Overtraining: My Story

I absolutely hate to admit this but I am currently in the midst of digging out of a hole from overtraining.  It’s a huge hit to my ego and I’m doing the best I can right now to not react and let me body and mind recover properly so at some point this summer I will have the ability to once again hit the trails and do what I absolutely love.

Over the last several weeks, knowing that I was in a hole, I immediately sought advice and recommendations from several friends, runners, and coaches, explaining my symptoms and looking for answers as to how I could begin to recover.  At first it seemed like I was hopeless, a sure-fire sign that I was immediately taking the worst case scenario and projecting it as my reality; this was my default negative thought-pattern-mind at work.  Now, after some time and proper reflection on the situation I have been able to assess why I am at this place.

Here’s how it went down:

After recovering from an Achilles injury in December I got back to training full steam by mid-January.  Having had time off, 6 weeks total, I was rearing to go, to put in a big base that I could use to propel myself into the summer race season.  As the weeks went by and I slowly increased my volume by 10-15%, it got to the point where I was averaging 115-120 miles per week with over 18-20k of vertical gain, during non-rest weeks.  And the kicker?  I was absolutely flying, experiencing breakthrough workouts seemingly every couple of weeks.  I felt invincible.  Then, in the beginning of April the wheels started falling off.

After putting in an insane 3 week block (360 miles, 60,000ft of vertical gain), I got in the car that following Monday and made the two-day drive to Zion National Park.  Mistake number one.  Having planned a rest week that week, as my focus was crewing for Betsy at the Zion 100 Miler, I did not properly anticipate the stressors that would occur.  First of all, driving that far, without taking stops to stretch out and loosen up by body, I was putting undue stress on my entire system.  The sedentary form of driving is not ideal for letting a body recover in the way that I needed it to.  Secondly, the planning of rest weeks was complete shit on my part.  In order to properly crew for someone racing 100 miles it takes staying up all night to make sure the runner is properly cared for. I didn’t take into account the sleeplessness that would occur. Mistake number two.  Lastly, having barely slept for a couple of days, I began a week-long road trip the day after Zion to drive back home.  Within that trip I ramped the running back up.  That following week was another big one, 120 miles, 22,000ft of gain.  Toward the end of the week, after a 32+ miler to cap it off, things began to get much worse.  The following week, while taking no regard for my lack of rest and recovery, I once again put in a massive week (100+ miles with a shitload of vertical gain).  During that week I began to loath the idea of getting out the door to get in my daily workout. I knew that I was breaking.

Now that I am able to process this experience I have realized that it wasn’t just the running that was causing my breakdown.  Starting in March I was dealing with a good amount of personal stress that was ultimately keeping my fight or flight mechanism (sympathetic system) running full tilt, even during rest weeks.  Basically, because of my elevated emotional stress, my cortisol levels never had the chance to balance out…I was red-lining it with all sorts of stress.  It wasn’t just the running, it was everything that was happening in my life.  Symptoms such as insomnia, deal-legs, and apathy began to creep in mightily.  I was just not recovering, even in weeks that were down weeks in terms of mileage.

After a few weeks of trying to get my body back into balance I toed the line at the McDonald Forest 50k.  From the start I knew something was wrong.  Two minutes into the race my heart rates were nearing LT (lactic threshold).  As hard as I tried I could not keep my heart rate down to a sensible level for racing.  A few miles in, at the top of a 12 minute climb, I was reduced to walking.  Even with my turtle-paced speed my heart rate was CRANKING at 181bpm, 3 beats below my max heart rate. This is NOT what you want to happen.  At that point I pulled the plug on the race which in hindsight was the smartest thing that I could do at the time, even if it was a blow to my ego.   It hit me then and there that I was overtrained, something was severly out of whack,  I just didn’t know how bad my condition was.

In the ultra-running world the prevalence of overtraining was largely brought to light for the mainstream in an article in Outside Magazine called “Running on Empty.”  Check out the article here:  https://www.outsideonline.com/1986361/running-empty.  Many of the feelings and symptoms that are discussed in the article rang true for me.  After reading the article for myself I immediately thought the worst.  Perhaps I had dug a deep enough hole where I might have to take a full year off, or even more! I hated that notion and did not accept it one single bit.  Fortunately, after much research and professional consult, I found that I had not gone that far.  The chronic training patterns that I displayed in the winter and spring were luckily not enough to put me over the top and into the blackhole of total burnout.

One article in particular helped me to see that I wasn’t in such a dire situation.  My physiotherapist and gait coach, Joe Uhan, had recently done a piece on overtraining for irunfar.com:  http://www.irunfar.com/2013/09/overtraining-syndrome-part-one.html.  The article helped as a guide for me to understand where I was at.  Rather than suffering from full-blown overtraining syndrome (OTS) I noticed that I fell more into the non-functional overreaching category.  Furthermore, with the advice of one well-respected coach in particular, the key to knowing that I wasn’t full-blown OTS was that my sleep patterns had returned and my appetite was voracious.  I found myself not being able to eat enough!  It is my understanding that two major symptoms of OTS are prolonged insomnia and loss of apptite. I’m sure there are others but it was those two in particular that helped me make an semi-accurate assessment of my state.

I have learned several lessons in this process.  One: I need to pay better attention and listen to my body.  Two: I cannot play the “miles” game.  I got addicted (surprise, surprise) to chasing miles and that pattern of behavior helped in my downfall.  Perhaps one day I will return to the high mileage that I was doing earlier in the year, simply because it was fun as hell, it may just be several months before that happens.  Three:  I must not discount how much the emotional stress that I was experiencing factored into my situation.  Four:  I need to re-learn to respect the sport of ultra-running.  I had that respect at one time but I had lost it.  To have success it takes a lot more than just running a bunch of miles. Five: I must learn to detach from certain goals.  I admit it, I was hellbent on returning to Pine to Palm 100 this September to have a breakout race of sorts.  With being so attached to that goal I carried so much internal pressure to succeed.  That pressure created tension and fear of losing (missing out).  That fear turned into a drive for success that just was not sustainable for me. Finally:  I know that I can’t do this alone.  I may be able to coach the hell out of the athletes I work with but when it comes to coaching myself, it just doesn’t work.

As of today I’m on the mend both physically and mentally.  From a personal standpoint the emotional stress that I was dealing with in the winter/spring has begun to diminish.  Physically I’m taking the time to let my body balance itself out.  That being said I’m easing back in to training, taking it one day at a time.  And you know what?  I’m really enjoying it, for the right reasons.  As for my current symptoms I still feel the slight sensation of having “dead-legs.”  Otherwise, things are improving ever so slowly.  Most importantly my resting heart rate has begun to normalize and my motivation is slowly resurfacing. Moving forward, over the next few months I’m going to be doing some good miles in zone 1 (a very chill effort and heart rate). I need to rebuild my system. In terms of fear, I’ve been able to gradually let go of it, knowing  that it was such a prominent factor into causing me to overtrain.  I am very grateful for having learned this.

My hope is that someone out there, somewhere, can relate to this story.   It’s a cautionary tale, one that can hopefully resonate with many of my fellow athletes.  Being overtrained simply sucks, it’s just not worth it. As hard as it is for me to swallow my pride and to admit to all of this, I know it’s for a good reason.

As I further ponder this entry I am reminded that I must check in with myself from time to time and ask the simple question:  Why am I doing this?  Just recently I posed to the athletes that I coach that simple question.  What are your “whys?”  Now, if I am to successfully move forward in my endeavors, I must plan to look into the mirror and honestly ask that of myself.  In just one month, after putting my “whys” on paper, many of my sentiments have changed.  It’s amazing to me what can happen in such a short period of time.

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McDonald Forest 7.2k Race Report

The McDonald Forest 50k was yesterday.  This is an event I typically participate in because it’s very well run and VERY near my home.  Plus, the race includes trails that I know like the back of my hand.  That being said I made the tough decision to pull out of the race early (aka, DNF – Did Not Finish).

For me I was using the Mac 50k as a way to check in with myself to see how the increased volume over the last several months was metabolizing in my legs and body.  Tabbed as a C-race (training race) I went into it with what I thought to be very few expectations.  Coming out of it, with a DNF in hand, I was given a much-needed wake up call for several reasons.  I had to get real and honest with myself.

1). Blood-work – just a couple of weeks ago I drew blood, for the first time in years, to see if there were any red flags that needed attention.  Two things popped up that gave me concern.  First, my testosterone levels are significantly below the average for runners.  Secondly, my hematocrit count is low.  My mistake in receiving these results early, before my follow-up appointment with my doctor, was that I did  MY OWN research as to what the results meant.  Bad idea.  Within 5 minutes of reaserching I was convinced that I had the Ryan Hall syndrome with chronic fatigue and anemia. For me, I should’ve waited to go over them with a professional so that I could get an accurate assessment as to what my numbers meant.  Therefore, yesterday, it was in the back of my head that something was drastically wrong with my body.  Luckily my follow-up appointment is the next week so I will have some concrete clarity as to what I need to do, if anything, to manage my numbers.  Lesson learned – don’t get on google with numbers you don’t understand and come to your own diagnosis.  My therapist warned me against this and I didn’t pay attention.

2). Injury – I haven’t been 100% healthy in a few weeks.  Then again, who  really is? I know that in our sport there is a certain level of pain tolerance involved.  However, yesterday, my left knee/calf was being wonky and I made the decision to respect the bigger picture in this venture and call it quits early before I made it worse.  I’m sure I could’ve kept going to get in a solid training run but doing so may have spelled greater injury and un-wanted long-term consequences.

3).  Ego – I thought that I had been doing a good job managing my ego lately but yesterday uncovered a glaring hole in this work.  One mile into the race my friend Cary turned to me and said that we had covered the first mile in roughly 5 minutes and 30 seconds.  “Fuck” I thought.  When the hell did 50k’s become more akin to marathons?  By the way I have never in my life run a 5:30 mile, ever.  Speed like that is not my strength. My ego wouldn’t let go of the faster guys in the front.  Therefore, I suffered.

4). Legs – By the top of the Powderhouse climb my legs were completely thrashed.  As in, I couldn’t move them, at all.  I cannot ever remember having that kind of sensation. My good friend Emily caught up to me at that point and mentioned she was happy to recover on the downhill.  In agreement, while heading down the descent, I literally could not move.  My legs felt like I was running in quicksand.  I had nothing to give.  Maybe it had to do with running the fastest mile of my life within the first mile of the race?  Yes, that played into it and also probably played a part in my further aggravated left leg.  Another cause for this is that I had not yet recovered from the last training block that finished up the week before.

So, what’s next?  For me it starts by reintegrating a sense of mindfulness to help me manage my ego that resurfaced yesterday.  In running out of control, being dictated by other people’s pace, I did not do myself any favors.  I know this for a fact. Next, I need to take care of my body.  This week is all about getting checked out to make sure I’m healthy heading into a huge adventure filled summer in preparation for Pine to Palm 100.  Lastly, I would  like to get an understanding of what my blood-work means, without the guidance of the damn internet.  That is a must.

In the past I would have felt like the world was crashing down on me if I didn’t have a good race.  In that respect I feel that I’ve come a long way as racing is not the only reason why I run, in fact, it’s not even in the top 3 reasons as to why I run.  Every experience at a race, or in life, can be an opportunity to learn about oneself.  I’m glad that I can see this more clearly.  Sure, I was pissed off for a bit.  Luckily, not soon thereafter, I was able to work through the annoyance of not finishing and process what I need to do to get back in the saddle to focus on the things that really matter to me this year.

So the process and journey continues….

 

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Sneak Peek: Excerpt from chapter one of my memoir, My Friend Addiction

Chapter 1: The Road to Nowhere 

November 21st, 2013

Fridays before game days in Corvallis are my favorite. While working at the Hilton, the biggest hotel in Corvallis, I was privy to all of the pre-game action and anticipation for the upcoming football game. UW (University of Washington) was in town the following day to square off against the OSU (Oregon State University) Beavers.  David, my boss, and I had scored sideline tickets through the Beavs director of operations under current coach, Mike Riley. The last two football seasons, largely because of my role as Director of Sales at the Hilton, I had close ties with many of the OSU athletic teams. Having backdoor access to OSU that I did during those years fueled my ego to the fullest. I prided myself off of being known in the hard-to-break circle of coaches, donors, and athletes. I began to believe the assumption that I was pretty goddamned important.

Once my duties were tidied up that day before the game I snuck out the back door of the hotel to start “my weekend.” Football weekends were special to me. They were my reward for working so hard throughout the week. Plus, due to my sales team’s efforts that year, we were crushing our numbers in terms of our budget. So, why not leave a little early to get the party started? I deserved it.

This particular weekend was going to be extra fun and delinquent as I had several friends from Portland and Bend visiting for the game. With the glorious feelings of the impending excess that was about to occur, I quickly made my way to the nearest corner market down Western Ave. After picking a couple of stout IPA’s, I snuck into the yard in back of the store, where the homeless tend to congregate and sleep, found a nice patch of lawn overlooking Reser Stadium, to sit and drink, relishing in the fact of how far up the ladder of importance I had climbed in this little Oregon college town. Once this train of thought had sufficiently fed my ego, I called some friends to meet them out for drinks to continue some well-earned debauchery.

After having drunk myself blind the previous night, I woke up on Saturday morning not having a clue where my car was. Fuck, I must have left it downtown. I threw on my Orange and Black Beavs gear to go retrieve my car and pick up where I had left off the night before. The excitement continued to build as the texts from friends, who were on their way to Corvallis, began to stream in. This was standard operating procedure for most game weekends. Friends plus booze plus football games equaled all of the fun. The only way I could process the excitement was to swing by 7-11 and paper bag an IPA on my way downtown to pick up my ride. I must have looked classy as hell.

Later that afternoon, leading up to kickoff time, I had once again found myself clearly overstepping the bounds of intoxication. I had corralled all of my friends into the parking lot behind my hotel to partake in a hour of Carlos Rossi. I vaguely remember who was actually there; maybe my friends Rob and Mary?  my buddy Cole?  All I did know was that the gallon of wine that I had in my hand had to be finished by kickoff. I was cleverly persistent in making sure that would happen.

As the story goes, once I got into the game, again, being on the sidelines with the team, I began to embarrass the hell out of myself. A friend of mine, who is also in recovery today, recalls that I was being a blithering idiot on the sideline in front of several OSU donors and administrators. Apparently I had trouble standing up straight. My buddy, whom I did not know at the time, had approached the guy, who had originally given me access to the sidelines, to ask who the hell I was. My contact’s response was something like: “He’s just some dude that helps us out at the hotel.”

Apparently it got worse from there. As I found out later, at the end of the first quarter of the game, I had stumbled behind the sidelines and across the field, fortunately keeping out of the field of play, to a set of stairs that led out of the stadium. Apparently I had crawled on my hands and knees up the set of stairs next to the OSU Marching Band and in full view of the entire stadium to try and make a quick exit out of there, hopefully undetected. Epic fail.

Later that night I came to in the front seat of my car having not known how I had gotten there. On top of that, I was in a city park nowhere near where I had left my car before the game. Clearly I had driven in a blackout to my current location. It was 2AM. After clearing the fog from my eyes I noticed that there was still a half of a fifth of whiskey sitting in the passenger seat. Gratefully, I picked up the bottle, drank the rest of its contents and proceeded to once again pass out.

Five hours later I once again woke up. However, this time I was in my own bed. How the fuck had I gotten back? Fortunately I didn’t have time to assess the evening at that point because I had places to be.

That Sunday morning my running team and I were scheduled to pose for a photo shoot on and around the trails in Corvallis for a feature in a local visitors guide. Amazingly I arrived at the shoot in time, having somehow rustled my shoes and running kit together. After about an hour of being photographed, the thick haze of my hangover was beginning to fade. Somehow I was able to jaunt around the trails with my team to capture some iconic shots featuring the lush Corvallis outdoors. Once we wrapped the shoot up, I returned to my car to prep for the days run. With whiskey and wine still flowing in my veins, I completed a solid 20 mile trail run up and down the hills of Corvallis, trying to reflect on what the hell had happened the night before. Oh, and I felt great doing it. At the time I was totally oblivious to the shame and embarrassment that would arrive in just a few months

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JSN Mindfulness Project – Day 20: Thanks For Being a Part of the Journey

Day 20:

3:45AM – Coffee/Meditation

Yesterday was all about being in the woods and feeling whatever there was to be felt.  Talk about free therapy…

Perhaps it’s serendipity, perhaps it’s luck. Maybe it was just meant to be.  I started this 20 day mindfulness challenge because I was hurting, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I couldn’t bear to have the voices in my head take over every moment of my life.  Perhaps I had reached another bottom of sorts, a bottom much different than what I had gone through with drinking, one that has proven more insightful and revealing.  I really didn’t know what would come of this challenge, my only hope was that it would help create new habits around a better sense of mindfulness.

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I feel like I’ve just finished a hard 3 week training block of writing…signing off for a bit.  Thanks for letting me share this process.  Peace!

I’ve completely broken down four times in the last four days, full on tears and anxiety.  Once in therapy, twice in “the rooms,” and today during my run.  These episodes seemingly came out of nowhere.  All I’ve been trying to do over the last 20 days is breathe more, feel more, and be present, not necessarily have all-out fucking emotional breakdowns.  But, that is what has happened.  For me, over the last few weeks various wounds have been opened that have exposed things about me that I didn’t previously have any clue about.  Most of my “why’s” in life have been completely upended and challenged. I don’t necessarily know where to go and what to make of it.  When you find out that the way you’ve been living and what you’ve been telling yourself about who you are for the better part of 30 years isn’t necessarily reality, it really fucking hurts.  I’m confused, upset, and angry about things that had once buried deep within my conscious.  Now, they have resurfaced and there is even more major work to be done.

Today I’m not quitting this process of self-discovery.  I’m too deep inside the rabbit hole.  Now I want to push through the other side and have some happiness re-enter my life.  Yes, running for me makes me happy.  But, I want to be around my friends more often, not be on edge all of the time, and I want to have fun in life.  I’m trudging through this fight alone because I choose to.  Only a few people in my life truly understand what I’m going through because they’ve been there and they’ve seen it. I owe my life to these folks.

Moving forward I feel confident knowing that I will be able to continue on this path with a better, more enhanced, sense of mindfulness than what I had before.  The habits are there, now it’s time for me to stick to them in a private and anonymous manner, without the accountability of reporting everyday.  Ultimately, I am only accountable for myself, my mind, my suffering, and my will power to keep pushing.  I have to remember that I do indeed have the power to create my own reality, one that is congruent with who I am, not in the past or in the future, but just today.

Thank you for being part of this little mission of mine. Other than helping myself I do hope that I’ve been able to help someone else out there who shares the same struggles as I.  With that, it’s time to hit the trails and get in some active therapy in the woods.

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JSN Mindfulness Project: Day 19 – Into Action…

Day 19:

4:30AM – Coffee/Meditation

Along with Autobiography of Yogi (evening reading), I’m diving back into Fit Body, Fit Soul, for daytime reading and studying.  This time it’s different, I’m taking notes and going apeshit with my highlighter.  For me there are so many important and relevant concepts buried within the main theme of “having a fit soul and a fit body is the secret to true happiness.”  There are other books that I’ve paid as close attention to, the Big Book for one, but the way Mark and Brant (authors) lay out their content, it’s just so simple for me to read, soak in, and apply.

According to their research, stress will be the number one occupational hazard in this century.  I believe it.  The stress that I feel from people, places, and things, when I’m not being mindful, can be completely overwhelming.  Now that I’ve seen just how much stress can affect my mindset and mood I’m hyper-aware of situations that other people bear witness to.  In the pharmacy, grocery store, traffic, coffee shops, it’s everywhere.  Have you ever stood in line at a pharmacy and just watched people as they go through the process of having their prescriptions filled?  Holy hell, it’s my nightmare.  God bless Jeff (aka, #10, best friend), I couldn’t do it like he does. Furthermore, stress is linked to the top six causes of death in the United States:  heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.  For me, I feel grateful to have identified its true effect on my lifestyle.  Now it’s just a matter of applying the tools I have learned through mindfulness to better defend myself against a condition that previously caused an undeniable amount of personal heartache.  Here’s the most important tool for me, brought to light by my guy Wude:   insert gap, take 3 deep breathes, move forward.  It seems to work every single time.

10:00AM – I just returned home from a very intense and powerful therapy appointment.  Never before have I shed so many tears and found myself so exposed and vulnerable in such a setting.  Luckily, other than an afternoon run, I don’t have any commitments.  In using the mindfulness techniques that I have learned over the last couple of weeks I am going to do my best to take care of myself for the rest of the day.  Today I’m in desperate need of peace, quiet, and a sense of tranquility to help process what I just experienced.

That’s all for the day.

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JSN Mindfulness Project: Day 18

Day 18 –

4:15AM – Coffee/Meditation

Intentionality.  For me it’s now about doing one thing at a time.  I tend to thrive when I focus on doing an act of singularity as opposed to trying to “multi-task,” whatever that word means.

Normally in the mornings after coffee, meditation, and breakfast, I launch into about an hour of stretching and foam rolling to get ready for my morning run.  While doing so this morning I had a bit of a breakthrough.  Instead of listening to a good quality podcast (my go-to’s are Rich Roll, Michael Gervais, Julie Piatt, and Guru Singh) I kept the radio off and focused on just the single act of stretching.  My only focus was to prepare my body for the days physical efforts.  To my surprise something else happened.

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Feeling the wind gusts on top of Hart Mtn in Eastern Oregon last fall.  During that particular adventure, under the vast Eastern Oregon sky, I felt free (and really freaking lost).

While rolling out my left quadricep I had a very profound flashback from when I was a child.  At this point of my journey I am not ready to talk publicly about what specifically happened, all I can say is that the memory came rushing back with a vengeance and I was reminded of a very significant turning point in my emotional development;  I re-lived the moment that I became hostage to the idea of needing reassurance for everything that I have ever done as a human being.  Moments after this flashback I find myself sitting here writing in complete awe, fascinated as to why this memory had not resurfaced sooner.  The instance that I speak of is a very important fabric to my being, I cannot believe that I haven’t acknowledged it’s existence with more persistence.

Would this realization have happened if I had been stretching and listening to the radio (ie. multi-tasking)?  Maybe, maybe not.  Who’s to say when the memory would have resurfaced. However I do believe that this morning, acting with sheer intentionality, something important occurred that may not have happened if I had been doing more than one thing at a time.  The puzzle that is my life continues to come together and I feel lucky for it.

I feel a sense of purpose as I approach today.  I feel detached from a results-driven mindset.  I am truly beginning to see the effects of the last 18 days of practicing a better sense of mindfulness.  Today will be about living in the moment, the present, feeling each step as I push forward in this journey of self-discovery.  Today I feel free to go kick some fucking ass on my own terms.

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JSN Mindfulness Project: Day 17

Day 17:

4:30AM – Coffee / Meditation

Here’s why I have trouble sometimes with Facebook.  You know when you login and there is a section that gives you suggested friends?  Well, yesterday I saw a guy that I used to be “friends” with come up, meaning that at some point he had “unfriended” me.  It pissed me off for about an hour on the drive home yesterday.  I realize this is ridiculous thinking in so many ways.  Who’s to say why he “unfriended me” or if he had to start his account all over again. Maybe it has nothing to do with me.  The point is, why the fuck do I care?  Something inside me may still need the approval that I’m a good person.  It’s silly to me the stuff that can sneak through the cracks and affect me like that sometimes.  Perhaps it’s another reminder to stay persistent on the only work I have the power to do, on myself.

While meditating this morning the welcomed thought and reminder came through about how I can cope with emotional stressors.  Part of the reason why I took on this 20 day challenge was to create habits around the idea of mindfulness, implementing techniques to help me navigate the comings and goings of any given day.  I am reminded that I have the power to create my own reality, my reactions to stress are of my own making, no one else’s.  For me, I tend to create my own suffering by letting my thoughts dictate my actions.  Therefore, if I stay diligent on responding to stress by being calm, having a smile, and quieting my mind, I feel like I will continue to have a chance at getting through any situation that life throws my way.

7:00PM – I had a hard conversation with a close friend last night about the struggles I am having in my mind lately.  It was a tough situation to talk about, for both parties I’m sure.  For me, it’s important that I continue to be open and honest with my friends.  The minute I start bottling shit up and internalizing all of my thoughts and feelings is when I can plummet down the rabbit hole and into a cave of self-pity and despair.  I don’t want to go there but for some reason I’m still drawn to that place.

Meditation/ginger concoction/reading/bed.  I’m tired tonight.

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