Monday, January 25, 2016

Hello Running, my Old Friend

After running the New York Marathon, a half marathon and two 5ks in November, I needed a break. I wasn't enjoying running, and I decided to take a little time off. I may have gone to extremes given that I can count on one hand the number of times I've run in December and January. I've been working out even more than usual with lots of cross training, but I haven't been running. Last weekend I decided I needed to get back outside and back into the running groove. My break was over.

On Sunday morning I took my dogs for a mile walk to warm up my legs and get them out of the house. The winter weather has been wreaking havoc on their walk schedule, and the pups' cabin fever has been pretty intense. It was colder than I thought it would be, and I immediately started trying to talk myself out of running. Why run when I could just pop in a DVD in the warmth of my living room? If I'm being honest one of my T25 workouts is harder than a short run anyway.

I forced the doubts from my head as I walked the dogs home. I didn't just want to run; I needed to. My body has been feeling wooden in the way it does only when it's not running. I'm much like my dogs in that way; my body needs intense exercise to feel like myself.

As I ran out the door I immediately felt like I was coming home. My body fell into its familiar cadence after just a few steps, and my breathing settled into its rhythm. I felt calm. I felt like myself.

Running is when I do my best thinking. I told my husband that I need to take a dictation machine with me. He told me I could probably take something small, but I am amused at the idea of strapping a large, old timey dictation machine to my back as I run out the door. I thought about a presentation I'm doing next week. I thought about my schedule for this week. I thought about this blog.

I have been struggling with my writing, and that's frustrating because it's generally something that relaxes me. I realized I was struggling because I'm not running. My body is out of its flow, and it takes my mind with it.

As I rounded the turn at the halfway point I started thinking about the importance of running to my psyche. I realized I haven't felt like myself lately. If I'm being honest I haven't felt like myself in quite a while. In the last three years I've lost both my father and father-in-law, we had a birth mom change her mind on an adoption plan after she gave birth, I spent a month in the hospital with two surgeries and a blood clot, and I unexpectedly had to put down my 15-year-old cat who was my baby.

In that time we have some amazing joys - the birth of our son, buying our dream house, two new exciting career changes. But it's a lot. This has all happened in the span of three years, and it's taken its toll. It's taken its toll on me as a wife, a mother, a friend and a colleague. It's taken a toll on my marriage. In the last three years we've dealt with as much as some people deal with in decades. I'm not complaining; we have a great life. Our struggles are so much less than those of so many others. I am strong, and I know I can handle it.  But it's been really fucking hard, and it's changed me. I'm not sure I always like who I am right now.

When I blogged last week I was being honest with my feelings, and I had so many friends reach out. I didn't realize that the post sounded dire or like I needed my friends to reach out, but I did. I do. And I need to be there for them too. I need to find myself because somewhere in the chaos that life has thrown at me, I've gotten lost. I haven't enjoyed running. I haven't enjoyed reading. I haven't enjoyed my family and friends the way I used to. I've been angry, and not in that funny, sarcastic way that makes me charming. Particularly since Dad died I've been pissed off, and I'm sure that's natural. But I don't like it. 

As I neared the end of my run I began gulping in air as I started to cry. It felt so amazing to be running, and I felt like me. I loved it again. I am now resolving to find myself again. Last night I finished the cheesiest Nicholas Sparks book, and it was amazing. Judge me. I loved every word of it. I will love, I will run, I will read, and I will make fun of people wearing leggings (because STOP IT. THEY AREN'T PANTS.)

I'll laugh and I'll cry. I'll stop pushing away the feelings. It's my nature to play through both the pleasure and the pain, and it's not working. Today starts my come back to the person I like. That includes my snarky commentary on pretty much everything. Watch out people inappropiately wearing flats. I'm baaaaaaaaaaack.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We May Lose and We May Win, but We Will Never be Here Again

After the craziness of losing my dad last year, I gained a lot of perspective. I spent the last three months of the year feeling more relaxed and appropriately focused than I have been in a long time. I guess grief does that to you. Unfortunately something happened when I went back to work on January 4, 2016. It's like I flipped the switch, the perspective flew out the window, and just over two weeks into the new year I find that I'm reminding myself to breathe and wondering if I have any Xanax leftover anywhere.

I've already shared my unnecessary need to be perfect, and it can be a compulsion. Sometimes I can let it go, and sometimes it can control me. I schedule my life so rigidly that the tiniest thing can throw my day into a tailspin. I realize it's irrational, and I realize I have to prioritize. It can feel like a lot though.

Last week I went to Traverse City for work. Due to winter weather my colleague and I decided to leave a day earlier, and I don't do well with sudden changes in plans. It was a smart move, but it totally threw me off for the week. I had a routine flexible sigmoidoscopy (essentially a colonoscopy for the colon-less) on Thursday at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor. It was mostly fine other than resulting in a new course of antibiotics, but it's exhausting. On Friday morning I was off to Kalamazoo for work. My son had a rash on his face, and I knew I'd have to also take him to the pediatrician at some point on Friday. Trying to find time for everything (not to mention a few minutes to take a breath) was making me stressed. Something about going to the pediatrician (a process that always sucks) pushed me over the edge. While dropping my husband off at work I was near tears. Again it was irrational, but in my experience feeling overwhelmed is rarely rational.   

Luckily I had a 3-day weekend stretching ahead of me, and I was looking forward to the time off. Unfortunately my husband ended up having to unexpectedly work every day. On Saturday my son woke up at 5:15, and by noon I was exhausted...feeling like I could barely keep my eyes open exhausted. The day was stretching out ahead of me, and I wasn't feeling well. In that moment I wanted to just be a Crohn's patient. I wanted to stay in bed all day and feel sick instead of sucking it up. I don't know that I've ever done that unless at my very sickest...but I desperately wanted to.

That's part of the problem with trying to be perfect - I don't let myself be a sick person. I need to relax more and take care of myself. I promise that I will. And then I don't. I had a couple of moments over the weekend where I broke down without having a specific reason. It's not that my life is unmanageably difficult; it's that Crohn's was winning in those moments and I felt sad. And I felt pissed off because nobody's got time for that. 

I spent the entire weekend looking for my perspective and feeling frustrated. I continually reminded myself that I was getting to be home with my precious little guy, and that would work for a little while. I built in time every day for intense workouts, but that would only help temporarily.

Death always provides perspective, and yesterday I heard of the passing of the Eagles' Glenn Frey. I love the Eagles, and "Take it Easy" is my all-time favorite song. It reminds me of being in college and listening to their Hell Freezes Over album over and over again. My favorite line is "We may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again." Last night I was singing the song over and over again while making dinner. I was watching my husband play with our son, and I had a delicious glass of wine. It had taken a few days, but I finally got my perspective.

Sometimes days can feel so long in this very short life. I have to take care of myself. I know that rationally. The little things - household chores, those organizational projects I think I have to complete - can wait. My Type A mind may not think they can, but they can wait. Take a breath. Chill the f*ck out. Enjoy the moment. Repeat. 

I like to pretend like I've got it all figured out, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Every now and then I feel overwhelmed by life even knowing rationally that I've got it pretty good. Today I have tons of perspective. Tomorrow I may not, but I'll keep trying. Thank God for cute babies, intense workouts, awesome husbands and The Eagles.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Moving On

Last week one of my colleagues/really good friends left our organization for a new job. I realize this happens all the time, but we've worked together for eight years. It's been really challenging for me to accept, and halfway through her first week at a new job I'm still in denial. This is my friend Nikki who has been my daily confidante and frequent running friend (and has even had a blog dedicated to her!) I'm so excited for her new opportunity, but it's going to be weird to not plop into the chair in her office and talk about whatever is bothering me. Now I'll have to meet her somewhere for coffee (I should mention her office is two long blocks away). So much more inconvenient.

As large life changes are wont to do it got me thinking about moving on. God it's so hard. I think in general people hang onto things in life - relationships, jobs, goals - because it's so much easier to hang on than to let go. 

I've been notorious for doing this with relationships - romantic relationships in the past and friendships. It's way easier to hang onto something that isn't working or isn't going anywhere than to be honest and move on.  Moving on doesn't mean you discount what the relationship meant or how it changed you as a person. It's just that sometimes they can snowball into a whole thing and extricating oneself from it is harder than letting it linger on life support. In the words of Patty Smyth and Don Henley "sometimes love just ain't enough." Preach. I once had a rebound guy that I dated for two and a half years. Letting go is not always my forte.

Friendships can be the same way. We grow as people, and our friends aren't always growing with us or at the same rate. I've worked hard at surrounding myself with people who are supportive and letting go of those who aren't. Sometimes letting go of friendships has taken shape similarly to breaking up with a boy - I just stopped calling them until they got the hint. I never said I let go smoothly either.

I'm trying to move on with running goals as well. I'm just going to admit it - I hate marathons. I've trained for four of them, and I've completed three of them. (The fourth was canceled 15 miles in for heat, so not my fault.) I like the idea of the completing biggest running challenge I can undertake, but I do not enjoy it. Training for a marathon is not my idea of fun. I like to race more often, and marathon training doesn't allow for it. At some (this) point it's not worth it even if I've identified it as the most challenging running feat. As of today I'm letting go of marathons...maybe for good but definitely for now.

Moving on is hard across the board, and having the courage to make hard life choices is something with which I think I'll always struggle. For someone who doesn't like to make New Year's resolutions I've still set a number of goals for this year. One of them is to recognize when things don't work and move on. The best is still ahead of us.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Perfection and June Motherf*cking Cleaver

*Disclaimer: I swear more in this post than usual. If that offends you I'm led to wonder 1) how we're friends and 2) why you read this in general.

I've spent my entire life trying to be perfect. I'm all about goals, so why not shoot for one that is literally unobtainable? The thing about perfection is that it's completely subjective. My definition of perfect may be completely different than yours.

For me perfection is about efficiency. The more I can accomplish the closer I get to my goal of perfection. If you leave me to my own devices for any length of time I will come up with some kind of project. Over Christmas break it was things like organizing my pantry and organizing my son's closet (a task I find myself doing every few months as he grows out of things so quickly.) I rarely stop moving. While my son's nap time should be an opportunity to take a break, for me it means time to exercise, fold laundry, vacuum, and (insert other project here). There are some days where the only time I sit down is when I am running errands in the car. I am exactly like my dad; I'm not wired to relax.

Last night while my husband was giving my son a bath (what...maybe 15-20 minutes tops?) I took decorations off of two artificial trees and dusted my dining room. Today during my lunch break I walked home and put dinner in the Crockpot, put away Christmas garland and vacuumed the entire downstairs of my house. Who needs time to eat?

I love cooking (or more accurately the idea of cooking), but making dinner has become the bane of my existence (coupled with my son's picky eating). I get two hours max of time with my kid every night, and I don't want to spend it fixing dinner. However the perfectionist in me feels like I need to cook. Last weekend I decided to tie on my apron and make my husband a full on holiday feast: turkey, homemade garlic mashed potatoes (side question: is there a trick to getting the smell of garlic off my fingers?), green bean casserole, stuffing, rosemary gravy and corn. It was totally my idea, but I wanted to do it because I knew it would mean a lot to him. Later I found myself with every burner blazing on the stove on a Saturday evening wondering why I couldn't just order Chinese food like a normal person. Or fix a more appropriate meal for two people. Because that would be too easy, and my expectation of perfect in this scenario meant a more extravagant meal. Because in my head my crazy makes me think I can actually pull off being a flawless domestic engineer (while also being a working mom) like I'm June Motherfucking Cleaver.   

After two weeks at home with my son I've discovered that the world's most difficult job is parenting. It's amazing and wonderful and the hardest thing ever. I would be lying if I didn't admit part of me was excited to come back to work to get a break. A nice cappuccino, a half an hour (okay maybe longer) in my colleague's office sharing holiday war stories without someone shouting "Ah gah!" (translation: "all done") to me over and over. I love the idea of staying home, and I feel so guilty to be relieved that I don't. I am so thrilled to have gotten more time with my son in December than I have since I was home on maternity leave. It was a blast. I'm also thrilled to come back to work and for him to be back at school with other kids and more structure (because I know for a fact their schedule is 100 times better than mine). 

I think I'm a pretty good mom, but I fall short of my own expectations of parenting perfection all the time. It happens any time I feel impatient. I don't love television for my kid, but when he actually discovered the TV over break I was guilty of putting him in his jumper to watch Daniel Tiger. It's on PBS. It's good for him right? (#perfectmomfail)

My to do lists at work are epic. It's not uncommon for me to have multiple lists that I continue to mix together and reprioritize. I also manage to fit in running and working out although some days it feels nearly impossible.

I don't say any of this to brag. I say it to illustrate that I'm fucking crazy. On the day last fall when my father passed away, I was driving back from the hospital with my mom. I will never forget how the day was so sunny and beautiful. My mom started talking about my dad in that far away voice someone uses when reality hasn't quite hit them. She said my dad was never able to relax. He was always going and ultimately it was probably part of what killed him. I wasn't about to make that moment about me, but in my head I thought, "Holy shit. That's what I'm like too."

Despite the myriad projects and chores I was actually able to relax some over Christmas break. It's easiest when I'm away from home and am not beckoned by all the things I need to do. I read 4 novels, something I haven't done in a while (reading is the easiest way for me to unwind).

Before my son was born my dogs were walked for two miles every day. Now they are lucky if they get two miles a week. One of my goals in the new year is to walk them at least once every day as long as the weather permits. Last night I desperately wanted to put on my pajamas and sit down. I had been moving all day, and walking the dogs in the cold did not seem fun. I forced myself to take them out after my son went to bed.

Izzy, our Portuguese Water Dog/Poodle mix loves it when there's snow on the ground. She was immediately bounding into it in the joyful way that only a dog can. We walked toward the state buildings and onto the walkway toward the State Capitol Building. It was a completely silent night with only the sounds I could hear being my boots hitting the pavement and my dogs panting. As we got closer to the beautifully lit Capitol I could see snow flurries dancing in the murky light of the street lamps. We walked around the building, running up the steps in the front as we always do. I paused to take in the view down Michigan Avenue and the state Christmas tree (I think the most beautiful one since I moved here). 

The night was so peaceful, and we were undisturbed in our admiration of the building and its surroundings. As we headed back toward our house I found myself so grateful to be out walking. I was tired and I was busy, but I was grateful for forcing myself to take the dogs out. I realized that perfection doesn't always mean striving to be the working mom's version of June Cleaver. Perfection can be found in snow flurries. Perfection can be found in the quiet moments when we least expect it.  My main goal for 2016 is to find perfection in the less than perfect and cut myself some slack. This goal may be less attainable than my idea of perfection.