Hypothyroidism, TSH, and a really bad night in January

In May of 2017, after hitting a physical wall and going over the edge with overtraining, I got my first blood test done in years.  My doctor had a suspicion that part of my problem could be uncovered by checking my testosterone and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels.  Along with extreme physical distress from training, the basis of the flat and apathetic feeling I was overcome by could be largely explained by a taxed adrenal system, if that were the case. Well, my tests proved that chemically and physically I was indeed taxed, and this doesn’t even account for the mental side of the equation.

Hypothyroidism is basically defined as an abnormally low activity of the thyroid gland, resulting in retardation of growth and mental development in adults.  My remedial understanding of the condition was that if the thyroid is not properly functioning, then the body doesn’t get enough natural hormone, among other things, to repair itself, as well as aiding in elevated states of depression.  Given the amount of miles I was putting in back then it was no wonder that my body hit the wall.  My system was not getting what it needed to properly repair itself.  Hence, my body shut down and rejected any further training until my system had a chance to recover.

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A graph of my TSH levels over the past year

When I first got tested in May my TSH levels were normal, it was my testosterone  (T) levels that dipped well below normal.  My T levels measured at 144 nanograms per deciliter (normal range for guys my age is 300 – 600 ng/Dl).  Luckily those levels rebounded throughout the summer, mostly due to a significant decrease in training volume coupled with a litany of herbal remedies.  Eventually the levels got back into a normal range, although it was still a bit on the low side.  I was just grateful that something was balancing out. However, my TSH levels were going in another direction.  By December I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which meant that my thyroid was operating at a small percentage of  its capacity.  It was at this point where I began to seek help by way of some sort of treatment plan, under a doctor’s consent and supervision of course.  Partly because of the condition of my thyroid, coupled with my predisposition for depression, I entered into two prolonged and severe month-long bouts of staying in bed.

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A graph of my testosterone levels over the past year

The confusing part to these bouts was that I had never gone through a period of “gray,” for more than just a few days, in my life.  Then, all of the sudden, there I was, in bed for an entire month, twice, wondering what the hell was going on.  They were very dark times, scary enough that I was willing to do whatever it took to understand the why behind their severity.

Thankfully, I finally got in with an Endocrinologist at OHSU.  The work that my local Corvallis doctor and I were doing to figure out what the hell was going on just wasn’t enough to really understand the affects and the details of my hormonal and adrenal situation, hence the depression. During the appointment, after the doctor took a look at my TSH levels over the last several months, he made a very point blank comment: “Spence, you have a problem that needs to be fixed.”  It was at this time that I began a medical treatment plan to get me back to baseline.

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The following story captures the apex of one of the more acute depressive circumstances that I’ve ever witnessed in myself. I have not shared this story in a public forum yet.  Just a  few friends and family members know about this chain of events.

January 18th, 2018

The sun was just setting on the west coast when, out of nowhere, the urge swept over me to get in bed. It was 5:30 p.m. in the afternoon.  I had no idea where this urge was coming from.  As I lay by myself, with the shades drawn, staring at the ceiling, the overwhelmingly dark thoughts began to pour into my already-swirling mind.  I had no way of controlling their persistence.  I had become accustomed to “wading through the gray,” as I call it, but this episode was very different, more poignant.  For one hour, while gazing at my colorless surroundings, I began to develop a plan and fantasize about how I would take my life.  The plan involved me just casually and nonchalantly walking into the forest, with a suitable means, to end it. 

After playing the scenario out in my head I began to ask the then-tantalizing questions:  Who will be at my funeral?  What would they say? Who would find me in the woods?  Would I finally feel loved enough to garner attention and admiration?  I was soaking up the long and sought after attention that I had always wanted. Certainly, the negative self-talk was rearing its ugly head.  

Scenarios like this are not a common occurrence for me.  One time in particular stands out. The last time I had had a suicidal tendency was back in 2007, when I was drunk and steeped in a destructive relationship.  Before Brian found me in the stairwell of my home, I was ready to end my life with a bottle of Percoset and a gallon of wine.  Immediately he put me in his car and brought me to a psychiatric center so that I could receive proper help.  

This time, the feelings of desperation, vulnerability, and utter shame reached a climax when the vision started to look and feel like a genuine act of sorrow, anger, and selfishness, a true need to feel love.  After stewing in a pot of darkness I slowly began to dig out and decipher what was reality versus what was just an illusion.  Logic eventually took over and I lay in shock because of what had just happened and the road I imagined that I had just gone down.  For the next few hours, maintaining my fixated stare on the bland white ceiling, I couldn’t come to grips and understand where this rush of depression and anxiety came from.  It was a dark and lonely place.

The next morning, after conversations with two of my closest friends detailing the events that had occurred the evening before, things began to sort themselves out.  Why did this happen?  What triggered these emotions?  I had work to do to figure it out.  Time to do some digging. 

Just a day before this episode, a particular event took place that I believe set the stage for  my potentially disastrous situation.  Mike Parker and Jon Warren, the hosts of the Joe Beaver Show, KEJO 1240AM in Corvallis, were discussing the suicide of a PAC 12 Conference freshmen quarterback that tragically happened.  The radio show serves as the sports beat for the Oregon State University Beavers.  Being as though the suicide happened within the PAC 12 Conference Mike and Jon brought the discussion to the table to talk about suicide and depression throughout the NCAA athletic world.  Having a friendship with Mike, I felt compelled to call the show and tell my story of depression.  

After being on hold for just a couple of minutes Mike patched me into the show to ask me what was on my mind.  For the next ten minutes, in front of their expansive audience,  I spoke explicitly about my history and experience as it relates to depression, even going into a bit of a description of what had happened to me back in 2007 when I first considered suicide.  The conversation was good, pertinent to the discussion of athletes that suffer depression.  Once I hung up with Mike I felt good about what I had just shared over the radio airwaves.  My hope, in calling into the show, was to let others in the community know that they were not alone with their own individual struggles.  I felt that by sharing I had also lifted a veil from the dark cloud that had recently been following me around.  However, the experience of me telling my story in an open and honest forum, proved to be the dagger that took my already-persistent vulnerability into overdrive.  My phone call into the radio show set the tone for me to collapse in bed the following evening and begin down a dark road. 

Karen, my therapist, said it best:  tales of suicide can sometimes be evocative for people that live in a depressive state.  I had not thought of it that way before.  Her position on the subject seemed to make perfect and clear sense.  

*****

A few weeks ago I had my blood retested to see how the medication for hypothyroidism was taking affect in my body.  Even though it took a couple of months for my body to metabolize the meds I was taking to help repair things and get back to baseline, I still had some anxiety around how the numbers would look.  Thankfully, once I got back my test results the numbers revealed that I was entirely back to even with both my TSH (measured at 2.6 ng/dL) and Testosterone levels (519 ng/dL). Everything checked out as normal.  Hearing this news was a huge relief.  I am thankful that today I am finally operating at a normal functioning level, adrenally speaking.  Perhaps, now that I’m balanced out, the prolonged and overly-acute depressive episodes might just be a thing of the past.  Certainly, I’m not immune to the fact that anything can happen, however my team of medical professionals is pretty confident that if I keep up the due diligence on my end then I’ve got a good chance at not experiencing a year like I had in the last year with depression.

During my acute bout in January I truly believe that I would have never actually done the unthinkable.  As bad as it gets I really do know that I have so much in this world to live for.  I also tell this story to reveal that this type of thinking is not uncommon for folks who deal with depression as I do.  So, if there is anyone out there that reads this post who feels that by sharing it with someone else who may be fighting their own battle with depression, please do so.  And if they ever want to reach out to me, just call, 541-207-7199.

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Enough with the injuries….switching gears (pun intended)

Since the release of Appetite for Addiction I’ve been in funk with writing, not feeling inclined to put pen to paper as much as I have in the past.  Perhaps it’s a hangover effect from AFA. However, I’ve recently met someone that inspired me to pick it back up and get writing again.  My friend Tracey, who keeps a blog of her own was also in a funk.  Interestingly, after we shared our funks together we both picked it back up.  So, here we go! Thanks Tracey 🙂

Several weeks ago, in February, the flu bug got to me which forced me to stay in bed, like everyone else who caught it around the country.  Luckily the bug passed on a Friday and I was able to get out and hit the trails over that weekend.  The runs were uneventful, easy, and relatively benign.  I felt no twinges or tweaks over the two easy efforts.  Then, the following Monday morning I woke up to my left foot being the size of a softball.  I have no idea what happened and I blew up with tumult. I had fucking had it with injuries.

Over the last two years, while I’ve keenly focused on training for ultra-marathons, I’ve had sixteen different injuries that forced me to sit out from training:  Left quad strain, right quad strain (twice), strained achilles, banged up right calf (twice), banged up left calf (twice), left hip strain, strained lower back, sprained left ankle, a dysfunctional thyroid, etc., etc., etc.  When I woke up that Monday with a swollen foot, after freaking out for a bit, I began to laugh and say out loud: “even when I’m not injured I get injured!”

Injuries are very common in our crazy sport.  The mileage we run in training for ultra- marathons from 50 kilometers to 100 milers and beyond tends to provoke certain common injuries.  Largely, I’ve been relatively patient in dealing with these injuries as I began to look at them as challenges to figure out what happened and how to fix it.  But with this new injury, one that I have no idea how it happened?  I’d had enough and threw my hands up in the air in disbelief.  My patience was lost, and I was no longer in the mood to find the silver lining with this latest episode.  Enough was enough.

After I calmed down, I took the next few days to reflect on what the sport of ultra-running means to me.  Look, I love it and will always have a passion for running long distances in the woods!  However, this time, the mysterious injury brought out another consideration for me to ponder:  my mental stability.  No longer was running helping me wade through the mental challenges I face from time to time.

Running is a way for me to express myself, to push myself, and to explore my mental and physical boundaries.  I’ve learned so much about myself by pushing the limits to states of mind that I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing in other ventures.  But, with the constant interruptions in my ability to run, my mental stability began to wane.  No longer was it about loving a sport that I’ve grown into over seven solid years.  Now, it was about strictly maintaining my sanity, the consistency of being healthy had become fleeting.

For me, fear is not necessarily an effective motivator for doing anything.  However, the few months leading up to the latest injury, I found myself in an utter state of fear, wondering when the next injury would occur.  It was awful, having fun while running was elusive.  One of my friends and mentors, Ian Torrence, gave me a simple formula to the fun factor in running.  His sentiment was that 90% of running should be fun; admittedly my fun factor was a tiny fraction of his 90% rule.

Given the personal issues that I’ve been through, especially with depression over the last couple of years, running was largely my way to cope, until it wasn’t.  What I hadn’t realized was that running, along with the accumulation of the incessant injuries, was adding to the depression simply because I couldn’t stay healthy.

Today, a couple of months removed, I’m really bummed that I let it get to this point.  I mean, it took about 6 weeks for me to not look up into the forest without a feeling of disdain for the trails.  Ridiculous right?  Maybe not.  Now I can safely admit that before the last injury I had once again become consumed with pace, Strava, and results, constantly comparing myself to other runners.  That formula had not worked in the past when I began training full time;  unfortunately I had let those external drivers take over again.

So, now what?  Well, fortunately my foot healed after taking a month off from running so I can start up again although this go-around will look a little different.  Enter a swim cap, a dusted off time trial bike and a pair of road shoes. I still want to be the best athlete I can be and compete at a high level.  I won’t stop the pursuit of a child dream just because I am putting aside the sole focus on ultra-marathons.  At this point in my life I believe that swimming and biking will help add to the sustainability of my athletic endeavors.  I’m willing to try it, for I absolutely love competing and training for endurance sports.  My first triathlon is in just a few weeks, the Blue Lake Olympic just outside of Portland.  I’m excited to see what happens!

Even just a few weeks ago I was in no frame of mind to even consider being around an ultra-marathon, even just as a spectator.  However, things have improved and today I find myself in a better place, having gone through the grieving process of not being able to compete this year like I had hoped. Plus, my buddy Andrew is heading back to Western States 100 this year for the follow-up to his victory in 2016.  There’s no way I’m going to miss out seeing him race in the Super Bowl of ultra-running next month.

My take-away from this bout of injuries:  listen to your body because when it speaks, it speaks for a reason.

 

 

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Appetite For Addiction: The Backstory

Early last week, before Appetite for Addiction was published, I had a conversation about the impending release with my boy Brian.  He asked how I was doing, knowing that my entire life was about to be available for the world to see (he put it more mildly).  “I’m fucking scared dude,” was my response.  The previous couple of weeks I had been wrought with insecurity.  Even though I’ve shared quite a bit of my story on this blog, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I was terrified about what the reaction might be once people actually started reading it and finding out that I was a pretty big jackass for so long (which is a judgement that I reluctantly place on myself from time to time, still working on those).

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This was the first time I saw someone else holding a book that I actually wrote.  It was a surreal feeling!

Curiously, as the release day got closer, the anxiety began to somehow subside.  Then, last Thursday, went Appetite was released, I felt this huge weight come off of my shoulders.  I hadn’t felt that light in some time.  Even today, as the book is slowly getting out there, I feel somewhat grounded and relaxed.  Perhaps having all of these crazy stories and narratives persist in my mindframe before the books release was doing more harm than good.  Or, perhaps, it is just a part of the process that writers experience when they cultivate their own memoirs.

Right after I resigned from the Hilton, in June of 2015, I started to write.  I had this idea that it might be fun and therapeutic to put my entire story down on paper.  I didn’t necessarily know that I was about to start a three year project of intensive self-reflection on my history. In fact, I began writing chronologically, beginning with my upbringing as a child, gradually progressing to present day.  Looking back to some of the writing I was doing back then was kinda embarrassing.  But then, I received a valuable piece of advice from my good friend and author, Buffy.  All he said, loosely, was just write.  That’s it.  Just write.  I carried that knowledge with me until the day I submitted my first final draft to my copy editor last fall.  Thank you Buffy.

At first I was going to name the book Renovatio, latin for re-birth.  My reasoning was because of a tattoo I had to cover up (the initials of my ex-fiancee, I can’t believe I actually did that) with a new word.  Right around the time I wanted to get the tat redone I saw an Ewan McGregor movie that featured the word Renovatio.  It had a nice ring to it.  I though it might be cool to replace LMC with a word that signified re-birth, regeneration.

After I nixed that idea for whatever reason I wanted to name the book Eat, Sleep, Run, Repeat.  After a day of thinking about it, and a few suggestions from friends to keep working on the title, I quickly nixed that as well.  Plus, I didn’t want to come off writing a “running” book and the title was just silly and irrelevant given the content of my story.

Then, one afternoon while driving to the gym I was blaring the Guns N’ Roses album Appetite for Destruction. BAM!  THAT’S IT.  Thus, Appetite for Addiction was born.

Ultimately I wrote Appetite for two reasons.  One, to help me understand the construct of my life, especially as it relates to addiction and sobriety. Two, to help other people know, who might suffer in silence from their own demons, that they are not alone.  The reason I had my mom be the main editor, other than the fact that she’s a very good editor, was because it was the best way for me to express what I had gone through in life.  Up until I started writing I just didn’t know how to properly help her understand the anxiety, stress, and depression that I seemed to be relentlessly steeped in.

In my previous work-life experience in the corporate world it was all about producing results, quickly, my paycheck depended on it.  Other than training athletically I was always reluctant to enter into multi-year projects, mainly because of the fear that I wouldn’t see it through.  Trust me, there were times where I wanted to scrap the whole project, simply because I wasn’t getting any immediate results.  Fortunately, with the help and encouragement from several friends, I didn’t stop.  I am very thankful for this.  Plus, during those times of frustation, I was still firmly of the belief that results were everything.  Thankfully, part of that thinking has subsided and transformed into a sense of patience, something that always seemed to elude me in the past.

I’m grateful to have gone through this process, it has been so very rewarding.  Plus, I found out that I have somewhat of a knack for writing!  Funny, because I failed my writing class at St. Lawrence University.  With the revelation of this new hobby I am proud to say that I’m already half-way through the follow-up book to Appetite for Addiction.  A Comeback from Addiction, My Story, will be out soon!

A huge thank you to everyone who helped keep my head above water through the writing process.

P.S. – for those who read Appetite I would enjoy hearing your constructive feedback.

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Sober Date: February 11th, 2014…Four Years In

Today, February 11th, 2018, is my four year sober birthday.  To celebrate, like I’ve done in the past, I’m heading out into the McDonald –  Dunn Forest for a long run, one hour for every month in the last year that I’ve been able to maintain continuous sobriety.  These twelve hour adventures have been a few of my favorite runs (including races) that I have experienced since becoming sober.  They are a time to appreciate and honor the fact that sobriety is a gift as well as a chance to remember what I’m made of.

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With another year of sobriety comes another year of learning.  Last year I found myself reflecting upon the people that inspire me the most ( 3 Years Sober ) as well as what the journey had been like so far.  The same goes for this year as the reflective side is still as prevalent as it has been in the past, perhaps in a different vein.  Part of this, I believe, is because of the composition of my memoir, Appetite for Addiction.  For most of this past year, while writing and editing, I was finding myself entrenched in the narratives and stories of my past.  Basically,  I felt like I was reliving, over and over, the worst and most devastating parts of my story, which is a default setting of mine.  My question to authors who have written addiction memoirs is:  is this common?  To be steeped in these stories is my own doing.  Luckily, with the help of my accountability team, I am slowly shifting the narrative from living in the past to coming into the present and appreciating what is unveiled at my door step today.  Not yesterday, nor tomorrow, but today.  I also believe that by releasing Appetite for Addiction I will be able to keep letting go and continue moving from my past in many ways….the process of writing has proven to be very cathartic.

 It’s always interesting to compare what I’m working on now to what I was working on a year ago.  Last year at this time I was on a high.  Having recovered from an injury, I was attacking training full steam, writing like a banshee, unaware of the consequences that I’d face by going 110%.  This year, however, is very different.  Immersed in ambiguity about what is going to happen with the ventures that I am pursuing, I find myself reverting to a past and comfortable behavior of dwelling on results.  Results for training, results for a long awaited move, results for writing, and results for my business.  In essence I’ve been future-tripping about what may, or may not, happen.  For instance, a few days ago I texted Matt to say good luck and to go get a medal in PyeongChang.  The minute I sent the text I immediately knew what his response would be: “We’ll give it our best!”  It’s inspiring to have people in my life that are truly invested in the process of improvement, much like Matt is.  Cues such as this help snap me back into the present and be involved and engaged in today.

Largely, my focus on results goes hand in hand with unrealistic expectations that I have the penchant for setting up for myself.  However, in sobriety, this tends to look different.  Something that I keyed in on this morning, while sharing with some other folks in recovery, is that when I stopped drinking I never really had ANY expectations of what might happen if I got sober.  I suppose I imagined that my body would feel better, but I never thought that I’d have the courage to resign from the corporate lifestyle I was living to pursue writing, training, and owning a successful health and wellness company, full time.

The other prevalent item of personal work that I’m engaged in is set around managing my depression.  Last year at this time I was pretty secure in the fact that I was in a good place with it as I hadn’t had too many episodes over the preceding year.  This year looks very different, as I’ve mentioned and recalled with frequency lately.   The good news is that, more than ever, I embrace the fact that depression is a thread in my life rather than dismiss it.  Plus, by uncovering certain hormonal deficiencies, my hope is that my depression will become more manageable with time.

It isn’t so much about not drinking anymore, it’s about everything else.  The compulsion to drink isn’t there like it used to be.  I can’t claim to say that this will always be that way, but today I feel pretty secure in knowing that, even in the hardest moments, the chances that I’ll drink are very slim.  That’s pretty cool.

Apart from drinking, I always forget that the 11th of February is also the anniversary of quitting chewing tobacco, three years ago.  Being my obsessive self I had to make both anniversary dates on the same day.  It’s just easier to remember that way.

With that, I’m going to grab my headlamp, an iPod full of Gareth and Armin sets, and my running shoes to begin the most important celebration of the year.  The one that reminds me that I’m still alive, kicking, fighting, surviving, and moving forward.

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Central Oregon PTSD – “Dude, get over it!”

This narrative must sound like a broken record, but….here goes!

Some time ago I wrote about wanting  to let go of my resentments toward Bend, OR (A Comeback from Addiction ).  When I left town and moved to Corvallis in December of 2011, I was steeped in all sorts of questionable and sketchy behavior.  Today, more than six years later, I still find myself working through those resentments.  This past weekend, while visiting with my friend and mentor, Mike Larsen, he boiled it down pretty bluntly as only he can in his own unique caring way: “dude just (*$&%ing) get over it!”  I heard you man and I wish I didn’t have to complicate things as much as I do.  Unfortunately it’s a default setting right now so deal with it! 😉

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Larsen – enough said.

On my initial journey across the country, from Massachusetts to Bend in 1998, along with my adventure mates, Matt Whitcomb and Justin Beckwith, I remember a vivid moment while heading west on US 20, cresting a rise somewhere between the ghost towns of Brothers and Millican and seeing Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and Mt Jefferson for the first time.  Immediately, upon the sight of the those majestic mountains, Central Oregon began to encompass an aura and magic to it.  Plus, as nordic skiers, we got the opportunity to be around our Olympic heroes who also lived in Bend – Pat Weaver, Justin Wadsworth, Ben Husaby, and Beckie Scott. We had found our new playground; for me, for the next thirteen years.  Largely, that magic and aura stuck with me until just a few months before I ran away to Corvallis.  During those months the distinct transition of Bend’s allure and ambience turned to a depravity as my main goal had gone from adventuring and fitness to chasing down the nearest cocaine dealer downtown.  Those last three months went on to create a resentment that I am still largely working on relieving myself of.  It seems ridiculous to think that just three months affected all of my memories of being in Bend for over a decade.

Recently one of my best college friends, Ben, and his family, relocated from the east coast to Bend.  Having them so close to me for the time being, geographically, is becoming more and more important as time goes on. When I visit them every so often it is refreshing to see the town through their optics and fresh eyes.  They see Bend for what it is, an amazing place. Each time I visit it does get a little easier not to pick up on the overly-abundant visual cues that remind me of the delinquency and indecency that I associated myself with towards the end of my tenure there.  Look, for me it’s very difficult to not drive down Newport Ave, Wall St. or Galveston Ave, without be cued off on a specific treacherous memory that exists at the various establishments on those stretches of road.  Most people see those areas for their great architecture, lush views of the Deschutes River, and the plethora of first-rate shops and restaurants.  It’s unfortunate that those views elude me for now; when I’m in downtown Bend I see the spots where I almost crashed my car, drunk as hell, or scored some blow off a dude at 2 a.m. on the street corner of Bond St. and Minnesota Ave.  Even this past weekend, those recollections still persisted in my memory bank.  Letting go of said memories is largely the key to me resolving my relationship with Bend, something that I’d like the future to hold for me.  The fact is in NO other town in the world do I have a concentration of so many close friends and confidants.  Three of my mentors live there!  It’s actually pretty freakin rad to be reminded of that.  At some point in time I absolutely see myself moving back there because, quite literally, Bend kicks ass.

I’d love to be able to remember the good stuff over the bad stuff, and the intrinsic work I’m doing is certainly helping. Training at Mt. Bachelor, tearing it up on the Tuesday night Sunnyside hammerfest ride, learning to trail run, the amazing memories of working in the area, and the most important part, the people and community, are among a few of the memories that I cherish.  The good news is that I’ve got a few folks in my life that are constantly helping me through my issues of letting go, not only with Bend, but with life.  I understand the simple fact that it’s a process and it will take time.

So for now, the journey to work through those resentments will continue.  As luck would have I’ll be back in Bend in just a couple of weeks to once again, be around some amazing friends doing what we do best…kicking ass in Central Oregon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2018: The Year of Embracing Uncertainty

Yesterday I got a mysterious call from an Inglewood, CA, phone number. I found it strange as I don’t really know anyone that well in the L.A. area.  The woman on the other line was a casting agent for the reality TV show, on the Discovery Channel, called Naked and Afraid.  A few days earlier a friend of mine, thinking that screen-work may be a good fit for my future,  gave me an email address to follow-up with regarding a potential lead on the casting for a new season of N&A.  Causally, not thinking anything of it, I sent an email stating who I was and that I’d have an interest in learning more about the opportunity.  Then I get this phone call out of nowhere and had my first casting agency interview.  It was a total trip!  If the producer likes what he sees from my initial interview then I get to take the next step in the interview process and get into more detail of me and my story, as well as what being on the show actually entails.   I have no expectations of any sort with all of this.  Honestly, it was just flattering to get the initial call!  We’ll see, if I don’t hear from them in a few days then I know they’ve moved on.

As we draw nearer to the new year I find myself in a reflective state.  For better or for worse, I can never seem to avoid this eminent truth.  As I’ve mentioned before, 2017 has been a hard  year for me and I am more than ready to keep pushing on to leave all of the crap that happened behind me.  However, as I think back, many of the blows were rooted in certain expectations that I carried for myself, expectations that I owned as a portion of my identity.  I’m almost able to say, in an honest sense, that I am appreciative of the opportunities that I was granted over the past year to learn from my mistakes.  But honestly?  Yeah, I’m still a little pissed off.  Yet, I find myself playing the role of the victim less and less.

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Looking over the Grand Canyon.  Pretty soon this will be my home.

At first glance, ambiguity has been a word that hasn’t meant much to me in the past.  In fact, the way I’ve lived over the years has been driven solely by concrete goals, athletically and financially.  I had expectations for everything!  And when I didn’t achieve those goals or expectations I beat the hell out of myself.  2017 was rife with physical injury, most notably a semi-torn achilles, a broken thyroid/low testosterone, severe depression, and a bad bout with overtraining syndrome (OTS).  Overall, the running/athletic goals that I set for myself this year did not come to pass.  At many points I believed, on paper, that I had failed.  From a financial standpoint it wasn’t much better.  It got so bad that there was even a time this year that I wanted to quit everything:  running, my business, my book, and being a dreamer pursuing his passions.  So yeah, those thoughts of “failure” still linger.  However,  I am slowly beginning to let go.  Enter uncertainty…

As I sit here today I am faced with an abundant level of uncertainty.  First of all, in the next few months I am moving to a town, Flagstaff, AZ, where I barely know anyone other than a few great folks in the running community along with some others that I met during my trip this fall.  I’m terrified!  Financially, I’m scrambling a bit but know that I have the skill and wherewithal to make shit happen.  Next, I have a book coming out…who knows what’s going to happen with that.   And my running goals?  Honestly, the biggest obstacle to achieving those is to simply, stay healthy!  That’s on me.  All of it is on me.  Add in the possibility of a reality TV show (I bring this up in a bit of a joking manner)?  WTF!

A mental shift has happened over the last month that has had a profound affect on the way that I process information.  Through the work I’ve done in therapy, among other certain avenues, I have become more and more keen to the idea of surviving and thriving in uncertainty.  Rather than completely obsess about not knowing what’s going to happen I am beginning to see uncertainty as opportunity.  I can’t tell you when, exactly, this shift happened, but it did, and I am grateful.  Sure, I’ve got to figure how the hell I’m going to move all of my shit to another state, along with my cat, which stresses me out to a degree.  However, I know that once I get there things WILL settle down…it’s just a matter of taking action and moving the process along.  A quote that I recently heard gives me added hope:  “If you follow your heart and your passion the universe will conspire to help you in one way or another.”

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Earlier this year making my way through the open landscape of Northern Nevada.  For some reason landscapes such as this speak to me in a profound way.

With that in mind, along with further investigation, perhaps I have seen success when faced with the unknown.

In thinking about my attempt with sobriety I am reminded that at one poignant point in my life all I had left was uncertainty.  On February 11th, 2014, (the day I got sober) I had no clue what was going to happen with me.  Dialing life back to one day at a time seemed like a monstrous undertaking.  Early in sobriety it was a matter of literally not taking a drink each day.  In time, those challenges became much deeper and harder to face as I began to  slowly peel away the layers of the onion.  So far, the process is working as it has been almost 4 years since the last time I had a drink!  So, perhaps, this is evidence that I have embraced uncertainty to a degree.  I’ll take it.

Furthermore, I was engaged to be married at one point in my life.  The year was 2007 and everything was laid out for me.  All of the expectations that I had for myself were coming true: a soon-to-be wife, a house, the cars, the fancy six-figure salary, everything that I thought I wanted out of life was becoming reality.  Then, for countless reasons, it all blew up in my face.  At that point I was so transfixed on living a certain lifestyle that I completely lost sight of the things that really mattered to me, most notably fitness and health.  Within a matter of months all of the hard work that I did to create this perfect reality brought me to my knees, literally.  I lost everything financially and emotionally.   But after a while, I landed back on my feet because I chose to embrace the unknown…maybe it has been in my gut all along that uncertainty has led to great things!

Even as I look back to my high school years at Burke Mountain Academy, among the most terrifying period of my life emotionally, I somehow pushed through the adversity that I created for myself to come out stronger on the other side.  Detailed in my book, Appetite for Addiction, the Burke years played witness to ambiguity in the purest sense of the word.  Every single day, especially early on at Burke, I was literally terrified to show up amongst my peers, not knowing how they would react to me and my overly-shy and introverted self.  But, things played out as they did and ultimately the years at Burke set the stage for a more enjoyable and terror-less period of life that was to follow at St. Lawrence University.  Just writing these examples of my past ability to push  through ambiguity reinforces for me, that today, maybe I don’t need to be afraid of the unknown.  My history only goes to show that I’ve actually been effective in those situations.

Whatever happens in 2018 will be a miracle.  Hell, the fact I’m even alive and that I’ve stayed sober for this long is a miracle in and of itself.  And writing a book?  Huh?  I never thought that would happen.  Hell, I barely passed my writing courses at St. Lawrence! Moving forward I feel as though I just might have the pieces in place to continue to thrive in ambiguity.  It’s just a matter of drawing on those past experiences and engaging these effective character traits.  The tools I have picked up to help me through the process have certainly been heavy, but the more vulnerable and honest I get the better those tools  seem to work.  So, in a sense, maybe 2017 has been a good year, as this was the year that I truly began to learn from my mistakes and shortcomings. Only time will tell I suppose.  With 2018 being full of interesting things to come I’m here to say:  Bring that shit on!

 

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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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