On the Mend….Physically and Mentally

Last Tuesday, a full week ago, I found myself checked in to my local Emergency Room in an attempt to get help and reprieve from a 4+ week bout of sustained depression.  Today, I am still in a bit of shock for having gone through the experience.  That being said, since last Tuesday, each successive day has been just a little bit better and brighter.  Below is my account as to what has happened as a result of the bottom that I experienced.  Overall, my hope is that it’s just the beginning of another very important process that I must embark on to simply stay alive.

Blood tests have revealed that I have hypothyroidism, which helps explain many of the symptoms that I have been experiencing over the last month.  My loose understanding (as I am NO doctor and will never pretend to be) of  how a thyroid works is that it is a clearinghouse of sorts within the body, a gland that secretes essential hormones which primarily influence one’s metabolic rate and ability to properly synthesize proteins.  If a thyroid is operating below capacity (in my case 25% of it’s normal functioning ability), several things can occur including: lack of recovery from physical activity, low rates of testosterone, and an extended state of depression.  Over the past month these have been my primary symptoms.  Not included are the incessant and fierce pressure headaches that I have experienced over the same time frame.  Largely, as of today, the headaches have subsided.  To help assist in my recovery  I am currently taking a medication called Cytomel, a common prescription drug used to treat hypothyroidism.

So, how did I get to this point?  According to my team of medical professionals and mentors, who have been absolutely crucial throughout this process, the story started earlier this year when I overtrained.  From my understanding, by training above my means  for an extended amount of time, I dug myself into very deep hole of physical, hormonal,  and adrenal exhaustion.  After taking some time off to let my body heal throughout the month of May, I began working with a new mentor  from an ultra-running perspective who helped foster me through my overtraining symptoms and back to a place of relative normalcy.  By the late summer months I felt recovered and was running well again thanks to some solid professional training advice. However, the race I was training for in early September, Pine to Palm 100, was cancelled due to the awful and devastating fires in Southern Oregon.  The original plan of attack was to get through P2P and then take an extended period of recovery over the fall months to let my body heal from the race, as well as from any residual effects that were left over from overtraining.  At this critical juncture I made an error.  I still wanted to race in 2017 to at least have a solid finish, any finish really, under my belt.  Therefore I opted to sign up for Rio Del Lago 100 in November.  I was warned that extending an already aggressive training load for another 10 weeks would be risky, especially considering where I had come from earlier in the year.  Being my relentless-self I opted for the extended training period, which, in a roundabout way, helped lead me to the symptoms that ultimately landed me in the ER last week.

The idea here is that I never quite recovered from being overtrained.  My hope is that this current period of rest will help get me back to square one, not just from a running perspective, but in all regards.  Again, there is much more at stake than just a running career. Sure, there are other factors are work, for one being my predisposition with depression, as well as many other things.  However, the combination of everything ultimately helped lead to a perfect storm of sorts, which brought me to a place of sheer helplessness last week.

Another factor in this equation is that I’m preparing for a move out of Corvallis.  This has been on my mind for a couple of months now and just two weeks ago I was ready to be in a new town as soon as mid-November.  Logistics for the impending move were happening rather quickly and I didn’t realize the extra stress that said move was creating for me.  While respecting the need to take my foot off the gas and direct my attention to sorting out my health, my plans for moving are put on hold for a couple of months.  Ultimately I am planning on moving out of Oregon, which means that, in the interim, if I had moved suddenly then I would not have had the appropriate short-term health care services to rely on to help me get my shit together.  To move at this point, in a period of influx and  uncertainty, both mentally and physically, would have been entirely irresponsible on my part.

Today, from a symptom standpoint, I still experience the gambit of mental negativity that happens in conjunction with depression.  However, this negativity, along with my perpetual  pre-disposition for obsessive thinking, is beginning to ever-so-slightly veer in the right direction.  I can feel some sort of gradual rebound occurring.

Last week I put together a game plan for how I was going to attempt to manage my life in the short term while my body and mind healed from the agony of last month. It’s only been a week; for the most part, I have stuck to the plan.  Most interesting to me has been the revitalization of my creative mind.  I’ve played more guitar and wrote more songs, which will serve as a soundtrack for my memoir, than I can remember, perhaps dating back to college, some 15+ years ago.  Furthermore, I am writing better than ever, as is evidence from the revisions I am making to Appetite for Addiction.  I have no doubt that this book is going to be good.  To top it off I am becoming rather proficient in GarageBand, something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while.  Perhaps seeing Gareth Emery on Saturday night in Portland provided further motivation for this. During the show, my buddy, #10, pulled me aside and said: “what the hell are you waiting for dude, starting producing this shit (meaning EDM, electronic dance music), and learn to spin, people would go apeshit for you!”  Point taken #10 ;).  The process has started.

From an exercise standpoint, while respecting the fact that I need to take a break from running, I’ve been getting in some great walks in the woods.  One aspect to Corvallis that I will miss dearly after I move is my beloved McDonald-Dunn Forest and the extensive trail system that lies within it’s boundaries.  Normally a slave to my Garmin, I have left the watch at home on these walks.  Right now it’s not about heart rate, pace, mileage, or time;  it’s about breathing and appreciating the solitude and serenity that the forest offers me…if I let it.

The hardest part to reckon with in my recovery plan is the idea of just chilling,  as in, doing nothing.  My brain is wired to be uncomfortable with stillness, the thought of not doing something is hard for me to be at peace with.  That being said, I’ve managed to get a bit of couch time, getting lost in mindless Netflix documentaries.  Meditation has also been of great help in this regard.

Rarely do I look at the statistics for any given blog that I post.  Curiously, a few days after posting my admission of returning to the Emergency Room, I took a look to see what kind of impact my story had had, if any, on people.  The results were astonishing and worthy of particular note.  Within 4 days of posting the blog the post received more than double the views and visitors than any of my other previous posts.  I’ve got roughly 60 or so posts up and live and none of them comes even close to having the exposure as https://spencernewell1032.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/back-to-the-er-yet-another-bottom/  While being amazed of it’s exposure it began to become apparent to me just how much interest a post on depression, a topic that is rarely talked about in a public forum, produced over a very short amount of time.  This tells me that conversation around the stigmatic topic needs to continue to be brought to light.  I will do my best in promoting this idea for it may just save a life someday.

Look, I know damn well that I’ve made some mistakes over the last year in many regards, not with just running but with both physical and mental health.  Normally concerned with the outsider view and perception of these mistakes, I’m becoming more comfortable about the idea of owning and learning from my experience, regardless of what other people think.  Largely, other peoples perceptions can and still affect me.  However, in an effort to break away from those chains that bind me to criticism from the outside, I am constantly reminding myself that I’ve got to fight for myself, on my own timeline, for my own reasons.  Why is that so hard to realize sometimes?  In my quest for  my own self-actualization, this question, along with many others, are important topics to drill down on with the appropriate people.  The journey continues…

Lastly, I want to personally thank the hundreds of people that reached out to me in support.  I cannot thank you all enough, your messages had a profound impact on me and I will never forget the love you all expressed.

 

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Back to the ER…Yet Another Bottom

I checked myself into the Emergency Room yesterday morning.  I hadn’t done this since 2008 when I was drunk and suicidal.  I just couldn’t withstand the pain anymore and I was desperate for help, by any means possible.  I had had it with feeling like complete garbage, physically and mentally.

A few weeks ago I  wrote about “10 days of hell that must see the light,” (https://spencernewell1032.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/depression-10-days-of-hell-that-must-see-the-light/)  describing the longest depressive episode that I’ve experienced to date.  Well, that ten days turned into 4 weeks; the gray, the apathy, and the exhaustion have refused to go away,  it still continues to persist today.  The overwhelming questions that plague me are: “where is the final bottom?” along with “will I feel like this forever?”

Just a few days ago, on Saturday,  I had the best day I’ve had in longer than I can remember.  For some reason, I woke up that morning feeling a respite from the stranglehold that depression had on me.  I was up in Portland, clowning around with a friend, and everything seemed good to go.  I felt “normal,” whatever that means these days.  However, during the days run I tweaked my hip.  At the time it didn’t feel like a terribly big deal and I largely brushed it off.  But, on Sunday, it was a different story.  My hip had tightened up over night and I was in pain.

On it’s own, a relatively benign injury, as was the case, is easy to manage.  However, due to my elevated emotional instability and depressive state the injury seemed like the end of the world.  While on the phone with a friend early Sunday morning I just crumbled.  I pleaded with him: “When the hell is this shit going to end, when are these fucking setbacks going to stop!  I’m so fucking sick of this!”  From that point on the good vibes I had going the previous day all but disappeared.  By Sunday afternoon I was back in bed, with the shades drawn, unable to move, wrought with the overwhelming feeling that everything was crumbling down once again.

Monday came, same thing.  My hip was beginning to feel better but it’s impact had set off another spell of oppressive  frustration and hopelessness, once again, pure apathy.  Then, I woke up yesterday (Tuesday) and succumbed to the tension in my head, the anxiety in my chest, and the relentless feelings of helplessness.  I needed more help.

My experience in the ER yesterday was not a good experience.  For the first time in my life I played direct witness as to  how some ER’s handle mental health issues.  Without going into the details of the experience, let’s just say I left in worse shape than when I arrived.  After being “discharged” I found myself in a fetal position, crying, lying on the cold linoleum of the hospital hallway in blue medical scrubs, pleading for help.  And I didn’t get it. All I wanted  was to feel better.

After gaining some sort of composure after the ER experience I scrambled to find the help I needed, visiting the the local county mental health office as well as making emergency appointments with my team of psychiatrists and therapists.  Luckily I was able to get in, be assessed, and come up with a game plan.  I should have just gone to this group of professionals in the first place.  I suppose I was in too much agony earlier in the morning to even consider that possibility.

Fortunately I was able to gain some sort of clarity, from a physical standpoint, of what is currently going on.  Blood tests, taken at the ER, revealed two things of significance. One – my testosterone levels had fallen well below normal again (earlier this Spring I was dealing with the same thing, however by summer I was able to recover). Two – my thyroid is out of whack.  Luckily, these two things can be fixed to a degree with time and patience.  The mental parts of the equation will prove to be  a little more tricky.

After hours of professional consult and self-reflection I have yet another game plan to address everything that is going on:

1). Take one full month off of heavy structured training (two full weeks off from running). I have not let my body rest (not counting the time off from injuries, which isn’t really “time off”)  in well over three years.  It’s finally time for me to take a break and let my body heal, fully, on it’s own.  If it takes longer than a month? So be it. I don’t want to go through this shit again, especially as I get older.  Therefore, Rio Del Lago 100, the race I’ve been training for is off the table. In 2017 I will not complete a single race that I’ve set out for. And that’s OK because there is a much bigger picture at stake here.  I’ll take my life over a race, any day.

2). Focus on my creative side which means writing and composing music.  My book is still coming along well.  In conjunction with that project I am also composing a soundtrack to go along with the book.  I used to sing and play the hell out of my guitar.  Firing both of those passions back up will be good for the soul.

3). Just fucking chill.  If I feel like binge watching Friday Night Lights, for the second time, just do it!  God, relaxation and me do not get along well.  It turns out that I actually might hate the idea of relaxing. I consume myself with endless expectations, pressures, and stresses, which is helping play into my recent demise.  I’m just fucking tired of being tired.

4).  Continue to work with my trusted health professionals to dial in what I need from a medical end.  This part will be crucial to my recovery.

I’m hopeful that this episode will pass at some point, it has to!  Yet, the last month has offered nothing to the contrary.  Living day-to-day is not working, it’s more like minute-to-minute.

I don’t wish depression, or any other chronic or perpetual disease, on anyone.  For me, it’s been absolute torture and hell.  To try and find the silver lining to this experience has been impossible, I’m just not in a frame of mind to even consider the good that may come out of this. Miraculously, and I really don’t even understand this part, I have not had one single craving to drink throughout this entire episode. In and of itself that is a pure fucking miracle.  Perhaps that says something.

 

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Memoir Sneak Peek: A Vignette from Appetite for Addiction

August, 2011

Towards the end of summer I was fresh off a total burnout from road cycling, having all but quit the sport after a rough and embarrassing incident at that year’s Cascade Cycling Classic (CCC), a popular race on the Oregon road cycling circuit. My obsession and addiction with cycling had reached an apex. To me, cycling was everything; my identity, my image, my self-confidence. Until it wasn’t.  Coincidentally this was also the summer that I had met Lisa and we had begun our strange relationship.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love the sport of road cycling, and I will buckle down to prep for races from time to time, strictly due to my passion for the sport. The accounts of what I was like back when I was racing have nothing to do with the sport, necessarily. Most of what happened to me as a cyclist was purely a result of my own doing due to my fragile mental state.  I lived and breathed shaved legs, tan lines, and tight spandex.  Plus, I was in Bend, which was quickly becoming a mecca for the cycling community.

Around the time that I permanently relocated to Central Oregon, Lance Armstrong was already firmly placed into the lore of being an american sporting legend.  By that point he had won 4 consecutive Tour De France titles and cycling fever had enveloped the US.  Not since the days of Greg LeMond, a legend himself, had there been such a heavy stateside interest in the sport.  Lance was inspiring all sorts of people to ride and race their bikes.  I was one of them.  Bend, because of its history in attracting endurance-minded athletes, became a hot-bed for road cycling and I was keen to place myself right in the middle of scene.  I wanted to be a part of something and cycling was it.

From 2008 to 2011, when I took cycling very seriously, as an amateur Category 3 racer, I was in the midst of rebuilding myself from the financial and emotional downfall that I suffered in 2006/07 during my involvement with the fast and furious game of selling real estate. I traded the addiction of chasing money to the addiction of sport, in this case having an affair with my road bike.

In most ways, sinking myself into the sport of cycling was a healthy activity that I used to keep me in physical shape. Over the years of my involvement and exposure to the sport, I forged countless friendships that I still hold dear to this day, even though I am not around the scene as much anymore. By being the Team Director for one of the top amateur teams in Oregon at the time, I was able to learn a little about people management, sponsorship solicitation, and managing egos. This positive education has benefited me as I move forward in my current career in work and athletics. But for every positive, there is a negative.

One moment stands out in particular. In July of 2011, I led our competitive Cat 3 team (we liked to call ourselves a PRO-CAT 3 Team, due to our over-inflated egos and a bit of humor from my friend TJ) into the Cascade Cycling Classic stage race, a well-known Pacific NW classic. As the team leader, I rallied my teammates to believe that we could do some damage in the overall standings. We had a fast group of guys that summer and I was poised to see myself or a teammate stick it to all the young California punks that would come up to Oregon and race, thinking they were the shit. They were in our neighborhood and it was time for them to get a beat-down. In those days I had a blast being the guy behind our strategic approach as a team unit. It contributed pride and self-confidence to my minuscule and flimsy arsenal of personal attributes. Sending guys off in breaks, bridging gaps, setting tempo, attacking other teams, and taking advantage of other riders weaknesses was our Modus Operandi. Our team tactics did not always work as planned, but when they did, it was extremely satisfying, especially for the team leaders.  I used to love it when our team kicked the shit out of other teams and riders.

The first stage of that race was a 70+ mile effort with a mean and unrelenting three mile drag uphill to the finish in the Mt. Bachelor parking lot. Our team members had been solid all day, working together, bringing gaps, pulling back attacks, and looking out for each other. We did our best to set up our climbing specialists for the last ascent up from Sparks Lake. As we began the final ascent, I settled in mid-pack to survive with the group. I’m not a natural climber so I did not want to lose a ton of time on the first day of the race. At that point I was just trying to survive the climb to make it to the next day of the race. Half way up the hill another rider crossed his front wheel with my back wheel, which caused my rear deraileur to break, leaving my bike un-rideable. What happened next was a good indicator where my maturity and emotional instability was at the time. After the “rub,” I yelled “FUCK” at the top of my lungs, called the guy who hit me several profanities, and proceeded to throw my multi-thousand dollar bike into the woods. I threw a tantrum that a five-year-old would be proud of. It was an incident that I often refer to as an example of some severe childishness. And my reaction after the race feeling like the victim of someone else’s mistake? Drive down from Mt. Bachelor, go to the Circle K convenience store,  a shady corner store off of 14th Street in Bend, purchase three Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA’s, and proceed to drink all of them in one fell swoop. Once that was accomplished I felt worthy again, having all but forgotten what had happened in the race earlier in the day.

Looking back I feel foolish for having reacted the way I did. I had grown accustomed to displaying that type of reactionary and immature behavior, not just in cycling, but in life.  My reasoning stemmed from a few things, ego being the main culprit. For me to not finish that race as the “leader” damaged my ego like none other.  I deemed myself weak, unworthy, a soft cyclist, which is ridiculous, since it was all due to an incident that was out of my control.  I had failed at my job and I took it very seriously and personally.

Cycling was the only thing that I identified with; I was relatively good at it and with a shot-to-hell self-confidence and ego problem, I took any negative experience as a major blow to my self-worth. Any slip-up meant that I was worthless.  I prided myself by how fast I was in Time Trials and how aggressive I was in road races. It was everything to me. And when things didn’t go right, I lost my identity, and I drank to feel better and gain more confidence. It was a vicious cycle of addictions.

At the conclusion of CCC, finishing up with another road race on a Sunday, with a bruised ego in hand, I went on a self-induced, one month all-out bender. Alcohol, Cocaine, prescription pills, downers, anything that could use to get out of my mind.  Luckily for me, I was able to direct this aggressive substance abuse to prepare for a single event. Just like training for a race, building volume and tapering, I built my alcohol tolerance to an all time high in just a couple of weeks. Motley Crue was on tour that summer and they were coming to Clark County Amphitheater, just outside of Vancouver, WA, about a 3 hour drive north of Bend.  I was ready to unleash absolute mayhem and debauchery.

The concert weekend was shaping up to be fucking raucous, raunchy, and epic. The day of the show, a group of friends and I drove up to Portland in the early afternoon to start the party early enough to make the event as “Motley” as possible. We were on a mission to self destruct while our favorite band played the soundtrack.  I was going to live out another dream of sorts, a party with my all-time favorite metal band.

During the drive north to Portland from Bend, without any food in my stomach, I chugged a few  Four Loko’s, a disgusting, alcohol-filled version of Red Bull, as well as ingested a variety of mystery speed pills that I had stolen from a friend earlier in the day. When we arrived at our hotel in Portland, I was feeling really good, buzzed, and primed to ramp the party up even further. After we checked into our room, our group promptly bee-lined it to the hotel bar, the point when my memories start to get real fuzzy and surreal.

Again, with no food in my stomach, our group of four quickly lined up a dozen shots of Jack Daniels and proceeded to toss them all back, not giving a fuck about how much we’d already consumed that day. The more motley we were the better.  It must have only been 4 or so in the afternoon, and I was completely shit-faced and incoherent. After some exploits  in the bar our group boarded a bus that was driving a bunch of folks up to the show at the Amphitheater just north of Vancouver. Desperately needing a second wind, I took another handful of stolen speed pills on the bus ride, knowing that I might have gone too far too early in the day.  I had felt this many times before, almost like my head was separate from my body.  Inside I felt euphoric, tingly, excited.  My brain felt like it was spinning out of control.

I vaguely remember arriving at the show. The line-up for the evening began with some local metal band followed by Poison and then the Crue. After the combination of the local opening band and countless $8 twenty-ounce Coors Lights, I blacked out.  I had finally gone over the edge.  According to my friends I was still kicking ass when Poison was on stage, singing along to every single word of their smash hits “Fallen Angel,” “Ain’t Nothin but a Good Time” and “Talk Dirty to Me.” Aggressive fist pumping predominated the action at ‘80’s metal concerts. In that atmosphere, with that number of substances in me, I tended to not give one single fuck as to what I was doing. It was heaven. The next snippet of memory I have was the time I briefly became conscious while leaning against a random tour bus after a security guard had escorted me and a friend out of the arena. “What the fuck is going on?” I thought.  I was puzzled and nauseous and drunk as hell, barely able to hold myself up. It turned out that I had been asked to leave the arena because I was too intoxicated. “Are you fucking serious?”  No one tells me what to do at a Crue show.  Whose call was it to kick me out of a Motley Crue show? I was going to have words with somebody. It was just a matter of who that poor son of a bitch was!

Somehow, miraculously, after being kicked out, I got back on the actual bus that had taken us to the show in the first place. I have no clue how I got there. It made no sense.  Also reassuring was the fact that all of my friends who accompanied me were on the bus as well. This scenario also made no sense. It was illogical to think that we’d all end up in the same place considering how fucked up we all were. Confused and dumbstruck, I eased my way into another blackout.

Later on in the evening I awoke in bed at our hotel still dressed in my concert attire, trying to find comfort that I was safe and not dead. Part of me just wanted to die, I felt rancid and awful.  It was midnight. I had accidentally lost the last four hours of my life. Fortunately, my friends, knowing that I still had had nothing to eat that day, brought back a bag of Taco Bell food to the hotel to help nurse me back to health. What a godsend.  Chulupa’s and Gordita’s never tasted so good.  My friends had been having a blast without me, having seen the show, continuing to party in my absence. I felt a little jealous knowing that I had missed out.

After the Taco Bell feast, things get murky again. Next up in the sequence of events, a friend of mine, Laura, randomly showed up at the hotel to stay and help me in remedying my destroyed body.  After she appeared, I, yet again, blacked out.

The next morning I woke up in a complete drunken haze. In a completely different hotel room, with Laura by my side, the group of friends from Bend busted in saying that we had to leave immediately to stay on schedule, one of them had to be at work later in the day. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even think. I told them to leave without me, effectively stranding me in Portland. I felt sick and all I wanted was to be on the cold hotel bathroom floor with a toilet beside me. Resting my head on cold linoleum felt like heaven.

Once I was forced to check out of the hotel, after requesting two different late check-outs, Laura loaded me up in her car for a tumultuously bumpy ride to her apartment. I had to make her stop a few times on the ride so that I could poke my head outside of the car to vomit. Later that afternoon, after a short and pukey nap, I woke up in Laura’s apartment snuggled up in a blanket on her couch. It was heaven, if heaven meant being hung over and sick with a bucket by my side to catch any of the spew that was still coming out of my body. The rest of that day was spent doing intervals back and forth from the couch to the bathroom. No pill, nor any type of booze, anything for that matter, was going to help me get through this period of pain, sickness, and withdrawal. At this point, time was my biggest ally.

Ultimately, I ended up catching a bus back to Bend the following day. That ride was absolute hell. My two day hangover was still in full force as my sickness continued. The end of that bus trip culminated with my running into the bathroom at the bus stop to get sick once more. Once home safe my solution to my sickness problem was clear. Go to the nearest 7-11, purchase three CAMO XXX Malt Liquors, drink accordingly, and get “well.” With liquor in hand, with plenty already in my system, I once again blacked out. It was the only way to cap off a Motley fucking weekend.

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Depression: 10 days of hell that must see the light

I’ve spent the last 3 hours going back and forth on whether I should write this post.  Therefore, I’m trusting my gut that says to write and to get this shit out.  Maybe I can help someone who is suffering in silence, or maybe I can continue to help myself.  I really hope for either case.

Lately I’ve been feeling extremely vulnerable and careful in what I post or share to the world.  Perhaps it’s a lack of self-confidence, perhaps not.  Even more I’m feeling a bit of shame as to “my story.”  The current narrative in my head of who I am is the “drunk guy who got sober and runs a lot.”  Clearly, based on that assumption, I’m not in the best state of mind right now and I know I’m just making shit up.  I’m working through dispelling those narratives, however given my present state it is not easy.

On Sunday, September 3rd, I woke up on the very wrong side of the bed.  Looking back, I could feel something coming on so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, based on past history, that what I felt that morning was another dark and depressive episode setting in.  By 5:30AM I knew that I was about to crumble.  It was on.  What I didn’t realize was just how long it would last.  Ten days in and I’m in the exact same place as I was when this episode first begun.  Since exiting Sageview Psychiatric Center in 2008 I have not had this long of an episode.

Throughout that Sunday the depression took a vicious hold on my brain and my body.  It was debilitating.  From a physical standpoint I felt like my feet were encased in concrete, unable to move.  Emotionally I went to a place of unrelenting negativity. Luckily I was fortunate to conjure up the energy to get a run in.  The rest of the day was spent in bed, with my phone off, trying to fend off the demons.

Here’s what the rest of the days have been like:

Every single day I’ve woken up not knowing how the hell I was going to make it through the day.  All I’ve been able to think about is when I can go back to bed. The lens that I’ve been looking through fades back and forth from gray to black.  Nothing is bright and my head feels heavy with doubt. My first instinct each day is to stay in bed and believe that I’m not worthy of having a good day.  Reluctantly I’ve been able to solider on, albeit just for a few hours.

The only thing that I’ve really been able to look forward to is getting a run in, as  I know the endorphins will kick in and I’ll get a brief sense of reprieve.  And it has worked until about 30 minutes afterward.  Then I sink back into a hole, one deeper than what I had first felt in the morning.  From here on out the day remains excruciating.  From the hours of noon on I feel awful.  It’s only when I get  a cup of coffee in me that I get a little energy to get some work done and act in a state of normalcy.  In fact, my attention is needed right now as I have a couple of things in the works that need my presence and forward thinking.  Then, once the caffeine wears off, I’m back into my hole in my darkened bedroom.  Luckily season 4 of the Blacklist and season 7 of Walking Dead (a real feel-good story) made their way on to Netflix this past week.

Sleeping has been one of the only other reprieves that helps me to deal with the pain.  Over the last couple of evenings I’ve found myself sound asleep by 6:30PM, not caring about anything other than escaping the burden of feeling depressed.  I know it’s numbing out.  The way I’ve seen it lately is that it’s better to sleep than to turn to a past numbing device, drinking, which, for this episode, has been a non-option.

Unfortunately, isolation has been my friend, away from people, my phone, and my computer.  During these episodes it takes every ounce of energy to pick up the phone or respond to a text.  I physically cannot do it unless I’m caffeinated or riding  the high of endorphins that linger from the day’s run.  That’s one of the profound and unfortunate effects that depression has on me as it relates to other people.  Radio silence. My friends who are aware of the situation do not like hearing this, and I don’t blame them.  For me, it’s hard to explain what I’m feeling to someone who does not suffer from the same disease.  To take the energy to explain it absolutely fries me, I literally collapse after answering questions of why, how, when, etc, mostly because I really don’t have the answers myself.  This part sucks because I know I have countless people behind me that just want to know that I’m alright, safe from whatever purgatory I put myself into.  I do not know how to manage this part and I’m sorry for having put some friends in particular completely in the dark.  This is not my intent.

The friends that I have who suffer the same disease, at the intensity that I do, have been very helpful.  The advice is the same:  have compassion for yourself, let yourself feel the pain as it will pass, if you want to stay in bed than do it, be in a safe place with safe surroundings, and keep reaching out.  Fuck, the last part is the hardest.  I’m sure there are other bits of wisdom in there, I’m just too foggy to remember them right now.

As I look back at the depressive episodes that I’ve experienced since getting sober I notice the consistent trend that I tend to write about them.  One thing that I work on in therapy is discussing my intention in sharing these stories, the hard shit.  Honestly, at first, being as vulnerable as I was, I know that some of the posts I put out there were based on the impending attention that I’d receive, reinforcing the fact that I was a good person.  But today?  I just want people out there to know that depression, even in dudes, is as real a disease as any and there is no shame in having it or talking about it.  People suffer every single day from it and even consider taking their own lives.  I know this because I was there at one point in my life.  It must see the light!

One fear that I have with my depression is that it will only get worse.   Even if I up and move to another town, which I’ve done in the past to escape demons, depression will still be there.  I could run reckless miles to my heart’s content and it will still be there.  That’s  one reason why I have a very specific accountability team of people to help me through this shit, especially from a professional/medical standpoint.  It’s scary to think where I’d be without these people on my side.

My other fear is that I will be judged by others for sharing this.  But, as my friend Julio reminded me:  who cares what other people think of you, you have a story, you should be proud that you are working on living through it.  He’s right.  It’s just so hard for me to realize that sometimes.

Now, two hours later from when I first sat down to write, describing what it’s like to have this disease does in fact help in the process of living through an episode.  I was incorrect in assuming that it wouldn’t.  Now all there is to do is press the dreaded “post” button.  Here goes nothing…

 

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Timothy Olson’s Run Mindful Retreat

This past weekend I skipped out on the apoca-eclipse chaos in Oregon to travel to Boulder, CO, for Timothy Olson’s Run Mindful Retreat.  For those of you that are not familiar with the sport of ultra-running, Timothy is a legend, one of the best known ultra-runners in the world.  Alongside his wife Krista, Timothy has developed a retreat-style experience for folks who are curious about adding a sense of mindfulness into their daily routines. Timothy has also been a source of inspiration for me as a runner since I began running on trails back in 2012.

Tucked away in Four Mile Canyon, just west of town at the Boulder Adventure Lodge, myself, along with a group of 15 or so, settled in for a few days of running, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness.  The timing of such an experience and adventure could not have been better.

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Had to get a picture with Timothy

This weekend was not a running camp in the classic sense, with big miles and big vertical gain.  We didn’t come here to out-do each other in mileage, drop each other on climbs, or set Strava KOM’s (which is nearly impossible in Boulder because of the number of elite  athletes that live here) as is apt to happen at many running-type camps or training weekends.  Sure, running was a major component of the retreat, but it certainly wasn’t everything.  There was so much more, including workshops, content, and conversation about the idea of creating a useful and sustainable mindfulness practice along with the benefits of such a routine.

Since becoming sober, some 3.5 years ago, the practice of meditation and mindfulness has come and gone in spurts.  Perhaps it’s because of my all-or-nothing mentality.  I’ve tried several times to implement a solid meditation practice into my daily routine with varying degrees of success.  Earlier this year I even threw myself into a self-induced 21 day challenge, to try to form and create habits around the idea of mindfulness.  It worked for a while but eventually my mind got the best of me and the habits that I had formed slipped away over time.  By attending this camp, my first organized mindfulness/meditation retreat, I was reminded of the how and why behind the importance of such daily practices, along with their affect and  impact on the vitality of one’s soul.  Certainly, the running component added to my motivation and curiosity.  My soul had been aching for such a practice. I just needed the right time, space, and community to bring it all together.

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Summit of Green Mountain looking West into the Colorado Rockies

I’ve got a big race coming up in September, Pine to Palm 100, one that I’ve put 100% of my heart and soul in to preparing for.  Over the past couple of months, as the event draws near, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more attached to a result, for an event that I haven’t even participated in mind you, which has led me to feel a sense of self-suffocation. This has been my Modus Operandi since X-C ski racing as a kid.  Every single time a race approaches for me that I want to do well at, I become my own worst enemy by focusing on the outcome; the what-if’s, the should’s, and the dreaded notion of destined failure.  Even though I loathe these feelings I have not been able to shake them from my mind for the better part of the last 25 years. Insanity, right?

A big reason for why I chose this retreat, at this particular time, was because I knew, based on my past, that I was going to eventually lead myself down the rabbit hole of thinking about the outcome of said impending race.  In anticipation of Timothy’s camp I was hoping to get the opportunity to trip up the mechanism that is my mind and the ever-present practice of future-tripping which still remains pervasive in my life.  Now that I’m here, I can safely say that my intuition in forecasting the timing of attending this retreat was spot on.  Sometimes my intuition does play in my favor.  Maybe I should learn to trust my gut more.

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Royal Arch located right beneath the Flatirons

Here is a snapshot of just a few of my take-aways from the retreat:

– Run from a place of love, gratitude, and compassion, rather than fear and anger.
– While in meditation we use the breathe as an anchor; in running use your footsteps as  an anchor, still keeping in mind the integrity of the breathe.
– Accepting pain – In running, and life, the acceptance of pain can move the process forward of getting through said pain and thriving on the other side.
– Vinyasa Yoga – dude, you know this helps so much, try and get back into it upon returning to Oregon.
– Acceptance is the key to bringing balance to my emotions.
– Managing my reactions to distractions – be aware and observe my emotions but don’t feel the need to react, as I have in the past, based on my judgement of those emotions.

For most of my athletic life I have raced and trained from a place of fear and of not being good enough, fast enough, or elite enough.  I’ve known this about me for a long time.  I wish to try and break that cycle as I can now see the value of taking it back a step and returning to the love of the process.  Sure, I train to compete and the hope to do well, but recently, mostly since I began running, I have tended to push so hard, sometimes above my limits, while being obsessed and attached to a particular result.  Once again, I find this type of mindset unsustainable and unnerving.   After this weekend I have been reminded that there is a way to perhaps change this mentality: Return to the breathe, live in the moment and accept the moment for what it is, right now.

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Day 3’s run around Betasso Reserve

I know that being in Boulder this past few days has not cured me of the crazy side to my mind.  I understand that there is no magic bullet or pill that I can take to all of a sudden “achieve” a state of mindfulness.  Perhaps this was the mistake I made earlier this year when attempting to improve my sense of mindfulness.  However, being here, around like-minded people, has truly helped reinforce the fact that if I take what I’ve learned and begin to implement it on a daily basis, that perhaps life can be easier, softer, and a bit more enjoyable.  More than ever I am willing to try.

Today, this new information and sensation is fresh, and I know that I won’t be able to implement everything all once, as much as I’d like to.  That being said I hope to re-visit these notions in a few weeks, after Pine to Palm, to see if I am still fueled and conscious of what I learned this past weekend.  Change is possible, but it’s a process.  And to respect that process can mean that I have to take into account the positive personality traits that have brought me this far.

Talk is one thing…action is another.

Thank you to Timothy, Krista, Bob, Deborah, Keith, Matt, and the RAD crew, Kelly and Morgan, for putting together an unforgettable weekend.

To learn more about Timothy’s Run Mindful Retreat please visit their website:  https://adventuremindful.com

 

 

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Transferring Addictions

Last weekend Betsy and I had the opportunity to speak at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland, OR.  We were honored to be invited into the shop to speak by Hal and Carly Koerner.  Hal has always been a guy that I’ve admired as a runner from afar.  It was pretty cool to be talking at his shop and to have him in the crowd.

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Betsy and I with Hal Koerner before our talk at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland, OR

During our presentation, before we opened it up for questions from the crowd, Betsy asked me a relatively benign question, our normal Modus Operandi, to set the mood and comfort zone for the crowd to feel like they can ask any question of us.  We are both open books.

Betsy asked: “Spence, is all of the running and training you are doing evidence of you transferring addictions?”

During my first year of sobriety I was posed the exact same question in a similar setting at a presentation Betsy and I were hosting at Oregon State University.  In fact, my buddy Josh, was the one who brought it up.  Immediately, I went into defense mode.  Hell no, I wasn’t transferring addictions, I was just using running as a “vehicle for self-discovery.”  At the time I thought the idea of transferring addictions had a negative connotation and I wasn’t able to accept the reality of the truth.  Three years later my position on the topic has changed.

After Betsy asked her question I could not have predicted my response.  I immediately got choked up and broke down.  This was the first time in a public setting that I admitted to transferring addictions. My answer: “Yup, I sure have.”  Throughout the last several months it had become clear that I was in the mode of chasing miles and training at volumes that I just wasn’t physically prepared for, especially given the emotional/personal stress that I was under.  I was displaying the same addictive tendencies that I once had when I was drinking excessively.

So, what is wrong, if anything at all,  with the idea of transferring addictions?  My default setting has always been one of “more is better,” coupled with the idea that I can get obsessive with anything that I take on.  That mentality has indeed worked in my favor from time to time.  Furthermore, why did I get so defensive early on when posed the question?  Perhaps I was in a place that I wasn’t willing to accept the fact that I indeed had an addictive personality.  Maybe I was steeped in a mode of denial.

In recovery I’ve come across many folks, especially athletic-minded types that incorporate exercise into their respective recovery program, who get asked the same question.  More times than not they initially shared the same sentiment that I once held onto,  that there was a negative tone to the idea of transferring addictions.  Why does this have to be the case?

We all go through some sort of process in life.  Being an endurance athlete helps me in maintaining sobriety day-to-day.  Now that I’ve gone through the process of overdoing it, by becoming addicted to training, I once again understand how my addictive tendencies can creep up in other facets of life, not with just drinking and drugs.  Whether or not someone transfers their addictions from drugs and alcohol to exercise, it doesn’t seem to me that this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as we have some sort of governing mechanism to keep us in check.  Today, I have that mechanism in place.  Whether it is in the form of a sponsor, a coach, a therapist, or a mentor, I believe that having some sort of checks and balances in place helps us monitor our addictive tendencies and can help us survive and thrive as we all move forward in life, regardless of the coping strategies we find helpful to employ.

To further understand how I was transferring addictions it helped to hear stories where others in recovery, especially athletes, were using different modes of action and athleticism to perhaps relieve themselves of the impulse to drink.  Although hard to find with a random google search, stories like this are rife across the athletic landscape, especially those that are endurance minded.  I’ve been in touch with several people over the last couple of years who are also trying to understand if the idea of addiction transference is a good or bad thing.  How about this…it’s just a thing, I don’t necessarily believe it has to labelled one way or another.  Let’s put it this way, what is wrong with me going out for a run in the woods for several hours when the alternative is to lock myself in my apartment and drink myself to death?  I know the consequences if I follow the urge to pursue the latter.   Trust me, it’s not pretty.  It would not end well. That being said, it’s now my challenge to myself to keep employing a sense of mindfulness to such athletic alternatives to drugs and alcohol.  Sustainability is a huge key for this mental shift to occur in an appropriate manner.

Today’s takeaway – don’t assume that just because I’m sober I know everything.  I’m still new to this process and if I look back over the last 3 and a half years there is no way I could have predicted the profound mental shifts that have occurred each and every day.

 

 

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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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