Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Truth

People will ask me "How are you doing?" And usually I say something like "I'm going okay" or "I'm getting better all the time." And, that's true, but it's not really the truth, at least some of the time.

The truth is, I'm not doing well. I'm struggling right now. I don't actually think the steroid treatments are working like they should. I walked into the locker room at the Y the other day and I didn't know where I was. My head feels like it's going to explode a good bit of the time now. I'm struggling to find words more than I would like. I'm having to check my calendar a hundred times a day to make sure I'm where I'm supposed to be.

But...I AM better than I was a year ago.

For as long as I can remember I have been a person who tried very hard to focus on the positive. If things were going poorly I would tell myself they could still be worse. Things can always be worse.

But the truth is that things could be A LOT better right now. And the truth is I don't know how to make them better. My MO has always been to simply focus on the positive and not let the negative pull me down. But my MO has also always been to focus on making things better.

I don't think those things REALLY go together.

Let me give an example. Say I take a test and I get a 98%. Focusing on the positive would be celebrating the 98%!! YAY! But I wouldn't do that. I'd look for the reason(s) I didn't make a 100%. To spend time focusing on that 2% is NOT focusing on the positive, especially if that 2% can't be made up or changed.

I think the truth is that I would be upset over the 2% FAILURE but I would put on a happy face and tell myself (and other people) that things could be much worse, I could be a 3% FAILURE!

There's something very disingenuous about that. To feel like a failure internally and to put on a happy face about that feeling of failure. But I don't think the answer is to proclaim failure. I am learning the answer is to maybe say "I feel sad that I didn't make 100% but it's okay"...if that's the truth. If that's not the truth then maybe spending some time working on making that the truth is a better use of time as opposed to working on ways to correct that 2%??

I'm sure you can tell I'm struggling here....and it's not the brain disease causing the struggle.

I think for me when I say "I'm doing great", I want that to be true. I recognize the truth of the statement. My situation could be SO MUCH worse that I really am doing great when compared to a lot of worse things that could be happening. But there is another very equal truth I (usually) don't say.... I'm not doing okay right now.

I don't want how I'm "doing" (my state of being) to be dependent on how I'm feeling. I want to be the master of my feelings, the master of my perspective. And, I've always held the belief that my perspective determines my feelings.

Feelings are fickle. Feelings are dependent on the circumstance. Feelings don't care that things could be worse, they just feel how they feel. Like unruly children.

That feels very chaotic and random. If my feelings determine my state of being (how I'm doing) then I can't be positive. I can't make it a great day. I can't embrace the idea that things could be worse because sometimes I feel pretty darn bad.

But what happens when a child is trying to express something and they aren't heard? They get louder and more unruly. Adults who don't understand this can work to suppress the child even more and you end up with a downward spiral that doesn't serve any good purpose at all.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I go around trying to suppress my feelings. I just try to get them to line up with my beliefs about life. Things could be worse. I don't accept negative. I work toward being better, always. Feeling sad or hurt (or grieving over how things are not the way I want them to be) is just like that's something to correct.

It's like there's this battle. I feel ashamed for grieving over the state of my health because I have friends who have much bigger health struggles going on right now. I feel like I have NO RIGHT to be upset over the little things I'm dealing with. At the same time I want to make those little things better and I simply do NOT know how. (Depending on who you ask there isn't a way to make them better--I do NOT accept that answer!) That causes a feeling of helplessness that I refuse to tolerate. Helpless is vulnerable.

Maybe the key is just feeling the grief I have over the state of my health and being honest that things are really not good without the judgement that I have no right to feel that way. Or maybe the key is to accept that 98% is really good and to completely celebrate how good it really is without trying to make up the 2% difference??

...The problem is that I don't really have a good perspective of what percentage of failure I'm at right now. I'm not dead so I'm better than 0%. But I'm certainly NOT close to 100%.

To not work to correct the percentage of "failure" I'm living in right now feels like giving up. To not grieve over the loss feels dishonest. I think I'm being stretched to allow both to be true at the same time. Grieve and work, but at the same time celebrate where I am and rest from all the work and grief.

A goal I've had for a very long time is to bring myself fully to life. The truth is that's complicated and messy and really very hard.

Thanks for stopping in and sticking around. I realized I didn't write about the RACE I ran in February!! I'll post a recap soon. It will be nice for this running blog to actually have some posts about running!! :D

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Let's Ride a ROLLER COASTER!! (Part 4 of 4)

I can assure you this is not going where you might have thought it would...bear with me here... I'm going to take you on a roller coaster ride.

From the time my kids were probably about 7 and 5 we got annual passes to an amusement park that was a couple of hours from our house (Silver Dollar City).

There was a ride at that park called "Fire in the Hole". It wasn't a roller coaster as much as it was "just" a fun ride. (The link takes you to a youtube video of the whole thing!) Spoiler alert, I'm about to tell you all the "thrilling" parts of the ride.... There's a part where it looks like you are going to be hit by a train, but the tracks have burned out so you plummet down, you get "shot" at, and then they yell "FIRE IN THE HOLE" and you zoom down and around the tracks in the dark! Toward the end a Hillbilly up above you says "Here's a barrel of laughs for ya!" and it looks like you are going to get doused with water. It makes you look up so your picture could be taken with a look of surprise on your face (they don't do that anymore, the ride has lost the element of surprise for most people). This ride was the family favorite for quite a while. It was the first one we'd get on when we got there and it was always the last ride we'd go on before heading home.

But then one summer thy advertised the new new roller coaster that would be ready the next year (Wildfire). All three of us were very excited to ride it. We waited all winter and showed up on opening day going straight to THAT RIDE. There was one problem. My daughter was about 2 (maybe 3) inches too short. Being the excellent parent I was at the time, I let her wear my shoes which gave her the extra height she needed. I didn't want her to miss out. But, the safety police saw through the plan and wouldn't let her ride. Being the stellar parent I was, we let her wait while we rode it!! Poor kid. The following year she was big enough and a new family favorite was born. We loved that ride. But the starter and ender of our day at the park stayed Fire in the Hole.

Until a few years ago, I LOVED roller coasters. I loved waiting in line-anticipating the ride is a BIG part of the fun. I loved getting in the very front or the very back (the middle was only if the lines were WAY too long for the front or back, but it was a last resort type option). I loved the feeling of being strapped in. And then every part of the ride had things to love. The clickty-clack of going up, up, up...slowly building the tension to be released at lightning speed. I loved the coasters that have sudden changes in direction with loopty-loops and high speed. I especially loved the ones where your legs are dangling down.

Until I didn't.

I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe it was just a matter of getting older-my body can't take those things like it used to. Maybe it was the sudden realization that they really are scary to be on.

When we are little we are taught what is scary. When I was in my final year of college I was pregnant with my daughter (my youngest). I had intended to go on to get a Masters in Social Work. I did a lot of research into studies of working mothers and the impact on kids. One study talked about how much influence a mother's feelings have on their children. They had a crawling baby on one side of a glass bridge and the mother on the other. When the baby would start to crawl across the mother would either smile and look happy or she would look scared. The babies who were given encouraging looks had NO FEAR of crawling across. The other babies had fear. This fear would transfer and generalize out to other tasks. (There is a reason they don't allow these kinds of studies anymore!)

Funny, as I was looking for videos for this post I found this little gem

I love the kid at the end..."do you want to go again?" "No."

These parents are teaching their children-there's nothing to be afraid of here. ("Put your hands in the air!!") ...for the record I almost couldn't watch this video. The one baby looks like he's going to fall out of the seat-that bar is not even remotely holding him in!!!

Remember the pressure cooker? When kids are subjected to high stress when they are little, they are pretty much growing up in a pressure cooker. (This stress can be any number of things from benign types of things such as moving several times all the way to more traumatic things such as physical, mental or sexual abuse. The body becomes MUCH more adept at triggering the stress reaction in the body. It's the opposite of what happens on the outside, or what you might think. You might think that high stress in youth would create a resilience to it. Or would desensitize the child so that it would take much higher levels of stress to create a reaction. But from all I've been reading, that is not in fact the case. (Google it if you are interested, there are WAY too many resources to link even a fraction of them.)

My kids and I could recite every line and knew every move of Fire in the Hole. Just writing this has triggered the feelings I had on that ride with my kids year after year. You might say the ride imprinted reflexive emotions and reactions that are deep within my body.

There are numerous theories on why some people get autoimmune diseases and some don't. Childhood illnesses, gut permeability and dysbiosis, being born via C-section, frequent and repeated use of antibiotics, toxins...the list is long. I think this is why most medical doctors simply treat the symptoms (called "downstream treatment"). There are pills that can solve almost any symptom out there. But the disease is still there (upstream from the symptoms). One theory is the early introduction and "inoculation" of stress causes an imbalance in the immune system. I don't want to get too technical here (and I can't, I'm not a doctor) but suffice it to say the system needs to be in balance to work properly.

The biggest two parts of a roller coaster are the tracks and the cart, or whatever attaches the person to the track. Well, I guess there's really a third...the operator. Some (most) roller coasters are automated. It's not like a train where there's a conductor that has control. The operator just starts and stops the ride. If everyone isn't strapped in properly, the operator won't push the magic green button.

I could take this in any number of directions at this point. This is one reason I love analogies. You can use them in so many different ways.

Are you strapped in??

Clickty-clack, clickty-clack....

When I was little I went to church with my step sister. I remember being there one Sunday night hearing about how I was going to hell if I didn't go up right then and get dunked in the saving baptismal water. I knew I didn't want any part of this place called hell. I knew how bad things were at home and I had every reason to believe hell would be like falling out of the frying pan into the fire (pun intended). So I jumped up and walked down the aisle. I was promptly dunked and sent home. I remember thinking the whole way back how excited I was to be protected by my new Father. I had been washed white as snow and was a child of the King. I could walk through fire and not be burned.

But when I got home, all hell broke lose. It's a long story but suffice it to say things did not change for me. I remember going to school the next morning and thinking "everything looks EXACTLY THE SAME".

Remember the oven? Well, this is when the bathtub would have been a better visual, so I'm going to switch back now. I trust you get the idea well enough to stay with me here.

Being washed by the blood of Christ has nothing to do with externals. It has to do with the heart. There is no part of that washing that we have any control over and no part that requires WORK on our part. We can clean and clean the outside, but it's the heart that really matters.

When we are on a roller coaster, we have no control over where that thing is going to go. We have no control over the speed. The cart is going to (hopefully) go where the tracks take it. The operator is just pushing a button but he's really not in control.

Who's in control?? The designer. The one who built the coaster. That person made decisions YEARS before you got on this ride. That person engineered the ride to do certain things in certain ways. When we get on that ride, our trust is not on the tracks, or the cart or the operator. Our trust is in the DESIGNER and the BUILDER.

My life has been a roller coaster. Lately it's been a lot more scary. I think it's been particularly difficult for Dwayne. He never knows what wife he's waking up to or coming home to at the end of the day. That man knows my every mood by the way I BREATHE. He has had whiplash almost daily the last 18 months. I may have grown up in a pressure cooker. My outside may not be as clean as I'd like. But I (we) trust the designer of this ride. I (we) have faith in the engineer. So we'll throw our hands up and enjoy every minute.

...I warned you this was not going where you thought, I gave you plenty of hints it would take many twists and turns and change directions abruptly, but you hopped on this ride anyway...

Thank you for stopping by and sticking around. The usual running commentary will resume as soon as everyone steps off the ride. :D

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Is This Clean Enough (Part 3 of 4)

I know I talked about cleaning a bathtub in part one, but I have some decent pictures of my oven that work too well not to use so I'll just make the switch right now from bathtubs to ovens. More people can probably relate to ovens anyway.

Let me start by saying I don't cook a lot. I'm not a cook. I know I said that in part two, but it needs to be said again.

I realized a few days ago that my oven was in desperate need of cleaning. ...Let me pause here for a minute. If you regularly clean your oven, can you explain to me how that works? I mean, I use my oven to cook food I'm going to eat. It's usually still hot when I'm done eating so I can't clean it then. When do you actually clean it? I had a self cleaning oven one time but I burned up the element in it by using it; the repair man told me to NEVER use that option because the element wasn't made to get that hot. That makes no sense to me...why have it as an option if it's just going to fry your oven? But I digress....

The other day I bought some no fume cleaner (that's another lie-don't believe it). When I went to spray it, I realized JUST how disgusting my oven had become. The directions said spray in a cold oven and let it sit for two hours then wipe clean. Thankfully it had another option because I knew that was not going to really work. For tougher jobs, you let it sit overnight. Well...I decided to let it sit about four hours. Shockingly, a lot of the gunk really did come up with paper towels! But clearly I had missed some places so after I wiped it all out, I sprayed more on and let it sit over night.

When I got up this morning I was pleased to see it had worked ...pretty well. But there were still some places that weren't really clean. Okay...the oven door actually looks like it has never been cleaned, ever. (I sprayed a THICK layer of this cleaner on there last night...I think it just doesn't really work on the door.) And the top of the door had what I thought were burned marks on it but as it turns out, that's just cooking funk.

Remember what I said about the filthy bathtub...well, I think you can see how this relates.

As I did with the bathtub, I scrubbed and scrubbed. I even got out a little brillo pad for the top of the door. I don't think I can use it on the door "glass" but even though I took a Pampered Chef scraper to that burned on nastiness...I could not get it all the way clean. I decided I would just keep working at it each day.

Remember the chart of diminishing returns?? Well...I really am in that yellow section right now. A LOT of work will only lead to a little progress, but it's still PROGRESS. And having a clean oven is worth it to me. Because now that I have recognized how disgusting it really is, I can't ignore it.

Before I looked in that oven, I was perfectly happy to just cook my food and not care what awful things were on the bottom, sides and door. It's not like any of my food touched those parts.

But, I looked. I noticed. And now I've read this whole article on why you SHOULD keep your oven clean. I won't be able to ignore it anymore. (How did I get to be 47 and not know all this already? I'll say it again...I'm not a cook!)

If you read Part Two, you probably know this has nothing to do with cookign and everything to do with training.

Okay...not really (but it could if that's where I was willing to stop). More than one do-gooder in my life has kindly shown me that I'm not quite "sorted out". And, frankly it pisses me off. My "inner oven" started getting dirty very early in my life. In a perfect world, ovens don't get as nasty as mine became.  In a perfect world, kids play and they learn and they grow. In a safe environment. And when hurts happen, they are "cleaned up" and "sorted out" at the time, in a healthy manner.

If you read part one, you know I decided that bathtub was probably never white to begin with. But I know what this oven is supposed to look like. I can't pretend I don't.

I have a feeling the stuff on the door will NEVER be truly clean. There was just too much grime built up. In the same way, the hurts of my childhood were deep and wide, and they were added to frequently. Even after all the therapy I've had, there are still some remnants that have yet to be completely taken care of. And, if I'm being honest, they probably will never be all the way gone.

The bad part about not keeping an oven clean? That baked on yuck attracts grime MORE than a clean surface would.

Let's go back to the pressure cooker for a second. When you have a dysfunctional pressure cooker...the pressure either builds, but not quite enough to actually cook the food well, or it doesn't build at all.

I'm not really happy about my grimy oven. I'm really not happy about my dysfunctional "pressure cooker". I don't want to "do therapy" again. I want to clean my oven and cook my food...and ride roller coasters. That sounds FUN, right??

Three posts in one day might be enough....or maybe I'll stick with it and see this all the way through.

Thanks for stopping by and sticking around.

**I know I said I had pictures of my oven...but really, no one needs to see that!

Life in a Pressure Cooker (Part 2 of 4)

Like I said in the last post, I really don't know anything about pressure cookers. I know what I think they do, and I like the visual, but the analogy might break down if you are a cook and you really know how they work/what they do. So, I'll just ask you to bear with me here...

Without going into too much detail, I didn't have a Brady Bunch/Leave it to Beaver childhood. My parents separated/divorced when I was in the 1st grade. We moved from Texas to Arkansas. (If you know anything about their football rivalry in the mid 70s, then you know why this is included in my "I didn't have a good childhood" story.) My mother remarried a couple of years later to the man I called Daddy. (He wasn't my biological father, but he married my "Mommy" so I reasoned I needed to call him "Daddy".) He was a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde kind of man. He was not a nice man. He passed away many years ago; I'll leave it at that. I know my mother is reading this, so I'll say I know she did the best she could, and I'll leave it at that. 

When I was fresh out of high school I found a therapist to see. At my first visit the good doctor was getting some history from me (thank God) and we discovered he had gone to school with my Daddy, like 30 years before then, in a TINY town about 3 hours away. What are the chances of that??!!  He tried to assure me I could talk to him about anything, but I couldn't get out of that office fast enough! Determined as I was, I quickly found another therapist. As I was telling her my story, she remarked that I seemed very well "adjusted" and asked what I hoped to get out of therapy. I remember telling her "well, I feel confident that I can't be as adjusted as I think I am...I'm hoping you can help sort that out." I don't remember how long I saw her, but she was the first of MANY "sorters" I have seen over the course of my life. 

((To be perfectly clear, in case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm still not sorted out.))

Since then I have spent more on therapy than some wealthy people in third world countries MAKE in a lifetime! And don't even get me started on all of the TIME involved. When you "do therapy" it's so much more than the time spent on the couch and the travel time back and forth to the office. But even more than the time I've spent "doing therapy", I want to focus a bit on the time I've spent FIGHTING against it.

....Let's talk about the pressure cooker now. (Again...if you are cook, just roll with me here...)

You put raw food in the cooker, lock up the lid and then turn on the heat. Pressure builds and builds, cooking the food. If the pressure gets too high there's this little stopper thing on the lid of the pot that will pop up and let some steam out. This keeps the pot from exploding while the food continues to cook. The lid doesn't let all the pressure off or the food won't get done. 

Think about how we train our bodies. We over reach and push beyond our comfort zone and then we take time to recover. Then we push again. In an ideal setting, we'd push just enough (we'd let the pressure build just enough in the pot), and then we'd back off just enough (the lid would let just enough steam out) in order to make our goal (cook our food). The goal is not actually BALANCE. The goal in training is to be faster/stronger than we started; the goal in cooking is to have perfectly cooked food! If you have "perfect" balance in training you are not actually "training"...that's called maintaining. If that cooker has perfectly balanced pressure, it would be called a bowl. :D

In "therapy" the idea isn't to stay in the same state you started. That's called small talk. :D

When you go into therapy, there's something that has probably been out of balance for a while. A lot of people (myself included) will take the pressure cooker approach. The "problem" builds and builds until it's unbearable and you go to therapy to let off some steam. Once you've vented off just a little you FEEL better. In training, when done right, you feel better after a recover day/week. But you don't usually meet your goal by the first recovery day/week now do you? In the pressure cooker analogy, when the steam is let off, the food may smell really good, but it's not ready to eat yet.

I have never liked pushing myself in training. I have never been a good cook. And, I've never liked therapy. Therapy is hard. Small talk is easy. Venting is easy. Therapy hurts. 

You can't take all the pressure off until the food is cooked, and you can't halt the stress of training until you've reached your goal/peaked for your race. With therapy, a little "venting" might feel good, but if it's not getting you (me) to the goal of being "sorted out" then you (I) have to keep "pushing" and "cooking".

Are you still with me?? Thanks for stopping by and sticking around. Part 3 of 4 is coming up...

Pressure Cookers, Roller Coasters, and Bathtubs (Part 1 of 4)

Bear with me here...

A pressure cooker is a really neat kitchen tool that I have never fully understood. All I really know about it is that it has this neat top that will allow pressure inside the pot to be released so the whole thing doesn't blow up. It's one of the many analogies I use when talking about mental, emotional, or physical health. People can find themselves "out of balance" at times. If this is an acute type thing, it doesn't (usually) take long to equalize out. But if it's due to some chronic type thing, even if we"vent a little", or do a little PT, and feel better, we haven't really solved the true issue. It's like letting a little steam off doesn't truly equalize the pressure, it just keeps the pot from exploding.

Another analogy I like to use when discussing chronic type issues is one of a really dirty bathtub. We bought a house one time that had a FILTHY bathtub. It was super old and very porous. (Read: the dirt was DEEP.) We couldn't afford to do anything except clean it so I bought all kinds of cleaners and brushes and set about scrubbing to get this thing white again. After HOURS working on this thing, feeling like my back was broken and my fingers were raw, it looked so much better. ...but it was NOT quite where I wanted it. But I was just done. I knew it was going to take consistent cleanings and serious work to get this thing white. I soaked it in bleach. I tried baking soda and vinegar. I'd like to say I found the magic cure, but I never did. I finally gave up and decided maybe it had never actually BEEN a white tub. I knew it was "clean enough" because I had practically sterilized the thing.

When dealing with a chronic issue, whether it's emotional/mental or physical, you have to be committed for the long haul. That condition didn't get there overnight; it's not going to be solved overnight either (and may not ever be truly "solved". Maybe you will decide "almost" is good enough, or maybe you will be working on this thing for a lifetime because you never reach the point of negative returns. You might not be in the "most productive" phase but even with diminishing returns, if there is some forward movement, it might be worth the work.

The analogy of a roller coaster is RICH. There are so many aspects that can be compared to "real life". The feelings that come with watching someone else experience a roller coaster, fear, anticipation, being in the line, strapping in, how you ride (hanging on for dear life or hands in the air), where you ride (front or back), the feeling of the clickty-clack, clickty-clack as you go up, the feeling of weightlessness as the cart goes down but your body keeps going up, being upside down, sudden directional changes, and coming to a full stop at the end. Oh the comparisons that can be made are ENDLESS I tell you!

I'm going somewhere with each of these. Keep coming back if you want to join me on this journey!

Are you in the front with your hands up and a smile on your face, or in the back waiting for the tail to whip??