Realizations

It’s been a while since I wrote anything.  This will not be a fun, or inspirational post to read. Luckily, I write this for me.

It’s been a hard month.  The last I wrote was the beginning of the month when shit was really hitting the fan for me.  Since then it has been a roller coaster ride.  Lots of highs, a few lows, lots of fun, some scary spots… But just like at the end of a roller coaster, I feel like I’m back where I started.

Things with the woman are in an uncomfortable holding pattern.  She’s being a little distant, in an understandable way.  I’m wishing I could get a little clarity but know I can’t without coming off as over-invested or pushing for things to get serious.  Neither of those is my intent. I would be okay with things getting more serious, but I know it will take time.  That’s fine. I just basically want to know I’m not wasting my time if she’s sure they will not get serious but that’s a speculative question, and i hate speculative questions.

The bigger problem is that I’m struggling to come to grips with the beginning-of-september realization that I’m just very lonely.  I don’t know if there is a way to accept that.  I don’t know if there is a way to fix that.  I don’t know if accepting it will require fixing it, or vice versa.  the main thing I know is it sucks.

I really thought that taking on triathlon and spending a lot of time focusing on myself was going to resolve some of my insecurities and give me some more stability when it came to women.  I guess in some ways it has helped with some of my insecurities, but not the ones that needed help.  I already thought I was a good, smart, capable person.  Reinforcing that is great, but it’s not getting me anywhere productive. It’s not a pleasant realization that I haven’t drawn much additional long-term peace from it.

While I was in Colorado, I realized that I really still do want to be out there.  It’s a place that is filled with the kinds of activities that I love to take part in, and people that love to do them.  It’s a complicated situation though, because just prior to, and while I was out there, I realized I also have an incredible support network here in Cincinnati.  I mean obviously being close to mom and dad is great in a lot of ways, but the crew that I run with and a few of the folks from the tri club… they are the kinds of friends that I lacked in Houston. They are the safe place I think I needed. I’m not sure how quickly, or if I would find another crew of friends anything like them out in CO.  Ultimately, I think it’s the right thing to move out there when I get things paid off, but it’s not going to be easy to leave.

Colorado was incredibly beautiful and I felt mostly at peace out there.  I think that’s to be expected though, when you are on vacation.  I saw some amazing things.  The San Juan Mountains and Black Canyon take the cake.  Both left me speechless.  The changing aspens were an unbelievable and unexpected treat as well.  Having the woman come out for a spell was also obviously fabulous.  She had a great time, and we had a great time together.  In some ways, I think that should placate some of my uneasiness, but in other ways, the somewhat inconsistent behavior over the past month has only made it worse. In spite of that, and some difficulties with the girl I was originally traveling with, I feel like it was an incredible trip.  I think as it drew to a close, I realized that expecting big changes from things like undertaking triathlon, or going on a 3 week walkabout is foolish.

I have realized that despite the good feelings I got during training over the past year, I’m not sure if I want to invest the time and effort for a full iron distance triathlon this coming year.  I won’t have the flexible schedule with the new job I’m taking, and with a move planned, that’s sure to throw a wrench into any training plan I have.  I’m also just not sure I want to be that dedicated to it. Ultimately, I know I can’t afford to sign up till at least probably February anyway, so it’s not a problem just yet.

I’m realizing that I’m on a low…. I think I’m handling it a little better than I used to be able to, though it’s really day-to-day, and I can’t form an objective opinion about it anyway, since I’m so affected by it. I haven’t gotten much of any lasting peace of mind from my trip.  This is partly because I want to feel comfortable with where things are with the woman, partly because it’s just not possible for events or experiences to single-handedly change the outlook of my life.  I can’t permanently extract myself from my emotions just by going somewhere or doing something.  Like I said before, it’s just foolish.

I’m realizing that maybe I’m pretty foolish in general.

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The Second Part (Jackson Browne and Mike Tyson)

This is the second part. It’s the scary, disjointed part.

I once wrote that most endurance athletes are running from something.   I don’t think that’s changed.  I wasn’t sure then, and I remain unsure of whether many of us can ever escape the things we are running from.  I’ve been running for a long time now, but the last few days have made it clear I’m not building a gap.  And the last 24 hours has made me terrified of what I’m running from.  How can you escape from something that’s inside you?

I want to believe depression and this current downswing isn’t really about a woman.  I want to believe it’s more about thinking I had finally built some immunity to romantic uncertainty and that I’d re-focused my life on myself and my personal goals, but that the addition of goals and achievements hasn’t worked the way I wanted it to.  That for all my work to escape, my shadow still haunts me.

When I read that, I realize that what I am saying is that I want it to not be about being lonely, but that it’s about being lonely.

That’s incredibly difficult and scary.  And it might not even be completely right.  And even if it is, it doesn’t change anything.  How can you ever run away from loneliness?  How can you ever show it to someone?  How can I be the funny, happy person I love being for everyone if I admit that I’m afraid of a terrible loneliness that I have almost no control over, and that no matter how many good friends I have, and how much I make people laugh, that feeling won’t completely go away? How can you be surrounded by people, smiling and laughing, and also feel so alone?

There’s a Jackson Browne song, ‘Fountain of Sorrow’, that has been on my mind lately.  My dad talked about hearing this song in his late 20’s and that it hit him so hard he didn’t know what to do.  “Man, that line… ‘you’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight’.  I was 29 and I knew it was me.  I spent my 20’s running from something that I could never get away from.  The steps are hollow because you can’t get away from what’s inside you.”

He never talked about the 4 lines before that though.  Mabye his depression wasn’t from loneliness.

“There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight”

That loneliness comes from within.  You can do all this shit and try to learn all this stuff, but half the time you are only believing something because you want to.  And you can think you have it figured out or are making progress or whatever but then something happens and that loneliness springs back out.  It’s there… maybe it’s covered up by that pool of other feelings and distractions, but it’s going to come back.

The rest of the song has lots of other meaning in there.  It’s an incredible song about loss, and learning, and being grateful for someone’s grace.  I can’t get into all of it right now… maybe for another day.

But man, I’m 30, and something just…. I know that’s me.  Tyson said “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” and man, that song and the last few days have just hit me in the mouth with some truth that I’ve been trying to avoid or thinking I could overcome.  I had this plan of how tri was going to change things.  But there’s this loneliness. And the footsteps I hear, they’re my own.  And I’m not getting further from that fountain. I can’t swim, bike, and run away from feeling alone.  And shit… I don’t know man. I don’t know.

Right now, I guess I just need to keep riding through the dark.

The First Part

This writing started differently than it has turned out.  There are two separate systems of feelings I’m struggling with in this moment, and as much as I want one to explain the other, I can’t make that happen.  So there are two separate writings.

I’m frustrated that the things that should matter the most to me are being overshadowed, in their moment of importance, by things that should be and will eventually become trivial.  A little less than nine months ago I lost Buddy, my best friend, most loyal companion, and wisest teacher.  In that time I was stricken with profound grief as would be expected.  I was lost in ways I didn’t and still don’t understand.  But I was also frustrated by a woman.  She’s a perfectly fine person, and we had a meaningful relationship, such as it was, but she didn’t have anywhere near the significance to me that Buddy did.  To have been distracted from my feelings about Buddy in that moment by feelings about a woman felt bad, and still does.  To be distracted by (possibly unfounded!) feelings about a woman in THIS moment, where I have just accomplished a major personal athletic goal, landed a very promising new job, and am about to embark on an extraordinary trip, feels bad in a very similar way.

It’s okay to feel bad about relationships.  It’s normal to be bummed about even fleeting relationships coming to an end.  It’s okay to be anxious when unsure how things will unfold with relationships.  It doesn’t feel okay to be distracted by these things in the face of what should be more significant events.  I just want the things that really matter, to really matter, and the things that shouldn’t matter to stop consuming my consciousness.  This is a neurosis, not a psychosis.  I’m aware that my anxiety and the darkness that surrounds me is irrational.  But that doesn’t turn the lights on.

Fignon, Flaubert, and Victories that Don’t Feel as Good as they Should

fignon podium

Laurent Fignon (above, left) spoke of his loss by 8 seconds to Greg LeMond (above, right) in the 1989 Tour de France:

“How could I have allowed it to happen?”….”It was the only thing in my head. There was no flavour in anything I ate. Just moving felt like an effort. It was like being in a coma. ‘Watch out for sorrow, it’s a bad habit,’ wrote Flaubert.”

I raced 2 days ago and it was about as close to perfect as I could have hoped for.  I think anyone who races would always like to be faster than they are, but we also know when we turn in our best effort.  Sunday was really my best effort.  I kept my head down, never cracked, and pushed out a lot of power the whole time.  I drilled my 19mph average that I was hoping for on the bike, and I was only about a minute off of my super-ideal 10k time and put down a new personal record of 1:03:06.  Overall I finished in 3:01:44 and my goal had been 3:05:00. Not only that, but I was 20th overall out of about 76 on the bike, which is fairly satisfying since it wasn’t quite perfect, but still put me the top 27% of athletes. So, a big success.  Plus, social, career, and travel developments. Why does it feel so empty though?  It’s nowhere near like I lost the greatest sporting event in the world by 8 seconds to a rival whom I out rode.  So why do Fignon’s words feel so piercing?

Things have been going kind of well lately.  There have been some hiccups socially and I feel like I perhaps willingly followed a path (person) I knew would probably lead nowhere, but I navigated that without making myself too emotionally vulnerable in the end.  I’ve been good with training and although I’ve spent a lot of the last month pretty exhausted, it’s paying off with my performance and that feels good.  I’ve also just recently had some good things going in terms of dating too.  I’ve met a couple of women who are interesting and funny, which, of course, will be discussed further below.  Generally, though, I have been feeling like overall my social life is almost… satisfying, which is weird for me to be able to say.

I also got some fantastic news that I will be getting a job offer soon.  Major win!  It’s a good job, with great benefits and I’m at my wit’s end in my current company.  I really think I’m going to be a lot happier in the new position than I am here where I’m part time so don’t make enough, and am struggling to make ends meet while still feeling over-worked and underappreciated.  I don’t expect the new digs to be all rainbows, but a change of scenery, getting away from the soul-crushing nature of mega-corporate life, and moving into an atmosphere that at least seems much more friendly will be good for me.  There will be some challenges, as I am stepping into the role of Project Manager, but in many ways, it’s time for me to take a step up and forward with my career so that’s okay.

I’m planning a 3 week long trip.  I’ll be in New York at my sister’s farm for a week, where I’ll be getting paid to help out with various tasks around the place and hopefully getting in some bike rides and just generally refreshing myself physically and mentally.  After that I will be spending two weeks in Colorado just experiencing all it has to offer.  I’m going out there with this woman my best friend and her sister tried to set me up with.  There’s been no spark, though, which is fine, and I’m not really anticipating anything happening.  Really, I’m not even thinking about that because aside from romantic focus being elsewhere, what this trip is all about is spending 2 whole weeks seeing incredible sunsets and sunrises, hiking glaciers and seldom-traveled trails, riding bikes, rafting, seeing a few old friends, and building incredible new memories.  Those mountains call deeply to my soul and I knew they would (and am now counting on them to) refresh my spirit and zest for life.

So, I have a great race, my social life seems to be a positive, I have a new job to look forward to, and I have an incredibly rad trip on the horizon.  I still feel like shit.  If you know me, you know why.  I rode a wave for too long and forgot that you have to prepare for the wash.

Flaubert also wrote, “One must always hope when one is desperate, and doubt when one hopes.”

She’s one of the first women I’ve met in a long time that has real potential.  We hit it off.  We ended up spending a lot of time together last week.  I allowed myself too much hope, too little doubt.  And then, she cooled.  It is as simple as that. I don’t “love” her, I barely know her, though I do like her.  I have little time invested.  And she has actually only cooled a little, not frozen.  There is reason to believe things will turn around. BUT, one would think that by this time in my life I would be able to guard against a crash in situations like these; that I would know enough to doubt when I hope. Furthermore, one of the big reasons for diving into triathlon was to become stronger mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  So why am I sliding hard into the darkness, especially when I have all this other good stuff going on?

Flaubert says “Watch out for sorrow, it is a bad habit.”  True enough, but he also says “One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”

Maybe actually I am I down on post race blues?… I thought I would have at least a few days of runners high to live on.
Am I just over-worked and maybe burnt out?… It really has been a hard training block without much extended rest.
Am I over-reacting to her changes in behavior and all will be well?… Unfortunately, I rarely read these kinds of things wrongly.
Is panic because I have no near-term race goals a significant part of it?….. It’s only been a day since my race. It is time for rest and recovery.  Plus, I have other plans.

Am I actually just fearful that I’ve failed to re-focus my mind on self-sustainable happiness?… Sadly this is inescapably part of it.

Consciously, I know that I have done great things, and have more great things ahead.  I know that whatever misfortune that might befall me will be swept away with the dust of time and that only the triumphs will remain.  I know that I have achieved, in just 9 months, a massive transformation of body, accomplishment of goals, and change in life direction.  This should be a time where I hold my head high, where I puff my chest out, celebrate my successes and do my finest LeMond.

And yet, I am NOT LeMond, smiling for the press, world at my fingertips, filled with joy.  I am Laurent, eyes open but empty, present in body but absent in mind, dejected despite my nearness to the epitome of achievement.  I do not taste the flavor of anything I eat.  Moving is a chore.  It’s as if I am in a coma.  How could this have happened?

For me, the darkness just never seems to be very far away though I have worked so hard to distance it.

Last Ride Before The Race

I wrote this a few days before my race and just ran across it now.  I wanted to document it, because I remember that moment exactly.
hilly forest road pic

Sweat drips off the brim of my cap and tip of my nose. It’s coming nearly in a steady stream now. I watch the big drops explode into dozens of tiny ones as they strike the frame of my bike. I can taste the same salt that is stinging my eyes. My shoulders and hips ache. My heart is pounding in my ears as I suck in as much oxygen as I possibly can. It’s still not enough though, and my lungs are crying for mercy. Their protest is drowned out by the screaming from my legs.
It’s a stark contrast from the untouched beauty surrounding me. An infinite array of greens and yellows shimmer in the sun and form a canopy over my path. Birds swoop through my field of view and the delicate scent of wild early-summer blooms rides on the slight breeze drifting through the valley. Somewhere deep in my sub-conscious, I’m aware of the dichotomy between this exquisite natural elegance and the savagery with which I force my way up the hill.
Despite the setting, I see only one thing in my mind’s eye. With every flex of my legs, I’m inching closer to the single point on which my entire existence is focused. Though my mind is foggy from effort and exhaustion, I can see the finish line perfectly.
No matter what, I’m going to get there.
I can’t stop.
I won’t stop.
5 days to race day

Passing Time

Everyone can look at their life and point out certain big moments, and even certain “eras” that define them for that period of time.  Accomplishments, relationships, major events… they are all milestones along the course of our lives.  Those don’t really comprise the majority of our time, though.  What about the time in between?

The time in between is like 85% of our lives.  We wake up, do our morning routine, go to work, eat lunch, work some more, come home, do our thing, then go to bed.  There is very little about these times that is particularly remarkable.  These can be some of the hardest times, too.  It feels, and in retrospect, can look like there is nothing meaningful going on.  If you are unlucky enough to suffer from depression, it can literally feel like you are simply waiting for the clock to tick ahead.  Waiting for the next time you can go to sleep because at least when you’re asleep you don’t have to deal with the crushing weight of being awake.

This is where we make hay though.  By passing time.  It’s these moments, hours, days where we can choose to fall into clock-staring and dreading each moment till the next event gives us some purpose, OR we can choose to prepare ourselves for those next moments and work to make sure we greet them with all the readiness possible.

Anxiety

It’s been hard for me to write lately.  After my race (still working on that piece.  It will come sooner or later) there was some difficulty because I was feeling so good.  The melancholy that normally inspires me to write was strangely absent.  Over the last few weeks, however, the difficulty has been the opposite.  I feel like I’m regressing. The triathlon was supposed to change everything.  I was supposed to have accomplished my mission of building a better me.  It’s been hard to write because writing about being depressed feels like admitting that I’m a pathetic failure.  I know I’m not.  But I also knew that the tri was going to change everything……..
I’m anxious a lot.  It’s not so much a general anxiety as it is anxiety about specific things that are generally present in my life.  I’m anxious about money and my job.  I’m anxious about the swim portion of my upcoming race. I’m anxious about my shin.  I’m anxious about if I’ve learned anything at all about how to be a good person to myself whether it has to do with socializing and women or with my weight and health.  I’m not generally anxious though.  I know what that’s like, and that’s not how it is right now.
I know that the anxiety I feel is mostly caused by general depression coupled with discontent with each of the aforementioned categories. It’s hard not to become anxious when you already feel like a POS a lot and then have other things pile on.  There’s a rational explanation for why I feel like this.  I guess that should give me some comfort.  Or something…
I think I’m going to be laid off soon.  My company is exclusively motivated by profit and “growth”, which essentially means that no one in the management structure will help you with anything if you aren’t making the company loads of money.  If you’re caught on the outside or even just determined to be a potential liability in terms of future profit margins, you’re done for.  I’ve spent 6 years doing great work for this company and I fully expect that I will be unceremoniously shown the door in the next month or two at the most. I’m basically living off credit cards at the moment anyway because they have refused to put me back on full time since I decided to stay in Cincinnati.  I’m trying to live off of 20 hours a week and I’m not making it.  I’m working to find a new job, but it’s soul-crushing to try and sell myself to whatever hiring manager there is at whatever company I’m looking into.  And when it’s an effort just to drag myself out of bed in the morning and the thought of getting a new job just loads up the anxiety of how I will pay my bills over the next 3 weeks… 2 months… year… It’s a lot.  I just need a real, full-time job, but the thought of having to learn a whole new office culture and set of company principles just fills me with dread.
It seems likely that the water temperature for my next race will be above 78 degrees, which means I won’t have the option to use my wetsuit.  I know I can swim the distance necessary for the race (1500 yards) without a wetsuit when I am in the pool.  I know that I’m okay in open water.  I don’t know if I am okay without a wetsuit in open water for that distance.  I don’t want to DNF.  I don’t want to kick on my back the whole way.  I don’t want to panic.  I don’t want to be last out of the water again either.  It was okay for my first race but at this point it would just be embarrassing.  I finally feel like I am improving on the bike… like I have gained a degree of cycling ability beyond what I have previously had.  But that may not even matter if I never make it out of the water.
Running still sucks, but it hasn’t regressed in terms of time. My shin however, is alarmingly painful.  The last MRI showed no bone damage, though, or any other inflammation in the area.  I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s a major stress factor for me because my cycling has improved.  My overall time should be faster, especially on a shorter distance, where I should do a lot better with the run.  Not if it all falls apart, though.
For at least the last couple years or so, and I think before that, I have been very confident that I’m really a good person to the people around me.  Probably because of my parents’ work in the mental health field, I have been instilled with a certain amount of basic will to help others.  I can be annoying, and I can be a debbie downer sometimes, but I think I’m generally always trying to make people’s lives better in some way.  I just want the people around me, especially the ones I care about, to be happy, to smile, to laugh.  I’m not sure, though, if I have gotten any better at being a good person to myself.  I think I have gotten somewhat better at identifying when I’m putting myself in situations where I will be less happy, smile less, and laugh less, but I don’t seem to be better at getting myself out of them.
I’ve invested a lot of caring, time, concern and effort into a few people lately, one in particular.  There’s more to it than that, but I just care and want to make their lives better.  Yes, I’m aware, of course, that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.  But it’s incredibly hard for me to accept because of my inherent desire to make everyone happy.  I work and work and signals seem positive (if somewhat inconsistent or mixed), but in the end, there are no results and I am left with an empty “maybe” message, or even worse: no response.  I sometimes think I’m being worked, but I’m never quite sure because I don’t think these are the kind of people who would do such a thing.; they almost certainly wouldn’t intentionally.  REALLY, though, the more important thing is that when this happens; when I invest this much in others, I lose sight of myself.  I lose the focus I should have on me and pursuing my own personal development.  I’m not treating myself well.  I don’t know if there’s a way to balance my own well-being with my desire to positively affect others and my hope to build a relationship with someone.
The triathlon was supposed to be the stepping stone to better physical health in addition to better mental health. 0/2 I guess.  I’m still drinking too much and not sleeping enough, courtesy of both the latest murky shadows cast over my life and my long-standing sleep difficulties.  I’m overweight and need to get down.  Type 2 diabetes is a real thing in my family and I’m getting more scared that it could become a real thing for me.  But even more, I don’t like how I look (I think maybe this is the first time I have stated that), I don’t like being round, I don’t like being slow up hills.  I don’t like being too hot all the time.  I don’t like that my jokes about how attractive I am are all bravado.  I’ve been trying, and I know what to do to lose weight, but I keep screwing up and it keeps reminding me that I haven’t really gotten that much better at being good to myself. Between this and my inability to make good decisions about me personal life that will benefit my mental health, I begin to wonder, at times, if I am even capable of making a difference.
The darkness is omnipresent.  I understand how to manage that better nowadays though.  I have made that much progress.  While the anxiety is neither new nor omnipresent, it does dim the lights which keep the shadows at bay.  It also seems less easy to combat than the inky shadow of dysthymia.
I want passion.  I want a finish line.  I want to believe again.  I want to know that my progress hasn’t stopped.