Monday, November 23, 2015

This is a heart thing

"The numbers say “you finished.” “You are an Ironman.” But they don’t tell the whole story. They can’t capture the beauty or the grit or the strength it took to dig deep when everything else says you can’t. They say nothing about living your dream or breaking down walls. They’re not what gives you the confidence to take on the next challenge. This isn’t a numbers game. This is a heart thing."

Talk about a quote that captures the journey to Ironman. This year is going to be one hell of a journey.

For starters, this is the first time in a long time I have felt like "me" again. After 8 years of being on antidepressants, I am off them completely. This is step one of the journey to Norseman in August. I never really realized the "haze" I have been under. It is just a pill right? Problem is, antidepressants can actually make bipolar symptoms worse. Bipolar depression is apparently not the same as depression. So anytime spent on antidepressants for an extended period can make things worse. Which I think we have seen. They are not nice drugs and have ravaged my body and psyche, but now I can move forward and heal. The weight is now coming of much faster. I don't look so swollen anymore and I am not worried about collapsing during training or racing. My body and my mind are finally healing. There is no more fog in my mind, my focus is better, and the best thing - I have hope again.

As you know, triathlon is a way to free my mind. When I am training and racing, I am no longer bipolar - my mind is free. I don't have to think and I have a break from all the racing thoughts, anger, sadness, and anxiety. It challenges me as a person and when I push myself to my absolute limits - I know I will make it.

Out of this crazy need to reach my limits, I put my name in the lottery for Norseman Extreme Triathlon. It is also a full iron distance triathlon. To many, this is considered a bucket list race and the hardest triathlon on the planet. Only 250 lucky athletes get in and out of those 250 only 36 women get in and out of those 36 only 18 foreign women are given spots. I just happen to be one of those 18. I had already signed up for Ironman Texas in May and was wary about taking the spot since the races are only separated by 3 months. BUT I don't know if I will ever get this chance again, so I took it. It takes place in Norway, features a swim with 50 degree water, an overall elevation change of 16000 ft, and a hike up a mountain to the finish line. On top of the extreme course, you have to provide your own support crew. To me, this is the pinnacle (besides Kona), and in my mind if I do this, I have finally won. It seems like a silly idea that I see a triathlon as proof, but when I finish at the top of the mountain it literally symbolizes my climb out of darkness.

And so, I have begun this crazy journey of doing two ironmans in 3 months along with two half iron distances. As I continue on, I get to heal. There has been a lot of damage done, but there is hope now. There is a light at the top of the mountain.

Mount Gaustastoppen. The finish line is here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Resetting, goalsetting, and dreamsetting

You never want to have to write about things that don't go according to plan. Well, two weeks ago things did not go to plan at all.

Ironman MD redo was two weeks ago. While I didn't expect to have the race I initially planned for, I still felt fit and felt it would still be a good day. Rescheduling flights and travel plans was chaotic and I wasn't able to fly out until Thursday afternoon because of work. I got into BWI at 930 pm and was racing Saturday morning, so this was going to be a heck of a turn around! My mom and I stayed in Baltimore Thursday night and drove to Cambridge Friday morning. With the reschedule of the race, the race directors were nice enough to have athlete checkin on Friday and bike check in until 930 pm that night! This never happens for IM events! Having all this in the same day made things more than chaotic though.

As soon as we parked, I had to put my bike back together to take with me to check-in so I could get it tuned up. I got to check-in, dropped my bike off for a tune-up, and then went to the athlete meeting. Once that was finished, we trekked back to the car so I could change and get a bike and a run in. Once I finished my bike, I met my mom at transition and dropped my bike there and ran back to the finish/expo area where we were parked to fill my gear bags for drop off. I actually felt solid running, but on the bike I felt off. I just attributed that to shaking off the traveling from the day before. Anyway, at this point my dad had arrived, so I quickly filled my gear bags and had my parents circle transition while I dropped my bags and so we wouldn't have to find parking again. AND FINALLY, I could get lunch! BUT our hectic day was not over. We were actually staying 30 miles away in Salisbury because there was no lodging available in Cambridge. Friends who do this one in the future, make sure you book lodging a year ahead of time for IM MD and be prepared to drop some money on it. I had originally decided on Salisbury from the get go simply because lodging is outrageous in Cambridge.

Seeing as I was completely exhausted by 7, I was out cold by 730 and slept relatively well (which NEVER happens) until my 330 am alarm. I had most of my stuff together already and we were out the door by 4 and off to Cambridge. My parents somehow found a guy who was renting out his lawn (for a fee) for parking right near transition!! So my walk was short and I got to avoid taking shuttles. I loaded my bottles onto my bike, double checked gear bags, booked it to the port-o-lets, and then went on to relax before I had to shove myself into a wetsuit. Also, I totally met somebody who lived in Los Alamos as a kid. SMALL WORLD.

 Port-o-potty lines are fun guys! Especially in the cold and wind!

630 finally rolled around and I put my wetsuit on and then, the race director comes on the intercom. SHIT. I should point out that it was pretty friggin windy, but meh. So my first thought was that they were cancelling the swim. DAMMIT. Turns out a small craft advisory had been issued so they shortened the swim to 1.2 miles. REALLY!? Then they came on 15 min later and said just kidding, we are making it 3000 meters (800m short of the real iron distance) and start time had been moved to 730. JUST ADD THE 800 m BACK IN - the race is no longer an Iron distance anymore (I feel bad for the people where this was their first)!!! SO more waiting. Finally, it was time to line up. I got in line at the the sub 1 hour expected swim finish and was really skeptical about this rolling swim start thing. I, for one, am a fan of mass starts. I tend to feed of the adrenaline of the frantic mass start and I was still not quite feeling like I was getting ready to do an ironman. I needed a spark. Turns out, I didn't need it because once we started and I was battling the men out the inlet into open water I was feeling like it was race time. One thing I am not a fan of is two-loop swims. Since I was in the first group of swimmers, I had relatively (albiet choppy) clean water ahead of me and didn't have to do much in the way of passing. NOT true on the second loop. Sorry to all those I dunked and ran over - not on purpose actually! It is just hard to navigate around 1600+ of your best friends in choppy water. My goal was to be first out of the water in my AG, and I was. Had it been the full iron distance swim, I would have PR'd my best iron swim time by about 2-3 min (53-55 min) based on the pace I was going in much harsher conditions than my last one.  I knew I was up there for the women too since there were only 2 women in the change tent before me and I felt relatively good. ALSO - I totally made the official race video at the swim exit!

Time to bike! (also, my outfit AND my bike match)

I took longer in transition than I normally do because I was trying to dry off and get warmers, gloves, and a vest on. It was cold and windy, and I didn't want to spend the next 112 miles freezing my ass off.  Finally, I got myself out of transition and ....oh holy headwind. YAY WIND. My bike splits the first 13 miles or so were slower than I expected, but I was trying not increase my power just to overcome the wind. Patience paid off and once we hit a more protected part of the course, my splits were hovering around 20 mph, while staying in my power zones (actually slightly lower). I can't really remember when the trouble started. I noticed my splits dropping off at around mile 40 - which I assumed was wind, because HOLY WIND BATMAN. However, when I came around on the second loop, power and speed really began dropping off. I remember a section where I was just spinning my legs and my cadence was really starting to falter. AND THEN, I was dizzy and I felt sleepy, not fatigued, but like I could literally fall asleep while riding. I was in salvage mode, I ate more food - it didn't help, I increased salt- no help, I ate drank more - no help. I was feeling nauseous and was having a hard time staying "in things."  A guy I had passed way earlier came riding by and asked if I was ok and if I needed any nutrition or anything. WAS I EVEN BIKING IN A STRAIGHT LINE? WTF is going on. In fact, there is a big spot of 30-40 miles in the bike that I don't really remember, but I remember being there. Then the last 2ish miles were really bad. We were biking through town and there were lots of people lining the roads, but I was in serious trouble and really just had tunnel vision just trying to get back to transition.

I really thought I just not having a good day and needed to sit down for a few minutes before I took off on the run. I could handle a bad race - anything can happen in an Ironman. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn't finish. Once I dismounted my bike I started "walking" to go rack my bike. Walking is a relative term here. My mind said I was walking and I thought I was walking, but I was more stumbling. People were shouting for medical and I kept brushing them off saying I needed to go run. 10 ft later I couldn't stand on my own anymore. I still didn't think my race was over, but emergency personnel sure did. I am sure I was just peach to deal with. I know I kept telling them all I needed to do was go pee (I really really needed to pee), and I was obsessed with my hands and lips being numb. I think I passed out briefly, but if I did, I don't remember. I was in and out for about 3 hours until half way through the second bag of saline in the ER. And I was freezing cold.  I don't think I was warm again until later that night. Also, I am pretty sure I was giving the guy setting up my IV a hard time when he dropped the thing and blood got all over my arm. Or I just wouldn't sit still. Either one. They discharged me saying I was dehydrated (bloodwork shows I wasn't) and that I was blacking out (shocker), and my ketone levels were so high they couldn't measure them. I felt well enough when I left that I noticed the clock said 6 pm.....I still had my timing chip on and 6 hours or so to finish before cut off. I tried to convince everyone and anyone I could and we should go back so I could finish the marathon. That didn't fly so well.

Later, when we were back at the hotel, I was just in a state of "what the hell just happened?" I know I was fine on my fuel plan, I know I wasn't dehydrated, and I know I was not undertrained. I immediately scheduled an appointment with my primary care for follow up. He noted a few things from the bloodwork they gathered - no evidence of dehydration, glucose levels normal, blood in my urine, and high white blood cell counts. One would think I would be fainting from lack of nutrition or dehydration, but that wasn't the case. He ordered another round of tests including an EKG. Fast foward to that Friday. Well everything came back normal EXCEPT for the EKG (inverse T-wave - which could many anything) and he was going to consult with a cardiologist. WHAT THE EFFING HECK IS GOING ON?! I still haven't heard anything.

So me, being an annoying scientist, did some digging on my meds. I switched to wellbutrin last spring and haven't really been the same physically or mentally since (see BLST 70.3 writeup). It can cause heart flutters, confusion, and dizziness in rare cases. It also does some weird things with weight loss, so it may be that I was having a hard time metabolizing things and my kidneys were in overdrive (wbc's, ketones, blood). Maybe at that level of exertion, I was experiencing some of the rarer side effects? Unfortunately, the pool of endurance athletes on wellbutrin is small, so no studies have been done. I am talking to my psych tomorrow about going off antidepressants completely - don't worry, I still have mood stabilizer and anti-anxiety meds. There are cases of bipolar where it has been found that an antidepressant is not necessary, in fact, in some cases it can make things worse. In my case it has been get fat or get sick. So I am done and fed up with them. Hopefully getting off wellbutrin helps and I see my EKG go back to normal.

The last few weeks I have pretty much stepped away from the sport to reset. I needed to actually be ok with what happened at MD. I finally came to the conclusion that I can't really feel guilty about it. I did everything right and there was nothing I could have done to prevent what happened. I also got a tattoo so I needed to be out of the pool anyway. I also know that I have improved. I PR'd my sprint time by 5 min from bike and run improvement. AND prior to my body quitting at IM MD, I was having a good race. As for goals for next year - I have IM TX, Vineman (assuming I get in), and IM AZ. All good things to look forward to. Finally, I have picked out a dream race - Isklar Norseman Extreme Triathlon (iron distance). See video below:

Friday, October 9, 2015

A sucker punch to the gut

It's been a rough few weeks. If you have been following my posts, you know that things mentally have been rough, but Ironman Maryland has been my beacon of hope. In the weeks leading up to MD, I was scrambling to find funding so I would have a job after fiscal year end. I literally did not have employment until the week before MD. Keeping my mental state in check was turning into a struggle. I finally cried the day before I left for MD and I was defeated. Everything that has happened the past year had finally caught up and I was overwhelmed. I was crushed.

But at least I had IM MD. I had been obsessively following the weather and tropical storm Joaquin and how it would impact Cambridge. Cambridge is notorious for flooding because it is so low lying. There was no word from the race directors on the race status, so we went ahead and flew to MD. Once of the plane, an athlete was live tweeting the athlete's meeting and the race was a go. It was going to be a very wet and windy one, but I was relieved that the race was still on. I didn't care, I just wanted to race.

Two hours later, we were in the car heading to my parents house when I was checking facebook for race updates. And bam. The race had been canceled. I can't really describe how I felt, other than I was stunned. I had spent the past year focusing on it because I had channeled all my anger, sadness, and anxiety into training for this race. People are right when they say that Ironman is so much more than just a race.

The race had been rescheduled for Oct 17th. How the hell was I going to pull traveling cross country again in two weeks? I was worried that my fitness wouldn't be there, that I couldn't take more time off work, and if I would even be into mentally. I basically spent a few days moping. I did some workouts in MD, but I didn't know if it would be enough. So this week I need to make a decision.

After days of going back and forth of whether to try and get a spot in IM AZ or travel back. Finally, I got fed up and decided to screw my head on straight and refocus. I was going to go back and do MD. My fitness will be there because I did the work. A weekend would not screw up my race. Yesterday I ran a little over 7 miles at the fastest pace in training this year. I have to remember that IM is mostly mental, just like swimming. Oddly, the cancellation may be a blessing in disguise. I feel better mentally and physically and I am going into next weekend with far more confidence.

So now I am getting excited again. I cannot wait to be at that start line. I cannot wait to swim with 2000+ (assuming people can make it back) of my best friends. I can't wait to be at mile 25 of the marathon realizing I only have 1.2 miles left. And crossing that finish line will mean so much more than just crossing - it means I have endured and beaten everything thrown at me this year. It is time to move forward and rid myself of the baggage.

"At the start of an Ironman you have never felt more alive. There is the feeling that anything and everything is possible."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Toughman is tough.

"There are many limits in life, but the only limit in achieving greatness is telling yourself no"

Sometimes you have to dig deep. Sometimes you have to screw your head on right and remember why you do something. This past weekend I competed in Toughman NM 70.3. Long course triathlon has been absent in New Mexico for quite a few years, so I jumped at the opportunity to be an ambassador the race to help promote it. However, the closer the race came, the more I dreaded it. This race seemed like the biggest hurdle of my season, even with a full IM coming up in October. Why? Well let's just say this race lives up to its name. It's at altitude. The bike course was 2500 feet of climbing and the run had 796 ft (869 ft by my garmin). The swim was also ~300 meters longer than 1.2 miles. Elevation profiles are shown below:



The week leading up to Toughman, I was seriously panicking about it. I kept telling myself I couldn't do it. This was going (and was) to be my hardest triathlon to date. AND, it would be the first time I trained through a half. This is not a race you come to do a PR, it is a race you come to survive. I knew this was not going to be fast, so I set some pretty conservative goals for it. I hoped to be under 6:30, but honestly didn't think I could.

So basically I came into this race with shitacular attitude. Race morning I was up at 4, ate some breakfast and was out the door by 435, until I realized I had forgotten my front water bottle. So I turned around and went home to get it with my mood souring further. I was going to be late by my standards (I like to be in transition when it opens). Great. Should be a spectacular day.

Grumps all around! Anyway, I got to transition and started setting up my area and saw Liz and Jessica and my mood definitely improved. By the way, Jessica chose THIS RACE as her first 70.3. That is hardcore. Having friends that are about to go through the same hell you are going to go through makes things better.

And suddenly it was almost race start. I got in the water and warmed up a bit and then positioned myself in the front of the women's wave to avoid having to run anyone over. Oh god. This is going to hurt, but its just a half right? Thinking that way really gave me a mental boost. Only 6 hours versus 12 hours. Ok I can do this. The water was a lukewarm 75.6 degrees and therefore, much to my chagrin, wetsuit legal. I hate wetsuits - they are so restricting, but they have an advantage and I need everything I can get on the swim. The swim was two loops and the men went 10 min prior than the women and teams. I motored out on the start and got into some nice clean water. THIS IS AWESOME. Unfortunately, by the time I turned the second bouy, I had already caught up to the men's wave. I spent the remainder of the swim chicking the men, which felt really good! When I came out of the water, I noticed my time was 30 min and thought that wasn't right. When I looked at my data later, I confirmed that the swim was longer than 1.2. Whatever, I was still first female out of the water AND I had the 2nd fastest swim time out of men and women. BOOM. High five for swimming.

Per usual, I felt disoriented coming out of the water. I had to walk a bit to get it together, but somehow managed to get myself out of transition and on the bike. 1:19 T1 split on a half! It really felt like slow motion, but I was stoked to see that. Anyway, lucky for us, as soon as you come out of transition you get to climb "the wall." It is everything like it sounds. It is slow and painful. The trick is to managed your heart rate and make sure you down blow your ride in the first few miles. I stuck to my race plan and kept my power as low as I could on that hill. My plan was to build the bike. It was really hard to ignore those that passed me coming out of T1, BUT this is a long race. Reign it in and focus on YOUR race. In most long course races, there are going to be dark moments and for the first 15ish miles or so, I was not in a good place. I wanted to quit. I wanted to just stop. At one point, I even hoped I would have a mechanical issue so I could be done. When I started to wish for a mechanical, I realized what a little bitch I was being. Really Lani? This isn't you, turn it around. Ok how can I turn this around? I like riding my bike. I get to ride my bike today. I like racing. I GET to race today. I can do this. I love racing, I love triathlon, I love riding my bike, I love this challenge. And just like that, everything clicked. Once we got to miles 23-38, we had a wicked headwind and a crosswind heading up a long gradual climb. And I started to pass people that had passed me earlier. So the confidence started to build. I was actually going to smash the split I had in my head for the bike (3:30) and I ended up with a 3:12. That is friggin solid for this course.

And finally, the make or break of the race, the run. As of late, I have been running strong and not fading. I knew if I kept my shit together, I would have a good race. Knowing that the first 8 miles was pretty much just climbing, I figured that 2:30 would be a good split. Yes that sounds slow, but you would understand if you were on this course. I decided prior to the race that I was going to walk up "the wall" and it was a good decision. I managed to salvage my legs for the rest of the 8 mile climb. Not going to lie though, there were some points I was just frustrated and over it. It is humbling holding that slow of a pace. At around mile 6, I was passed by my friend Scott and he gave me some encouragement. Man did that help. People, never be afraid to cheer on somebody. IT HELPS. Ok 2 miles to the turn around and DOWNHILL. Miles 8-11 were amazing! BUT, once again Toughman had a trick up its sleeve. The last two miles are on an adventurous trail. So now that your legs are about to give out, you get to run on SOFT sand and trip over a lot rocks. BALLS. I should point out that I have been dealing with tendonitis in my right knee, so at this point it was starting to swell and good god it hurt. I knew there were two women closing on me, so I basically said eff it and went for it. I had come to far to be passed again. With my swollen knee I did my best to get through the rocks and the sand by basically dragging my leg lol. Pretty tragic, but at this point I knew I was having a seriously solid race. And finally, you get to go down "the wall" into the finish. Guys. I was emotional. I mean seriously, I was tearing up. I did not expect that, but I really went through a lot mentally and dammit, my knee hurt. I just finished the hardest race I had ever done, including IM Texas. I also hit 2:30 on the nose, for an overall time of 6:15. Much better than I expected. I also had hopes of top 10 (I was 6th) and hopes for 1st in AG (since I knew Liz would be overall podium :) ). So check. Goals accomplished.

I just want to say thanks to all of you for supporting me and believing in me. All the well wishes and congrats mean the world to me. So now we go for last one fast one. On to the final training push for IM MD!

Monday, July 13, 2015

There is hope

There are sometimes in life when you fall down and you feel like you don't have the strength to get back up.

"There comes a time when the blankness of future is so extreme, it's a blank wall of nothingness. It is horrible to contemplate a futureless future. The monstrosity of being alive overwhelms you."

This is how I have been feeling lately. I am angry, I am tired, I am feeling just hopeless. Friday morning I woke up afraid to leave my house (I have a anxiety and paranoia about being in public). I called in sick. I asked Logan to not go to a movie yesterday because I got overwhelmed about being in public while we were at Lowes. I am having serious doubts about myself and my future.

So why is that?

Sometimes I am so frustrated with the situation I am in with DOE/LANL I want to scream. I seriously just want to walk outside and get it all out. The most recent update in obtaining my security clearance is that OPM shut down the EQIP system, which means I can't even sign my paperwork to continue forward. They shut it down the day I was so supposed to sign the papers. REALLY?! I mean REALLY?!

It makes me wish I never got diagnosed. This is interfering with my career and my path forward. I can't continue to move forward with this not progressing. The problem is that I am a nuclear chemist, which means there are only so many places I can work. I am highly specialized and pigeon-holed in this field. It is pretty much government or bust since academia is NOT an option.

I WANT TO SCREAM. I recognized their concerns. I realize I made stupid decisions when I was younger and I realize I should not be drinking with bipolar or with the meds I am taking. They are right in that respect. And this last year of not drinking has truly been eye opening. BUT - it is the wait that is killing me and I feel shattered. It is making me regret my decision to become a chemist. I wish I had decided on something that is more employable. It feels like a waste of 9 years of my life. I could have enjoyed my 20s instead of being stressed. All for a PhD that is beginning to feel worthless.

SO what is the path forward? This is the first time in my life that I don't know what is next and it is terrifying.

How can I cope? As I mentioned above, Friday morning I was afraid to leave the house. I was having serious doubts about racing Saturday. I didn't want people to see me and I have been feeling extremely vulnerable. I was most definitely giving in to the blankness. So I started packing my race gear. I opened my front door and panicked a little. I was leaving the safety of my isolation. I loaded my gear into my car. I put my race wheels on my bike. I loaded my bike. I got in my car and started it and drove. I was digging myself out of the blankness one mile at a time. I was making myself look forward to something - in this case racing. This race was my "hope" on this particular day. I was going to do something that I enjoy. And I had a good race, especially after doing a half ironman less than two weeks prior. This day, I had won the battle against my mind. Another day moving forward. So while I am feeling like there is nothing, I am also finding small things that give me hope. The fact that I left my house gives me hope (I know some of you may find it silly, but I am giving you insight into the bipolar brain) and I have not given in to the blank nothingness that I am feeling.

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope" - MLK

At least I can still smile during my low moments.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

I tried and failed, but I didn't fail to try

This past weekend I raced BLST 70.3 and it was frustrating. Frustrating in the fact that nothing in particular went right, but nothing went wrong either. I have spent the last few days pretty much stunned with the way things turned out.

It was tough.

Physically, I was fine. I am nearly 20 pounds lighter, I have put on some serious leg muscle, and I am in the best endurance shape I have been in in years. I fully expected that this race would be my breakthrough race, but it wasn't. And that is a tough pill to swallow. The hardest thing about long distance triathlon is that if the race isn't going as planned, it is a long time to dwell on it. The key to salvaging your race is how you adjust mentally.

I realized things were off during the swim. It was not that I felt bad, it was that I didn't have that normal spark. It felt flat. I came out of the water at 26 min, which is slow for me on this course. I told myself that it was fine - the race does not completely rely on the swim. I changed my focus to the bike where I thought I could make up some ground. Climbing the hills out of the park felt ok, but again, flat. I kept churning my legs just trying to get up to speed, but going no where. It is so hard realizing that it wasn't happening today, but I had to keep going. I had to make this the best race I could. About 2 hours in, I knew I was not going to make my sub 3 hour goal. I had a moment of thinking why I did this to myself? Why do I work so hard, just to fail? Most of you know that I read a lot of inspirational writing because it helps me get through the days and deal with my disease. At that moment I thought of one I had read recently, which said:

"Don't cry to give up, cry to keep going. Don't cry to quit, you're already in pain, you already hurt, get a reward from it."

Get a reward from it. That was my mantra the rest of the race. Get a reward from it. Peddle forward, attack the hill, give my best for the last 15 miles. Get a reward from it. Down the hill to transition. Rack my back. Put on running shoes. Keep running. Get a reward from it. Pass that guy. Six miles to go. Get a reward from it.

With one mile left, I was cutting it close to getting under sub 6 hours. Oddly, after thinking I was hydrated (I hadn't shown any signs of dehydrated and I was peeing - I know gross) I started to stumble. What the hell? Keep going. Get a reward from it. Almost there. You can cry. Get a reward from it. I finished under six hours with 10 seconds to spare. I got a reward from it. Immediately crossing the line I found myself in the med tent (again) with an IV stuck in my arm. What happened? What went wrong? I don't get it. After getting out of the med tent when I could stand again, I saw my mom and cried. I was heartbroken.

In the days that followed, I talked to my coach about things. In discussing all the possibilities of factors that went wrong, we got on the subject of my meds. I am on wellbutrin and one of her other athletes had been on it before. When she raced in the heat, she would end up in the med tent, DNFing, and have odd hydration/salt/hyponatremia problems. Her doctor ended up saying it may be from the wellbutrin because when she went off it, she didn't have the issues. Apparently wellbutrin acts on the hypothalamus to regulate the seratonin dopamine re-uptake and in doing so affect thermoregulation and causes increased sweating. So basically, even though I felt like I was hydrated, I wasn't. Rough. Sometimes I get really frustrated with meds. Zoloft made me gain weight and retain it. Wellbutrin is allowing me to lose weight, but it affects my metabolic pathways. There seems to be no happy medium.

Although I didn't have the race I wanted, I did get to race in my super sweet bipolar race kit and my mom wore our team Lani shirts. We got a lot of great feedback about our cause. My mom mentioned people really liked our idea. In fact, even the HEAD race official and a paralympian thought is was wonderful. I feel like triathlon is a great place to grow my cause and reach out to people. The only thing I wish I added to my kit was my website (this blog - With all the great feedback I have been getting about my blog and my ability to spread the word about mental illness, I reallly hope to one day turn this into a non profit and raise money for treatment and support for those suffering. Now I am just trying to think of a name (it is Team Lani right now) and a slogan. So far I like "I'm bipolar, not crazy." I am open to other suggestions too, so if you have any ideas or would like to help get this off the ground and spread the word let me know!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Who are your biggest influences?

Continuing with the theme of my growth as a person and to be a better person, I decided I should acknowledge the people who have influenced me the most in my life - the list is long, but I want to acknowledge the standouts in my mind right now.

Of course my mom and dad make the top of my list, since they raised me to be a good person, hardworking, determined, and to ride the highs and lows. We have been through A LOT as a family, but they always made sure my sister and I had good family to lean on. Mom and Dad have also been really understanding with my disorder.

My sister. Wow, my sister. Every time I think I have problems, I think about what she has been through. 15 years of medical problems with no diagnosis until three years ago. She has had multiple surgeries, spinal taps, and complications. Top that off with 5 brain surgeries in 2 months - I have no room to complain. Whenever I am out training or racing and I feel like giving up, I think of her. She doesn't have the opportunity to do what I do. She can't risk injury to her head because she no longer has part of her skull so biking is a no no. Just that thought helps drive me through that 100 mile ride, the last part of the marathon in the Ironman, I just think of what she went through. I really am blessed to do what I do.

I have had so many people mold me into the person I am today. They may not know how big of an impact they have made, but they should know how thankful I am. Swimming at UNLV clearly changed my life. When I was recruited, I knew I would be a walk-on, but I had big goals. One of the reasons I chose UNLV was when Jim talked about Alyson Noble and her work ethic and desire to be the best. Yes Noble, I am pretty sure I wrote this in your senior scrap book, but I have to call you out again. It was such an amazing experience swimming with you, even if it was only a year. I just wanted to be able to work hard like you and have that drive.  You handled it all so well. You went through the grind day in and day out. It paid off. The impact that had on me shaped my mentality for the rest of my swimming career.

Jim and Kunio took me in and not only made me a good swimmer, but a better person. I was difficult to deal with and they put me in my place. They made me realize that it was ok to have big goals even if people thought it impossible. NOTHING is impossible. Let's face it - I was not even on the radar as being competitive in D1 swimming my first year. But I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and I knew the work I had to put in. 4 years and 2 minutes faster later, I accomplished that impossible goal. I managed what very few people get to experience all because I was not afraid to believe in that big goal. I even had a few team mates who admitted they didn't think I could do it after the fact, but acknowledged all the hard work I put in. My swim friends always supported my crazy goals - Tiff, Lauren, Soph, Jen...the list can go on and on.

Perhaps my biggest influence lately is actually my 22 year old self. In recent years I have been afraid to set big goals because I am afraid of what people will think. My 22 year old self did not give a crap what people said - I just did the work. I found that the only way to start believing in that you can do it, is to say it out loud everyday. That is what I did before and that is what I need to do now. I have big goals. I will get a job that I will enjoy. I will make Kona. You may doubt, but I will do it. I will quietly work on it everyday. I will dig deep and put in the work every day. I am more powerful than I can ever imagine It's not over until I win.

"This year I will make this goal a reality. I won't talk about it anymore. I can, I can, I CAN."

It all started somewhere. (I am in the grey cap and red goggles)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dance like no one is watching

Anyone remember this song?

That's right. WEAR SUNSCREEN.
"DANCE, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room."

This song came out when I was in 8th grade and since I am having a slight third-life crisis I have been looking back and asking myself if I have lived my life the way I have wanted to. Quite deep thoughts for someone who should be looking forward to this new chapter. But honestly, things have not been great lately. Prior to last week I had been cycling again. I was completely down on myself and was feeling dead inside and worthless. I knew it wasn't true, but my mind was telling me otherwise. I was feeling very awkward and paranoid about how people were viewing me. I was actually bad enough that I was scared to leave my house. It was a serious mental struggle for me to leave for work in the mornings. I am pretty sure that if I didn't have such a rigid routine in the morning, I would not have made it to work at all.

I am not going to lie, work has been hard. I am bored. I find what I do right now boring. It really is soul crushing. Mostly, I feel like this postdoc was nothing but fail and I was pretty much hung out to dry and was left to navigate things on my own. I think this is what triggered the cycling. I was (and still am) worried about how I was viewed. The thing is, I work hard, but the job is not rewarding. My contract ends in 4.5 months and I am really looking forward to a clean slate. And by clean slate, I mean I want to completely 180 my career. I have been looking at a second postdoc that has absolutely nothing to do with what I have done before. That actually gives me hope that I can love what I do again. I NEED different. Anyway, enough of that tangent. Back to my feelings about my self-worth.

This past weekend I went to my friend Audrey's bachelorette party in wine country. Last week I was feeling pretty anxious about it. I was excited, but was extremely worried about meeting new people and how they would view me. Not only that, I was worried how I would take to being around strangers. I have a tendency to isolate and I constantly feel out of place. I also get panicked when people start talking loudly and I will shut down. It doesn't always happen, but my mood had been so whacked out that I was genuinely worried. The other thing is, is that I don't drink anymore, so I was even more worried that they would think I was lame and a downer.

Turns out it was all in my head. No. One. Cared. They actually understood and the funny thing is my mood shifted towards the positive. It is weird when I come out my episodes - it usually happens suddenly. It literally is bipolar. Everyone was accepting of me. No one questioned why I would come to wine country if I couldn't drink, no one cared about my appearance, and no thought I was weird (at least I hope not). There were a couple of time over the weekend that I did get over-anxious - I did go to bed early on Friday night because I was getting overwhelmed, but other than that my mood got increasingly better. ESPECIALLY when we went dancing. I always love dancing sober, drunk, or whatever is in between. There is something about it that is cathartic to me and really lets me feel "whole". Cheesy, I know, but it is the damn truth. In fact, Audrey's friend Kelly totally made my night when she mentioned that is was really awesome that I don't even have to be drinking to go out there and have good time. Seriously, sometimes it is those little comments that get me through episodes. People don't realize how much those little pieces fill the weird/crazy/broken puzzle that is me. So Kelly, if you are reading this, thank you. That comment turned my attitude around. In that moment, I stopped caring so much and I actually felt like "me," whatever that "me" is. For the first time in a long time, I like who I am. I am not saying that it is all rainbows and unicorns, but I actually like the person I have become. I can be "me" even with this disease. This was a long time coming, but I no longer like to think of myself as two different people - that there is the the real Lani and the crazy Lani. People accept the manic/depressed/normal Lani as one person, so why shouldn't I do the same? I am not saying this weekend was what changed the process, but it was the final push. Who knew that two days away could do that? Who knew meeting a bunch of new people could help me find acceptance without them even knowing?

I don't know where this disease will take me in life, but I have definitely learned how to combat it. Something about accepting my flaws and all makes it easier and I am going to continue dancing. So I will leave you with this:

"When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It's to enjoy each step along the way."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

30 before 30

Today marks one week until I turn 30. Since I have been dreading this age for a long time, I have decided to make a list of 30 things/events I have done before 30 to make myself feel better. Read on for the list.

1. Got Ph. D. in inorganic chemistry
2. B.S. in Biochemistry
3. Became a conference champion in the 1650
4. Got my first big kid job at LANL as a postdoc
5. Won a Women's MWC championship with UNLV in 2005
6. Swam NCAA D1
7. Won CIF Division III championship in 2003 with Burroughs High School
8. Did my first triathlon in 2011
9. Did my first half Ironman in 2013
10. Became an IRONMAN in 2014
11. Moved 7 times by the time I was 14
12. Lived overseas in Japan
13. Been to the Philipines
14. Flown in a C-130 through a typhoon
15. Been in an 7.2 magnitude earthquake (Landers, 1992)
16. Made friends from all over the world
17. Proven a lot of people wrong when they said I wouldn't win, finish grad school, or live a normal life
18. Been hospitalized for bipolar disorder
19. Been in hell with bipolar disorder
20. Overcame hell - I chose to fight back
21. Became a strong person
22. Became an advocate for mental illness
23. Achieved every far-reaching goal I have set
24. Became a club/high school team record holder in swimming
25. Met Logan
26. Married Logan
27. Work hard at the chance to be great - everyday is another chance to be great
28. Bought and paid off my first car
29. Found peace and acceptance of my disorder (mostly in the last year)
30. Been blessed with an amazing support group - my family and friends that have accepted me crazy and all.

So now I guess I chase my other goals. Cheers to the next decade, I can't wait to see what happens next!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

RANT: Swimming - you're doing it wrong

Run like the runners, bike like the cyclists, and swim like the errrr.....swimmers? OH MY GOD. The other day I saw a guy at the pool who was clearly a triathlete and doing everything wrong in terms of swim training. Bro walks on deck and begins to put on his Q-Roo wetsuit and I immediately rolled my eyes. Bro then gets into said pool swims about 100 warmup and then puts on paddles. He wore paddles the entire workout with shitty stroke technique. He also sat on the wall between his 100 repeats and rested too long and did not swim enough. ONE MINUTE between 100s. I did the math while I was swimming. Swimming seems to be such a mental block for triathletes and that's probably because it is not intuitive like running, or as easy to pick up as cycling. So let's break down what he was doing wrong.


I cannot even tell you how much wetsuits piss me off. Wetsuits are used to keep you warm in COLD water. Sure they make you go faster because you float better, but they are not to be used as a crutch in an 80 degree pool for training (unless you are testing for fit). Too many triathletes use wetsuit as a crutch. The problem with training in it is that you never actually develop good stroke technique because you are more buoyant. Additionally, what are you going to do when the water is too warm for wetsuits? You will struggle - learn to swim without the friggin thing! I personally think that wetsuits should not be used in water warmer than 65 degrees. Suck it up, we don't do triathlon because we are weak. LET'S TALK PRICE. If you are smart (and most of you are) you have not paid more than 150$ for a tri wetsuit. Anything over that is stupid. Yeah it promises you will go faster (but not by much), but for the average triathlete it makes no difference because most are not efficient in the water. Leave the expensive suits to the pros - it makes a difference for them and they usually have sponsors that give them the samples to try.

Also, THIS:

THIS is TYR's freak of nature wetsuit. Not only does it look stupid, it retails for 1200$. If you have ever thought of buying it, smack yourself now. If you own it, please stick your head in a bucket of ice water until your mind realizes what you did wrong. Stick to the 100$ xterra - it does the job.


Ok, so you want to be a faster swimmer. THE VERY BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF IS JOIN A MASTER'S SWIM PROGRAM. I can guarantee your stroke is crappy and you are not doing enough yardage. STOP STRUGGLING AND GET A COACH. So when said guy threw on his paddles on FOR THE ENTIRE WORKOUT, I cringed. He did not have good stroke technique at all and was risking shoulder problems because he was not swimming right - do not rely on your arms for swimming, USE YOUR WHOLE BODY! Next, since we are endurance athletes, you do not rest for long periods of time between repeats. My rule of thumb is (and remember I was a distance swimmer) is 50s get 5-10 sec rest, 100s get 10 sec rest, and 200s get 15 sec rest (maybe 20). The only time you should be resting a minute on 100s is if you are doing all-out sprints, which said Bro clearly was not doing. Also, you need to swim longer yardage. Bro got out after 1500 yds (I counted because I had nothing to entertain myself with during my workout). GET BACK IN THE POOL. Even a typical sprint tri is a 750 meter swim. 1500 yds/m a couple times a week is not enough to build a good swim base for even that short of a swim. Why? Because swimming requires you to not only have good cardiovascular endurance, but you also have to cut through this substance called water, which happens to have a much higher density than say air. SHOCKING! Let's sum up:
1. Get a coach
2. Don't rest too long
3. Get back in the pool
4. GET A COACH (all levels are welcome at master's programs!!! You may no think you are fast enough for it, but you will never get there if you don't join)


Goggles make me laugh. A lot of people have bug goggles that probably cost them 30$. The 80s called, they want their goggles back. Stick to swedes. They may take a bit to get used to, but at 3$ a pair it is worth it. Plus, you won't look so weird with those awful bug goggles.

Finally, if you have you have one of these (a waterproof MP3 player):

Please, remove it from your head and get rid of it. If you are swimming with purpose and with correct intervals you won't need something to entertain you. You will be too busy gasping for air.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Winning the battle

" We can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us, or we can climb back into the light. We can climb out of inch at a time."

I read this quote recently and it really struck a chord with me. I certainly have had the shit kicked out of me with bipolar disorder.

To this day, I still can can't fully explain how I climbed of my "hell". I guess I was trapped in mind.  After I got out of the hospital, life wasn't all sunshine and roses. I started gaining weight from the meds, I got dumped my boyfriend at the (convenient that left when the going got tough - he even didn't have the balls to do it in person), and I was still in the middle of a major depressive episode. I withdrew myself from the world and basically made my very own personal hell.

So how did I move on? How did I dig myself out? I think that I realized that it is hard living - life is hard, so how do I make it easier on myself? I chose to be happy. Everyday hurt and I was struggling, but I was determined to find something everyday to find joy in. I started to swim again (even though I embarrassed to wear that swim suit again). I started running and started riding my bike again. I started talking to people again even though I had severe anxiety about doing it. Slowly but surely, the days started getting better. My mind was no longer my prison.

I still have those moments, but I can realize it now. Today, I am happier than I have been in a very long time. I find that spreading my story and documenting my journey in this blog is therapeutic. I don't want people to remember as the bipolar girl - I want to be remembered about how I fought it and how I helped the mental health community.

I recently started toying with the idea of forming an online community or maybe one day having my own non-profit. I am in the process of formulating ideas for a facebook page, but I don't know what to call it (ideas are welcome).

Today is a shorter blog and since I started with a quote I will end the with one:

"Live your life with passion - with some drive. Decide that you are going to push yourself. The last chapter of your life has not been written yet, and it doesn't matter about what happened yesterday. It doesn't matter what happens to you; what matter is, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An Unquiet Mind

When did I become such an advocate for mental illness? For quite a few years after my diagnosis in 2008 I was ashamed and mortified. Why ashamed? I was an (and still am) overachiever and I was very good at everything I did. I had just come of a perfect senior year of college and was beginning my journey of obtaining my doctorate. So I kept asking myself how, when, where, why did things go wrong?

I was actually trying to describe to a friend the other day how bipolar "feels." I can pretty much sum it up to saying I have a lot of feelings (mean girls anyone?). I feel more than normal people feel. When you feel sad multiply that by 1000 and you get how I feel. When I am angry I am ANGRY. When I am happy, I friggin happy. Imagine life in a mind that tumultuous. It is never settled and always racing. So when people think the meds make things go away, that is not the case. The meds suppress the moods and feelings. You still have to fight your mind just not as much as before. Something I have not written about is my story before diagnosis. I haven't been comfortable talking about it until recently because I was mortified that it happened to me.

I guess I have always showed symptoms throughout the course of my life, but I never knew what was wrong. As a kid, I had horrible separation anxiety and night terrors. I would seriously cry all night because I didn't want to be alone. Eventually it went away and we attributed it to me growing out of a phase. Back then we didn't know about the manifestation of childhood bipolar and I didn't find out until I was diagnosed. Fast forward a few years to middle school. Now most people would think that my abnormal behavior was due to puberty, which some likely was, but I was worse than most. We were stationed in D.C. and I pretty much snapped when my dad got orders to move to China Lake. My moods were extreme-more extreme than most teenagers. I had my first "boyfriend" that was not a very good influence and basically lashed out at my parents every chance I got. I started skipping swim practice, taking my moods out on my teachers, and being a bitch in general. Normal? I can't say that some teenagers don't act like that, but my moods were darker. Some days I was the nice normal Lani, but then I would revert back to my darker thoughts. After we moved China Lake, my cycling continued and it wasn't until my senior year that I actually felt "calm." Once I left for UNLV my symptoms diminished slighty because I was on such a strict schedule of swim-class-swim-class-study. However, I definitely had my moments. My moods were all over the place sometimes and I would still get very cranky and depressed.

Grad School. Wow did things unravel quickly. This section may make you uncomfortable - it makes me uncomfortable. When I started grad school, things initially were going well, but towards the end of my first quarter I really started to lose it. Without the regimented schedule from swimming, I really had nothing to hold me together. My life had no schedule. I partied on weekends, stayed out late weekdays, and worked long hours. All this was the perfect cocktail for disaster. My disease legitimately started to manifest itself. It was scary. My anxiety was through the roof. I don't really remember when I went to the emergency room for the first time for a severe panic attack, but I know I went at least twice before I went and saw a psych. At that point we only thought it was anxiety so we medicated for that and moved on. However, things got increasingly worse. My behavior got more erratic and by the summer of 2008 at I was in a full blown manic episode. I find the mania part of bipolar to be the most dangerous. In fact, most deaths/suicides come when someone is manic. You may ask why. The reason is that you do a lot of stupid shit. You don't sleep, you are invincible, you party a lot. When you party you mix substances (on top of your meds). The lack of sleep makes you delirious, so you basically exhibit symptoms of being drunk. You take a lot of risks because you don't consider the consequences. I won't go into detail of all the stupid crap I did, but after one particular night of partying I crashed. All the months of basically being on a high were gone. I went straight from my crazed manic state, to a deep depression. Anyone who has been serious clinical depression can understand how soul crushing it is. I am not even really sure words can convey it. I went and saw my psych and he came to the conclusion that I was bipolar. We started meds, but I can't say they really worked at that point because a few weeks later I was in the hospital.

Have you ever had the experience of walking into the ER and telling them "I want to kill myself?" I have. It was the week of Halloween 2008. I woke up one morning and just couldn't do it anymore. I called my mom in tears and she convinced me to call my psych. My psych suggested I check in to the hospital. So I voluntarily drove myself to the ER and told them I want to die and I need help. You heard that right. I went voluntarily to the psych ward. Here I was, 23 years old with my mind completely crashing in on me. But to this day, I still think I am one of the lucky ones. I was smart enough to know something was wrong and I had a great support system.

Want a sobering experience? Spend some time in the psych/drug recovery ward. My roommate was withdrawing from heroin. She was younger than me. There was a guy in there covered in bandages from cutting himself all over before checking in. It scared me. We were not allowed to have any sharp objects for obvious reasons. We were checked on every hour on the hour - you can do the math to figure out why. I was woken up several time during the nights for blood draws to make sure I was not on anything. The windows are barred. The patio area was barred. No cell phones. It was an interesting experience. I was put on some pretty heavy drugs to stabilize me. You may have heard me mention seroquil a time or two. Seroquil is a nasty, nasty drug. They use it to basically sedate you. In fact it is actually given to schizophrenics. It was a really lonely time, but it was necessary. I saw many psychs/councelors/nurses/doctors and basically had my whole life turned upside down. About year prior I was swimming at nationals and now here I was completely at rock bottom. I was only in a week and half, but I am pretty sure that week and a half saved my life.

So fast forward to where I am now. Why would I share this story? It is important for you and the general public to understand that mental illness in general is misunderstood. Most people ask me why I just don't get over it. The reason is I physically can't. It Is chemical and that is a hard pill for people to swallow. We don't want to acknowledge that mental illness is a real disease just like cancer. We shame it because we can't see the physical symptoms because it is all in the mind. I may not carry physical scars, but I do carry mental ones. So this leads me to why I want to share my personal journey with you - by reading this maybe some of you can stop looking at my illness as "mental" and look at it like a disease. I treat it just like any other disease. Maybe this will help you see symptoms in someone else and get them help. Maybe you are having symptoms and this makes you realize you need help. I am not ashamed anymore. I will leave you with some pictures of kits my family and I are working on for my triathlon racing season. We are hoping to help raise awareness and educate people this year! Maybe you will join Team Lani this year!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bipolar disorder is a blessing

Wow it has been awhile since I posted! Lately, I have been on a mental journey to accept the person I am. I know that sounds silly, but I tend to pick myself apart. I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to my appearance, feeling like a horrible chemist, and thinking I am not good enough to achieve lofty athletic goals (like KONA). I am hard on myself and I am sure others are too, but multiply those feelings by a million and that is my bipolar brain. HOWEVER, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have read some really good articles that really have me feeling positive.

One I recently read really, really touched a nerve. It is called "The 6 Blessings of Mental Illness" and you can read it here OH IT HIT THE HEART STRINGS. The six blessings described were: 1. generosity, 2. spirituality, 3. empathy, 4. accepting spirit, 5. courage, and 6. creativity. The two that really stood out to me were generosity and courage. I found myself in tears reading about them (in fact getting through writing this is causing tears).

I am not sure this counts as generosity, but one of my ultimate goals is to inspire people, those who have a mental AND those who don't, and show them you can be successful no matter what. In recent year my focus has shifted to educating people about this disease and helping them understand. I am by no means normal, but I think I have succeeded in life so far. I may have taken the long road and struggled more than most, but I have accomplished a lot and that is important for people to see. Even more important, I need to see it. As I have grown, I have begun to realize this. I am a pretty good swimmer, I have a degree in biochemistry, I have a Ph. D. in Inorganic Chemistry (I am a friggin doctor!), I am a postdoc at a well respected national lab, and finally I have pushed my body to its physical limits by completing and Ironman. Point is, I have done all this while being "crazy" and I hope people are inspired by it. Yeah, I do it for myself, but lately I have focused on how this can help and inspire people to be better.

The second blessing I really related to was courage. There are days where I seriously am so unhappy with myself and I don't want to leave my house. On those days I am actually afraid to be at work because I feel like people are judging me. I know it sounds crazy and that's because it is. One way I cope with this is CHOOSING TO BE HAPPY. People don't see the dark moods because I have the courage to put on my happy face and it actually helps. I like to think that I can brighten someone's day by being in a good mood and that in turn makes me feel better. Another thing my bipolar has given me is that I am not scared to put myself out there. I set long shot goals and I have accomplished them before just by believing I can do it (and hard work). I said I was going to win a conference championship when I was 2 min slower than the winner in previous years, so I dropped those minutes and won. When I started grad school, a Ph. D. felt so out of reach, especially when I was first diagnosed. I was even told by someone in charge that "I don't think it is possible for you to do this with bipolar disorder." Besides being livid, I found the courage within to finish and prove him wrong. I did. I have other examples of the discrimination I have experienced (especially with dealing with DOE and my security clearance), but I have pretty much developed an "f-you" attitude to these ignorant people. I can and will do what I set out to do. Finally, my most recent long-shot goal is qualifying for the IM World Champs in Kona. I need to lose weight and really improve my running ability, but I will do it. If I don't believe I can, it won't happen. I know there are doubters about my ability to do it, but I always have doubters. Every single one was wrong.

So what has bipolar given me? It has made be a better person. I appreciate so many more things in life now. In fact, I think bipolar makes me unique! I am not afraid to let people know how it affects me and how it works. In fact, I think I have proven that mental illness doesn't have to break you, it just makes life more challenging.