Swimming

A few weeks ago was the birthday of a friend of mine who passed way too young. I have also had a number of conversations with people who are struggling this month, so when my Facebook feed showed that I had posted the blog entry below, I felt like I needed to follow up on it. Go ahead and click on that first.

https://theaccidentalselfie.com/2016/04/03/one-year-crazy/

Basically, two years ago I wrote about my decision to take medication to help control anxiety issues and depression issues. That blog was largely about that decision and the positive effects.

Where am I at?

Two months after posting that blog, I felt like I had figured things out and stopped taking the medication.  I continued to see a counselor for another year after discontinuing the medication because I wanted to make sure I really did have my stuff together.  Last summer, I told him “Have you noticed that what we have talking about for the last year is not even close to the reasons I came in here two years ago? I think I’m done.” Basically, I took Lexapro for a little over a year, but have not touched one of those pills in over two years.  I’m fine.

What’s different?

I am better at distancing myself from work. I’m a school psychologist. Most people find it hard to believe, but the job is mentally brutal. The average career of a school psych is extremely short. Do not quote me, but I believe it was around 3-5 years the last time I checked. We turn over psychs at an alarming rate and the number of school psychs on anti-anxiety medications is staggering.  Basically, it is not me. It’s a mentally damaging job filled with conflict, isolation and frustration that breaks many many people at some time.

Here are three quotes said to me this year that would have crushed me in the past. “You made that call?  F**K you, man!”  “I just want you to know that I think you f*****g suck,” and finally, “Don’t as Erik. He’s just collecting a paycheck.”  Sadly, those came from staff with whom I work. Imagine what I get from parents and students. In the past, I would have lost sleep or tried to find ways to reconcile the problem or frankly, get the person to like me.  Now, I go home and go on with my day. I am actually really good at my job. I know that. People get mad, people get angry. Whatever.  Maybe they really do think I suck. Maybe they were frustrated and blowing off steam. I do my best and move on. Of course, I do collect a paycheck as well, so that kinda helps. A nice big fat public-school employee paycheck.

I have really learned who I can depend on and it is the people who were there for me when I was a mess and when things are great. When I posted that blog I got bombarded with “What’s the matter?” “We should get together and you can fill me in,” “I am always here, what do you need?”  I struggled because when I posted it, I was through everything. I did not need anything anymore. I wanted to yell, “I’m fine. Where was this twelve months ago when I needed it?”  In fairness, most of them had no clue. Some I had flat-out lied to. Perhaps others, I wasn’t direct enough with when I tried to reach them. I am certainly not blameless but what I have learned is that people love riding the big red fire truck with sirens blaring to spray water on the inferno, but fewer people like to spend time quietly checking smoke alarms.  Those are the people I can depend on and I have them in my life. You know who you are and I love you.

Chicken or Egg?

In my professional life, and in my person life, I see countless people basically say, “I need to find out what I have so that I understand why I think/act like this.”  When I started in therapy one of the first things I said was, “I do not believe there is anything wrong with me. I think I am depressed and anxious because I think certain ways and have certain patterns that I need to break.  I do not think I ‘have something’ that is beyond my control and causes me to do this.”   Some people have genuine disorders that they can not help. That is a fact and I am not discrediting that at all.  For me, that was going to be my last resort, not a starting point. I wanted to change everything I could before saying, “I have X.”  It may seem minor, but I do believe that if I had walked in and relinquished that locus of control I would not have been as successful.

People will still occasionally make a comment about by “mental illness.”  Initially, it infuriated me.  Not because there is anything wrong with mental illness, but because I do not consider myself mentally ill.  I had a tough spell, took some pretty serious steps to correct it and feel like I am back on track.  If I blew out my ACL, had surgery and went through a year of rehab, I doubt people would refer to me as “physically disabled” three years later when I was walking and running around. Again, something that I would have stewed on years ago, but now am much better about letting it slide.  Who knows, maybe someday I will have another “mental-injury.” It is possible, but I am not overly concerned about it right now.

In Conclusion 

I am as happy as I have been in a long time. In a weird way, I am almost glad I had that bad stretch.  I feel more insightful, resilient, and content. Mostly, I feel more grateful. I just felt like I needed to give some closure to what I put out there a couple years ago.  Two final things.

First, take care of your friends and family.  Check in on them. Say something if you notice them struggling. Listen to them. Check their smoke alarms. Do not wait until it becomes a blazing fire and then try to throw buckets of water on it. Stuff is already burning at that point. You will never regret touching base or checking in.  Even if you meet resistance, or even lies, your gesture will be appreciated on some level.

Finally, if you are struggling. Get some help. If your loved ones say you are struggling,  you are struggling. Get some help. It does not mean there is anything wrong with you and any help does not need to be permanent.  I will close with this analogy.  It was like I was spending my life slogging on the ocean floor and drowning.  On the good days, I could swim twenty or thirty feet above the floor and say, “Look at this. This is not bad. I am well above the floor. I’m swimming”  However, after spending so much time on the floor, I’d lost perspective and did not even realize that even though I was twenty or thirty feet off the floor, I was still 100 feet below the surface and drowning.  Getting counseling and meds was like tying a life jacket on me and shooting me to the surface.  Once my head got above water, I thought “Wow, I had forgotten this is where I am supposed to be. I need to relearn to swim.” As I swam stronger, I untied the life jackets.

As of today, I don’t even know where my life jackets are anymore.

 

 

Worst Running Experiences

I have written a lot about running. I have only been running for about five years but have managed to go from having to walk after a quarter mile to having finished four marathons in that time.  I am now able to to generally place in my age-groups for shorter races and have had generally very positive experiences.  If you scroll down you will see that I have written quite a bit about many of my great experiences and the positive impact running has had on my life.

Today, I thought I would share my worst running experiences.  I have had a few injuries, run in some nasty weather and dealt with the same issues as most runners.  Nipple-chafing is horrible. Chafing in general sucks. My body has shut down on me (Click this) I have had inattentive drivers almost hit me. I’ve literally had to dive out of the way of three. One person came so close that their mirror hit my hand. There are still jerks that swerve their cars at you just to see you jump to the side. I have fallen on ice. I think most of these are pretty typical.  Below, however, are my least favorite.

Dogs

First. I love dogs. I am a dog guy. The bigger the dog, the better. I am not necessarily a dog fan while running.

I’m running through my neighborhood with headphones in.  It is one of those freezing cold, snow -covered runs.  I’m just trying to log my miles, ignore my numb hands and listen to a little music.  The next thing I know, my left arm is jerked straight back, I stagger a step and am twisted around. As I try to make sense of what is happening , I wildly look over my left shoulder to see that my forearm is in the mouth of a golden retriever who has it’s legs braced and is pulling on my arm. My first instinct is to punch.

In a panic, I put everything I have into that shot and connect as cleanly as I ever have. I hit the dog square in the face with enough force that I am pretty sure that I broke my hand. The dog yelps, let’s go and takes off.  The owner comes running up to me.  “Hey!  you didn’t have to hit my dog!”  I am still trying to make sense of what happened and am a little concerned about my ringing hand and can only manage to say, “I didn’t know what it was doing.”  The owner sticks her finger in my face, says, “You’re an ***hole!” and chases after her dog.  To this day, I feel kinda bad for punching that dog, but it was unleashed, in a road, and jumped on me.  Maybe it was playing, but I just reacted.

Dog #2.  I am running down the road and see a woman raking her yard with a large dog.  The dog sees me and comes charging at me.  I know that I need to stop running to avoid the chase instinct and stand facing the dog.  It pulls up about 15 feet from me and starts to slowly circle me.  I am pretty good at reading dogs’ body language, but this one is alternating between wagging it’s tail and then laying its ears back and snarling.  I can not quite decide if it is going to wag up to me to get pet or if I am seconds away from being bit. What worries me most is that it is pretty clear that this dog does not really know what it is going to do next.

The lady is still standing in her yard watching. Without looking away from the dog I call out, “Hey, are we going to be cool here?”  Without moving she simply says, “I’m not real sure. He’s acting weird”  Her neurotic looking dog is still circling me and I am becoming less comfortable with its body language.  “Look. Can you please come get your dog?”  Again, without moving she says, “I am not sure he’d let me. We are going to have to wait to see what he does.”

This does not sit well so I say, “If your dog comes at me, I am going to kick in the head and I will not stop kicking until it is done moving or you come get. Up to you.”  She throws down her rake and says, “Fine.”  As she grabs the collar of her nut-job dog, she looks at me and says, “You’re an ***hole!” Yup.  Heard that before

The Most Scared I’ve ever been on a run

It is a beautiful summer day. Today’s route is not my favorite as I am running through a neighborhood that has a lot of families from the schools that I work in. I am not worried about any of them. I just like to keep work and personal life separate. I also prefer that students not know where live.

Regardless, I am running down the street when up ahead I see a couple adults I know from school.  They wave.  I look to my left, make eye-contact and raise my hand to acknowledge them.  As soon as my hand is up, my periphery vision glimpses a flash of sparks, smoke and a giant explosion rips through the air. It’s so loud, that it hurts.  The adults I am waving ate, dive behind their car. All I can think is, “Someone is shooting!” and I sprint.  I sprint ten yards ahead and scramble behind a random car in a driveway.

So many thoughts. Where is the shooter? Is the car between me and him or am I just sitting in the open? Should I stay here or should I just ran like mad? Where would I run? I’m confused, and I am not 100% sure that I would not be running right into danger. Was there only one shot, or did I panic and not hear the others?

I glance across the street and see the people I waved at starting to stand up. They peek  over their car. One of them points to where I had been. They both nod and start laughing.  They see me and yell “It’s OK!  We thought someone shot at you but it’s safe.”  I walk over and talk to them.  It turns out that a branch had blown into one of the city’s transformers.  It just happened that I had the misfortune of being almost directly under the pole when it exploded.  We all got a good laugh out of it, but I cut four miles out of that run and went straight home.

Too Proud

Two years ago, I won my age group and finished 5th overall at a local 10K.  It’s not going to happen today. Granted, I’ve been battling the flu bug that shut West Michigan down and I have been less intense in my training, but the cold, hard fact is that Father Time is starting to reel me in.  There is about a mile left and I know there are probably 20 people ahead of and that I am nearly 25 seconds/mile slower than I was two years ago. Worst of all, is that I am struggling miserably and just want this stupid race to be done.

With about a half-mile left, I try to push through and maybe pass one or two guys in my age-group to salvage the day a little. I catch a couple more and am going to be able to cruise across the line. Slower than years past and farther back in the pack, but whatever.  Then, with 50 yards left, it hits me.

I have never thrown up while running but my stomach just completely rolled. I think that maybe it’s just a quick reaction, but it immediately rolls again and hard enough that my cheeks puff.  I know that I am about to puke all over the finish line in front of all the spectators.  I can’t just do that right on the finish mat where everyone will be crossing, but I can’t run to the side into the spectators.  What is the etiquette for this type of thing? There has to be some type of protocol.  My stomach rolls a third time.  It is going to happen. Then the worst realization hits me.

There is nobody really close ahead of me. I glance over my shoulder and nobody is within 20 yards of me.  This means that the race photographer that is crouched by the finish line is 100% focused on me and is going to be able to snap off a bunch of pics of me finishing.  His lens is pointed at me and I have visions of three-picture sequences of me projectile-vomiting across the line are about to be on the internet.  I am going to be a meme.  It’s amazing what becomes important to someone while they are freaking out.

I cross the finish mat while making the gag noises and cut a 90 degree angle. I do not think I ran more than 18 inches past the timing pad before turning. Someone yells at me that I’m out of bounds, but I saw a gap in the sponsors van. I keep it together another three seconds while I squirm between two vans and stereo equipment to a small area where I am out of sight.  I will spare the details, but as things were happening my only thought was not about pain, what went wrong, frustration or anything like that. Instead, I was genuinely happy and thinking, “I am so glad I kept it together for those three seconds so there are no pictures!”

Those are the ones that immediately stand out to me.  Of course, I have had nails go through my shoes, been told that my feet hit the pavement obnoxiously loud, literally ran through wet cement while I day-dreamed (not proud), been mocked by college-aged women and been whistled at by a teacher before she recognized me but in general, running has been a positive experience.

So…what’s been your worst running experience?

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