Friday, May 21, 2010

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Sometimes it seems to me I can never put my finger on what is troubling me until it is behind me - the shape and form it takes is never very clear until I have some hindsight. Telling you all last week that I was going through a midlife crisis was a good example of that. I have been going through something for months and strangely, it was not until I actually wrote it down that it seemed to both take on a distinct form and be something I could move beyond. I have thought about writing about it elsewhere on a different blog - I'm not sure who lurks here - but I think that this blog has been about a lot more than running for such a long time and you are my friends, not just my running friends, so I'm going to put things out here, in a succinct form and preserving the privacy of those involved. So for all of you looking for just running stats (like my blog was ever the place for that) move onto the next item in your googlereader now.

In the course of the past year, there have a number of changes in my life. Two in particular, concerning my daughter's education and moving house, were decisions I have had a hard time coming to terms with. I have never, in the past, had a problem with accepting a compromise once it had been agreed, but in this case I kept going through the decision process in my head, repeating all the steps, ending up at the same place and yet not finding any peace with that. On top of this, I was feeling a general sense of unease at the fact that I was nearing 40 (next year) and that I had not achieved much (I know that is debatable, but bear with me - this is what I felt). I was worried and concerned about how I was going to fill in that part of my life that was mine in a useful and productive and enjoyable way. I also started to feel very guilty about the fact that I lead a comfortable life and the good fortune I have - I felt I had done nothing to deserve, or earn, these things. Then, at the end of last year, I found myself very suddenly and unexpectedly on the receiving end of a great deal of very unexpected, harsh and unpleasant criticism from someone whom I loved and trusted. Coming on top of the issues I was struggling with outlined above, this felt like an assault. And, looking back, that's how I reacted. It just unmoored me. I did not feel safe, mentally, anywhere. An attack, after all, could come when I least expected it. I felt I could no longer trust my instincts. I found myself looking back over my life, amazed at the certainty with which I, in the past, have made decisions. How did I always know what I wanted? I would find myself incapable of making the simplest, most mundane of decisions.

Running did keep me going. Having a schedule to follow, gave me something to do. At a time when I really did not know where to turn or what to aim for, reading the day's instructions gave me something to do and to aim for. But you can also imagine that with my frame of mind at the time, training was just not a mental priority and perhaps this is why I went off the boil a bit. I enjoyed some runs, I enjoyed some races, but overall I was just getting through it.

During all of this I was never alone. My husband is, and has always been, a complete rock and incredibly, unbelievably supportive. I'd find myself casting out idea after idea, trying to get some focus back in my life - yoga retreats in India, neuro-linguistic programming - and he engaged with all of it and supported me. (Incidentally, I went for none of these things). My friends were amazing. Supportive, kind, willing to listen to me again and again as I questioned everything, every decision I had made. My parents too - it's amazing how I got to nearly 40 to realise what wise and wonderful people they are. A lot of the things they have said have stuck in my head and have been instrumental in working my way out of my situation.

Because I have. A week or two ago, I went to a lunch party, full of self-doubt and criticism (here I am, a living cliche, woman without a job going out to a charity lunch) and I met a very sparkly, friendly, engaging person who reminded me of how much fun it is to be around creative and sparkly people. And that there is a creative and sparkly person inside me as well. And somehow, my mind clicked into a better place. Nothing medical, nothing magical. The engine just started up again.

Now let's get things straight here. First off - I know a little about depression, and I know I was not depressed. I was just, somehow, stuck. I tried my old coping strategies - fake it till you make it, and doing the opposite of me, but somehow I was very aware of faking it and not making it and of consciously doing the opposite of me. It didn't work. I knew that I just had to get through this time as well as I could, with as much personal integrity and honesty as I could bring to my situation and the people around me. And that, somehow, I had to take - yes, learn! - something.

And I have learned some things. I have learned that, despite being “gobby” at times and pretty extraverted, I find it hard to be assertive about my thoughts and feelings when I know people are not going to be happy to hear them. I know what I want but I’d rather not have a fight to get it – I’d rather win people round with reason and charm. It’s a strategy that’s worked for me often, but this time it did not work and I have had to face up to the fact that sometimes I need to be braver. And be able to handle the fallout. So, once more unto the breach, dear friends. I'm back in the game.

I don't yet know "what I'm going to do with my life". I'm carrying on with things - my lovely family who give me plenty to do and engage with and my running. And I'm exploring new things. Fear of failure has held me back in the past, but I'm determined that is not going to be the story of my future. I've thrown out a number of lines and will let you know when I can feel a bite..

As always, but more than usual this time - thank you for reading.


lizzie lee said...

Remember from Shakespeare: Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.

I'll be there anytime for you.

PS: I saw in the plane this British movie: Happy-Go-Lucky, lightweight with a very positive message.

Runner Susan said...

I find buying new shoes is always helpful! And making magical unicorn noises. That helps, too! I'll be 30 in just a few weeks, and it's overwhelming.You're awesome, you've qualified for Boston. What else is there? Be my coach maybe?

Susan said...

Thank you for sharing! Each time you put something rather personal out there, I think we all (including you) learn something -- and for that I am grateful!

Karen said...

Lovely, lovely Petra. When you share such personal thoughts it just makes you seem even more brave in my eyes. I can't imagine what someone close to you had to criticise you about, I suspect it says far more about them than it does you.

I hope you feel a 'bite' very very soon.

P.S. I loved Happy Go Lucky and of course, new shoes always make me happy!!

jen said...

Great blog Petra. I hope this was cathartic to write all your feelings and realizations down. You are a great writer and conveyed your emotions very, very well. I can completely follow your struggles and understand how rough it must have been.

I'm glad you have such a wonderful husband, supportive friends, and I'm glad you have running. :) It will always be there for you! Even if it isn't always a magic cure, the exercise is great for your stress and it helps you to some degree no matter what.

I would like to add that even if you are/were not depressed exactly, you can always talk to a counselor or therapist. I'm seeing one now and it really helps. She gives me insight and tools to deal with my struggles. I don't know if there is any stigma there about seeing someone but if there is, f*ck them. Here, we all see therapists and are better for it. :P

Love you Petra! Take care of yourself.

LMC said...

You are brave! It's not easy to question everything or to face fears or to try new things. Amazing how running can help during times of trouble. I'm glad you have running, your husband and supportive friends! Good luck with the lines!

Irish Blue said...

When I read these posts lately, I sometimes feel we must be sisters separated at birth. (You just have better writing and running skills! Not sure what skills I got, but anywho... ;-)

Like you, I try to win people over and I'm not always brave when I need to be. I think part of being "middle aged" is realizing you matter too and it's ok to be selfish now and then. I know I use to get into trouble by volunteering myself for all kinds of things that didn't matter to me, just because I didn't want to say no. I'm learning to say no though, and I'm learning to prioritize me and fit in the things that matter to me and not just to others. Sometimes I get criticized for this too, but I'm slowly getting better at dealing with the critics. Believe it or not, it's my wonderful husband who has taught me a lot about this. Men don't seem to struggle with this one as much as women do. We are natural born pleasers.

I hope you find the meaning and answers you're looking for. Thank you for sharing your personal struggles with us. You know you're safe here.


Marathon Maritza said...

I agree with everyone that you are brave and always so insighful, will to be introspective and learn new things and gain lessons from life. Even life's yucky stuff.

It's what makes you the awesome person that we all know and love.


Running and living said...

I agree, it's not depression, but a developmental stage you are going through. People talk about men having midlife crises, and there are lots of stereotypes about that. But the reality is that 40 is big for women (and men), and it is a time when one challenges value systems, accomplishments, etc, and that can bring on deep feeling. I think sitting with the feelings, as opposed to putting on a facade, or faking it, is really the way to go. Eventually, you'll get your balance back. Writing helps a lot because it allows you to organize your thoughts, make the abstract concrete, and move from being paralyzed by feelings to actively acknowledging and taking control of them. Good luck!

Emz said...


This post was incredible.


You are incredible.

I am so "with you" on this part [especially]: assertive about my thoughts and feelings when I know people are not going to be happy to hear them.

I seem to always say "who cares what people think" but . . . OH I DO. [unfortunately].

Your writing inspires me.

Thank you so very much for posting this.

Unknown said...

Ah, Petra. You are so honest and willing to put yourself out there and your words and experiences actually help all of US...some of the things you are experiencing or have experienced are so REAL to me and I've never been able to put the feelings into words. THANK YOU, Sparkly Friend. Your insights, creativity, heart-felt words and this POST are incredible.

Road Warrior said...

You know, sometimes it's about recognizing that you're in a rut and just embracing that situation and letting life give you some answers. You're not dead inside at all, which is the most important thing. I know you're on the path to finding what it is that redefines you. The world owes you that.

ShirleyPerly said...

I think especially for us who are at home a lot and don't interact with many other people on a daily basis, we take criticism harder, esp. from someone close to us. I'm glad your hubby has been so supportive of you and that you have found some solace in writing this post and met that sparkly person who put some spark back into you. Indeed, reading what you said in your email and going to the tri last weekend helped me tremendously. Thank you for that and even approaching 50 soon I find myself still learning and trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life. It's actually a far cry from when I was 30 and thought I knew exactly what I was going to do come hell or high water!

Jon said...

I like your sincerity. Like you, running and my fitness lifestyle give me structure and routine that keeps me grounded. I also find that endurance running is outstanding for emotional stability. I recognize running isn't a cure-all - but I have no doubt that running is a foundation.

Whatever you do, don't give up your fitness and running. Answers will come in time and until then suit up and show up.

lizzie lee said...

I wish I could pick up the phone right now and call you, but you'll hate me for waking you up!

Runner Leana said...

Sometimes it really helps to write things out, so hopefully this was cathartic for you! I'm glad to hear that something clicked. Best of luck with your decisions, and I wish you confidence! :)

Hopefully you don't have to deal with people that will attack you any more. *hugs*

Jill said...

I've been in a funk for months now and only recently felt like I could move forward, though still not where I want to go...but we'll both get there eventually, we need these times to think and reflect and be one with ourselves. You have a beautiful heart and soul, Petra; you have gifts and you will know how to use them again real soon! HUGS from Denver!!!