Having written this blog now for just about a year and a half, I feel like I have gotten to know some of my readers pretty well. And in turn, you have all gotten to know me. But the thing about blogging is this- you only get from someone what they are willing to put out to you. I feel like this blog is an honest reflection of who I am and that I write both freely and truthfully. What you see is what you get; I am as honest with all of you as I am with the people in my day-to-day “real” life.
But there is one thing I have held back on because it is something I have struggled with for a long time. Before this week, I haven’t really felt the need to write about it…but it has now affected my life in a way that is interceding with my sport. And if I want to keep this blog honest, then now is the time to write about it.
I suffer from anxiety and depression.
That is the first time I have ever written those words out. And as I look at them staring me back in the face, I already feel better about putting it out there. Before I hit publish, roughly 10 people knew about this (family, boss and a few close friends) and now I have potentially put it out to the entire world. (Ok, so the entire world doesn’t read my blog.) Everyday I take a small pill that I have learned is pretty important to my well-being. When I was younger, I would take the medication until I felt better…I would feel better…and I would stop. (ps- that doesn’t work!) In my adult years I have learned that taking a pill doesn’t make me a different person, but rather a better version of myself. But there is, no matter what anyone says, a stigma attached to those who have to take medication. But I do. And it doesn’t make everything okay; I still go through ups and downs and I still have anxiety. However, the medication does regulate the intensity of both.
So why post this now? Well, you may remember this post from when I had to make the tough decision to drop from the Full Marathon at Philly to the Half-Marathon. At that time, I just knew I was not going to be able to fit the proper training in; between work and school and family things that were going on, something had to budge. I wanted it, the timing was just off. Dropping left me feeling disappointed in myself but I was okay with it because I still knew the decision was the right one to make. And by the time the half rolled around, I had accepted the fact that variables occurred that were out of my control. I accepted the fact that sometimes, doing what is right, still sucks. And in the end, I was happy with my decision to have only run thirteen.
So again, why this post now? Well, as you all know, I was signed up to race in the NJ State Olympic Tri this weekend. My first Olympic. A big friggen deal. A first should be fun and exciting. And me…I was freaking out. With more than a week before the race to still go, I was already not sleeping and having stomach issues. My anxiety levels were so high, no amount of medication would have helped. I talked this race up- this was MY race this summer. The big one for me. Just an Olympic to some, but THE Olympic to me. What my training was all about and what I had been talking about for over a year. And suddenly, I wanted out. Bad. The anxiety was leaving me feeling like a failure, depressed and I was fighting with myself over wanting to drop down to the sprint or drop out of the race altogether. I would consider the drop but then I would feel so bad about myself for even feeling that way that I would tell myself I wasn’t dropping but then feel all anxious again. The thought of actually admitting I might not be ready…of telling my friends, teammates…my readers.
I couldn’t stand the thought of going through with the race and I couldn’t stand the thought of not doing the race. That’s the thing about anxiety- it begins with one thought and then just continues into a million thoughts. It’s back and forth, yes and no and I don’t know; its cyclical.
For days, I was crying at the drop of a hat…stupid things getting to me because of the bigger issue at hand. If anyone has experience with anxiety, you know and understand that you simply cannot stop the thoughts. And you absoultely cannot be rational during an attack. And they were coming on so frequently that I was having a hard time keeping it together. I kept thinking about how under trained I was, my fears of the bike, how I haven’t run more than 5 miles at a time since February (almost six months!) but then I would think of this blog and how many people tell me I inspire them. Just the other day I was writing about the need to live fearlessly. But I am fearful. I think about the title of this blog and how I preach to everyone that Finishing is Winning. But that I didn’t even want to start. I was feeling like if I dropped, I would be letting everyone down. Like it would give people a reason to say I am not a “real” triathlete. I would give people a reason to say I am weak. Totally irrational…and I know that, but when the anxiety comes on there is no way to tell yourself how irrational those feelings are or how okay it is to feel like that.
All the while I was freaking out inside, I pretty much shared it with no one outside of my mom. And even then, I casually just mentioned my anxiety was high leading up to this race. I never mentioned dropping out although I did mention trying to put a relay together instead after my ankle incident last weekend. My thoughts were swirling…drop out completely? Do the Sprint instead? Do the Oly, but with a relay? The internal conversation was endless and without reprieve. I didn’t know what to do, I just knew I couldn’t keep up with my own spinning thoughts. I could no longer separate my thoughts. But still, I made no decisions…I just let the fear fester. And fester. And fester. You get the point, right?
Yeah, so why this post now, right?? Right.
Well, Tuesday was the first time I set up to go on a bike ride with my team. First time ever. I have been with Team Triumph since May 2008, yet this was the first time I even had the guts to show up for a group ride. And as if showing up wasn’t already hard enough, I decided since I was early to drive the course we would be riding. And that is all it took to send my anxiety from bad to worse. All those thoughts that had been going on in my head for days were in full force. All I could see was narrow streets, dead animals (seriously, there was a chicken in the road…oh, the jokes we could tell) and live deer, lots of traffic and no bike lanes. I drove back to the lot where some other members had already arrived and proceeded to lose it. I was trying to calm down and text my friend but I was too far gone at that point. Totally lost it. Full on shaking and crying anxiety attack. Luckily I had hidden myself behind my friend’s car, so even though people knew something was up, I wasn’t all out in the open with the craziness. I went back and forth about riding…everytime I thought about it I would get worked up again. I did not want to re-rack my bike and drive away in front of all my teammates. I did not want to give up. But the fear had taken over. How would I keep up? What if I got hit? Or fell? Or fell and then got hit? What if, what if, what if????
(For the record, I once jumped out of an airplane. I trusted my life to a parachute 13,000 feet in the air. Minimal anxiety that day. Minimal. Just saying.)
In the end, I rode. My friend Kurt offered to ride with me and he stayed by my side the entire ride. We were gone from the rest of the group…keeping a pace of 14-18mph, but Kurt never made me feel stupid for my fears and every time I would get nervous he simply talked me through it. We chatted as we rode and ended up clocking almost 14 miles. My first open road bike ride outside of the town I live in and closed race courses. Yes, it is true…all my riding has in fact been closed courses, loops around my town, spin classes and on the stationary bike. Until last night. Last night, I fought my fear.
But what about NJ State?
After a really good chat with a few of my teammates (ones I know will be honest with me and not patronize my fears) I decided I am just not ready for that distance yet. I have dealt with injuries this year that are still holding me back, my training has suffered and some of my friends warned me gently that the course for NJState is tricky and at times bumpy. I appreciate that my friend Michelle told me straight up that she thought it might be better if I did the sprint. Not because she thought I couldn’t do it, but because she thought I shouldn’t do it.
So instead of the Olympic on Sunday, I will be racing the Sprint on Saturday. As it turns out…going through all of that Tuesday on the bike ride, is what finally gave me clairity about the race. Fighting my fear is what gave me the strength to figure out what to do.
How do I feel? Amazing! I’ve slept through the night, my stomach feels fine and I am cool as a cucumber. I feel much more balanced. My mom (of course!!) totally supports any decision I make and I know she is proud of me. My friend Brian whose opinion I regard highly, admitted to me yesterday when I told him, that he too thought I might be pushing it by doing the Oly. Of course there are those who think I am weak- and they have made their opinions known and that’s okay…cause I can truly and honestly say that I do not care what they say. I am not cop’ing out…I am not making excuses…I AM NOT WEAK.
I have made the exact right decision for myself.
Here’s the thing: I could have raced the Olympic on Sunday. And I would have finished. There would have been anxiety and tears and more tears and etc, but I would have finished no doubt. I know that I can complete those distances. But at what cost to my mental state would it have been at, let alone my physical state? What if pushing myself through it re-injured me? What if it upset me so much I never did another tri? It never would have been worth it. I would have finished but probably not in a good way.
Races should be fun. The sprint is going to be fun. I know I am going to do great. I am excited and looking forward to racing. I like sprints. It is hard not to get caught up in the hype of doing a more challenging distance. The thing is, for me, a sprint still is a challenge. How about I get a few more under my belt and then perhaps I will feel more confident (and hopefully be fully recovered) for next year. Cause next year…oh NJ STATE, I will be back to claim the Oly race!
Does changing my race magically make me better? Well, yes and no. I will always have anxiety and I will always be faced with the depression that comes from feeling anxious. But I have learned how to control my life in a way where neither of them often come into play. Sometimes they still will no matter how hard I try to block them out- mostly when it is triggered by something as intense as what I went through over the last few days. It happens. I do what I can. I am human. And I am learning to forgive myself, give myself and break and move on. I feel better because I made the right decision. I feel better because I chose to do what is right for me.
I am learning that this blog holds me accountable to myself. And only myself. I love my readers dearly and without you this blog would not be everything that it is, but at the end of the day, I am accountable only to myself. I am not a failure for dropping to a shorter distance; I am a success for knowing it was the right decision to make and doing it even if I had to swallow my pride in the process.
Come Saturday, watch out. I’m going to kick ass and take names 🙂
And by the way, if you made it through this post and you are still reading…now you really know me. ♥