Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tales from the front - the honesty of Dark places

"The only way out, is down". -

Line from the film, Inception

Been a while, should have been more on top of things, but life, well, it gets busy. And the time between posts has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on so many things, parse out a lot of bullshit, as well as some sketchy people and dial in to what's most important to me. What drives me. What moves me on a daily basis. Which meant, I had to go dark.

Since the beginning of the year, I was fighting illness, usual stuff, sinuses, ears, colds, flu. And being sick had me reeling at times, as I would press to get in training, work, time with my son, my family. I felt pulled in so many directions, and I wasn't going anywhere. I wasn't centered. What had happened was I was sinking, allowing my depression and anxiety to take over, allowing myself to hear external voices that I'm normally strong enough to block out. And it would be easy to say that it was catchy sales pitches that caught me, but the truth, I was too weak, and I allowed myself to get wrapped in with nonsense.

As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I understand the stigma that society places on this illness. And make no mistake, its an illness. Its nothing to be ashamed of, or made to think otherwise, yet, we are typically treated with kid gloves, thought of as "odd" or too emotional to handle things. I've found that some of the strongest, greatest people in my life suffer from the exact same thing. They understand it can be crippling at times, lonelier and so silent its deafening. But they have also made peace with it, to gain strength, courage, confidence, coming back to the light each time, stronger, better, wiser. I've spent almost 2 decades fighting this battle, so the darkness is as much a part of me as breathing. I've come to accept it,and to learn how to harness it. This isn't easy, and its still a constant struggle. I feel its important to be open about this, because I have witnesses so many people who suffer and unfortunately succumb to the dark, forever.

I'm not suggesting to follow sufferers that my way is the way to go, merely the way I deal with things. I dug harder, and harder, buried myself in training, knowing I needed a race to eliminate some doubts, to jump start my season, to dial in one part of my life. And in doing so, I realized that my time meant something; my time with my son, who just turned one, shouldn't be interrupted. That my family time, which is so brief, needed me fully present, so when I was training, or racing ,or coaching, I was just as dialed in, no waste. This also meant that I had to face my demons head on, not simply for me, but for my son, my family. When I look at him, I feel more alive than ever. His smile, I carry it with me everywhere. So when I see him, I know I can suffer a bit more. I can fight the bastards with more strength and courage. So yes, I had to be prepared to suffer more, mentally, physically and emotionally. I had to do it on my own as well, because I needed to be able to understand how far I can go, how much further I'm willing to go, to help myself, my family, and anyone I encounter.

I did race, I did win. In a climate unfavorable to me. Without the help of sponsors that I expected to be there for me. Without a race kit to showcase the people who were supposed to have my back. Without fanfare or a crowd, without familiar faces. It was admittedly difficult being away from my son for 5 days, but I was flooded with photos of him, as well as great messages from my closest friends. It was the words of friends, and I must stress this, friends, who helped buoy my spirits. To call them friends is almost a disservice, for they are family to me. And without me saying a word, they knew I was hurting, and sent me messages at just the right times. But winning didn't break the depression. It helped, but it didn't fix anything. Yes, it helped me face demons, but they were demons that I was prepared to deal with, demons that I had anticipated. Even the time with my son didn't remove the depression. Yes, his smile provided a brief moment of joy, but when I was away from him, I would sink again. So I realized that I had to go deeper down the rabbit hole to get some answers.

The thing about the dark, it can provide some true clarity. You realize who wants something from you and who just wants you for you. The dark shows you who you really are; no filter. You are forced to see yourself and everything that is you - good, bad, indifferent. Sound scary? Well, it can be. Its not just about being physically uncomfortable, its about being mentally and emotionally uncomfortable, and facing those demons head on. They are there, waiting, because its where they are most comfortable. Its their world. And oddly enough, its where you can see them most clearly, although surrounded in darkness, they are at their brightest, most clearly visible to you. The first instinct is to run, to get out as quickly as possible. But that doesn't eliminate them, rather, it feeds them, fuels them, gives them more power. It emboldens them to visit you at the worst possible times, without warning, hitting you with waves of anxiety, which leads to depression. And then, they have you. They can pull you down at any moment. Mine wanted me with them, sifting through the debris of broken dreams and hopes. So to defeat them, to quiet them, I stayed with them, prepared to fight. Because I knew that on the other side were my passion and dreams, my son, my life.

What's important to understand is that I didn't come to this way of fighting depression without help. I was fortunate to have some great doctors and caring friends and family to ensure I was getting the help I need. I didn't care about the social stigma, I didn't care about what those closest to me thought. The one thing that I knew was that if I didn't get help, things wouldn't get better. And let me be even more clear - this isn't something that "goes away". Its not a "phase". Its an illness, that over 10 millions Americans suffer from. Many suffer silently, fearing what others will think. We've become so accepting of other diseases and illnesses, and yet, depression and anxiety are still treated as just a feeling, not a real thing. I'm here to say, they are very real, they are treatable, they do deserve attention. There is no shame, and I mean no shame, if you suffer. There are so many ways to fight this beast, so don't give up, and know that you aren't alone. Even if you are fighting solo, know that millions suffer with you, everywhere. If you are getting very low, please don't hesitate to reach out to call centers, hotlines that are available 24/7 to help. There are strangers who care about you, yes, people who don't even know you. I care. For anyone reading this, it doesn't matter if we are friends or not, I care. I want you to know you aren't alone. I have been where you are, I have been low. Lower than I care to remember, but I have. And I am still here, still fighting. You are important. Don't ever think different. If you don't know how to face your demons then reach out to doctors, counselors, whoever you can to help give you the tools to fight. There's not one way. My "Inception" path isn't for everyone.

Just remember, we give others the power to make us feel odd, to feel strange or out of place. To feel as if we don't belong. Fuck that. Don't hide who you are, because it doesn't help you. Don't give others the power to make you feel less than you. No one has that right. No one. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be that line.

Stay strong,