Anxiety and depression suck. If you struggle with either regularly, then you are stronger than you think. I applaud your efforts and believe that your endurance is mighty. I am speaking to anyone who is reading this and finds relevance in these words. I am also speaking to the person who is writing this entry.
Anxiety and depression are two of the few health struggles where people who don’t have the diagnosis will still use the word to describe their own experiences. “That makes me anxious.” “This is depressing.” “That gives me anxiety.” So, you would think that it would be widely accepted and understood that those of us who struggle with ongoing anxiety or depression are living with conditions that can become debilitating. Yet, most of us still pull off the covers each morning, get dressed and soldier through the days, all of the while suppressing the monster that wants to swallow us whole. When faced with a situation that brings the monster to the surface, we feel weak and ashamed. Others, even those who love us most, will try to put out the situational fire. Still, they do not understand that they have only addressed the superficial flare-up. Inside we contain a massive daily brush fire that zaps our energy and requires tools and techniques (sometimes irrational rituals) to keep it under control.
Each of us has goals, wishes, and desires in life. No matter the goals, to pursue these, it involves taking risks. Do you know what doesn’t mix well?
Risk: Knock knock.
My Anxiety: “Who’s there?”
Risk: “It’s me – Risk. Remember how much fun we had when you ran the NYC Marathon in 3:18? I thought you might be willing to try setting another goal. I think we can go faster.”
My Anxiety: “You have the wrong door. Please don’t come back.”
Me – opens the door: “Wait, wait!! Okay. I can do this. I will try it. I want this. Again.”
Growth comes from getting outside of our comfort zones. I love to compete. I know that I will have to fall sometimes to get to my peak. I know that it will test my mind to the point of imbalance. Still, I set goals, make wishes, and go after it just like everyone else. Every step forward feels fantastic, but each mistake, albeit necessary and natural, feels like an assault when mixed with anxiety or depression. Don’t get me wrong. I know that everyone struggles with disappointment along their journey towards a goal. However, the difference is that my brain is not wired to handle the recovery process as seamlessly as the average person. Recovering from a letdown is inherently more difficult. Besides, minor setbacks or hiccups will phase me long before they touch the average person. Being a competitor (no matter the level of competition) requires frequent face-offs with my monster.
Today, once again, I was confronted with the level of mental fortitude required to persevere thanks to a poorly executed training session. I am in a foundation phase with very few high- level demands on my body. Yet today, I ran my tempo but couldn’t hit the paces. I wasn’t even close (off by 20 seconds per mile). I felt mentally and physically sluggish, with leaden legs, fatigue, and suffocated by negative thoughts. This compounded with a similar feeling on an “easy run” yesterday sent me into a tailspin. Small potatoes, right? Enter my monster: “You ran this pace regularly as you trained for the marathon. Now, look at you – struggling through a short tempo.” “You will never get back into half-marathon shape.” “If you can’t hit these times on a beautiful day, how will you fare in poor conditions this winter?” At one point, I was visualizing my competitors. In my mind, they were feeling better than me. Negativity was swirling. Every time I’d try to change that mental trajectory, I’d look at my watch and see my pace was still too slow, leading me back into the vicious cycle.
It happened; the monster won. Sure, I know. I also understand that this is all part of the game. Training is a mix of good days and bad days in random order, with more good than bad. Yet, here I am, still having to face the monster that wants to tear me down with fear and loathing.
It could have been a result of a multitude of issues: the poor nutritional choices of the past few weeks, dehydration, returning anemia, or a lack of mental fortitude. These are all things that can and will be resolved. On the other hand, it may just have been as simple as having a bad day. We all have them, from athletics to work and family, off days happen. We are confronted with moments and events that do not go as planned or hoped. Unfortunately, those of us who struggle with anxiety or depression are not as well equipped to handle these upsets. I must work through a mountain of self-imposed negative attacks to find the lesson or the silver lining. I know it is there, waiting for me, but the journey to find it is exhausting. Hence, this blog entry. As I type words to the page, it is as if I am my therapist instead of my own worst enemy. I am finding the lesson.
As I finish this entry, I feel better. My mind has reset for the moment. I can move on. No, it is not gone. The monster still sleeps with one eye open, but I have put him to rest for now. By the way, this is just a training bump. Imagine the implosion when a race goes wrong! Oh yes, that happens more than I would like to admit. So, why do I continue to push myself? Because it is worth it. Truly.
Remember, there is more good than bad. A common citation suggests that to achieve balance, a person needs to receive 5-7 positive comments to cancel out just one negative. That ratio is probably on the higher end for those of us struggling with anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, this experience of running and competing IS more positive than negative. How do I remind myself of this? I leave you with one of a few goals for 2019: This year, as inspired by a favorite pro-runner of mine – Kara Goucher, I am using a confidence journal. Recording only positives, I plan to revisit this every time I am confronted with a negative. I will let you know how it goes.