“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth“
– Mike Tyson
Let me preface this post by saying ultimately, 2020 was still a win. This is not a “woe is me”, negative post, despite the fact that at times (many, many times), 2020 did feel like a punch in the mouth.
I’m guessing many of you can relate.
Sometimes I stop and think about how innocent and naïve we were, collectively, during the first week of 2020. Casually hugging friends and strangers alike, taking our toilet paper and unmasked faces for granted, lingering with our hands in the gummy bear bowl at an aid station for longer than we should, without a care in the world.
OK maybe that last one doesn’t apply to all of you, but nevertheless: you understand. On January 1st, 2020, so many were hopeful that maybe “this year would be different”.
We just had no idea how very different it would be.
(Content warning: in this post I’m discussing mental health. I’m an open book, I always have been. And this is going to be one of those posts where my very supportive husband looks at me with a serious face and says “are you sure you want to share this?” But I’m sure. One of the things I struggle with – when I’m struggling – is the feeling that I’m the only person going through these dark patches. Therefore, I feel it’s important to talk about these things, so hopefully, others will understand that they are not alone. So, if you’re not a fan of my oversharing, come back another day for more ultra & science talk. I get it & respect that. If you do stick around – thank you for reading. )
I personally started 2020 by canceling every single race I was registered for.
Of course at the time, I was completely oblivious to the fact that soon, everyone else’s races would be canceled for them. I’m not sure whether or not that knowledge would have softened the blow of all of the times ultrasignup reminded me that refunds were not available before I clicked the “cancel registration” button (it’s fine, I didn’t expect them anyway. I just wanted to run…). Either way, it was not the way I had ever envisioned starting off a new year. But the onset of yet another medical issue left me unable to run, and unsure of when I would ever be able to run again.
I spent the first half of 2020 angry. I was pissed at my body for “failing” me, again. A feeling of “why me” that I was once again experiencing a physiological flaw that I had no control over, that most people were seemingly spared from. I cannot begin to express how frustrating that is to someone like me who tries like hell to keep my body healthy, and relies on a healthy body to continue to do all of the things I love. It feels unfair, at best.
I spent much of 2020 in a really low place. Wondering “what the hell do I do now?”. 2020 proverbially punched me in the mouth, before COVID 19 was even a household word, and I no longer had a plan.
I found myself frequently questioning what I was doing with myself. Wondering if I’d wasted the last decade of my life trying to build a business that wasn’t sustainable. Doubting that I had the knowledge or experience to even belong in this space (imposter syndrome is very real, FYI). Wondering if I should scrap it all and try something new. Fearing I wouldn’t be good at that, either. Disappearing on friends because I needed space, but feeling like shit that I ghosted people. Literally counting all of the things I’ve done wrong in my life, and berating myself for endless past mistakes. Realizing I am my own worst enemy, but absolutely unable to stop my self sabotage.
Then, of course, there was the whole COVID thing. My blog going from a viable income to not even making enough money to buy a daily coffee. Trying to remain calm while attempting to figure out middle school algebra that feels woefully over my head, now that the kids are schooling from home. Keeping said middle schoolers calm while reminding them “this won’t last forever” – and wondering to myself if that’s even remotely true. The general loss of routine, from school, to trails, to running, to racing, to even the gym. It wore heavily on me – as I’m sure it did most of us.
And let’s not forget: lingering fear that someone I love might get sick and die, combined with the general political and societal turmoil that left me, a born empath, with prehypertension blood pressure levels, heartbreak, and a sense of impending doom that would not go away.
And while I know that my problems pale in comparison to many, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the majority of 2020 was incredibly hard for me. Unhealthy, lower than ever before lows, to a point where eventually, I honestly simply stopped caring.
I’m certain if you read much of what I wrote this summer while in the throes of that dark place, you had some sort of idea that I wasn’t feeling like myself this year. (Much of that has been archived since I’ve been able to view it with a clearer, healthier mindset.)
But there was a day in early October where I made some backhanded comments over family dinner (fueled by some liquid truth in the form of vodka, if I’m being honest) about how “nothing matters anymore, anyways”. And later that night, I was (necessarily and lovingly) called out by my husband for my steady decline in mental health. I crumbled into a pile of tears again, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
The next day, I went for a run. It sucked, of course, because I hadn’t been taking care of myself, physically or emotionally. About a mile into the run, a thought popped into my head so loud, it almost felt like anyone standing near me could have heard it as well.
“What do you think would happen if you just tried believing in yourself for once?”
I’ll spare you all of the accompanying thoughts that followed, because to be quite frank, I’m still a work in progress. We’re all always a work in progress. But the important part of this story is to know that I did just that: I made a marked decision that day, on that run, to quit my bullshit and believe in myself. I don’t know why. I don’t know what made that day, out of the last nearly 14,000 days of my life any different.
But I very purposefully chose to ignore all of the noise, to do the things that I knew would yield a more positive outcome in my life, and more importantly, leave absolutely zero room for doubt that this path would result in anything but the outcome I desired.
I started applying all of the healthy eating practices I had learned earlier this summer. Not because I felt I had to, but because I wanted to.
I stopped drinking as frequently (again – genetic predispositions are a finicky thing, and I recognize that this is something I will deal with for the rest of my life). Not because I had to, but because I realized I craved feeling good, productive, and healthy more than I craved booze or the temporary buzz that accompanied it.
I stopped wasting so much time on social media, comparing my feed with those in related fields, comparing myself to them, and wondering what I was doing wrong.
I learned to listen to my body and manage the physical symptoms that prevented me from running earlier this year. I started following a training plan again. Not because I had to, but because I realize that as much as I sometimes emotionally burn out on running, running is something that brings me infinite joy. And instead of overanalyzing every workout, and wondering if I was even capable of some big goals I set for myself, I chose to stop overthinking and simply believe that I will do it. End of story.
I started seeking other medical care to help me feel better.
I stopped doubting, and got to work.
I fully recognize that this may seem like a trite, oversimplified explanation of taking control of my mental health, which is actually a quite serious situation that should not be taken lightly. Nor should it be implied that it’s in any way, shape, or form and EASY task, or one that should be navigated with or without professional help.
But frankly, I really don’t know how else to put it, other than perhaps saying it was a “now or never, jump or don’t” sort of decision that unexpectedly slapped me in the face one day. And in that moment, I chose to leap. I chose to believe in myself. I won’t lie, that decision has proven to require continuous work, and I’m not naïve enough to believe this won’t be an ongoing fight . Every single time the doubt creeps back – and it does – I have to shut it down. But that decision has also continued to manifest itself in ways that I can’t even begin to count.
And I’m so incredibly grateful.
I could – and should – talk about all of the great things that happened this year. We moved out of our apartment into an adorable house in a lovely neighborhood (as I’m writing this post, a neighbor just rang our doorbell to drop off Christmas cookies). Some of our Vermont family moved to Myrtle Beach, which has brought so much joy to my soul. Our coaching business grew by leaps and bounds, despite me nearly giving up at one point. We took up SUPing, which quickly lead into also obtaining two kayaks and a canoe. I become more involved in Adventure Racing. I had some really cool opportunities arise in the social media world.
Most years, my “year in review” blog posts are full of medals, race recaps, and stories of PR’s. This year has been very, very different. But it’s not without it’s own celebration.
Because I think that by far, the most important thing that has come out of 2020, was the fact that despite life giving me an unexpected sucker punch that knocked me to the ground and nearly kept me there…
…I got back up.
Thank you 2020, for reminding me to believe.