On Letting Go

". . . the second you’re comfortable is the second that something-- somewhere-- probably needs to give. Or you need to let something go. Or you need to set up your life to look a little different so that the elements will push you more and stretch you more and grow you more. The second you start thinking life is this comfortable little journey is the second you stop growing.
 . . . Living happens outside the comfort zone. That dumb little box you think is so safe. What's so safe about a stale life? Change will only happen when you ditch the comfort zone. When you accept the pain. When you decide to do it, just do it, without even knowing what the outcome will be or if your precious heart is gonna be all sorts of mangled on the other side. Stop refusing the challenge." - HannahBrencher.
Two weeks ago Wednesday, I had to let something go.  It was my best furfriend of 8 years, a very unique kitty so un-cat-like that even avowed Dog People mourned his departure.  He had been sick for a very long time, and his cancer and heart disease just made him sicker and sicker and sicker. So I had a lot of time to give him all my attention and love. And I had a lot of time to let go.  And, while I faced the inevitability that he was going - and then gone - the whole time I knew something  tremendously beautiful was going to come of it.
I had no choice about Arnie dying.  That was going to happen eventually, cancer and heart disease or not.  But I did have the choice to let go.
In that year while he grew sicker, I struggled to keep up my routines. Grad school, training, full time job, and two sick kitties were a lot of work, especially with my parents both being seriously ill, a relationship, and my own chronic illnesses rearing their ugly heads more than usual.  When he was finally at peace, as heavy my heart and empty my pillow were (still are) without him, the fear and anxiety and pain that had occupied my conscious and subconscious thoughts were transformed into something else. Light. Forgiveness. Hope for the future. Belief in my own strength.
And something else I never expected.
Letting Arnie go made me realize that there were a lot of other less-important things I was hanging onto. Like my Type-A-ness. My fear of what people would think about how well things were going with the guy I was seeing.  Suddenly things like that, or just being human - needing extra time on a school assignment, taking off a day (from work or workouts or happy hour or even makeup) when I genuinely needed it - suddenly, those weren't such bad things. 
What would happen, I wondered, if I chose to let those kind of things go, too?  Lord knows I've had more than a year to do it.
I was on a training ride this weekend. We were riding about 30 miles, which is about half of what I have been riding on the weekends. And on top of that I realized that I was a good 2 miles per hour slower than I used to be.  To a non-cyclist, I realize that 2 miles per hour doesn't sound like much. And to all of my fellow athlete bloggers, this probably sounds incredibly disappointing.  Uninspiring. Anticlimactic.  I mean, I had such plans for this year - like qualifying for nationals for a 3rd time. And most of you are out there getting faster.  Stronger. Going farther. Even winning things.  And here I am, hardly training at all, realizing how much slower I've gotten.
But instead of bemoaning that the way I have been, I look back and feel thankful for the perspective.   I'd gotten so quick that I could at least start out most of my rides with the "race" riders.  And I did this during radioactive iodine scans and all kinds of follow-ups for my thyroid cancer.  Granted, I did this in a less urban area with no grad school to worry about.  But still. I faced down a lot of tall obstacles to get as strong as I did, and I have lost almost all of it. 
I shared this picture on Facebook the other day because it made me LOL. 
Wes responded, "Being awesome is not a 5k.  It is a marathon."
So is making progress with training.
The crazy thing is, if you'd asked me about my progress back then, I'd have told you "yeah, I have a really long way to go."  In fact, sometimes you'd catch me pitching a hissy about not riding fast enough because a new medicine made me feel bad.  My expectations for myself were so high that I didn't have time to feel as happy as I should have been about being right where I was.  And so, if there's anything I'm forcing myself to let go of, it's expectations.  I've said before that I'm a "labeler."  Well, to hell with labels, too.
The crazier thing is, I'm not upset about the less-training-time and the slower-training-paces. I mean, I'm not going to stop training tomorrow.  I'm in this for the long haul.  So I'm terrifically excited about how much I have accomplished.  I'm happy for the "break." I'm grateful for the perspective that has allowed me to see what a great last two training years I had.  I'm terrifyingly excited about what I'll be capable of when I push through this burst of illness and grad school and once again have time to concentrate on bettering myself physically. 
And I'm realistic enough to know that I may never get to where I was ever again, either. The exciting part was that I got there at all. With a lot of things that should have kept me from even trying.  Which kinda makes me feel like I could do . . . . well . . . .anything.
There's still going to be sadness to muddle through. The loss of a loved one is never over just because we choose to let go. They still live on in our hearts, and letting them go opens us up to fill that space with the new perspective that can only be offered by embracing all the happy memories we shared with them. Letting go just allows those happy memories to flood in. To replace some of the pain. To help us feel less sadness for losing and more gratitude for having had.
I'll remember Arnie for a lot of things.  The longest-lasting of those may just be that letting him go allowed me to see all of this more clearly.
" . . . Living happens outside the comfort zone. That dumb little box you think is so safe. What's so safe about a stale life? Change will only happen when you ditch the comfort zone. When you accept the pain. When you decide to do it, just do it, without even knowing what the outcome will be or if your precious heart is gonna be all sorts of mangled on the other side. Stop refusing the challenge."

How 'Bout We Make Us A Deal

To change is to improve. To be perfect is to change often. 
- Winston Churchill

When I posted that yesterday, I knew I was in need of some changing. Not that I harbor delusions of perfection, mind you. I just knew there was absolutely no way I could - or wanted to - continue down the road I was on.

The first thing I had to decide was what to change.  Honestly, that was the hardest part.  But, once I had a good grip on that, the rest became crystal clear.

It started out with an even tougher question, though. For weeks I've been asking myself why is shit so hard right now?  I've been through some rough things all year long, but I couldn't quite figure out the tipping point.  Up until some time recently, I had been able to roll with the punches. This week I finally realized that I was struggling with a combination of two things: the reality of Arnie dying hitting home, and feeling really shitty again. 

First, I decided against my 50- to 70-mile bike ride this morning.  I've needed my migraine medicine a few times a week lately because of the "attacks" (or "spells" or whatever you want to call them), so I needed to sleep instead of waking up at 5am.  I slept until 7, which is late for me, and hit the gym for a slightly less-intense-than-normal run/strength combo.  I then spent the rest of the morning making meals for the week and some budgeting to figure out how I could fit in more head and neck massages to offset some of my pain and dizziness.

These weren't the main decisions I made, though.  The main decisions I made were about what I needed to change.  And the first thing was my perspective. I needed to embrace my "new normal."  To understand that so much of this is temporary. But, in the off-chance that some of it is long-term or permanent, I also decided to make myself a deal that dad would be proud of. 

The deal is: 

I will gather as much information as I can to make an educated decision, and then I will do the best I can with the mental and physical capabilities I possess. Not yesterday's best; not tomorrow's best; not 6 years' from now's best.  The best with what I have, today.  And I will accept the idea that this may mean a shorter workout, or none at all.  A shorter race, or none at all.  And I will NOT beat myself up or feel frustrated if that's all I can do. 

Instead, when I feel the frustration coming on, I will ask myself:

If the answer is yes, then I will move on.
If the answer is no, then, in the immortal words of Britney Spears, you better work, bitch.

As I sat pondering this, my phone rang.  It was one of my cycling friends, who also happens to subscribe to my blog.  She has the most positive attitude of anyone I've ever met, even when we're riding 80 miles in the Florida heat. I hadn't talked with her since our ride last week, but I guessed that she was calling because I didn't tell anyone why I didn't ride today.

Side note: it is kind of odd for me to have people who know me in real life read my blog.  For some reason, it's way easier to open up to total strangers on the internet.  I'm also always shocked that my real-life friends follow my blog.  I'm not sure why; I just am. 

Anyway, it was almost like she'd been reading my mind.  She told me that a lot of the time when people get frustrated about how much they haven't accomplished she will ask them, "did you need to do that?"  And that's exactly what I did this morning.  I thought, I don't need to ride today.  I've been riding 50-70 miles weekly pretty regularly.  There are plenty of other things I can do and still get sleep.

 It reminded me that I don't need to race, and I don't need to race fast or long if I do; I can still do the shorter stuff (something I've been talking about with Coach for a long time now.) There are plenty of things I can do and still stay fit.

And the other reason why her call meant a lot to me is that she also battles chronic illness.  And she reminded me of something she likes to tell people.  I Have A Disease, It Doesn't Have Me.  If I decide to become frustrated because "my condition" stopped me from doing something I used to do, then my disease has me.  But if I accept that there are other things I can do and other ways I can do them, then I'm in control.

That call really, really meant a lot to me. First of all, it was very kind. Second of all, I needed to vent to someone who could understand. And finally, it put me at peace with my decisions today.

So how about you make a deal with me.

The deal is: 

If you question anything at all about the statement above, then ask yourself:

If the answer is yes, then move on. 
If the answer is no, then you better work, bitch.

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