Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I Run

Hello again!  Man, I go a few months with only 1 post a month, if that, and here I am posting 3 in 2 days.  I'm just full of inspiration.  I will say I have a lot more I'd like to talk about, but I'm really struggling to wrap my head around some things and put into words what I'm trying to say.  If I can figure it out, I'll let you know.  That being said, I wanted to write today about why I run.

There are a lot of reasons why I started running.  I wanted to lose weight, it was something that was hard for me, and I wanted to get better, all the 'cool' kids did it, maybe even as a way to bond with my dad, the high school and college track star.  But none of those reasons really explain why I continued running.  For a long time, if someone had asked me why I continued running I'd have given them pretty much one basic answer.  I'd have said I got a great endorphin rush and the exercise kept me from becoming to anxious.  But there's more to it than that.  To do explain, I have to tell you a short story.

Back in college I studied music, and as part of my studies I took both piano lessons and voice lessons.  I'll never forget one particular week where both of my teachers in these subjects essentially told me the same thing.  They told me I needed to expose my soul.  Here I was, singing and playing my heart out, thinking I was being super expressive, and they told me they just weren't feeling it.  I needed to expose my soul.  Honestly, I really didn't know how to take that.  I've always thought of myself as a fairly open person; I don't really have much to hide, so I had no clue how to expose more.  After being told this, I started to notice this phrase (or some variation) popped up quite often in my life.  But, still I had no idea how to apply this to myself. I thought I did it when I was singing a song about being homesick.  I mean, I was as homesick as they come.  This was a subject I could really relate to.  Alas, no.  My instructor simply told me I was sharing enough of myself.  At the time I was frustrated beyond belief.  Now I think he may have been right.

So this leads me back to running.  For a long time I wondered if I ran to escape my emotions.  I mean, if I can't expose my soul in music then I must really be working at repressing emotions.  But I never really felt like I had anything to run from.  Running has always felt like I'm headed towards something, not away from it.  I had kind of settled on running as a way of meditation.  The deep breaths, the rhythmic pattern of my feet and breath, even the sound in my ears.  Yes, meditation.  And that almost hit it, but I don't always feel relaxed and calm after a run.  Even after good runs, I often feel slightly more agitated...slightly more exposed.

And finally, today, it dawned on me.  I run because running allows me to expose my soul.  After a run, I'm tired.  The better and longer the run the more tired I am.  In the end, I don't have any energy left to hide my true self.  Some of my best cries have been after wonderful runs.  I'll be happy but exhausted, I will have spent the past X miles thinking about various topics so there's nothing clouding my mind, and suddenly I will be hit with some emotion.  Somehow running allows me to tap into that part of me that I often keep hidden, even from myself.  It allows me to turn off my brain for long enough to truly feel my emotions.  I can't begin to explain the joy this brings me.  I'm able to feel every emotion I've buried deep within; every emotion that I normally only scrape the surface of: joy, sorrow, anger, it's all there.  Running allows me to actually feel it.

Now, I'm not saying I feel every little emotion with every single run.  Sometimes I run just to hang out with friends, and sometimes I run because I had too much cake (on my birthday), but that wouldn't keep me running in the long haul.  I run because I finally get what my instructors were trying to tell me years ago.  I run to expose my soul.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Birthday- Without Mom

OK.  I just wrote a post detailing the big events from my birthday.  I encourage you to read it, or else some of what I right here won't necessarily make sense.  I wanted to take a moment to talk about what my birthday was like without Mom.  I've had a couple of days to think about things, and I've had some revelations.

First, I have to reveal to you one of my biggest wishes on my birthday.  I wanted a visit from Mom.  I know it sounds odd, but I wanted to dream about her.  I'm a big believer in the afterlife, and I firmly believe that dreams about the deceased are not just dreams.  They're visitations.  Since Mom passed, I've had 3 dreams about her.  I won't get into the details of each one, but let me just say that I can only make sense out of one of them.  Anyway, that's what I wanted.  I wanted a dream.  I wanted to dream about doing all of our usual birthday traditions with her: shopping in Williamsburg, pumpkin cheesecake at Barnes & Noble, stupid, silly birthday songs.

Unfortunately, I woke up the morning of my birthday to the sad realization that I'd had no such dream.  I felt sad and alone, and that feeling very easily could have continued throughout the day except for some wonderful people in my life.

First there was Hans.  Hans really took care of me that day.  He comforted me when I was crying, and didn't make me feel bad about crying.  He stayed with me all day.  He made sure I felt well-loved.  I don't think Mom would have gone if I didn't have Hans.  She knew I'd be OK.

Second there were my running buddies.  I forgot to mention in the last post, but when they realized they'd missed running with me on my birthday, they stopped by the kennel with cupcakes (I ended up with a lot of cupcakes that day).  I didn't get to see them, but it was so nice to know they cared that much about me.  Like I said before, I wasn't upset with them or anything.  By the end of the day I was laughing over the whole thing, but that gesture was just beautiful.

Then there was the kennel staff.  They didn't have to do anything.  I certainly didn't expect anything of them.  Such a simple gesture, though, made me feel so wonderful.  It's lonely owning a business.  Most people make friends and connections with coworkers.  I don't have coworkers, I have staff, and it can often be difficult to separate out friend from employee.  It was nice to have them do something completely unasked for.  Mom's love for me showed through them.

And then there was the client who brought me pumpkin cheesecake.  I'm fairly certain he knew how much I love that cheesecake, and he knew that Mom and I always had at least one slice together, but I don't think he knew it was a birthday tradition.  He didn't have to bring anything, yet he chose pumpkin cheesecake...from Barnes & Noble.  That's when I first realized that Mom may be with me after all.

And there was the client who told me how much healthier I looked.  I'm not sure she initially knew it was my birthday, and I know she had no clue I'd spent the morning crying, but she told me how tired I'd looked when I was caring for my Mom.  She told me how much she wanted to be able to help because she was truly concerned for me.  And she told me how much lighter I looked since Mom's passing.  Of course, she knew that was the worst possible outcome, but she was happy I was under less stress.  That's the one that took a little longer to sink in.  It really didn't hit me until today.  Mom died so that I could live. 

I know it sounds weird, but I know the course we were on.  We were all slowly dying.  I'm not certain I fully understood it at the time, but I definitely understand it now.  We were under so much stress.  We could never fully breathe.  Something was bound to happen at some point.  Either exhaustion or illness or something would have taken all of us.  I think, to some degree (whether she consciously thought it or not) Mom may have let herself go.  She grew tired of the fight, and she saw that we were struggling to continue to the fight, so she gave in.

To some degree, there's a good deal of guilt that goes with this.  If I'd fought harder, if she'd known how much I was still fighting for her, would the outcome have been different?  And trust me, I've had a lot of what if moments.  But when I think of her passing as an act of love, a final act of love, things become a lot easier.

The morning of my birthday I felt sad and alone.  By end of the day, though, when I was sitting with my family, I felt loved.  I felt warm and relaxed.  I didn't dream about Mom, but she was there the whole day.  She was with me and will always be with me.  It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite childhood movies, The Land Before Time.  "I'll be with you.  Even if you can't see me."  I can't see her, but she's with me.

My Birthday- The Events

My 30th birthday was two days ago.  A year ago today, Mom got CT results back saying all tumors were gone.  Facebook from a year ago is full of so much joy and celebration.  A few people have asked me how my birthday was and how I've been holding up through all of this, so I wanted to share with you how things have been.

Tuesday morning was kind of awful.  I woke up early for my usual run, and I was exhausted.  Allergies were working hard on me, and I'd gone to bed a little late the night before.  Plus, I think I was just still physically exhausted from all the activities of the morning.  Still, I was looking forward to starting my day with a activity that makes me feel good about me and that gives me some social time with some much-loved running buddies.  Well, before I even left the house one of my running buddies bailed.  I was a little bummed, but oh well.  Stuff happens.  I grabbed my fuel belt and headed out the door.

I got to our usual meet up and was right on time (a rarity for me).  I scrolled through Facebook as I waited for my other friend.  About 5 minutes later, I got a text from him saying he'd just woken up and apologizing because he wouldn't be able to make it.  I had two options: Go home or run by myself.  Part of me feels I should have run anyway, but at 5:15 am with no one to run with and no dog I decided to just go home.  I was in the shower before the flood of emotion hit.

Here's the thing.  I wasn't mad or upset with my running friends at all.  It's early in the morning.  It happens.  I've done the exact same thing to them on a few occasions.  On plenty of other mornings I would have relished the opportunity to skip a run.  This morning, though, it simply sucked.  I was disappointed and I didn't have Mom, and I just broke down sobbing.  By the way, have you ever tried to shave your legs through a sob?  It's difficult. 

I kind of pulled it together for breakfast with Anna, but I definitely put the burden of the morning on Hans.  He got Anna bathed and dressed, he fixed breakfast, and he kept her occupied while I just sat on the couch fighting back tears.  When we went into Anna's playroom I lost it again.  I just laid on the floor and cried, which of course set Anna off, and poor Hans had to deal with both of us.  He finally managed to get us both in the car and we left to take Anna to daycare.

Lucky for me, I have an amazing husband.  Hans had decided to take the day off work, so he could be with me.  I decided that, as much as I love having all 3 of us together, I still wanted to take Anna to daycare, and I wanted the two of us to see a movie.  This was definitely the right call.  We hadn't seen a movie together since Les Miserables was in theaters, and it was wonderful to just be able to do something different.  After the movie, we had a few errands to run, we had to pick up Anna, and then I had to be back at the kennel for an appointment with an acupuncturist (for the dogs, and yes it works).

When I walked in, I was greeted by the staff...more staff than usual.  The led me into the training room and presented me with cupcakes from my favorite shop, a card signed by everyone, and pierogies (yummm).  It wasn't huge, but it was such a wonderful gesture.  Hans made certain to tell me it was completely their idea, and he had nothing to do with it, and I am just so touched.  Seriously, it meant more than I think they'll ever know.

While at the kennel I was greeted by a few clients who wished me a happy birthday.  Some of my longer clients asked how I was doing.  One brought me a piece of pumpkin cheesecake from Barnes & Noble and a scarf he knitted himself.  One client happened to comment how much healthier I looked lately.  She said had been really worried about me the past year with everything with Mom, but I really looked good now.  It was nice being at the kennel.

After my appointment, I went home where I was greeted by Dad, Cindy, my best friend, Jess, Hans, and Anna.  We enjoyed a lovely fondue dinner that Hans made; a meal I fear we don't have nearly often enough, followed by cake and ice cream.  Anna went to bed easily and on time, and I enjoyed a lovely evening.

So, to sum up, while the morning started terribly, the day turned around well enough.  I was tired most of the day from all my crying, and I had entirely too much candy at the movie, but I felt well-loved and happy.  My birthday ended up being a pretty great day.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Great Weekend

It's time for a happy post! I have had a great weekend. 

It started with an 18 mile run.  Lately, I've had this trend where I've had one good long run followed by one horrible long run.  Last week was terrible, so I was hopeful / nervous for this run.  I knew I had to come at it with a different plan of attack than last week, and my plan seemed to work.  It was a slower run, and I easily could have gone faster, but I felt great in the end, and I'm still on track to finish the marathon in my goal time.  Yay!

I was fairly sore after my run, and I felt myself start to stiffen up, so I asked Hans to fix breakfast (kielbasa and eggs with poppyseed bread is one of my favorite meals), while I did a quick yoga routine.  This resulted in a proud mommy moment when Anna ran up behind me at the start of my routine and did mountain pose with me.  It was absolutely adorable, and I love the fact that she's starting to pick up things like that.  Hans tried to take a quick picture, but she ran off to grab a book before he could get the camera out. (Note that I'm also proud at how much she likes books.)  After yoga, I enjoyed a delicious meal followed by a wonderful, refreshing shower.  I actually felt really great and was ready to take on the day...until I came downstairs.  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was exhausted!  Luckily, Anna hadn't taken her nap yet and was starting to get a little tired as well, so Hans took her up for a nap, and I laid down on the couch.  The only thing I really remember after that was thinking how good lying down felt, and the next thing I knew it was an hour later and I was waking up from a very relaxed sleep.  I wasn't even in a great position on the couch, but I felt wonderful.  I stayed in my prone position for another 15-20 minutes until Anna woke up from her nap.  Well-timed, dear child!

After our lovely sleep, we loaded up the bikes and headed downtown for the Richmond Folk Festival.  We decided to bike simply because parking and traffic down by the festival is a nightmare, and I really think we made the right decision.  It was a great way for me to keep from getting too stiff after the run, and it's great family time for us anyway.  That said, I was pretty exhausted still, and I do think the bike simply wiped me out.  It was also kind of a grey day, so walking around the festival wasn't quite as enjoyable as it usually is.  There are a lot of things I wish we'd done differently, but we still had a great time anyway.

Folk Festival or Bust!

After the festival, we got the car and picked the dogs up from the kennel (Hans had dropped them off while I was running).  Then we went home for dinner and a relaxing evening at home.  We ended the night with an episode of Orange Is The New Black and s'mores (after Anna was in bed).  Yum!

Today had a lot of options.  It was a cool 44 degrees this morning, but the sun was out and shining.  We'd talked about going back to the festival or possibly taking long family ride on a new bike trail.  We weren't quiet sure what we wanted to do, so we made a temporary plan.  We'd bike to church (not drive because it's only 4 miles and the weather was gorgeous), have lunch with my dad and friend, Cindy, and decide from there.  Getting to church was a pleasure, Anna was fairly well-behaved (for a toddler) during church, and lunch was quite enjoyable.  We were in a great mood, and could have done anything, but I decided I really wanted some time at home.  I wanted to spend some time with the dogs, and I had some cleaning I wanted to tackle.  We ended up cleaning for a couple of hours and I finally finished a project that's been bugging me! 

After cleaning, we loaded up the car with all 4 dogs and headed out to Dad's for burgers off the grill.  I love going out to Dad's.  Dad still lives in my childhood home, so I'm fairly comfortable there (even though there have been tons of changes), and he has a much larger yard.  While Dad cooked the burgers, Cindy, Hans, and I played with Anna.  She loved chasing the dogs around the yard, and the dogs loved having the space to just run.  It was heart-warming to say the least.  After a lovely dinner, and some extra play time for Anna, we came home tired, full, and happy.

Now the house is quiet.  The dogs are wiped out, Anna is sound asleep in her crib, the windows are open and airing out this old house, and I am simply feeling wonderful.  Frankly, this is the best I've felt in months.  I hope this all holds out for a while, but either way I'm relishing this time.  I am extremely grateful for a fun, happy, relaxing weekend, and I'm ready to tackle the week ahead!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Wow I've had a rough few weeks.  I realize that I'm beginning to sound like a bit of a Debbie Downer, but I've really been struggling.  Some of it is easily explained by life.  Anna was sick, allergies are full-force, we've gotten record rain falls over the past week, and the weather has turned colder, all of which result in a tired and somewhat mopey Val.  And then there's just the simple fact that I can't get over losing Mom.  I know it's still really early, and a good part of me knows this is normal, but it's just weird.  Life for everyone else is continuing as usual, but I'm stuck struggling with whether I even want to celebrate my 30th birthday next week.  I just don't feel much like celebrating.

All of this has been starting to manifest itself in other ways.  One of the worst things about how I've felt was just how isolated I seemed.  No one else I know is going through this exact situation.  I either feel like my event was so small compared to what others have gone through, or I feel like no one could possibly understand this hurt.  An old elementary school friend lost her father recently, and my first thought was actually, "You can understand what I'm feeling!"  It was a slight moment of joy and relief at some camaraderie before I realized how awful that was and immediately felt like a terrible person.  Anyway, when I feel this isolated I often look to friends to raise me up.  Unfortunately, I don't always tell my friends how much I need their help so the process in my brain goes something like this:

-I'm really sad.  I want someone to hang out with me.  Maybe I'll call insert name to see if she wants to grab a coffee.
She's busy today.  She clearly hates me and can't stand to spend a second with me.  I won't try anyone else.


-My friend insert name really should have been there for me during that really hard time.  She totally dropped the ball on this one.  And this other friend did too.  I thought my friends truly cared about me.  I would have been there for them.  Clearly I'm a better friend, and clearly I like them more than they like me.
I could handle this like a real adult and actually tell them how I feel, but that will either leave me way too vulnerable, or I'll just hear some BS excuse, or I'll come across as a whiny baby.  I'll just ignore it, but they have officially been removed from my top friends list.

This ultimately leads to me crying to Hans about how sad and lonely I am, and while he's trying to comfort me I tend to think that he's probably thinking how he didn't sign up for this level of crazy / drama and he's probably just telling me what he thinks I want to hear just so I'll shut up.  And, in the end, I wind up under the covers on the couch binge-watching Friends on Netflix.  Of course, that only makes things worse because then I'm left with all the things I could have / should have done to make the day better and I feel guilty.

The rational part of me knows that this is all silly.  I can actually sit down and think, "Val, you're depressed.  Plain and simple.  You need to do XYZ to make this better."  And then I just don't.  I'm either too tired or too sad or, sometimes, I'm just in too vulnerable of a state.  It may be silly, but it's really hard to shake.

Anyway, I had kind of reached that point.  I truly believe a few other factors were at play, but the reality is that I have been a bit depressed.  And, then something happened to make me feel a little better.

First, I got a text from my best friend.  We've been trying to see each other more than we have in the past, so we've started setting up breakfast dates since they tend to work best with both of our schedules.  We hadn't planned one for this week, and she sent me a message asking when I was free.  It might not seem like much to everyone, but for me it was a moment of, "Somebody likes me!"  It was really nice.

Second, I got a message from another friend of mine just checking in.  Life circumstances mean we haven't gotten together in a bit, and she was wondering how I was feeling.  Guess what?  Someone else likes me!

But the kicker, the one that made me really evaluate my thoughts of the past few weeks was what Hans told me last night.  I've been upset because there were some people I really thought would be there for me after Mom passed, and I had barely even heard from them.  I thought they'd fly out just to hold me up a bit (and Hans told me he'd asked them to), but they'd made excuses.  What Hans told me last night was that he'd been lying.  He did ask them to fly out, but not for Mom's memorial. He asked them to fly out for the marathon.  Somehow he figured I might need them more at this point than I did a few months ago.  He wanted it to be a surprise, but when he realized that I was actually getting upset with them and I was feeling so alone he called them and they decided to tell me.  How did he get so smart?!  Anyway, two of my best friends are flying out in less than 6 weeks!!!!!!!!! 

When Hans told me, I didn't get super excited.  I didn't jump up and down.  I didn't even call my friends.  I simply breathed a sigh of relief.  My friends do care.  Hans has been doing more than just humoring me.  I then texted one of my friends to say I was glad she was coming out and to actually set some dates.  Frankly, I didn't have the energy to get excited, but I'm starting to now.  Just thinking about it is giving me a nice, soft, warm glow, and that's pleasant.

I know that this is just one battle won in a great war.  I know that after the marathon is done I'll go through an all new low (post race, post friends, post excitement- it happens almost every year), but having this helps to remind me that I do have a great support network.  I'm not just the person that others tolerate.  I'm the person that others love.  I do have friends who love me as much as I love them.  Yes, I know I'm a bit quirky sometimes, and I can definitely be a bit needy (I am an only child), but that's OK to them.  And that's a pretty good feeling.