Monday, December 23, 2013

6 weeks post-surgery

To start with the positive, I'm coping with this whole non-weight-baring, sedentary, uncomfortable post-surgery transition phase better than I thought I would.  All of the fears I had about this process (e.g. conflict with family, gaining 30 lbs, becoming ridiculously depressed from lack of endorphins) haven't actualized themselves.  And, that's a Good Thing.

Still, there are some days when I feel completely overwhelmed.  Today was one such day.  I know I need to "have faith in the process", but sometimes that is so hard

It is exactly 6 weeks since my surgery, and I was supposed to start walking without crutches (but still in a boot).  So, I tried this, and it was painful. The pain was not terrible, but it was enough to scare me.  I guess the main thing that scared me was that the pain was in the location of my osteochondral lesion; also, it felt like the same type of pain I experienced before surgery: this ache deep within the joint.  So, by the end of the day I was back to walking on crutches.

My plan has been to return to work on December 30 (one week from today) but now I just don't know.  I need to get back to work.  For one thing, I have exhausted my sick time.  But, my main priority right now is to do whatever it takes to give this injury time to heal fully.

People in my network (friends, co-workers, family) have been great about reaching out.  But, sometimes when I'm in a negative mental state that overwhelms  me.   People ask 'how are you doing?' and I don't know what to say.

I really want to project a positive, optimistic persona AT ALL TIMES.  But, there are days when it is hard to do that.  I don't want to allow people to see me as vulnerable, negative, fatalistic (even though a part of me is that way).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why me?

When I was told I might never run again, I really wished to be euthanized at that moment.  When I got over that feeling I got angry, mostly at God for taking away my greatest joy in life. 

Why Me? I asked.

Through months of anger, loneliness, and despair, I found some spiritual part of me that was long buried.   Meanwhile,  I found a possible (no guarantees) solution to the physical ailment - a complex ankle injury.   I decided on surgery, scheduled it, and tried to put my faith in the process (something which I generally suck at.).

The support I have had surrounding this surgery has been UN-REAL.

-My parents have been phenomenal, in letting me stay with them and providing for me for these weeks while I am on crutches (including transportation to and from Baltimore, MD).
-So far about 20 people have texted to ask how I'm doing; a handful of others have contacted me via facebook; others have called me;
-one friend visited me here in Charlotte and took me out to dinner
- two of my good friends gave me a care package; another friend sent me a card; and my co-workers in the counseling department all sent me a great funny card and some chocolate wrappers with funny sayings in them. 
-Friends who are religious have offered prayers; one neighbor even prayed with me (which caught me totally off guard but was a very kind gesture); those less religious have offered good vibes.
-One of the women I work with offered to help me with errands and rides when I return to Asheville and gave me her phone number. 
-Right before I left, one of the psychiatrists I work with took one of my drawings from me in order to return it with a better frame.  I did not ask for that.
-Not to mention all of the random strangers that hold doors for me, pull out chairs for me, carry my things and otherwise try to help out.

I did not ask for any of this.

And, it's catching me totally off guard.  The part of me that would normally be asking,  'what's your angle here?' is instead overwhelmed with gratitude.  I feel truly blessed by all this, and I can't help but ask the question:

Why Me?

Thursday, November 14, 2013


In my final few days of work, pre-surgery, my co-worker, and I were chatting, and we drew angel cards from a basket.  She drew 'Patience', and I drew 'Journey.'

That same night I was driving somewhere and got lost off of a main road that I'd driven down 100 times.  When I did find myself I was in the Goodwill parking lot.  So, of course I went in to see what kind of deals I might find. 

It was crowded in the Goodwill, and a lady tapped me on the shoulder.
"Excuse me," she said, "do you know if the big dressing room is open?"

"No, it's not," I said, "but the smaller one is."

"Oh," she said, "unfortunately I can only use the bigger one because of my back problems and my spinal surgery."

"Oh, man, " I said, "I'm sorry about your back."

"I'm not sorry," she said, "It's actually a blessing.  If this hadn't happened to me I would have never found my true calling as an artist.  I started making jewelry while I was laid up in bed after surgery because it was one of the few things I could do.  It turns out that this is what I was meant to do all along."

She shared a sample of some beautiful jewelry she had made and her business card.  I shared with her that I was about to undergo ankle surgery and hoped to get back into art.  We exchanged hugs, and then I left the Goodwill without buying anything, knowing I had gotten exactly what I needed.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Life and Climbing (and great mentors)

"With climbing and life there is a difference between jumping and falling. And, I'm not going to jump. I'm going to take the risk of falling." - Eric Evans, 1997

(from my diary, freshman year of high school):

...At first I signed up for Dare to Achieve Job Shadowing because Miss Chapotan said I would miss school. Seemed like a Good enough reason. I hate my school, so whenever I can get away for a day, that's good.

When I found out I was going to be assigned to the Charlotte Climbing Center, I just laughed. The other 5 kids had to go to NationsBank and other really boring places like that.

When I met Eric, the owner of the climbing center, after school on Monday, he was a little different than I had pictured. He was a short African-American man, kind of muscley and handsome with a big smile. He was sitting in the office with Miss Chapotan, and I thought she might sort of have a crush on him.

"Eric Evans, nice to meet you," he said, extending his hand. Then, he asked, "You do know that you've got the awesomest job to shadow, right?"

"Well, it's a lot better than going to the bank," I said.

For some reason he thought this was funny and laughed really hard. He told me a little about his job, and I listened shyly. He then gave me his business card, pointing out the fact that his name was on there but that it did not say: manager, or president or anything. Just his name.

"And you know why it's that way? Because I know that I'm the president and owner. So, I don't need to have it on the card to remind me."

I laughed. He was funny.

On Wednesday morning Eric was waiting for me at 8:30 am. He was the first adult to arrive. All of the other kids were in the office, too, dressed in business suits and waiting for their people to arrive. I got to wear track shorts and a t-shirt.

"You're a runner, so let's run." We ran to Eric's car. On our ride to the gym I asked Eric some questions and he talked a lot. First he answered some of my business questions then he talked about more personal things.

Eric said that doctors tried to tell him he had ADD as a kid, but he has never believed in learning disabilities. He told me he was very poor growing up and that he learned that one of the most important things is attitude. His way of phrasing it was, "If you have a bad attitude you'll get your bad ass in trouble." Eric told me about overcoming the disadvantages of being poor. He also said that out of all of the climbing center owners in the world, he is the only Black one! This is like his claim to fame or something. He seems very proud of this.

Eric talked with me about my running and the psychology part of it. He ran the hurdles in high school like me. I told him about how intimidated I got in the 400 meters at yesterday's track meet. Eric told me that he was the shortest runner in the field when he won his district meet. Eric is not very tall at all.

"What you need to do is look at all of the girls you're running against and say 'yes, they're taller than me. Yes, they're older and more experienced. But, I'm going to beat them all anyway.'"

Then he said, "I sort of know how you feel. People have asked me before 'Do you think you can run the business being black and all?' And I just have to believe that I'm as good as anyone else. I've always asked myself, 'Why can't I win? Who says I can't?'"

We arrived at the Charlotte Climbing Center and Eric let me climb a moving wall while he made some phone calls. Then I looked through a portfolio-thingy. I realized how much risk and hard work Eric had taken to start the climbing center.

A few minutes later Eric finished his phone call, and we went to a meeting at NationsBank about trying to get a loan to expand the gym.

Eric said several people wanted to know why he didn't just sell the center and make a big profit. His reply was always that his dream was not to have a little climbing center. That was only his starting point. His vision was to offer several sports: Rollerblading, mountain-biking, etc.

"I don't know if it'll work out, but I have to try. With climbing and life there is a difference between jumping and falling. And, I'm not going to jump. I'm going to take the risk of falling."

Next we went to Discovery Place Kid's Museum with the mobile climbing wall. One of Eric's co-workers belayed the kids while Eric and I stood back and observed.

"You can really tell a lot about the kids just from watching how they climb," Eric said." He was right.

After the kids climbed I got to climb. I couldn't quite get to the top, but I tried. Eric wouldn't let me jump, and I wouldn't let myself jump either.

"This is harder than I thought it would be," I said.

Eric laughed, "Getting to the top always is." Then, his expression changed to a more serious one.

"So, what do you think?" asked Eric once I was on the ground again.

"Well, I can definitely see why the kids jumped."

Eric and his co-worker both laughed, "Really? 'I can see why they jumped.' That's all you have to say?!"

But, it was a tough wall to climb!


For lunch we went to a nice Thai restaurant downtown.

"This is the best part of my job right here," Eric said.

I had no idea what Eric was talking about until he pointed to some flowers. "I love seeing beautiful flowers. It just makes my day."

One thing about Eric is that he always seems to see the best in everything. I noticed that it was a rainy, dreary day. Eric noticed a cluster of flowers on an island in the middle of a parking lot.

That was when I noticed how much he appreciated little things. His outlook was to really focus on the good.

Over lunch we had the best conversation. Eric talked about selling a philosophy and a lifestyle, not just a product. We talked about rich people, and he pointed out that rich people often just want to be comfortable and are afraid to take risks. "I don't mind taking risks. I guess if you haven't got anything, you don't have anything to lose."

We talked about not being intimidated. I mentioned how I did not want to be blunt like my mom, but I feared being always shy like my dad. Eric said, "It's not that you're shy. You just think before you speak."

We talked about business, and Eric said he often works 100 hours a week. When I asked how he copes with the stress he laughed. "I don't really know." He said he had never thought about it, that he loves what he does. "I don't discourage you from being your own boss, I would just say, be aware of the consequences."

Eric suggested maybe I think about sports psychology. "I noticed you ask a lot of questions about stress and psychology. Just something to think about."

Around 4:00 Eric drove me back to school so I could get to track practice. He laughed at all of the student cars in the parking lot. "I told you I go to school with rich kids," I said.

I told Eric about this one girl at my school that crashed a BMW, then got a Lexus, then crashed that, then got a big jeep.

"You probably have better morals because you're not rich," he said, "You value things more."

We sat with Miss Chapotan for a minute or two to talk. He told me to start doing my algebra homework and stop complaining about Algebra being too hard, when really I just need to do the work. And then he left.

"After this I will work another 5 hours probably."

On his way out he said, "Call me to let me know how you do in your next track meet. Don't let the tall people intimidate you."

[Postscript: 17 years have passed since I spent my day with Eric Evans. I later found out that Eric's plan for the outdoor center did not work out. I think he never got the loan. Another gym named Inner Peaks came to Charlotte and drove Charlotte Climbing Center out of business.

In talking with my mom this Thanksgiving, I mentioned this story to her. Her response was, "You know what, though, that kind of person, willing to take that kind of risk, usually will bounce back pretty quickly. He's probably doing even greater things now."

I sure hoped so.

Needless to say, I developed this morbid curiosity to figure out whatever became of Eric Evans. So, I did some light "internet-stalking." A quick google search of "Eric Evans Charlotte Climbing Center" directed me to his LinkedIn Profile.

Not only did Eric bounce back after his fall. He seemed to have climbed to greater heights, founding "Peak Learning Companies, Inc." 

I was blessed with the opportunity to speak to Eric a year or so ago.  When we spoke he was living in Minnesota.  Since then, he and his family have moved to Brazil.  I hope to visit one day.]

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Life of a runner: Part I

Birth of a Runner

She was little, very little, frail, no muscles.   She labored to breath in the mid-morning summer heat.   Sweat drenched, muscles screaming.  Only one thought crossed her mind: ‘keep going.’ 
‘Once, just this once, I want to jog the whole way.  I want to make it without walking at all.  I want to prove that I can do this.’  She had solidified her intentions on the school bus ride to the park, but the true challenge was now.  Now.  With every step, every labored breath, bead of sweat.  ‘Don’t stop running.  Do not walk.  Keep going.’ 
In just over 30 minutes she finished the course, all 3.1 miles of it.  Her only rewards were Gatorade, complete and utter exhaustion, and intense pride.  In her 13 years of life, this felt like her greatest achievement.   With her steps across the finish line she has surpassed her own limits.  She had become something new.  A runner.
It started as simply as that, with her goal to jog the 3.1 mile cross-country course without stopping to walk.  The nation’s best high school athletes had tread upon this same course for many years before her and would for many years after.  This same course would host many races, school records, and qualifying events for the national championships.  But, she was oblivious to this fact.  She did not aspire to newspaper write-ups, winning races, or Division I college running, all of which would come later.  On this summer day, she had never dreamt of anything beyond finishing the 3.1 mile course  based on stubbornness and sheer willpower.  Mind over matter.
Later that day she was approached by the cross-country coach who relentlessly pursued her about joining the team.  ‘But I’m slow’, she said.
 ‘You’ll get faster in no time’, he said.  ‘And, we really need runners.’
She was always eager to please and needing that attention and approval.  So, she said ‘yes.  I’ll join the team.’
Of course, she doubted herself, and started to reconsider.  She became nervous just thinking of racing and worried about getting dead last in a race.   She remembered well her first junior high track meet.   Her event was the 400 meter dash – one whole lap around the track.  The field took off in front of her,  and she barely jogged to the finish line, long after others had finished.  She finished that race to the tune of sympathy clapping from those in the stands.  She thought of how painfully long the sympathy clapping could go on if she finished last in a 3.1 mile race.
And yet, some part of her said, ‘I want to be a runner.’
She began drilling her older brother Matt about how fast the girls ran, seeking some assurance that she would not be the very slowest on the team, or worse, in the entire race.  Matt was someone she always looked up to.  She was said to ‘follow in his footsteps.’  Matt was 1 grade ahead of her and had run cross-country as a freshman.  He had done well, as the number 3 runner on the boy’s team.  ‘But, that doesn’ t mean I’ll be any good’ said her voice of doubt.
As the summer progressed, she realized she had limited time to back down from her agreement to join the team.  As she ran every day, she solidified her commitment to run cross-country.   Despite her fears, logic prevailed, and this was the logic. ‘ If I try hard every day, and I keep running, I have to get faster.’  And she held on tightly to this belief.
Finally, that first meet came.  The Eyeopener meet in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  She would feel herself start to sweat in the days before the race when the coach would mention logistics.  She barely slept at all the day prior to the race.  Before she knew it, she was climbing into the van to ride to the race.  She felt nauseous with fear and progressively sicker during the drive to the race. 
What if I don’t finish?  What if I finish dead last?  What if I get lost on the course? 
The race started, and with the sound of the gun some butterflies flew out of her.   She had been told to ‘never look back’, so she tried not to.  Still, she had to look back periodically to make sure there were people behind her.   And others were behind her.  She was not last.  In fact, she was even passing people. 
She was truly running as hard as she could.  Her legs and lungs were screaming at her, but her ego and her determination were yelling equally loudly for her to go faster. 
Finally, she finished and went to find all of her teammates. 
It took her a little while to comprehend that only 2 of them had finished; the rest were still running.  This meant she was #3 on her team.  This meant she was actually good at running. 
She was quietly in awe of herself on the bus ride home.   When she got to her house, her mom opened the door, and she said, ‘mom.  I ran a 23:35! Mom, I finished 3rd on the team!  I can’t believe it.'
Years later those who knew her would reflect on ‘the memory of that tiny little girl who was so happy to finally find something she loved and was good at.’  The girl was shy, unattractive, socially awkward, but none of this mattered on the cross-country course.  Finally, she had found a place that was hers, a place where she ‘fit.’



Life of a Runner: Part II

Part II: Life as a Runner

There was something about running that took ahold of her.  Maybe it was her early successes.  Or, maybe it was just that she felt so great, so joyous, so natural, so alive, so free when she was running.
The path was not all paved with happiness, however.   As the girl saw rapid improvements, her expectations grew at an equal pace.  Her competitive ego always wanted better, to the point where she forgot about how incredible it was to run 3.1 miles without stopping.  She lost sight of what an achievement and transformation that was for her.   She simply said, ‘I need to get faster.’

There was success and notoriety, but with this, added pressure.  Mostly self-imposed.    She could never catch up to herself.  With each new accomplishment, her expectations moved ahead at an even faster pace.  Then came injuries and set-backs.

“I saw a man pursuing the horizon;

Round and round they sped.

I was disturbed at this;  

I accosted the man.

“It is futile,” I said,

“You can never —”


“You lie,” he cried,  

And ran on.

-Stephen Crane

This poem spoke to her.  She was 16 and already in therapy when she first read this poem in literature class.  She related the poem to her running, chasing faster and faster times, greater successes.  Years later, as an adult, she would realize that she lived her entire life according to this poem. 
The day that she became a runner she also became a high achiever.  She approached her workouts and races with a certain drive and determination.  When she heard that carbohydrates were important for running, she became vigilant about eating pasta at lunch every day.  Years later, when she was no longer the 75 lb skinny girl, but beginning to develop into a woman, she approached dieting with an equally intense and obsessive determination.   Eventually, this behavior was termed ‘anorexia nervosa’, but in her mind it was the price of success.  She was determined to succeed at all costs.
When she became a runner, she became someone who approached all of life with a certain drive and passion.  She became devoted to making the best grades, creating artistic masterpieces, having the perfect body, striving to excel in all things she approached.  For better or worse, she took everything in life to extremes. 
And she tried to live by the rule to ‘never look back.’  Successful runners push forward.  Turning back is a sign of fear, weakness.  So, she continued to move forward, always working toward that next goal.  And, she had some successes.   
Unfortunately, she could never realize her success because her attention was always focused forward.  She could not rest on her laurels for fear that rest would make her lazy.  When she finished 2nd place in a race, there was still that one person ahead of her.  For that matter, even when she won the race, there were still thousands of faster runners not in the race.  And her focus was always on chasing what was ahead of her.  She seldom looked back at the many more runners behind her.   
And she never looked back at the tiny 12 year old girl struggling to run 3.1 miles without stopping.  She had left that girl so far behind that the girl was essentially forgotten.




Life of a Runner: Part III

Into the Void
For many years competitive running gave her life a certain symmetry.  Each year was divided into seasons, each season into phases: the pre-season, the early season opener meets, the mid-season, and the championships, a week or two of rest, followed by training for the next season.  Starting with  high school cross-country and track, later with collegiate competition, and then post-collegiate racing, running was the axis around which her life revolved. 

When she started out, continual improvement seemed possible.  She knew no limits and she dreamed big.  Her first few seasons were marked by continual improvement.  Her hard work paid off in a big way.  The realities of time and injuries tempered her dreams, however.  Years without improvement led her to the acceptance that she would only be 'elite' in her dreams.  She would always be great at running but never among the best. 
 As she accepted her limitations, she pursued other life goals.  She completed her higher education, completed her Master's Degree, and found a meaningful career in counseling.  Along the way, she formed many meaningful relationships and friendships. 
Still, running remained her greatest passion in life.  In the years following her collegiate racing, running became more of a personal pursuit.  She ran, and won, some road races, but ultimately she most enjoyed the training, the continual physical challenge, pushing personal limits, and every once in a great while,  the excitement of a new breakthrough.

Periodically, she would swear off competitive running.  But, running itself, she could not quit.  It had become such a part of her being.   The longer she ran, the more natural running had become.  It was as natural as eating or sleeping.  It was vitally important to her and as life-sustaining as breathing.
Where life was generally unstable, running was a constant.  Jobs went from good to bad.   People came and went.  Alcohol worked until it stopped working.  Drugs worked but caused problems.  Sex often left her feeling emptier. 

Running was always there.  Running provided a social network, a physical outlet, a steady stream of endorphins, a distraction from the mundane parts of life, a way to stay in shape, a physical challenge, an identity.

So, when the pain came, she ignored it, at first.   Then gradually, she cut back on her running.  She tried to run through the pain until, finally, it became unbearable.  When she could no longer run, she went to see the doctors, and her worst fears started to materialize.
 She struggled with denial, stubbornly refusing to accept reality.  This acceptance was slow to come and marred with bitterness and sorrow.

She could not run anymore. 





Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I fooled them again!

“Every two years when I have to renew my license, and the new certificate arrives in the mail, I think ‘ha!, I can’t believe I fooled them again!’”

I had to laugh when my co-worker said this, especially because he was one of those people with a lot of experience who seemed to 'have his shit together.'

"At least they gave you a license," I replied. "I'm still provisional."

At this point in time I was still un-licensed, primarily due to procrastination. Also, I was pretty certain that I didn't know what the hell I was doing and didn't deserve a license.

But, eventually I completed my requirements. That day came when the certificate arrived in the mail and it was official. I immediately called my co-worker to let him know, "I fooled them, too."

Two years have passed, and it is now time for me to renew my license for the first time. I'm much more confident now than when I started out. Still, I have days like today when I'm pretty sure I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

The difference today is that I'm learning to accept my self-doubt. I know that the committee in my head can, and does, manufacture all sorts of crazy things if I let it. I also know now that many of these people who appear to 'have their shit together' don't feel that way on the inside. Often they have their own committees (and sub-committees) to contend with. So, I'm not being fair to myself when I try to compare my insides to other peoples' outsides.

Some level of doubt is okay. It keeps me motivated to try to evolve. It’s the people that never have any doubt that I really worry about.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

bad days and BAD DAYS

 "A photo is worth a thousand words."


Monday was a fairly typical day at work. I had a new patient assigned to me. The patient had just transferred from the Detox/Crisis Stabilization Unit to the regular inpatient side (where I work). So, I read over his chart, then took a look at his photo from admission. I went to find him so I could introduce myself and schedule a time to meet with him.

I looked for this patient in the day room, and I did not see him anywhere. I asked the Health Care Techs if they had seen him. Was he with a doctor? in his room?

They just pointed, and he was actually sitting right in front of me. I hadn't recognized him because he looked nothing at all like he did in that photo, taken 10 days ago when he came in (intoxicated) to detox.

Sort of without thinking, I said, "Wow, you definitely look much better now than in your admission photo."

Of course, as could be expected, he said, "what picture?" Quite understandably, he didn't remember having his picture taken.

That day I went home on a mission. I tore apart my closet throwing boxes everywhere. I wasn't even positive that I still had the exact thing I was looking for. It took forever, but finally I found this gem, along with an accompanying psychological evaluation...



The sad part is that I don't remember having this picture taken. I actually don't remember too much of that day at all - only bits and pieces due to a benzodiazepine-induced blackout.

I first saw this photo when my favorite Health Care Tech was laughing about it a few days after it was taken. At this point I was clear-headed and integrated into the millieu, trying to make a joke out of the sad (and utterly humiliating) situation I was in.... which was a locked psychiatric unit!

I remember this Health Care Tech waving my picture around and asking, "Amanda is this you? It doesn't even look like you... You're an attractive girl; this is a horrible picture...Look at this, right? doesn't look anything like her.."

"Well, I wasn't exactly at my best when I came in," I said.

A week or so later when I was released back into the world, I showed this photo to a close friend, and he said, "Don't hang on to that. Move forward to more positive things."

But, I kept the photo anyway. It actually sat on the door of my refrigerator for quite some time. Then I moved, and it got thrown into a random box where it sat for years untouched (along with the psych eval)...until now.

They gave me a copy of my picture with no questions asked, but the psychiatric evaluation was a bit trickier to get.  Being the way that I was (and still am), I began demanding a copy of my psych eval soon after my discharge. When it arrived in the mail I read it immediately.

The most complimentary part of the eval is the part where it states that: "Ms. Hopper seems to be of average intelligence, with no apparent cognitive deficiencies."

The report also mentions a propensity to abuse substances, lack of insight in this area, and "Ms. Hopper verbalizes anger through sarcasm and a spewing forth of obscenities."

Naturally, when I first read this report, I folded it up and stewed for a while. All of it was crap, especially the part about substances. I disagreed with everything that this pretentious, asshole psychologist wrote about me.

Today as I read that same report, I agree with probably about 90% of it. Much of it no longer holds true (thankfully), but it pretty accurately describes how I was at that particular point in time.


At work on Wednesday, my patient asked to see his admission photo which I had referenced earlier. So, during our Treatment Team Meeting, one of the doctors showed him his photo. He frowned and said, "wow, I look horrible."

I said, "well, most people aren't at their best when they come in to detox...Maybe we can give you a copy of that picture for you to keep when you leave."

"Why would I want to do that?" he asked.

Other staff turned in my direction, and I felt my face flush.

"I don't know," I said, "maybe just so that years from now you can see this photo, and on a bad day sober it can give you perspective, that even a bad day sober is not all that bad in comparison."

He stared at me blankly and didn't say anything.

Later that week he asked his doctor for a copy of the photo. 'Just for posterity' he said.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The value of being heard

If there is one thing worse than being depressed, I think that would be: being depressed and being told you shouldn't feel that way. Perspective is important, as is gratitude, and I try to remember this. At the same time, pain is still pain. Whether or not you tell me that I should (or shouldn't) feel a certain way does not change how I actually feel.

Long story short: I recently found out that my ability to run is likely over FOR GOOD. (I still haven't given up hope, and I'm investigating various options, but the prognosis is dismal.)

The thought of never running again just feels unbearable sometimes. I remind myself, "No one cares about how many miles you run, or your 5k time, or how quickly you can get from point A to point B. And you shouldn't care either. It's all irrelevant." It truly is irrelevant. I know this, but still, I feel like I am missing a huge part of myself when I can't run. Running has been a part of my life for a long time (18 years) and it has always been something I could turn to.

I try to explain to non-runners what this loss is like for me, and I automatically hear: "Have you thought about riding a bike? Maybe you could get on an Elliptical. Maybe you could start hiking. Walking fast can give you a very good workout and burn calories. Why don't you try swimming? It's really not that big of a deal that you can't run anymore. There are plenty of other things to do."

I know that the people making these suggestions are trying to be helpful and well-meaning. Still, hearing these suggestions seems dismissive and insulting. I am intelligent enough to problem-solve and have thought of all of these things. I do some of these things already. But, it is not, and will never be, the same. There is no quick-fix or easy solution. This is a loss that I will grieve for a little while before I reach acceptance and move on.

Sunday I was feeling in a bad spot, depressed. I even thought for a minute or so about getting high...Anything just to feel better for a brief period of time...It kind of sucks that I am without my best coping skill: running....So, I took my own advice not to isolate, as that just makes depression worse. I went out to be social. I did the standard, polite, "I'm good; how are you doing?" and talked with others about their lives and their problems and got out of my head for a while. It was helpful. I started to feel better...Until I decided to tell this one friend how I was really feeling.

I said, "my life is for the most part good. But, I'm just really depressed about not being able to run anymore; it's a huge loss, and I'm just having trouble coping with it."

And, this friend said, 'I don't see what the big deal is. Why don't you just get on an elliptical?'

I tried to explain, but it was like talking to a wall. Not only did this friend not 'get it' but he basically made me feel like it was stupid for me to be upset about my inability to run.

I looked around me at all of these people and suddenly felt all alone, disconnected. I asked myself, "Why did I even come here in the first place?" and immediately wanted to flee the scene.

I am not one to cry in public, but I was feeling so frustrated and depressed and alone that it just sort of happened. Fortunately it was dark out, and it was time to go home. So, on the car ride home, I was very quiet, and my friends could tell that I was not right. I tried to say, "nothing is wrong. I'm just tired," but they didn't buy it. I told them I needed to go home.

I was really just trying hard to avoid having all of this pent-up raw emotion leak out. Too late.

They would not let me go home knowing something was wrong with me. So, I sat on their porch and cried, and tried to explain the pain I was feeling: the loss of my greatest joy in life and the added frustration of having people tell me I shouldn't feel how I felt, having my feelings completely invalidated by people who just didn't understand. Pain (emotional or physical) is hard to explain. It's something we can only grasp when we experience it.

I totally expected my friends to discredit what I was feeling, to tell me that being unable to run is really an insignificant problem, that I have a lot to be grateful for; try the elliptical.

They did not say this. In fact, they said very little. They just listened and offered their support. They acknowledged that they did not know exactly what I was feeling, but that they understood the magnitude of this loss for me. They told me that my feelings were legitimate and that my pain mattered...and that I was worth their time.

Then, of course, they told me not to give up hope, to keep trying to find solutions. "You're not the type of person to just give up." (And, I'm not. I continue to search for remedies and to run what little I can even though I'm not supposed to run at all.)

When I finally left their house, I realized that the depression that had been with me for a week or so was suddenly lifted. The whole not-being-able-to-run thing suddenly didn't seem like such a big deal. It still sucked, but the intensity of the emotion was just not as strong anymore. The depression and frustration was replaced with gratitude...Gratitude that I have such truly great relationships in my life, friends in my life that care enough to actually hear me, friends that can handle me at my best and my worst.

It says in the Basic Text that "pain shared is pain lessened." In my experience this is only true when people are able, and willing, to actually hear the pain we are sharing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I've been a little, actually A LOT burnt out lately with work. There are some irritations with my current job, of course, but the core issue is the same issue from every past job. I doubt that I can be effective at the work I do. I wonder if I'm good enough for it or cut out for it.

I spoke with a former co-worker about this last week. I said "John, I think I'm in the wrong field." John was always my #1 cheerleader at Southlight, so I expected him to reassure me that I'm doing better than I think, I'm great at what I do, etc. Instead, he said, "I don't know...maybe you really are in the wrong field."

Though not what I wanted to hear, I had to appreciate his honesty. He went on to say, "If you want a career where you have some way of knowing you're doing a good job, this is not it."

I stayed up late last night thinking and trying to figure out the direction of my life. Where would I live if not in Asheville? What would I be if not a counselor? Where would I be if x,y,& z hadn't happened or if I had done A instead of B? Am I really exactly where I am supposed to be at this moment?

I know I can't change people, so how can I help? I started to think about what others have done to help me, what has worked & what has not worked. I decided that the people most helpful to me have been those who listened without judging, believed in me, gave me a healthy dose of perspective, or inspired me in some way or another.

Even if I had the luxury of a million mentors as a teenager, I probably would have made hundreds of wrong choices, regardless of their efforts. I had to suffer enough and make my life unmanageable enough before I could realize I needed to ask for help and start making changes. (Even as an adult, I struggle with this "asking for help" thing.) But, when I felt the need to change things, it was the people who believed in me that set the stage for change.

I have a few adolescent and young adult clients right now that I really worry about. The ones that cause me the most heartache are always the ones I like the most.

Will I be able to help them? I don't know. There's no way of knowing if I make a difference or not. I can only hope that the fact that I care matters for something.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Matthew 17:20

"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

-Matthew 17:20

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I was having a rough time a few weeks ago, and a sticky-note appeared in my office, scrawled in my co-worker signature chicken-scratch:


Later that day my co-worker provided the explanation.

H-A-L-T the acronym for Hungry, Lonely, Angry, and Tired is commonly cited in recovery programs and in 12 step meetings. These are emotional states to be wary of, and avoid, where possible, as they lead often to poor decision-making. "When I start to act irrationally or get in a bad frame of mind I stop(halt) to ask myselfe if I'm experiencing any one of these: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. And, if so, what can I do about it?" The numbers reference pages in the "Big Book": a reading on acceptance and a reading on forgiveness.

While the reading on forgiveness is a good reading, I particularly relate to and appreciate the one on acceptance.

(The page numbers vary by volume, but the words are the same).

"Acceptance was the Answer":

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment [emphasis added]. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me an in my my attitudes.

...I'm better off if I don't give advice, don't figure I know what's best, and just accept life on life's terms, as it is today -- especially my own life, as it actually is....

...When I focus on what's good today, I have a good day, and when I focus on what's bad, I have a bad day. If I focus on a problem, the problem increases; if I focus on the answer, the answer increases....

...Perhaps the best thing of all for me is to remember that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of Max and other people are, the lower is my serenity. I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations.

...For my serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance. When I remember this, I can see I've never had it so good.

Since reading "Acceptance was the Answer" I have had a few moments here and there when I've been able to really embrace life on life's terms. At these times I'll say, "I am exactly where I need to be at this moment."

My tendency, of course, is to want immediate gratification and to refuse to accept what's in front of me at this moment. I am trying to learn to be patient. It is hard work, and I'm not good at it yet. Lately, I read this chapter almost every day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"A Man Said to the Universe"
by Stephen Crane

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blast From the Past

For Thanksgiving I went back "home" to Charlotte for our traditional Thanksgiving gathering. Thanksgiving tends to be pretty low key and enjoyable, usually consisting of my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister-in-law, and myself.

My trip to Charlotte was great. One of my favorite parts was mulling around in my room and finding a stack of diaries I had forgotten about. They were at the top of my closet, seemingly untouched.

Apparently there are 9 volumes of my diary (Each volume is a 70 pg spiral ruled notebook). I started writing in 7th grade and finished all 70 pages (front & back) of Volume 1 before 7th grade ended. My junior high writings always make me laugh.

Here's a particular favorite from 8th grade:

(This was the year when we all needed to have "boyfriends." I had already tried a few times, but all I got were rejections. Even with my platform shoes, I was shorter than every kid in the 8th grade, except for this one kid with a funny British accent named James. I knew nothing about him except that he was in Ms. Oelhafen's English class with me, had a British accent, and, Most Importantly, was shorter than I was. So, I asked my friends to ask James if he would go out with me.)

"Today Jackie D. and Nandi wanted to see me after school. They told me they had Bad news. They weren't sure if they even wanted to tell me or not. I told them I could not see them after school. I was leaving before 8th period to get my braces taken off. Finally, they called me up, & Jackie told me on the phone. She and Nandi had asked James to go out with me. The conversation was like this:

Nandi & Jackie---Will you go out with Mandy?
James---You mean the girl with the mile-high shoes?
Nandi & Jackie---Yeah.
James -- I don't know.
(He leaves with his friend, and his friend, Jeff, comes back.)
Jeff---James says he doesn't know who she is.
Nandi -- Well, tell your friend that he's an asshole! Okay?

(end of conversation)."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Heaven & Hell

My friend Ian shared this wonderful parable with me.  Thanks, Ian


A Rabbi was asked to explain heaven & hell, and he explained it with this story:

The Rabbi went to visit both hell and heaven and saw that the set-up appeared identical in both locations: long banquet tables full of food and residents seated at the tables to eat.

In Hell there is great suffering; those seated at the table are unable to bend their elbows and can not reach the food. They are tortured sitting in front of all of the sustenance and going hungry because they can not reach it.

In heaven, just as in hell, there are large tables of food; just as in hell, the residents of Heaven are unable to bend their elbows to eat the food in front of them.

In heaven, however, everyone is happy and satiated. They do not go hungry. Upon further observation, the Rabbi learns why. In heaven, each resident extends his arm to feed his neighbor across the table. His neighbor thanks him and returns the favor.

The Rabbi pities the residents of hell and returns to hell to suggest this strategy. The residents respond with spite and distrust of their neighbors, stubbornly refusing to feed those around them. Every one starves in hell.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I don't like it when they change my furniture!

For at least a year of my life, Josh and I lived happily in a small basement apartment in Chapel Hill. Josh had a particular affection for cats and described certain of my behaviors as "kitty-like."

As he pointed out, I tend to wander off in mid-conversation without announcing my departure. I tend to very quickly jump up and run out of rooms for no apparent reason. I am hyper-sensitive to environmental cues, can be skittish at some times, and sociable in other instances, mostly when I want something like food.

Most notably, Josh said, "You're just like a cat. You don't like when your furniture changes." I denied being this way, of course, until my furniture actually did change.

While I lived in the basement apartment, I slept on a vintage orange couch adjacent to the window. I was comfortable there and refused to sleep elsewhere. I could wake up with the sunlight, staring at the plants on the window-sill and the woods outside the window.

One day our landlord had the audacity to replace the couch with a newer sleeper sofa. I am not a furniture snob, but I had gotten so comfortable with my couch that I actually cried a few tears over the loss. Josh tried to console me by convincing me that the new couch was way better than the old one and that I would grow to love this one as much as the old one. It had fold-out capabilities afterall! Well, remarkably, Josh was right. I grew to love the new couch.

Since our time in the cozy little Chapel Hill apartment, my furniture has not undergone too many changes, but it seems like nearly everything else in my life has.

If there's one thing I'm trying to work on, it's my tendency to try and cling to what's ephemeral.

Change, for me is scary. Of course, I remember my 9th grade English teacher telling me (prior to my big move from Charlotte to New Orleans) that "Most things worth doing are scary."

I got offered a job in Asheville today. So, now I sit here freaking out, as I tend to whenever good things start to happen in my life. Opportunities mean choices. Choices mean potential wrong choices. Often walking through one door means closing off another door.

I don't like changing furniture, but sometimes change just has to happen.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daily Reflection from "Days of Healing"

Yesterday (June 28), I found this meditation from “Days of Healing”, part of the Hazelden Meditation Series:

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create that fact.

-William James

Many adult children learn that rejection and abandonment are part and parcel of being alive. We are so used to feeling as though things won’t work out, that fear – like a shadow – is always lurking behind us. Usually there’s something specific to be afraid of – that we won’t have enough money to pay our bills, someone we love will die, or our children won’t do well in school. And always there’s the generalized fear that events will overwhelm us in spite of our best efforts.

We need to be careful about creating what we look for. Regardless of the frightening experiences of the past, we need to believe that other results are possible: All loved ones don’t leave, all risks don’t end in devastation, and all efforts aren’t dashed on the rocks of defeat. New consequences are possible when we believe they’re possible. The brave new world that each of us seeks stands on the shoulders of that belief.

I am sick and tired of being fearful. Today, I am confident that positive efforts will yield positive results.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

If it aint broke...

"What's wrong with me, and how do I fix it?"

I've been asking that question for a long time. I've studied psychology, read a whole lot, gone to dozens of therapists, even become a therapist, trying to answer that question. I've acquired many different answers from many different sources.

The most useful answer I have comes from Josh, my ex-boyfriend.

"What's wrong with you is that you are looking for answers to the wrong questions. You can fix that problem by asking different questions."