Friday, 27 March 2015

So low

I thought long and hard about whether I should publish this post, which I drafted last night. I'm torn between not wanting my friends to worry about me, but still wanting everyone to know that it's not all roses and cinnamon doughnuts. That even though I have a great strategy for dealing with the disappointment of being injured and missing out on races, and even though I've found a positive approach to dealing with my negative self-talk, those thoughts still come to me. I still get down, and I do my best to deal with it. 

So I've decided to share this, to let you see the full story, and maybe to give you a bit of courage to face down your own uncharitable thoughts. But I also want you to know, before you read on, that I'm ok today.

I felt really shit tonight. Shit to the point where I briefly considered checking myself in somewhere. It started when I left work, having worked my arse off all day but leaving with a bigger to-do list than I’d started with.

I drove away thinking about how much I desperately wanted to run, and wondering if maybe I could strap my ankle firmly and go for a small trot in the forest. Maybe no one would know. But I didn't, because I know I shouldn't.

So I went to my guitar lesson where I played better than I have for months, because I actually had time to practise this week, only I still felt like I played terribly.

Then I went home and decided to try defrosting the fish on a small dish resting on a hotplate on the stove's lowest heat setting. It worked really well, but I still felt awful, like I was somehow failing.

That feeling got worse when my boyfriend told me the dates he'll be away. I already knew he was going away around that time, too, so there actually wasn't any surprise, and I just noted it down in my calendar. But then I went to my bedroom and lay down on the bed cried for a few minutes, because…well, because why not? Tonight is getting to be just all too much.

And when I got up from the bed I had a strange headache at the crown of my head. It persists, but I can't even be bothered taking a painkiller.

I want someone to do something nice for me, to make it all better. And I know on a logical level that’s not possible, because no matter how kind someone’s actions, they aren’t going to fix my ankle or my mood. I know they can’t but I want it anyway, so I’m disappointed. In effect, I’m disappointed by nothing, by no one. It’s silly, and I can identify and declare that it’s irrational, but I seem helpless to do anything beyond that.

I don't know whether I'll share this yet.

Maybe I will, because I’ll bet my injured friends (such as Katherine, Jennifer, and Susannah) go through exactly the same lows. I’d say other people feel like this, too, and maybe if I accept that it’s ok for me to feel this way, maybe it’ll make it easier for others to accept their own feelings, however negative they are. Maybe that will make them feel less alone.

See, I am suffering, and it's over something so small, so temporary, so damn frivolous that I’m quite sure I have no right to even feel like this. But I do feel like this: so maybe it should be on the record.

Maybe I should put it there, on the record; maybe that’s something I can do. I can show the world that I’m not some superhero who is always positive and happy, and that even though I’m putting on a brave face, I still go through those patches where it all seems like a conspiracy against me. So right now I feel like shit, and that the only thing that is going to fix it is the thing I can't do.

I've saved this, offline. Well, sort of. It's on Dropbox. Maybe I should share it instead of posting it on my blog. Maybe I should screen capture it so you can see the ugly plain font I didn't bother changing because it so perfectly matched my mood.

Now I see: I was wrong.

Because running is not the only thing that makes me feel better. Words do, also.

These words make me feel better because they are powerful. Kept inside, they weighed me down, they dragged me under, but now that I've let them out they no longer burden me.

And this is why I choose to see myself as a lucky, lucky person. Because other people don’t have the good fortune to be able to release their burdens like this.

In case you were wondering how it worked out for me, I actually had a pretty shit morning, too. I had a completely disproportionate reaction to a rude driver, and then I flipped out at a work colleague who was just trying to start a conversation that happened to interfere with my getting to the gym. (She's an elite athlete who understands exactly what I'm going through, and she forgave me before I even got a chance to apologise—what a legend.) 

I felt a lot better after a brief gym and swim workout, but then dropped my bundle when I dropped my home made bircher muesli all over the floor. But that's justified, right? I mean, I grated that apple and hand-squeezed those oranges!

In the end, though, it worked out ok. I'm feeling good, and I'm looking forward to a weekend, so please don't worry about me. I'm sharing this post not as a cry for help, but as a war cry for you to be kind to yourself, and accept that we all get like this at times, and that's not ideal but it's ok.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Time out!

I spent a chunk of my weekend writing out a list of all the bookings I need to cancel. I'm only going to get a tiny fraction of my money back, which won't even come close to covering the cost of the physio and sports doctor appointments and the MRI, even after private health cover claims. And, to think—it all could've been so easily avoided.

'But, wait,' you say. 'Wasn't it an accident?'

Yes, to an extent. I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle, which involved an element of chance. It also involved a failure to concentrate on the trail or maybe a foolish decision to run faster than I could manage on the trail. But, more significantly, I must accept the actions I took—or failed to take—in the days and weeks leading up to that 'accident' made me more susceptible to injury. So why wasn't I getting regular massages, trigger pointing my muscles, training my proprioception, resting and recovering, and eating the right foods?

I've wracked my brain and all I can come up with is that I subconsciously sabotaged my race plans.

I discussed this theory with a close and thoughtful friend. He found it highly improbable that I'd deliberately injured myself, especially when I couldn't have predicted when or where I'd sprain my ankle. He makes a fair point, and I'm inclined to agree. But I also can see only one plausible reason for my failure to look after my running body: I didn't prioritise it. I needed a break and didn't accept that. I wasn't committed to the races I'd lined up this year. I failed to admit that, and it cost me a lot of money.

It sounds mightily silly when you think about the adventurous plans I'd laid for April and May, but less so when you consider what a massive year 2014 was for me: a 100 km personal record, a solid 48-hour despite illness, a huge distance personal record with 624 km at the Adelaide 6-day race, and finally—finally!—finishing the Alpine Challenge 100 mile race.

Now I need to accept this: if I'm going to achieve the challenges I've set out for the end of 2015 and early 2016, I'm going to need to be strong and fresh.

So even though it's tempting to punish myself for being so stupid, I'm opting not to. Instead, I've rewarded myself with a swim and gym membership at the Valley Pool, a new guitar stand so my guitar is always within arm's reach, some new novels, and some quality time with my friends. I'm eating well and sleeping more. I'm looking after my body and my mind.

And I'm not in any rush to get back to running. My heart said no and I ignored it long enough that my body had to speak up in a most painful way. So I'm listening, now—I'm not returning to this sport that I love until my heart tells me it's time (and my physio seconds the opinion).

Friday, 20 March 2015

"I don't know how you can run at all, let alone those distances…"

Mimi's words were both friend and foe: my physiotherapist had just slapped me with her praise, or perhaps raised me up onto a podium constructed of dog poop. She was impressed by my right ankle's improvised functional stability given its appalling lack of structural stability.

She held up the films and pointed out several images with bright white patches where I had newly torn the calcaneofibular ligament. She then pointed out the anterior talofibular ligament that the report claimed was "chronically deficient" and explained how my peroneal tendons were overworked from the effort of holding my ankle together.

The verdict:
  • I need to take 8–12 weeks off running;
  • I should be on crutches for two weeks, keeping the weight off my foot as much as possible;
  • I can swim and cycle, and will soon be able to water run;
  • I should see an orthopaedic surgeon in case he or she recommends surgical intervention.
I've always found running injuries hard to deal with because they hit me twice: I miss out on something I thoroughly enjoy doing (running) and I also miss out on the endorphins that boost my mood every day and leave me feeling stronger, more resilient, and more able to deal with the disappointment.

Within days of my injury I recognised how much my identity is tied to running—at some point I've internalised this idea that running is what makes me interesting, what makes me me. Without running, I've noticed irrational thoughts creeping into my mind—perhaps my friends won't want to hang out with me now, perhaps my boyfriend will seek an upgrade, perhaps everyone will forget about me…

I'm grateful here for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques, because I can actually catch and interrogate these thoughts. On a logical level, I recognise that these doubts are all nonsense, that I'm a multifaceted individual, that the wonderful group of friends I've built up over the years love me because of I'm me, not because I'm a runner. But the doubts still creep in, and I have to keep addressing them.

So while I'm gutted to miss out on the ANZAC Ultra 2015 (a once-in-a-lifetime event), I'm taking this enforced time-out as an opportunity to reflect on what else is important in my life and to address how I became injured in the first place. 

I'll accept that some injuries are truly accidents, such as tripping and falling in a race, but I don't think that was the case here. I think my body was more vulnerable than usual because I haven't looked after myself since the Adelaide 6 Day race last October. I never gave myself the time to recover properly because I was greedy: I was running fast and strong, so why stop?

I rolled my ankle as I cornered on a trail where I've never even come close to hurting myself before, and I did significant damage. Normally a little ankle roll wouldn't even slow me down—I'd have the weight off it in an instant and no damage would be done. So why did those super-strong peroneals not hold up? 

Have I been eating well enough? 
Drinking enough water? 
Getting enough sleep? 
Doing enough trigger pointing? 
Getting enough massages? 
Probably not.

Fortunately for me, Mimi is also a life coach, so she's been able to offer some interesting perspectives as I work through my intellectual and emotional responses to this injury. She seems surprised that I'm so keen to rest and heal up properly, even though it means more time off. But I have a very long term goal that always helps me keep things in perspective: I want to be running in my eighties. I have to take care of myself.

I'm going to spend my rehabilitation period not only fixing my body, but also doing the other things I love. One of those things is writing, and I'm going to blog regularly about how I'm coping, in the hope that maybe it will help others who are dealing with their own injuries and negative thoughts.

I may not be running right now,
but I'm still a runner.