Thursday, June 30, 2016

Focusing on the Beauty in the World

There's a lot of depressing things happening in the world. Crazy floods in my home state of West Virginia. Terror attacks in Europe. Mass shootings pretty much anywhere in the United States. It's disheartening and sad, and it's really easy to only see the negative in the world. The media tends to take any negative and focuses on it ad nauseam. It's not that these tragic events shouldn't be covered by the media nor should we in any way sweep them under the rug. But there's a lot of good in the world that gets overshadowed by the bad.

There are those who don't know me well who think my snark and acerbic personality mean I'm a negative person. It's quite the opposite actually. I'm quite an optimist (this may ruin my rep), and too much deep negativity depresses me. I have a healthy dose of cynicism, but deep down I want things to be beautiful and lovely. I love happiness and love.

Lately I've been ignoring the news. Seriously - head in the sand, completely ignoring it. When the BRexit vote happened I had no idea what it was or what the ramifications were. The policy nerd in me had to look into it, but I haven't watched media coverage or dwelled on it. I'm entirely pretending like Donald Trump is not a human who exists let alone one who's running for President. To the greatest extent possible I'm ignoring shootings, terror attacks and natural disasters. It may seem selfish, and it is. I can't take the media vilification of every single negative event.

Instead I've been focusing on the good in the world. I've been focusing a lot on the adorable things my son does: waving while he says "Au revoir!"; belly laughing; coming at you with his little fingers saying "tickle, tickle tickle"; playing with the dogs. The list is endless.

The joy of being a toddler in a swing. I want to feel this kind of joy every day.
I've been looking around and actually appreciating my surroundings. Last week I went for a long walk in Boyne City. I've been pretty frustrated with my body on the steroids, and my joints were pretty sore during the walk. But as I walked around Lake Charlevoix I looked around and said aloud "Wow I have a good life." And I do. It's easy to miss it in the busy and negativity of the world. 

Sunset in Boyne City. Perfect.
This weekend I join my family in the mountains of West Virginia for a long weekend. I hope there's no cell phone service. I want quiet and relaxation. I want to appreciate being together and cool, quiet evenings in the mountains. I selfishly want to ignore the world and all the drama that goes along with it. I want to surround myself with the beauty in the world. 

I'm not immune to the need to help when tragedy strikes, but I also think we need to find beauty in the every day. There's beauty in tragedy: people coming together and helping in ways that are amazing. It's SO easy to focus on negative when it's all we see on television and in social media feeds. Some days I have to entirely avoid Twitter in order to not let negativity take hold. It's a regular struggle. I will focus on my inner optimist and the many positive things in life that surround me. Life is absolutely amazing. Let's focus on that.

Something about these little shoes next to my shoes makes my heart so happy. I love finding happiness in the oddest places.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Back in the Saddle

Babe Ruth said, "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up." I love that quote particularly these days when running feels a little harder. Last week I was in Northern Michigan for my office's annual board retreat. I went for a quick run one morning (maybe 2.5-3 miles), and my joints paid for it the rest of the day. Granted I also wore 4-inch wedges all day, but there are some things one just can't compromise. 

Early this year I registered for the Charlevoix Half Marathon after realizing it coincided with our board retreat. I switched to the 10k after my hospital stay last month. I've barely been running, and the steroids cause crazy swelling in my joints when I do. I didn't really think I was even in 10k shape, but this was more about my running mental state than anything else. 

On Friday morning I went from our retreat at Boyne Mountain to downtown Boyne City where my husband and son were to join me later that evening. I had the most relaxing day I've had in approximately 18 months walking around town, having a leisurely lunch while reading a novel and taking a nap. Friday evening I went for a long walk, and I was nervous about my race the next day. My joints were not happy, and I could only imagine how they'd feel about taking a beating for 6.2 miles.

Boyne City hosts Friday night strolls in the summer, and the streets were packed with people. There were bands on every corner, public art, free carriage rides and games for kids in the park. I have to admit several times I actually teared up because I loved it so much. When I think about great communities and the power of places and public spaces, it checked all the boxes. This tiny town in northern Michigan had all the elements, and my heart was so happy. 

Friday Strolls in Boyne City
My husband and son arrived later in the evening, and despite that we were up and out the door of our hotel by 5:45 Saturday morning to drive to Charlevoix (about 20 minutes). I seamlessly picked up my packet, and we walked around downtown until the race started. There were different start times for the half marathon and 5k and 10k races which I didn't quite appreciate until I realized how crowded the narrow course would be for a while.

We started right on time, and I tried to find a zen place that wasn't annoyed by the fact that so many toward the start were walking. My husband took a video, and you can tell how many people in front of me are walking (and have pets). It was pretty frustrating especially considering that the course was narrow for a bit. 

The course was lovely. The weather was flawless (mid-60s), and we ran through beautiful neighborhoods in Charlevoix and along the water with peekaboo views. Once we approved the 10k turnaround, however, the course got a little squirrely. It's not uncommon for a course to have a turnaround point, and runners are then often urged by volunteers to stay on one side of the course. As I approached the 10k turnaround it was a free for all. Runners were coming straight toward groups of runners, and it was course chaos. Thankfully it's not a busy race, but it expends a good bit of energy to go back and forth dodging other runners. I'm also not one of the fast ones, so I'm sure the winners didn't love that either. 

I think start corrals and better course direction could go a long way in what was an otherwise pretty enjoyable race. The medal is legit - one of my favorite medals I've ever gotten. Very cool. I finished in a respectable 56:49. It was three minutes slower than my PR, but I'm pretty happy with that time given that 1) I spent a week in the hospital last month and 2) I haven't been running.

We headed back to Boyne City after the race and had breakfast at Cafe Sante, one of the restaurants downtown. I've eaten there several times for work, and I'm always a huge fan. After showers and regrouping it was time to head out in Boyne City. We went to the farmers market which had a number of vendors. It was a warm, gorgeous day, and our son immediately wanted to play in the massive play structure by the farmers market. How different life is with children!

Playtime didn't last long, and nap time for toddler and adults followed. It was mid-afternoon before we really got to check out the city. We wandered in the many shops including the awesome specialty wine store and market. We found all the sculptures in the Walkabout Sculpture exhibit which will be up all year. Our son played in the park on the waterfront (one of my work's PlacePlans sites last year actually). There were balloon animals, public art exhibits, and bubbles (an 18-month-old's absolute favorite). It was an ideal day in a charming town. Again, heart exploding.

Art for everyone!
We walked to dinner at the Lake Charlevoix Brewing Company Taproom which had only been open for a week. Our service, drinks and food were all fantastic. Our toddler's behavior left a little more to be desired, but it was a long day for him. He went right to sleep when we got back to our hotel, and my husband and I were able to enjoy drinks and some quality time on the balcony overlooking beautiful Lake Charlevoix. 

Not the worst evening ever.
As he is wont to do right now my son was up bright and early at 5:15 on Sunday morning. It was supposed to rain, so we headed outside just before 6 am with the beach to ourselves. The water was pretty warm, and my son enjoyed the fun task of filling a bucket with sand to dump into the water over and over again. By the time the rain arrived he was ready to head inside. 

Somehow the only people on the beach at 6:15 am
We had breakfast and then drove away in the rain after a really relaxing weekend. We travel a lot, but rarely do we relax and slow down enough to appreciate it. It was the perfect mix of relaxation, a great community, running and really appreciating my surroundings. It was the reset I needed for my mental health as a wife, mom and runner. My heart is full and happy.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Being Alone

I love being alone. It happens less frequently these days than I'd like with a toddler and an otherwise busy life, but I crave alone time. I love complete silence - time to read a book or just sit and enjoy still. Being alone, however, is different than loneliness. Nobody likes that.

One of the hardest things about being sick is feeling lonely. I have people all around me who care about my well being, but I don't want to be a sick person. I fight against that persona by pretending I'm fine. People have been asking me how I'm feeling, and my stock answer is a pause followed by "I'm okay". I realize this doesn't make me sound like I'm okay. The thing is I am technically okay, but I'm still off. I'm still not myself, and I have some frustrating Crohn's symptoms (TMI for even me to share) with which I'm forced to deal. It's hard to pretend like everything is okay when it's mostly okay with a few discouraging exceptions.

I used to entirely pretend like everything was fine and bury all of my health challenges. Obviously I've gotten over that (hence all my blogging) because it's impossible to ignore. It's part of my journey. Even with that - with people knowing I've been in the hospital and sick - it's hard to really quantify how hard it can be. My husband is with me every day. He sees me at my absolute worst - both physically and emotionally. He deals with my Crohn's body image issues, my frustration with my limitations (the ones I'll actually admit I have) and the sheer point of exhaustion to which I push myself daily. Yet even though he knows me better than anyone I feel like he doesn't get it because how can he? While I write a blog proclaiming to the world that I'm dealing with some serious shit, I tend to internalize a lot of it as well. I pull away from family and friends and put my head down and push through because what's the alternative? Everyone is going to tell me to take it easy and rest and be kind to myself. That's all sound advice, but it doesn't ease the loneliness and disconnect that Crohn's can instill in me.

Last weekend I was at a party where I was talking to two phenomenal women. One is a cancer survivor. The other was talking about her body image issues (and for the record this is a woman with an adorable figure). I had this moment where I realized that we're all going through our own version of whatever life throws at us, and while at times I may feel lonely, I am not, in fact, alone. I was inspired by their stories and their struggles, and I had a moment where I realized I our challenges may be different, but we're all there in different ways. I've had so many people tell me they appreciate my sharing what I'm dealing with and they identify with it. It resonates with whatever challenge they've been dealt, and for that I'm grateful. If writing a blog (my own form of therapy) can help someone else feel less alone, then I've accomplished an important goal. 

As I'm getting over this Crohn's flare running is going very, very slowly. My frustration with my body not just cooperating as I'd like it to is off the charts, and I'm trying to keep a handle on it. The steroids have made my body puffy in a way that isn't entirely noticeable to the outside world, but it's acute to me. But much like my Crohn's induced loneliness it's a temporary situation. I'm running a 10k this weekend that I really have no business running, but I'm really just trying to jump start racing again. In the scheme of things it may seem like a small thing to get back into running, but it's part of who I am. I feel a little lost without my rigid exercise schedule, but I'm not physically ready to be back in it 100 percent.

I've been feeling less lonely with my health which I'm hoping is a sign that I'll soon be myself again. Tonight my husband is out of town, my son is asleep, and I am alone. It is quiet in my house save the hum of the dishwasher. I am blissfully, gloriously alone, but I am not lonely. I've got all the support I need.   
Relaxing alone on my porch. Heaven.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Compromise is for Suckers

Last weekend I discovered something about myself: I don't like to compromise. You might ask if this was actually a new discovery, and I suppose that's a fair question. Perhaps I was just reminded of it. Either way it turns out I don't like to compromise.

I made this discovery during a sluggish, humid run on Saturday morning, a morning following a party where I may have had a lot of bourbon. And maybe a few Moscow mules.  My legs felt like they were made of cement. I was also having difficulty catching my breath which isn't usually a problem I have while running. I was short on time and just ran a few miles to shake off the cobwebs, but even those few miles were tough. My body is less excited about running these towns these days than it is about taking a break. My mind is not happy with this disconnect.

Compromise is hard. I want it all. I want to do it all. I had a child and barely broke stride. We have a really active social life, busy jobs, intense travel schedules (both for business and pleasure) and a toddler, and I want to keep it all going. For 18 months I've kept all the balls in the air, and now I realize I may have to let something drop. I am not amused.

The thing that's been dropping of late is exercise which isn't ideal. It's my outlet, and I need to exercise to be sane. But my body is tired, and my joints hurt. Last night I came home from work and changed into cute workout clothes because that would motivate me right? After my son went to bed I walked my dogs and then curled up on the couch to catch up on Veep with my husband before collapsing into bed at the late hour of 9 pm. I did wake up early this morning to do yoga and write this blog, and my body feels relaxed and balanced. Note to self: compromise must include exercise and writing.

I said to a friend last week that I'm making a most valiant effort to slow down, but what am I supposed to give up? Being a good mom? Working hard at my job? Having a fun social life (okay that's probably it but I don't want to)? What happens is that the people closest to me - my husband, family and friends - end up getting the least of me because they have to love me. They have to understand. That's also not fair, and then I feel guilty about not putting enough time into those critical relationships. The cycle continues.

My husband has taken a busy new job, and my sleepy work travel schedule wakes up in June. It's a busy few months, and it's a delicate balancing act to figure out our work travel. Last week my husband was in DC Sunday through Wednesday. I left Wednesday for an overnight in Detroit and he swooped in for kid pick-up late that afternoon directly from the airport. Next week he's in Northern Michigan for a conference Monday through Wednesday, and there's another handoff as I head to Northern Michigan for my board retreat as he comes home. The transitions are more work than they look like, but for our son they need to be seamless. I wouldn't change our jobs we love for anything, but there's not a lot of room for compromise. Maybe I didn't need to be out late while in Detroit last week for work and then up at 6:20 for a group run, but it was one of the highlights of the event for me. Worth not compromising. 

Early morning run at the Congress for New Urbanism (I'm in the blue shirt)
After our busy travel week last week my husband and I capped it off by throwing a party at our house and heading to hang out with family at the lake the next day.  I was tired, but I still want it all. It's hard to figure out the balance between pushing too hard and the realization that life is short, and compromise is annoying. Maybe I can't always have it all, but that isn't going to stop me from trying. Now has anyone seen my running shoes?

With my dude at the lake. The best.

Monday, June 6, 2016

It Won't Be Like This for Long

My kid is doing this amazing thing where he wakes up around 5 am every day (the sarcasm is coming through on the amazing part right?) This morning he graced me with his adorable presence at 4:30 am, about 30 minutes after I was awakened by the street sweeper outside my window. Needless to say after being in Ann Arbor for the morning, working all afternoon and fixing dinner/lunch for tomorrow/tidying up the house it feels like I've been up for 48 hours. 

Being Will's mom is magical. Even on long days that seem interminable, I love being his mother. He's a wonderful little boy. Watching him figure out how to navigate life is a amazing. But sometimes at 4:30 in the morning I wonder how I'll make it through the day. How many cups of coffee will it take? How will I focus on everything happening at work? Because even when one has an easy, happy child, being a mom takes an insane amount of work.

I'm all too aware these days that I'm also still not myself. The steroids I'm taking combined with antibiotics are finally working, but I feel sluggish. Waking up hours before the sun comes up doesn't help. The medicine makes me hungry and irritable and listless. It's worth it to pull myself out of this Crohn's flare once and for all, but that doesn't make it easy.

I started running again two weekends ago, and I've slowly started cross training again. It's slow going. I feel out of shape and languid. But yesterday my run was interrupted by a thunderstorm, and I found myself smiling as I sloshed through the rain. My shoes were soaked and heavy. My contacts were swimming in the water in my eyes. I had to stop at the downtown YMCA to call my husband to come get me because I wasn't comfortable running home in the lightning.

Running in the rain was exhilarating, and I felt myself back in touch with my runner self. Today my hips and knees are more sore than they should be. While I'm not entirely back to normal I'm starting to find myself again.

While I was running yesterday I was thinking of the Darius Rucker song "It Won't Be Like This for Long". Whether it's my Crohn's flare or the early mornings with my little guy, as my mother often says: this too shall pass. My summer wardrobe consists of flowy dresses reminiscent of Stepford Wives. My core is puffy, and this morning I caught my skin in the side zipper of my flowy dress. I wanted to cry, and then I reminded myself it won't be like this for long.

At a graduation party last weekend. I am (and look) so tired in this photo, but I love it so much.
When my son is hitting me during a toddler tantrum or crying at 5 a.m. I remember that someday he'll be a sullen teenager and not my little baby. I soak up every moment, even the frustrating ones, because I'll never get those back.

I chased him around all night (my husband is out of town). Look at that mischievous face. I wouldn't change a thing.
Life has thrown a few curve balls at me lately. I am not doing a great job at slowing down because let's be honest...we knew I wasn't going to. I'm trying, and I'm struggling to move at a slower pace. But I'm trying which is more than I would've said six weeks ago. I'm taking the medication I've been asked to take despite the extraordinary emotional stress taking steroids creates for me. Last night I had a long to do list, and I enjoyed one of the crepes an awesome friend dropped off for me along with a glass of wine. The to do list is still there tonight it turns out. 

Making a mess and feeding the dog. Heart. Exploding.

It helps to think that whatever I'm struggling with, it won't be like this for long. One day soon I'll look back at this time and think it wasn't so bad or so frustrating. Maybe I'll see photos of myself in these dresses and see that I look cute instead of puffy. I'll remember the precious grin and laugh of my little boy and not these early mornings. This phase is going to fly by, so I'll embrace it. Puffiness, early mornings, irritability and all.         

Also even listening to this song makes me bawl. Do so at your own risk.