Coming Home

Coming Home

Nine months ago, my psychologist recommended I go on antidepressants.

I was numb. Detached. Passively watching the world fade in and out of focus. I lived in the spaces between panic attacks, and my disordered behaviors around food and training intensified. I was claustrophobic, trapped inside a version of myself I no longer recognized.

Since that appointment, I’ve made some major life changes. I quit my job and co-founded a nonprofit. I admitted to myself, and the world, that I have an eating disorder. I prioritized my health and wellbeing above my professional endeavors. I stopped asking for permission. I allowed myself to dream again.

I also booked a month-long trip to Colorado.

Impulsive? Maybe. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But nine months ago, I wanted to run away. I wanted an escape. Now, sitting at 10,000 feet with the Sawatch Range lining the horizon, I know that even surrounded by mountains, I can’t escape myself. And I no longer want to.

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Over the last few years, I lost my sense of self. I grew a layer of skin that was not my own. It scratched and chafed, leaving me raw and insecure. It was a mask, affixed to my being in an attempt to please others’ expectations – and my own. I tried desperately to shed this skin, to reveal the raw flesh – my flesh – lying underneath, waiting to breathe the cool, fresh air. But my fear and anxiety forced me to cling to this tattered skin, to the sense of safety and familiarity, to what I felt was expected of me. To the woman I no longer recognize.

Over the course of this trip, I’ve shed that layer of skin. I am uncomfortable and anxious. Challenged and in awe. I am vulnerable and dependent on others’ kindness and generosity. I am asking for help and grappling with my ego. I depend on others’ advice and know-how. I am trusting others, and, in that process, learning to trust myself. I am struggling, growing, and achieving. And yet, I am finally sitting still, at peace with my current self.

Prior to this trip, I was anxious. Taking this time felt selfish and unnecessary. Unproductive and lackluster. I should be climbing a corporate ladder, or at least working on my grad school applications. Instead, I’m climbing mountains. And I’m okay with that.

After weeks of running trails, reading and writing, and eating Puffins Cereal in trailhead parking lots, I feel an unfamiliar sense of ease. A strange sense of calm and acceptance. I’ve stopped tugging at my shirt, attempting to hide parts of my appearance. I’ve lost my mascara and worn the same dirty running skirt three times. I am not mentally cluttered or emotionally burdened. I am tired, yet rested. Humbled, yet empowered. I am here – within the mountains, but also within myself.

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This trip reframed my perspective. It exposed my limitations and strengths. It led me to a mountain ridge, gasping for air. It allowed me to camp miles from civilization, free from obligations and expectations. It created new relationships and strengthened old ones. It forced me to trust and depend on others – and to trust and depend on myself. It taught me that home is not a location, it is the people you chose to surround yourself with, including yourself.

The mountains have a time and place, and I am grateful that time is now and place is here. And while I am ready and excited to return home from this adventure, the mountains’ rugged and unassuming beauty will always compel me. The mountains will always bring me home.

Game plans, banana bread and the Mojave Desert.

Game plans, banana bread and the Mojave Desert.

Between packing up my short-lived California life into my mighty Volkswagen Rabbit and trekking across America to rekindle my Hoosier roots, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Here are some highlights of the road trip:

– The car didn’t overheat in the Mojave Desert.

– Going for a run in my favorite place on Earth (Boulder, Colo.) along with a plateful of the greatest gluten-free pancakes I’ve ever had (Reason No. 5463 I love Colorado).

– Reporting a brush fire along the highway in Colorado, essentially saving the entire state from sheer mayhem.

– Starting and finishing Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight and Matt Dixon’s The Well-Built Triathlete, complete with notes and diagrams.

– Reuniting with my mom and having four 15-hour days of driving to catch her up on every minute of every day I spent in California.

I had a fantastic time in California. My internship with Triathlete Magazine exceeded my expectations, and I made memories, friendships and professional connections to last a lifetime; however, I learned far more than I bargained for outside of the office. Between my first bike crash, first professional byline and first series of anxiety attacks, it’s been an exciting summer to say the least. I’ve learned more about mental toughness than I thought possible, and with it have come some valuable lessons and difficult decisions. I am gradually learning that living a healthy, happy and fulfilling life is an emotional investment, and I am finally making some deposits in the bank. I’ve spent the last few months placing my efforts, time and energy into making others happy, into satisfying their demands, interests and needs, leaving myself vacant. I lost sight of what is important to me, as I was blinded by what I had presumed to be important by others’ agendas. This lifestyle led to anxiety, injury and a lot of bloating. And no one likes bloating. I became dull, mentally, emotionally and physically. I lost sight of my dreams and aspirations – I handed the pen I once gripped so tightly my knuckles turned white to others, letting them write my life by their standards. I lost trust in myself. I lost my emotional compass and my abilities as a student and athlete. And, now, the pen is back in my hands.

A lot has happened since April and as I grip this pen, a bit more relaxed and at ease now, I have noticed that with the good, the bad and the ugly have come tremendous lessons and leaps toward happiness. This time, on my terms. Everything that has happened was with good intent; there was no malice or ill will, but it just wasn’t right for me. And if I’ve learned anything these last five months, it’s that I have to listen to my heart, head and gut. If any one of the three speaks out, it’s time to reassess. I’m never letting go of that pen again.

So, what’s the game plan now? A series of things, integrated in hopes of leading to a healthier and happier me. Here’s the plan.

– Tackle my perfectionism and practice acceptance. Reorganize my toolbox of mental toughness and dust off the forgotten tools I once handled so well.

– Coach myself and learn as much as I can about triathlon, training and my strengths and weaknesses. While this is a bit of a risk, the benefits far outweigh the costs at this stage in my athletic development. I have had to back out of five of the six races I registered for this year due to injury, and I feel out of synch with my body and training. Now is the time to experiment – I am young, motivated and have plentiful resources.

– Run with the Run Club at IU. Buy a singlet and race. Ditch the Garmin for a while. Have fun running again.

– Work with a qualified physical therapist and strength coach to become bullet proof. Lift heavy and get strong. Do a pull up.

– Stick with my current commitments and find peace in simplicity.

– Train more with the IU Triathlon Club. Make new friends with compression socks. Discuss bike porn.

– Schedule meal times into my calendar. Make them a priority. Cook a couple times a week, because it’s fun. Make banana bread.

– Foster my connections from the summer and beyond. Ask for advice. Freelance. Treat every door that is slightly cracked as though it were open with a welcome mat. Do what I love with passion.

Shavasana weekly.

– Blog regularly.

– Smile often.

If anyone has any advice on how to make delicious gluten-free banana bread, or on how to do a pull up, please let me know. Both would be appreciated.

Greetings from California

Greetings from California

I am living the dream. At least for the most part. For those that haven’t heard, I’m spending my summer in sunny San Diego, Calif. interning with Triathlete magazine and Competitor Group, Inc. I’m interviewing my idols, copy editing, fact checking, ordering and testing samples (I was recently assigned a story that required eating free granola – journalism is a tough occupation), and living my dream job, well minus the whole getting paid part. What was my hobby – learning as much as I can about the sport of triathlon – is now my (unpaid) job. And I love it.

The glamor of living and training on my own in Southern California wore off rather quickly – within five minutes of saying goodbye to my mom. The realization that the nearest family member is more than 2,000 miles away is both exciting and extremely daunting. This is not like college: there’s no RA to hold your hand, no activity fairs to meet people, no meal points, no professors to remind you of that assignment’s due date, no previously existing friends down the hall. Just me and a couple of bikes. I’d lie if I said it hasn’t been difficult living in California for the summer, because it has. It’s been difficult navigating a new city. It’s been difficult cooking for one. It’s been difficult figuring out a daily routine with absolutely no parameters. It’s been difficult moving to a new place where you know just two people – both of whom I had yet to actually meet face-to-face upon coming here. But, it has also been eye opening. It has taught me to be at peace with my own company. It has helped me navigate my mistakes and their resulting lessons. It has reminded me to wear sunscreen. It has helped me trust and depend upon myself. It has taught me resilience.

Unfortunately a lot of these lessons and hard times have been surrounding my training. San Diego is the mecca of triathlon (aside from Boulder, Colo.), and coming here I was overtly exciting to take my training to the beautiful trails, roads and beaches of Southern California. This hasn’t quite worked out as planned.

After Collegiate Nationals, I was dealing with some sort of stress injury in my right shin, something between a stress reaction and stress fracture. I’m fairly familiar with these (I’ve had somewhere between six and eight tibial stress fractures – I’ve lost count – and one in my femur), so I know the warning signs, recognize the pain and am my friends’ injury specialist. I laid off the running, took to biking and swimming, and hoped it would heal up in a couple of weeks. It didn’t. I backed out of a half marathon and registered for a later one, hoping it would be all healed up in time for San Diego. It wasn’t. I would go for a test run, feel no pain, and within a week of light consistent running, it would flare up again. This process repeated itself throughout the months of April, May and early June. Just recently, I finally was getting back into running – with my first successful tempo workout and run of over four miles – until the pain came back. My frustration and pent-up anger took to a brief melodrama where all of my dreams were swept away in the ocean waves and replaced with looming question marks. Meanwhile, on my first solo bike ride in San Diego, I found myself also in my first bike accident and hit and run. Thankfully, nothing was broken. I was just shaken, bruised and bloody, but relatively okay, until it hurt to breathe. I couldn’t take a deep breathe, sneeze, cough or laugh without feeling a sharp, acute pain in my chest. I was worried. Continuing my catastrophic thoughts, I called my doctor at home and reported that I thought I had broken a rib – he assured me I would definitely know if that were the case, and we settled on either an intercostal sprain or a costochondral sprain, depending on how quickly the pain subsides. I was told to stay on the trainer, no swimming and little running. And I did. Within a few days, I was back on the roads and rejoicing that I could finally train in at least two of my three sports – riding and running – until the shin pain returned. I regressed to my catastrophic, looming question marks. I began to question my worth, for if my training is suffering, then I must be suffering, too. My athletic identity was gone. My dreams of becoming an elite triathlete were shattered – but only for a minute.

This is a season of transition: a new coach, a new set of goals, a new training philosophy and an ever changing me. While my physical training may not be meeting my expectations this year, my mental and emotional training is exceeding them. This season, my focus has been placed on navigating and exposing my mental barriers and ultimately breaking them down. It has been a humbling and difficult journey. I often find myself spending more time fumbling around for the hammer, than breaking anything down, but I have begun to see small chips in the once sound wall, proving to myself that anything is possible. Sometimes my patience is wearing thin, but my dreams are sketched in longevity, and this season’s mental and emotional training brings me one step closer to writing them in ink.

I love California. I love the healthy lifestyles, friendly people and sunny days. I love pushing my limits on the bike with experienced cyclists and adventuring to knew places on my own. I love learning to care for myself and enjoy my own company. I love learning from my idols and mentors, in the office and on the roads. I love challenging myself, finding resilience and choosing positivity in what could be an upsetting situation. I am living the dream. It may not be exactly what I had envisioned, because it’s better.