Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hold, Please

Not sure how many people know this, but I met my husband because we both played poker. We both started playing shortly after Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, you know - right around the time the entire world started playing poker, and we met because of a now-defunct web page called (an on-line forum for poker players to post questions, discuss hands, etc.).

We both still very much enjoy poker, and to our amusement Amazon Fire TV started offering a free poker application hosted by none other than PokerStars (one of the on-line poker hosts we used to play for real money before the government shut it down). So, of course this past week, we have had our fun playing around for free chips and remembering all the lingo we used to throw around, like, "hold, please."

In poker, this means you have the winning hand but because of the turn or river, you could still end up losing.

This past week it also meant the more commonly used "wait a second," as I took a very brief Facebook hiatus, as non-dramatically as I could. Only a handful of folks even noticed, I think, and that was actually quite nice.

I didn't share my last two blogs via Facebook because, well, I had temporarily deactivated my account. In those two blogs I discuss what I suspect is depression, or at the very least an anxiety/stress disorder, that I am battling at the moment. For some instinctive reason, my subconscious told me to stay off Facebook for a while. Not that it had been bothering me - I wasn't fuming over anyone's post (I mean, I've blocked all things Fox News, Breitbart, etc.and unfollowed many folks quite some time ago - nothing personal, just self-preservation). Regardless, I clicked the button to put it on hold for a few days, said "I'll be back, this is temporary," chuckled when Facebook told me that several folks would miss me, and that was that.

So what happened during those few days? Unfortunately I missed out on a few very important events in friends' lives. Friends with whom I often share a "like" or a "comment," but don't always text. I didn't wish a few people Happy Birthday. I also missed out on the small, little moments that are so beautiful as they happen, but get buried so quickly a newsfeed mixed with triathlon, food pics, restaurant check-in's, and so forth. Missed lots of jokes, I'm sure.

But the following also happened: I actually talked to my mom several times on the phone. My relationship with my husband improved magically over the week. I was able to process my thoughts more clearly. I slept better. I SLEPT better! I had a few moments of clarity that were desperately needed.

Ultimately, I realized Facebook is the only way I can communicate with quite a few people via groups that I've committed to and I didn't want to simply walk away from that indefinitely. Gin & Tacos. It's a necessary part of my life, but it doesn't have to be a necessary part of my every other moment - and that's ok. It's ok if you do gain satisfaction from frequent posts, and it's ok if you don't.

I have a lot of work to do on *this* (I am dramatically gesturing my hands around my entire body). But those few days off from the 'Book and the peace I found within them ... hold, please.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

One Size Does Not Fit All

Have you ever watched the television show, "Intervention?" I never cared for the show for a number of reasons - mainly because it was a spectacle. Someone's life at the darkest moment, and they not only turned it into entertainment but tried to guilt trip the addict into getting help. That isn't going to help most addicts, not really. But, it made for good TV, I suppose.

When I taught high school health (yes - sometimes the music teacher has to teach a section of health at a small, urban Catholic school), I always taught a unit on alcohol and drug addiction because it was incredibly relevant to many of the students. I didn't just show them pictures of drunk driving accidents or "Faces of Meth," I talked about the actual chemical changes - real physiological changes - that happen to your brain, and forever change the way it functions when you expose it to drugs. Is that going to stop a high school student from snorting cocaine in his/her life more than talking about Len Bias? I have no idea - but I felt compelled to talk about the facts versus emotional manipulation.

When any of us discuss mental health, it's so very hard for people to grasp what they cannot see. How many George Takei shared stories on Facebook have talked about "This Woman REALLY Showed Why She Needed a Wheelchair Sticker in Her Car, Shamed her Shamer," and people momentarily realize there might always be more than meets the eye.

Then they promptly forget it and go right back to judgey McJudgers living in Judgeville.

A lot of times, people will discuss their mental "lows" and it sounds ridiculous. I mean, "starving children would be happy to eat that," right?

You're sad because your child was whining? There are people who are losing their child to cancer!
You're upset because you gained five pounds? My cousin is having gastric by-pass and weighs 400 pounds!

The list goes on and on with folks, sometimes well-meaning (and many times not well-meaning at all) telling you to snap out of it and stop whining. Sometimes we do need to simply suck it up. But there are other times we cannot suck it up and get it done, no matter how much we try.

There is more than meets the eye.

It doesn't make someone less of a person, it makes them different. I could train as many hours as one of my coach's elite athletes, but I am not going to run a 5:00/mi marathon in my life. Or average 24mph on my bike during a triathlon. Or slam dunk a basketball. Why? My body is different. Just like they will probably never be able to play some of the more difficult saxophone etudes that I can easily play.

But when it comes to mental health - some people just take it upon themselves to paint this broad brush of "get over it, whiner," and it's not ok to do that. It is NOT ok to do this!

I realize the four or five "stresses" I mentioned in my blog post a few days ago seem like ridiculous things to worry about in the grand scheme of life. Of course I understand that! Of course I care about bigger things. Of course I am thankful for all of the good in my life.

But I am walking around in a haze, in a funk, an indescribable dark hallway filled with panic attacks that feel like a vice around my chest. I often feel like I have been crying, even when I haven't been. I am having problems putting things into perspective and becoming more overwhelmed by the moment.

That's what makes this all difficult - you don't want to mention this to a friend, because what if they tell you to just get over it. I have been trying! Or tell you you're being petty and selfish and a whiner. I know this! Making it more complex is the knowledge that there are times, many times, you were simply whining.

None of that matters. When you know in your heart that it's time for help, that something has happened - please, seek help.

Sometimes the trigger is worrying about your job, a medical diagnosis, a strained relationship with a family member, being a caregiver - but when depression begins, it is real. Seek help.

I am starting to put things I had once enjoyed on the back-burner because I realize they are not bringing me joy. A few blogs are no longer in my reading list, I deactivated Facebook for a while, that sort of thing. I am trying to surround myself with only what I can handle.

Do what's best for you. Please don't criticize someone else's journey. And when the negative Nancy folks come out (they always will), be the bigger person. You never know who is watching.

Monday, January 18, 2016


Yesterday was a long run day. Wasn't a slow one, but a strength building with extended intervals of pushing hard and active recovery. It was pretty cold outside, so I opted to hit the gym treadmill.

Everything that could go mentally wrong went wrong. I also nearly pulled out a stitch from my lip with the hand towel I used to wipe sweat off my face. This sent me into a panic attack that I couldn't recover from, and when your heartrate won't get out of Zone 5 even when you're walking, well... I cut it quite short and shuffled back to the car.

I read something on Facebook yesterday (before I ran). A triathlon acquaintance described the very emotionally painful highs and lows that go with her life as a person diagnosed with mood disorders. It really struck a chord because I've never read anything like this from her. She's very positive on social media, genuinely kind and pleasant. Upbeat and encouraging. A little bit of self-doubt, but never insults anyone else or "vague-books," or says anything negative about another person. Her descriptions of the lows - I knew exactly how she felt. Because for several months, I've been spiraling down and down, kicking hard to come up to the surface and breathe, and spiraling down again.

1.) I feel guilty for leaving my kids. Not just in a "oh, they'll miss me," or a "only I do it right" - but genuine guilt for what happens. We don't have family or a regular babysitter, and while people have generously offered to watch the kids - it's often very busy people or other athletes who also need to work out.

But when I leave - I often come back to a stressed-out husband. Kindergarten has been hard on my son, and it's made life hard for all of us the last five months. The kids are miserable, my husband is clearly miserable most of the time.

And I do hate the crying from my daughter at the gym daycare. She 99% of the time ends up having fun, but it sucks. The looks from people that say, "why did you have kids just to leave them in a daycare?"

2.) My weight gain. I seriously don't understand it. I weighed myself at the gym yesterday and confirmed I've gained ten pounds. Back to weighing more than I did at my wedding, weighing more than I did when I started running three years ago. I have been snacking a little more, but ten pounds more? I feel like the only way I can lose weight now is to shame myself into eating healthy 100% of the time.

3.) People. I always feel socially awkward. Always have. In my teen years, I had a group of friends who were quite often mean. In hindsight, I am sure they were dealing with their own hormone stew, but it still sucked then and I feel like I have never really figured out how to be friends with people. I have only let in a few people right now, and even now I don't go into "this" with them because I don't want to be a burden.

Probably irrational: I often suspect people make fun of me in the triathlon world (and people in general) because I am not athletic-looking, my gut looks like I am pregnant. People never want to take selfies or pictures with me because I am not pretty, I have crooked teeth, and a weird face. People don't want to run with me because I am slow. People get annoyed waiting for me to catch up on the bike. I am sure people make fun of me for being an ignorant liberal and liking Robert Reich posts. Sharing too much on Facebook, taking too many pictures. I feel like for every two people who say, "your posts make me laugh" there are ten more thinking, "JFC she is the most annoying person - STFU, idiot."

4.) Ironman. I could write a few books about this, but simply put: I regret signing up for a full. Mostly because I am beginning to doubt what my body can handle. Some athletic blogger is now hosting a super-duper core challenge (interestingly enough, she has the same name as me. I made a joke that if someone thought they were meeting her, and saw what I looked like in person - they'd say, "whoa - she must use some serious photo shop in her pictures." Hahaha). But my stupid core is broken. It's toast. My lower back hurt all last week because I did something to my obliques (which normally handle the load my rectus abdominis can't). So, each and ever time I bent over, just a little, *boom* my back screamed.

But it's supposed to be about the journey and feeling thankful. Lately all I can feel is the pain in my hips when I run up hills. The pain in my bunion. The deathy feeling when my heartrate is in Zone 5 while I run, and genuinely wondering if I am, in fact, about to die. Wondering if I can every get my 100 yd average under 2:00.

Side note: None of this is my coach's fault. He has been understanding, he listens to me, he writes manageable workouts. He knows exactly what I need to do to meet my goals. But I also imagine his patience is wearing thin. The bottom line is I haven't been performing where I should be, kind of not ever, and certainly not the last few months.

5.) My career. It is becoming pretty clear to me I am going to struggle finding my niche when/if I return to teaching full-time. That's an entire blog post.

6.) The skin cancer. I don't even want to talk about it.

7.) Friends and family well-being. Feeling helpless.

I don't know when to make the call of "it's time to talk to someone." But I think the last time I felt joyfully happy was sometime in August. In the mean time, it's been a series of failures, not-enough's, red boxes, guilt, worry and dark.

Anyway - the only reason I am sharing this, is to let you know you aren't alone if you feel any of these things. I also think when you are dealing with something that is clearly a genuine mental/mood/anxiety disorder - it's bigger than "shaking it off." I don't choose to feel this way. I don't want to feel this way. Yet - here it is. I am really tired of it, I want to be happy again. Or at least not be dark.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Welcome to Mohs

So, last month I was diagnosed with Basal Cell Skin Cancer. Yesterday I had the Mohs surgical procedure to remove the cancer, and that will hopefully take care of the problem. While I don't really want to have to go through that procedure again, and certainly not on my lip, I am very thankful for our access to medical care and that it was Basal Cell, because that's often one-and-done treatable.

When you schedule the procedure, they tell you to plan on being there until lunchtime.

Apparently, they mean Pacific Time-Zone lunch.

I was dropped off early for my 8:50AM appointment, but wasn't seen until 9:20AM. Pretty standard for my dermatologist's office, and that irritates me, especially when I arrive early. Anyway, the nurse took my blood pressure and pulse ("Wow! These are fantastic numbers! I am not used to this!"), reminded me approximately fifty times that they were going to remove the CANCER from my CANCEROUS area on my lip that has CANCER and the CANCER would be tested for CANCER... (j. f. c.) She cleaned my face with alcohol, then the doctor came in and injected local anesthesia into my upper lip.

Know how kissing feels really nice because your lips are sensitive? Contrarily, how it hurts when you bite your lip, or get punched in the mouth? Or waxing, or using tweezers to pull out a weird hair (oh, wait - you wouldn't tweeze out a random lip hair because that would really hurt)? Well, a tiny needle injecting anesthesia into your upper lip HURTS WAY WORSE THAN THOSE THINGS COMBINED. Like a cat's claw getting stuck into your lip and just staying there. It was very hard to not punch my dermatologist in the face, but I managed to fight the urge.

A few minutes later, he removed a small section of my skin and then cauterized the area. Even as someone who usually eats plant-based meals, I still enjoy the aroma of chicken cooking on a Weber grill. The scent of my own flesh burning right beneath my nose - eh, not so much. They bandaged me up with a pressure bandage, and then I was sent to the waiting room while they checked the specimen to see if additional tissue needed to be removed. Should be about an hour and a half, they said.

Sitting in the waiting room after the first slice and dice

Fast forward to 11:45AM.

That's right. 11:45AM. The dealee-o with this procedure is he also had about seven other patients having the Mohs surgery at the same time, and we were filed back and forth like an assembly line. That is in addition to the other patients he sees. Needless to say, my patience was waning as the anesthesia wore off, especially since no one even apologized for being thirty minutes late to start, nor did anyone let me know when they were running behind. I am fine with things running behind, but own it and be upfront.

A different nurse called me back for the round two. She also loved the word CANCER just as much as the first nurse. There was still a small section of CANCER on the CANCER area on your CANCER lip with CANCER.

I was hungry, I was annoyed, and I said something about being disappointed they hadn't been more upfront about the time between procedures. Her response?

"Didn't someone tell you to expect to be here all day? For the CANCER removal of CANCER?"

If there is one easy way to piss me off, and I mean piss. me. off. It's to:

A.) Pull stuff like this when I am hungry
B.) Not be honest with me
C.) Try to make something my fault when it isn't

I kind of lost it. But instead of getting angry, I just started crying. Tears openly flowed from my eyes, my bottom lip quivered, snotty nose.

"Sorry," I muttered. "This has just been overwhelming, all of it."

"Oh, I know - you're so young, too. Most of the CANCER patients in here are much older. I am sure it bothers you to be so young and have CANCER on your CANCER-"

"THAT IS NOT REALLY HELPING! AT ALL!" I loudly and angrily told her.

She finally shut up. And then stabbed my lip


to numb the area again. The doctor returned with good news - there was only a small section of bad cells remaining, he was certain he would get it all, so he would sew it up. No need to be numbed a third time.

He started to talking to me about triathlon, and that actually comforted me. He's a triathlete - has raced Ironman Lake Placid, Ironman Coeur d'Alene, Beach 2 Battleship, ultra runs, etc. We talked about the Chattanooga course, and suddenly I was calm. Talking about 144.6 miles of swim, bike, run had settled my nerves. Heh. He took another piece of lip, stitched me up and asked me if I wanted to see what it looked like. "Do I?" "Better here than at home," he replied.

Whoa. Several stitches and a very swollen lip. The nurse bandaged it and sent me to the waiting room. After about thirty minutes, they gave me the all clear and I went home with a prescription for pain meds (tylenol "C", no ibuprofen allowed - interesting to me because I would think it would help with the swelling. Apparently it can cause excessive bleeding.)

A low moment of the day at home
Last night I was in pretty substantial pain and grumpier than a mom who spilled her Starbucks in the back of a carpool line. I didn't sleep well, but my lip felt better this morning, even though it's still pretty swollen.

I'll have stitches for two weeks, so no swimming, but I can run in two days and bike indoors today. No rest for the wicked, so I will definitely get on the trainer today and try to continue with exercising.

Regarding Basal Cell Skin Cancer - it isn't fun. It's scary and weird to think about having cancer at all. But the truth - once you get a diagnosis of something serious, you've got to remember to focus on the positive, and try to teach others. So...

1.) Use sunscreen. Good sunscreen - yes, that stupidly expensive, mineral-based sunscreen that makes you look all pasty.

2.) Apply it 30 minutes BEFORE you go outside.

3.) You do NOT need a "base tan." As much as fair-complected people like tanned skin in the summer, guess what - it's not healthy. Basal Cell Skin cancer is often caused from excessive sun exposure earlier in life (ages 0-18).

4.) Get an annual skin check, especially if you live in the south, are active outdoors, have fair skin/light eyes, or have had sun burns at any point in your life.

5.) Wear SPF clothing if possible and try to avoid being in the sun during peak hours (10-2, usually).

I do think I will blame this scar on something more interesting someday. Bar fight? The last scoop of quinoa in the bin at the co-op? Prime parking at the gym?

Saturday, January 2, 2016


"Are we meeting at the hillier part of Umstead?"


"Ugh. My hips are going to hate everything I ate for dinner... and for the last two weeks."

"Haha - well, just own it the next few days until you get back into it."

This was a conversation I had with my coach yesterday about our Saturday run. The last few weeks I have been eating more than usual - some of it stress-related, some of it comfort-related and most of it because well, food tastes really good. Chips and guac? YES PLEASE. Cheese? OH YEAH. Cookies? ALL OF THEM. Salads and veggies? WHAT ARE THOSE?

Own it.

I went on a pretty decent exercise streak in December after the breakthrough moment of discipline v. motivation, and I even told my coach today as I huffed and puffed up a hill, "my keyword for 2016 is 'discipline.'" The next step is to put my discipline where my mouth is... seriously, I need to use the same desire for a "Green Training Peaks Box" when it comes to what I put in my body. A disciplined triathlete doesn't eat french fries (not very often, at least) - they are able to differentiate food as a comfort from food as a fuel. That is not easy for me. I honestly don't eat horribly on a daily basis, but I don't eat like an athlete training for an Ironman. Maybe an Ironman of Snyder's Honey Mustard Pretzel Pieces. A lot of mindless eating.

Own it.

It's a new year. Regardless of what my surface-level subconscious wants me to believe, I am happy that I signed up for Ironman Chattanooga. It's going to be a challenge, the biggest physical and mental challenge I will have ever faced. Not the race itself. I am actually excited about that day, even if I were to DNF. It's going to be a wonderful experience, I love race day. Love it. The biggest challenge for IMCHOO is going to be days like today. The days where bad eating, or a lack of sleep, causes me to perform at a level that is far lower than what I know I can do. The days where my kids cry when I leave. Days where I fall behind the pack of athletes with whom I am training and then I feel lonely and slow. Days where I swear my watch is broken when I swim, but it isn't, nor is it the fault of the pool. Days where you hear (or #read) people stifle laughter, or some other not-so-nice thing about your personal journey.. and you don't shake it off right away. All of this is the part of the journey that is going to be the hardest for me. Not the workouts themselves, but the mental games I constantly play and ultimately lose.

Own it.

I have a lot to do this year. One of the things that will keep me going is knowing this is for a cause bigger than me. I signed up for Team Drea again, and I am incredibly honored and humbled to dedicate my training and racing for ALS awareness and research. I am also SO excited to be a Base Ambassador, their products are outstanding. I have high hopes for what I might accomplish (and own) this year, but I am truly looking forward to all the things I will learn about life.

Round and round