Saturday, August 31, 2019

Finding a new normal

As we come up on IM Wisconsin week, I can't help but think how much life has changed since I raced IM Wisconsin 2017, i.e. the week we were blindsided by dad's stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Ironman Wisconsin will always mark a turning point in my life. Two years ago, he was healthy (obviously we know now he was sick) and he was alive. The first year without him was hard, but year two so far has been harder. As the reality has set in that I don't have a dad anymore, I'll never hear his voice again, and he isn't there to keep me safe anymore - well it has become devastating. I don't know if it's delayed grief I am feeling or if this is normal, but I feel like I'm held together by a thread at the moment. When we buried dad in Arlington in May, I think it absolutely shattered me.

I had been preparing for Ironman Boulder up until that point and by the time I got to Boulder I was exhausted and sick. When I look back on it now, it isn't surprising things went poorly for me. And I have to say since then I've been pretty lost and angry. I mean the majority of what I feel now is anger. I assume this is one of the cycles of grief, but WHY THE FUCK WAS HE TAKEN FROM ME? WHY WAS HE TAKEN SO BRUTALLY? WHY HIM? I worry that people judge me because he is all I talk about, but honestly, you don't know until you go through this. I may seem fixated on it, and I am, but how do you move on from someone that meant everything to you.

After Lubbock 70.3 this year, I decided to switch things up. I just needed to try something different than triathlon. I've found that when I find something that forces me to suffer, it helps me feel a connection to dad. It doesn't really make sense, since he didn't really want me suffering through ironmans anymore, but I guess I just feel something different than rage, sadness, and despair. Yeah it fucking hurts, but I also feel joy and to be honest, I love the feeling of finishing something you suffered for. Like today, I ran my first trail race on my favorite mountain, I puked and wanted to quit on the last ascent, but dammit I was smiling so big when I finished. Those sloth socks did the trick when I was doubled over at mile 13. I looked at them, gave myself a mental high five in my head said "you're right dad, we don't quit." You never gave up on your fight to live, so why should I give up on a race I chose to do. 

I hate this grief journey. I hate having to feel it. I hate that I have to face it. Endurance events have always been spiritual for me, even before my bipolar diagnosis. To me, they are a culmination of a journey to get there. I keep turning back to them because they give me a purpose and I haven't found my limits yet. I think when you stop chasing those crazy goals, then life really isn't worth it. This holds true for anything in life, my outlet just happens to be suffering on my bike, swimming, running, and now on mountains. I just wish dad was here to see it. I still feel pretty lost right now, but I hope I am on the right path to finding my new normal.

"It takes a lot of courage to face the facts, stare loss in the face, bare your heart, and let it bleed."

I didn't take pictures today, but this is at the summit of the course taken last weekend. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

So much has happened these last two months, that it is hard to believe anything actually happened!

I guess I will start by saying that I am doing ok. I have been trying to get in with doctor's for follow ups and stress testing after my Boulder incident, but I swear that it is causing more stress because no one friggin calls back! Things have been settling down a bit in life since Boulder, but man does it still sting.

I still can't believe that I ended up in an ambulance (AGAIN) and my pursuit for an IM PR and AG podium continues. I guess now that I am a few weeks removed, I can recognize that I was sick and probably not in the greatest mental state since we buried dad the week before. To be quite honest, I wasn't ready for how hard it was to actually bury him (I pretty much lost my shit to mom, Izzy, and Liz after they got me from the med tent). I feel like the last year I have been able to convince myself that it isn't real, but now it is very much real and it feels like the grieving has started all over again. The fact that he is just gone still keeps me up at night and the initial panic every morning of him not being in this world anymore is excruciating. That said, the Arlington service was amazing - it just sucks that it was my dad being buried. I don't know how to put in words how special his service was for me and my family. It isn't lost on me that this was essentially my last "duty" as a military brat. I still remember how scared I felt when dad left on "cruise" when I was a kid because I was afraid he wouldn't come back. And now, at 34 years old I am still terrified and faced with the fact that he isn't coming back. I still can't process this and am tired of life just continuing to move forward. It's like people refuse to acknowledge that this happened and assume I have just moved on. I get it. People don't want to talk about it, but it really sucks that I essentially got 4 days off from work and am just expected to be ok. I can't say it's been an easy adjustment since getting back and going through this again, especially with some recent developments at work. A lot is being asked of me right now and I find myself getting angrier and angrier with the situation.

And that is my heart breaking all over again.

I am not a very religious person, but dad is buried with Old Post Chapel keeping watch.

Thankfully, I have some outlets. I did IM 70.3 Lubbock a few weeks back and it was awesome. After Boulder, I took a few days off and decided to sign up because I really had nothing to lose. After a short build back up, it was off to Lubbock. I also chose this race because it was my very first half ironman in 2013. My dad was there to see it. It was nice going around Lubbock with mom remembering a lot of the funny moments and places we went with dad. This was a bit of a different race for me. For starters, I was actually pretty relaxed because I didn't have any expectations except to finish. My second goal for the race was to see how far into the hurt locker I could dig myself into. I fully expected death on the run since I was completely unprepared for the heat. All goals were accomplished and I spent the last 8 miles of the run wanting to die. In fact, at the mile 12 aid station, I told a volunteer to "just kill me." Why put myself in that situation? Because I needed to know I could. After Boulder, I have been going back and forth with "am I just not tough enough for this?" So I wanted to really bury myself. I am glad I did - I took some risks on the bike that I normally wouldn't. I think knowing that I can get through that kind of pain only gives me more confidence moving forward and taking the next steps to getting better. It also helps that squeaked out a 30 sec PR with a shitacular run. I finished within 20 sec of my high school swimming team mate, Amy, so it was a pretty amazing and special day.
The relief and weight off my shoulders was overwhelming.

I guess to end I will say this. Things are hard right now, but I know better days will come so I keep trudging forward. Sometimes it really is about just taking one step at a time. Dad was right when he wrote his last blog when he said "something has to work in all this mess." You were so right dad , something will work. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday things will be better.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

I can almost see you

After quite the sobfest on the side of the road out on my ride this morning, I felt I needed to vent a bit. In some ways, it is still April 20, 2018 for me. For the last year, I have played that last week of Dad's life over and over in my head. I dream about it, I wake up thinking about it, I find myself getting distracted at work about it, and I fall asleep to it. I'm told that eventually you start remembering the good things, but this year has mostly been about the last few weeks of Dad's life.

I'm not saying that good things haven't happened this year, because they have. BUT, there is always a "but," a sense of wrongness and hesitation. The holiday season was every bit as brutal as expected, Dad's birthday was a million daggers to the heart, Father's day a slap in the face, and birthdays felt hollow. Some days I can almost trick myself that he is still here. I reread emails and messages he sent me. Videos of him play on repeat because I miss his voice. I can't even relay how hard it is not hearing his voice. Sometimes I have to remind myself that he was real. I know that sounds weird, but one day he was here and the next he was gone. My mind is having a hard time processing that. But mostly, my world feels just a little less safe because we lost our anchor and the wound is just so damn raw.

And the anger. There is so much anger right now. Most days I am screaming on the inside. This isn't ok, I am not ok, and I just want things to slow down for a minute. It's a fine line to walk everyday. I am so angry that he got sick. The unfairness of it all just kills me. Dad worked so hard his whole life (the man literally worked up until his lung removal last year even from home) and never got to retire. He still had plans in life and that stings. When we were told he was dying...I will never forget his face.  We all go at some point, but why did his death have to be so cruel and premature? The truth is that things have gotten harder as reality has set in and the condolences/post-death chaos has settled down. I am told this is normal and oftentimes the second year can be harder than the first.

Eventually my heart will stop feeling like a shredded mess. I watched my husband go through this when my father-in-law died and have had friends that lost a parent early and seeing them enjoying life again helps. I am hoping that dad's burial in Arlington National Cemetery next month helps with some kind of comfort. I don't believe there is any kind of closure in grief. I also have Ironman Boulder the week after dad's service and if that doesn't motivate you to enjoy life, I don't know what does. What I do know is that even with the pain of losing him, that I was so amazingly lucky to have him as dad. We are all living on borrowed time and have a finite amount of heartbeats, so I better get out there enjoy the time I have even if he isn't here to enjoy it with us. I miss you dad.

"It is impossible to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have"