall. It isn't uncommon for February to be a bitter cold, grey month. Even if it stays warmer, the quality of the snow will be wetter and heavier, and that is really rough on the feet. Soaking wet shoes in sub-50 degree weather is no recipe for a good time.

I'm forced to really buckle down this time of year because as much as I don't relish the idea of spending hours outside I really do love running. I know at times I may say things about how I "have to get the miles in," and in the past that has rubbed people the wrong way. The truth is I don't really view running as a chore, at least not while I am out and on the road. Motivating myself to get out the door is always a struggle, however.

It isn't so much that I take movement and my kinesthetic abilities for granted. It isn't that I really hate the weather. I think a large part of the reluctance comes from insecurity and having to overcome it. Having a poor self image for a large part of your life leaves you with a battle over your self worth. It is a fight worth having. It is a fight, nonetheless.

These are discussions that I really have with myself out on the road. I do a lot of inward reflecting this time of year -- I usually end up missing parts of songs, audio books, or whatever else I was listening to because of it -- and I think that is a good thing. I'm a calmer and nicer person because I put the hours in on the road. At times it is really suffering -- I've headed out on the road only to hit sleet and hail at mile 6, only to head home and have the sun break right as I step foot in my driveway -- but mostly even through the work it still feels like tremendous joy.

I also live with a conflict within, because as much as I hate going out in the weather like this, I'm also really proud of myself once I've done it. I start to see myself as an unstoppable force, a person who really loves and belongs outdoors. That statement flies directly in the face of the one a few paragraphs back. But that is the reality of the solitary winter runner, I think.

Training has also coupled with a really rough first month at home and back at work. We aren't sleeping as much, it isn't as restful. I'm trying to stay away from podcasts like Primal Endurance, or Endurance Planet. I love these podcasts, by the way. I just also know that following the advice in there would mean I would have to stop running for at least six months. That doesn't feel like an option to me.

Every time I hear these folks talk about the importance of "sleeping until you wake up," or "giving up the alarm clock to improve cardiac function," I want to throw my phone across the room. This might be true, but the reality is I'll never be able to do that. I have a job that requires me to get up at 5 am. I have a daughter that requires me to stay up until 1 am some nights. We can both be right on this topic, it is a big world. The reality they live in, though, is not my reality. It probably won't ever be, as much as I would like it to be. I'd love to run slow and really build a base -- is it worth doing that if I can't get the quality of rest they're talking about? Is it worth taking such large amounts of time off training post-race when I feel that I really need to be moving to stay sane?

I disagree on the other side, too. Seriously? I don't have the energy to run intervals without seriously injuring myself. When I'm running on a major sleep deficit, it is much easier for my form to slip up if I'm focusing on something like pace. I may be able to get in some one-mile repeats, but I'm not going anywhere close to my 5k pace, and if I were I know I would hurt myself. I've fallen down before due to speed training on a lack of sleep. I'm not interested in doing that again.

As much as I might disagree -- and fervently -- with some of these things, I also recognize that I need them. They do stir my mind to thought when I'm out on a run, and they make me feel connected to something, which does offer a degree of security. I love going for an early morning trail run by the ocean and listening to the waves, the birds, that deer that I'm about to run head-first into. But at the same time, I live in a city. So if I'm going out on a run in the middle of the night or afternoon (which in New England sometimes feels like the middle of the night) I like to have something to think about.

I'm not so afraid of the cold 
it isn't so bad 
once you're waterproof 
I wish this was a thing I could say 
for the rest of my existence

This time of year can be rough for my social circle. People are back at work and very into their own stuff. My friends dive into work and won't come out for a couple of months. Usually I'm with them, although this year I'm much more aware of my time spent at home. I've been going for a month doing the same chores three or four times a day (depending how many bottles we use, how many diapers we use, etc.) Some of my family travels for a couple of months to get out of here during the snowy season.  I need something to break up the monotony.

I decided back in November to restart the beer tasting night that I used to do in college. I've ordered a case of beer samples, to arrive in the last week of the month. Once a month on the first Thursday I'll have a small group of friends over to taste the beers and also play cards, talk music, whatever. Additionally, I think it would be good for my wife and me to get to hang out with some folks and do something different. We used to really relish time spent with our friends, and it would be nice to set a night aside for this purpose.

A social club has to have traditions, and we'll need to decide on some. But this has been something that has given my mind something to distract it -- while I'm washing dishes, while I'm making food, putting away groceries, cleaning, doing laundry. So that is a good thing, I think.

We have also been battling what has gone beyond baby blues for my wife and into postpartum depression - with some issues around separation anxiety thrown in there. We have sought out medical help and have a very supportive primary care doctor who is willing to refer us wherever we need to go. This is a really tough issue, and I was finding myself falling into a lot of the traps new dads do in this situation -- throwing myself into the chores, obsessing about what needs to be done, and therefore spending less time with my wife. We've taken steps to rectify that, and I feel better about having re-framed my priorities. I also took a couple of workouts off to spend more time at home. I also took some time out of work to be there for my wife and support her. This isn't her fault, and it is something that happens, and we will get through it together. I am sure of that. Our daughter is perfect, and we love her immensely.

There are some really excellent resources for dads helping out their partners with PPD over at Postpartum Dads. If you are a new dad like me in this situation, I strongly recommend checking it out -- and keep the stories you read in perspective. Everyone's situation is different, and what happens for one family may not happen for your's. It may not take you as long to get through it, or it could take twice as long. You may be able to get closer to your wife, or you may go through a really rough period. I wish you the best of luck.

Another site we are really keen on reading now is Postpartum Progress. Very good resources and a good community for moms dealing with this difficult mood disorder. Difficult is the word I use, but really the hardest part about this can be talking about it. There is still so much stigma against people with mental illness like depression and anxiety. It is an unwarranted stigma, and I would very much like to end it by being open about it here. My family has a history with mental illness, and to hide that or be ashamed of it would be to hide or be ashamed of people that I care a great deal about.

As we went through a very rough weekend of coming to terms with realizing this mood disorder was present, I decided that since our families are unwilling or unable to help us in the way that we need help, I am going to deputize my close friends. I texted them, told them I am "calling in all favors," and then had them pick nights to come and help with chores. Everyone thinks the help you need is someone to "sit with the baby," and that is not the case for us. We need help keeping our house in order so we can look after ourselves and the baby, and try and rebuild our time together.

Fortunately, I have some incredible friends, and when the situation was explained to them they were willing to do whatever we needed. Just knowing the support is there has been so calming to me. My wife is still going through the anxiety and depression, but I am there with her fully now. We have even gotten to a place where I can set aside some time to restart my running (which is part of how I deal with my own depressive issues.) We will see how the specialist she has been referred to treats things, but I am hopeful.

The referral has yet to call. I am unspeakably upset, and very impatient waiting for help. I may call if only to expedite things. Yet again I feel that the medical establishment treats us only as cattle and not as people. There are good days and bad at home, and I'm not so sure that I feel there is a balance in good days versus bad. I am exhausted and tireless all at the same time, feeling that there is endless tasks to be done and yet a remarkable cry for rest. I'm working hard to "get through" without breaking.

The little girl is excellent. She is absolutely worth the torment we've been through this last month, and we love her more than anything.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are appreciated, but will be moderated.