Tag Archives: Mental Health

Defeating Anxiety in 2020

In many ways 2019 was a really good year. 2019 was also a year I faced some significant struggles. I am sure this is the same for many of you. The good is always mixed with the bad or so it seems. I spent the year struggling to find balance in a lot of ways. I set PRs and accomplished huge goals I never dreamed of in some arenas, but struggled with actual physical pain like never before as well that held me back in a lot of ways. The pain and challenges I was experiencing cascaded and I am sure impacted my mental health in some negative ways.

So, I am going to take some time here to talk about my mental health. In a lot of ways I have been very fortunate. I have been relatively healthy both physically and mentally. I have seen others go through much worse than I ever have. And I think that is part of what makes mental health a difficult topic for me to talk about. I have not suffered through what I know so many others have, so some times it feels like to complain would be to do a disservice to everything they have experienced.

I have always been a person that I guess one would describe as anxious, shy, self-conscious, and easily embarrassed. For me my anxiety is most present in social situations and interactions especially where there are no well-defined rules of engagement. Anything that risks embarrassment or looking foolish is very hard for me to approach. I spent much of my adult life studying psychology and even while studying psychology I actively avoided any course that would require me to speak in front of others. I even dropped a class after it started when I learned to my surprise that we would be required to regularly speak in front of others. I have always rationalized that as being pretty normal. No one really likes to speak in front of others so I never really took that as a sign of anything significant. But then there are more mundane things like making a simple phone call to order pizza, or more importantly for work that would start my palms sweating and anxiety building. If I needed to make a call for work it would preoccupy my mind and I would plan excessively around how to approach the phone call and I would feel like I was suffering the entire time until I finally made the call. Despite me knowing that most calls go fine this is something that I cannot shake. I almost never make phone calls. I prefer to do all my communication by email and even that is becoming difficult.

As someone who has studied psychology I am equipped with knowledge that one might think would help me in this situation. But instead I harnessed my knowledge to convince myself everything was fine instead of convincing myself to get help. In clinical psychology to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder one needs to display symptoms that are disruptive to one’s life. So, for me I have always told myself that I am still getting along with life pretty well despite the issues I struggle with. I have never had anything really stop me from maintaining a relatively “normal” life. I can still carry on most activities of life freely. I have been able to complete an education, sustain jobs, pursue leisure time activities, and pursue creative endeavors. Why should I need any help right?

Another aspect of my anxiety that has impacted me has been difficulty meeting new people. I am just completely uncomfortable with that idea to the point I have pretty much avoided it most of my life. For a long time as an adult I didn’t really have any friends. It took me literally making a new year’s resolution that I would join a running club to meet new people for that to happen and boy did that resolution come through for me in a big way. The other half of that resolution was to reconnect with old friends that I lost touch with, but I was never able to get comfortable enough with that idea to make it happen.

This year, specifically the last quarter of the year probably, my anxiety has gotten worse. Ever since I started writing in a public way online and to try to publish my work writing has been cathartic for me. It has been a release. It is something that I truly enjoy doing. I wrote 43 posts for my website this year. But near the end of the year I began to feel more stress and anxiety about writing and the simple act of writing and putting my photography together, the thing that used to bring me the most joy was creating anxiety for me. It took longer and longer for me to complete posts for my website. I had to gather the strength to push through each project. There were things I wanted to write about but just couldn’t get started on. There were articles I would write but then couldn’t summon the strength to work on the accompanying photography. There were photographs I would select for an article but then I could not manage the writing of the article. The struggle itself was exhausting. It kept me from being as productive as I would have liked to for my website, despite all the ideas and aspirations I had. As I write this there are two posts sitting unfinished. One I started writing, but couldn’t get focused on enough to finish and add photographs to and one that I have all the photography ready to go for if I could just summon the will to write the article for which the idea is already fully formed in my head. I just have to do the work. And that very thought of doing the work is just overwhelming and I don’t know why. Why should it be? It hasn’t been before. Or maybe it has been and I have ignored it.

This year I ran a 100 mile race and it was amazing and being finished with the training for that race was a relief, but one thing it also did was unmoor me from my structure. I still function ok if there is structure. Getting up for work and going to work I can manage, but a weekend where there is nothing going on and I am free to work on anything that I like is almost like a nightmare. Previously I knew what I had to do every weekend because I had a training plan and a project I was working on, but now I was free to work on anything I wanted to. Take on any idea that I had in mind and that was completely overwhelming. There was so much that I wanted to do, but I never felt like I could actually accomplish any of it. There were many days on weekends where I would lie awake in bed in the morning simply unable to take on the challenge of taking on the day. I would lie there in bed staring at the ceiling or literally hiding under the blankets having this internal dialogue with myself trying to convince myself to get out of bed and that everything would be ok. This new level of anxiety that made it so I couldn’t even get out of bed was scary to me. It was nothing I had ever experienced. So after suffering through this for a time I was finally convinced that it was ok to admit to myself that I was having mental health issues that needed to be addressed. It is going to sound completely corny but I was able to finally get to this place when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Safety Third, where they were talking about mental health issues in the outdoor community. It struck chord with me. Unfortunately, it was a long time before I shared this feeling with anyone else. After weeks I told my wife that I thought I needed to seek professional mental health help. Then I eventually told my best friend. As of now I still have not contacted a mental health professional. That is part of what makes my anxiety so challenging. Recognizing what needs to be done mentally is the easy part. Actually taking the action is hardest, especially when it comes to reaching out to contact a stranger, especially if that contact will need to be done by phone. But I am in the process o trying to get the help I need and take this on in 2020.

I think a huge part of this anxiety and feeling of overwhelm that has hit me this year is because I have been dreaming about and pursuing a career where I feel I have value and meaning. I went to college and studied and wrote and learned for years because I wanted to have a career and a life that I found fulfilling and satisfying. Over the years I have found that what I want is a career as a creative and I have actually had some level of success at it. Enough success that the possibility of actually achieving it scares the crap out of me. It scares me because it would mean leaving behind the structure of everything I have known in work behind. It scares me because it means if I fail it is on me. There is no boss to blame. It scares me because I would be free to do the things I truly want to do and if I still fail to do them it is my own fault.

I have been so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that there have been many days where I have thought I should just quit doing all of the creative work that I am doing. It is too hard. It is making me too anxious. I will never be able to make it. I should just give it up and enjoy a simple life of going to work and coming home and sitting on the couch watching TV. What would be so wrong with that? The answer is that there is nothing wrong with that. But for me everything is wrong with that. It is not the life I have envisioned for myself or that I have been working for my entire life. It would not make me feel fulfilled. I would not be happy. At best I would be comfortably numb. At worst I would be miserable.

This whole post and life situation is like a giant sad irony to me. I have spent a large part of my life studying mental health. I have been an advocate of talking about mental health. I try to do all the things a good mental health advocate would do. Except that I haven’t taken care of my own mental health and I haven’t been able to share my struggles with anyone. That ends today.

I wrote this post 12/31/19 and didn’t find the strength to post it until 1/12/20.

2018 Walk A Mile In My Shoes

I may have met many of my friends through running but we are all so much more than runners. For me I am among other things a photographer. One of my friends I’ve met through running works in one of the most challenging fields you can, mental health. She puts on what I consider a very important community event. This year I was fortunate enough to be a part of this event again. I am always happy to find ways to use my talents to support our local community.

Walk a Mile in my Shoes is a community wide suicide awareness event held in Elmira, NY. This year was the 13th year this event has been held. Over 2,000 people attended this event to show their support for suicide prevention and awareness.

This is a truly moving event to be part of. Seeing so many people coming together to recognize the importance of such an important issue. So many people are affected by issues surrounding mental health either directly or indirectly. I am sure we all know someone who has experienced difficulties with mental health, and maybe we don’t even know that we do. This community event helps to show that there are people out there that support anyone who is experiencing difficulties with mental health.

Community events like Walk A Mile In My Shoes will help to break the stigma that unfortunately continues to exist around mental health. Mental health is something we need to talk about all the time. It is something that we need to make easy to discuss. That way when people struggle they can easily come forward and receive the help they need. It is sad that it often takes an act of courage to come forward to address mental health issues because of the way our society can treat those who are suffering the most.

I have learned a lot from people who have worked in fields related to mental health and from those who struggle with mental health.

Mental Health is a difficult subject to talk about. Despite my years of study and times spent with others on the front lines it really doesn’t seem to get easier.

I usually consider myself a pretty good writer and think that I can find the words I want especially regarding topics that are important to me or that I am knowledgeable and this is both. But still the right words are not there to convey the importance of this topic and the importance of this event to our community.

This event is simply a powerful and emotional experience. To see so many people come together who have shared perspective. People who have shared experiences. People who know how important just that one word or just that one person for support is. It is truly moving.

I am glad we have people in our community who know the importance of mental health and people who show up to support mental health awareness.

Weekend Plans

This weekend I have quite a few things going on. It is a double edged sword when your life is so full of activity that you aren’t sure that you can fit it all in. There are so many aspects of my life that I love end derive joy from, however sometimes all of those things collide in a short time frame and can create a significant amount of stress. This weekend my photography life and my running life are colliding hard core. I am currently training for a 50k trail race and simultaneously trying to expand my photography business as well as maintain services I have provided in the past.

For my race training I need to run 20 miles on Saturday and I need to run at least 10 miles Sunday. On Saturday morning I have the privileged of photographing an important community event, Walk A Mile In My Shoes. This is a suicide awareness event that is held in my home town of Elmira, NY. This is a very well done event and it receives a ton of support from the community. I have photographed this event in the past and it is always a rewarding experience. Also, on Saturday evening I have scheduled a nature photography workshop. Holding photography workshops is something I am beginning to do new this year. I really wanted to have an early spring workshop and this seemed like a good time to have it. I have a busy early half of the year and this was the only weekend that would relay allow it to happen at all. In between those two events I will somehow squeeze in a 20 mile run, and I am not particularly fast so it is quite time consuming.

On Sunday I will be at Southern Tier Running Club’s Trail Fest at Grist Iron Brewing. I will start the day at 7:30 AM volunteering for the club during bib pick up for all of the runners attending to run the race. Then I will transition into photography mode and photograph the event which consists of three separate races. There is a 1 mile race, a 5k race, and a 10k race. I expect this will take most of the day. Then after finishing that up I will need to run 10 miles as part of my training plan for my 50k training. It is going to be a long but fulfilling day and weekend.

All of this activity even though it is generated for things I love it is bound to be stressful. Stress is a real thing. It can be good but it can also be detrimental to both our physical and mental health. Stress can overwhelm us. We might think that all of the things we are doing is because we love it and we want to but everything takes its physical and mental toll on us. Even the things we love and enjoy. Maybe especially those things because those are the things we care most about. We all need to evaluate what things we say yes to and what things we say no to. No one can do everything even if they are all things they love. There is not enough time, energy, or mental capacity. We are all human and we can only take on so much of a load. There is no shame in this. We all have to chose and prioritize those things that mean the most and say no to other things.

As I have been going through the process of training for a 50k, I knew it was going to be a time commitment, but I really had no idea what I was getting into. I love the idea of running this type of run, but the commitment needed to train may be more than I can fit into my life these days. I will reevaluate after my race and decide if/when I will ever be able to do it again. As it is I would never be able to do it without my wife picking up the slack at home while I am out grinding away the miles.

This weekend will also be something I evaluate after the fact. Once I get through it I will look back on it and see what went well and what didn’t. Then I will know if I will ever plan to pack so much into one weekend again. This also fits into my evaluation of how training for a really long race goes. This would not be a problem if I wasn’t in the midst of training for a long race. Can I do both? Can I run long races and be a successful photographer in addition to other parts of my life I need to keep intact.

Husband, Photographer, Dog Lover, Writer, Runner, Nature Lover, Analyst. Is it all too much? How do I balance it all?  These are the questions we all must ask and find a way to live the life we find most meaningful.

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Tanglewood Trail Not So Much Run

Since I began training for my 50K in the beginning of January I have yet to run any trails. Trail running is my favorite kind of running and my training is to prepare me for a trail marathon and then a 50K, so I have really been itching to get on the trails. So far timing or weather or any other of life’s many variables have conspired to keep me from trails.

Going into this week 6 of the training plan long run I really wanted to get out on a trail to run. The weather had not really cooperated with multiple days of snow into mid week. But I really wanted to run trails. Then life circumstances really started hitting home and I really just felt like I needed to get out into nature. Nature is where I can find my peace and maybe just escape from life for a while. It is what I needed. So I doubled down on my desire to hit the trails today.

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Normally on a long run in the winter I would were some running tights, but aparently life prevented me from having any of those clean. I have a pair of windpants that I can run in that have a light mesh lining to them and I figured would be perfect for the temperature and at least keep me warm. So I geared up and went out to my favorite local trail spot at Trnaglewood Nature Center.

My assumption was that Tanglewood is a pretty popular outdoor destination locally. I assumed that people would have been on the trail over the past few days so that the snow would be a little packed down and more runnable. And that is where it started to bite me in that ass. I always think I have learned my lesson about assuming. You know the saying when you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME. Well I sure began to feel like an ass once I began running.

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There had been almost no one on the trails. Miscalculation number 1. Especially not on the trails I wanted to be on. I was pushing through fresh 6+ inch snow with every step. I was wearing my Altra Lone Peak 3.0’s that I love but they were no help in that level of snow. There was no traction to be had. The snow was so deep every step was over my ankles. Every step pushed snow up into my open pant legs of the wind pants. Miscalculation number two. Thank goodness I did have the good sense to where nice warm and tall Smartwool winter socks. Also since the snow was pushing up into my pants and the pants had a mesh liner the snow was powdery enough at first to just pass through the mesh liner. Once the snow got between the mesh liner and the outer layer of the pants it compressed and did not come back out through the mesh. I stopped to try to get it out but that was not happening. The snow just built up inside the bottom of the pant legs. Miscalculation number three. By the end of the run it was like trying to run in the snow with ankle weights on.

I am glad I went out with the intent of taking some photos and getting some time lapse footage or I may have given up sooner. Having something else to focus on other than the inability to run helped me to want to stay out there longer. And I did get some decent footage.

It is odd how something can both be a bad experience and a good experience at the same time. Thinking about this experience as a run and it was terrible. It was a grind and miserable at times. But when I think about it as a nature experience it was nearly perfect. I was out in nature experiencing something pretty unique for me, pushing through fresh snow and taking photos. As a nature experience it was something I needed. My dog just died and I needed to get outside and connect with nature and feel some connection and try to let the tension melt off me. This was the experience I needed. It was not the run I wanted or hoped for but it was the therapeutic nature experience that I needed to help me cope with life.

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There was really nothing about this trail run that was normal. The snow slowed me to basically a walk at times, especially on hills. The deep snow made finding footing difficult. I couldn’t tell if my footfalls would be on trail or on flat ground. I spent much of the time fitting the edge of the trail being of balance. Tanglewood is a place I love to run at in part because I am so familiar with it. I have been there to hike and run dozens and dozens of times. However, on this occasion the snow also made the trail in general difficult to see. The trail was so difficult to see at times that I couldn’t tell if I was even on the trail during the course of my adventure. I found myself stopping multiple times and looking around trying to figure out if I was still on the trail or not. I could not really tell. I looked around slowly searching for trail markers. It really slowed me down in my progress on the trails but I did eventually find the trail markers and succeed in getting back on the trail.

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I kind of think of this as a metaphor for life. In life unexpected and unfamiliar circumstances can blind you to your usual path. The path that you are so comfortable with you can follow blindfolded. But this new life experience has thrown you for a loop and no you are struggling to find your way. So, if you find yourself stuck by some unexpected life circumstances and you are struggling to find your footing or you can’t see the path your life normally follows anymore, stop and take your time. Get your bearings. Look around and find those trail markers that will guide you back to your path and help you find your way. Look to those friends and family members that have always been there for you and count on them to get you back on your feet and help you find your way again.

Run to clear the mind

Today was a tough day. Another dog with a trip to the vet. Another dog with a cancer diagnosis. That is two dogs with two cancer diagnoses in two weeks. Sometimes it just seems like life keeps kicking you.

When we got home I just need to do something. I couldn’t just sit at home with my thoughts. I needed action. There was no action I could take to help solve our dogs current health issues, but I needed to be active. I needed to get up and try to get my mind shifted into a different gear.

I got my running gear on and headed out the door for a run. I really didn’t feel into it at first. I was tired. In addition to the mental fatigue of the day I had been running  a lot the last few days. But I needed to be running now. I needed to feel that state that all runners know where you just get out there and get going and your mind clears and you are just out there and your mind body connection just takes over and you feel that peace that comes with running. But it just wasn’t happening for me.

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Even worse while I ran my phone fell out of my arm strap, which has never happened before, so I ended up having to carry it. How annoying right? Well that’s what I thought. I am not normally one who believes in the saying that everything happens for a reason, but in hindsight I think my phone fell for a reason.

Shortly after my phone fell I a came across a deer standing in someones yard. Normally I would have just waved hi to the deer and kept on running. But I actually had my phone in my hand so I stopped to take a photo. The deer didn’t even move when I stopped and snapped a few photos.

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Since the deer just stood there I took a few more photos and I leaned ion a little closer. Still the deer didn’t move. I took a step closer to the deer. The deer took a step towards me. To cross from the road to the yard I had to descend and ascend a small ravine. I thought surely doing that would scare the deer away, but no. For every step closer I took the deer approached me too.

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Before I knew it I was face to face with a deer, a wild deer. First time for that. I never thought I would have that happen. The deer kept walking closer to me and I kept taking photos. The deer leaned right up to me and sniffed my hand that was holding my phone. I felt his nose and his whiskers on my hand.

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This was just the experience I needed on a day like today. I love nature and a nice up close and personal experience with wildlife was just what was called for. It helped me get out of my negative frame of mind. My mind shifted into a different gear. I felt happy for the first time today. I remembered all the good things that will still be there when my heartache is over. It may take some time but it will happen.

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After my encounter with the deer my run went much better. My spirits were lifted. I felt better. My running felt better. I didn’t feel so fatigued. I felt stronger. I was enjoying this run that at until that point had been kind of miserable. I didn’t run hard or fast but that wasn’t the point. The point was to get out and feel my muscles work and let my brain work through things and now that could happen.

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There are not many things better to help you get out of a funk than a run and some nature.