Sunday, October 20, 2019

Update #1

First, let me start by saying that since my initial post just over a week ago, I can't help but be amazed by the amount of support and encouragement that I have received from so many people.  Not only from the close friends and family that I knew would be there for me, but also from some acquaintances that until now I had only had some passing conversations with.  Every conversation that I've had, and every bit of encouragement has been more helpful than most of you might realize.  I sincerely thank every one of you.

I find that writing this out is pretty therapeutic, so thanks for sticking with me.  I also know that someday God will use me to help someone through something similar, so by keeping this it'll help me to remember.

With that, I thought it was worth giving an update as to where I'm at since the initial post.  Truthfully, it's been a rough, very up and down week but things are getting better.


The first day after my post, I felt pretty good.  There was an initial feeling of freedom that came from having everyone know what was going on and not feeling like I had to hide, or put forward a fake "everything's great" face.

Then things started to come back down again.  The days went on, my leg continued to hurt, I still couldn't run, and the depression was hitting like a ton of bricks.  To go from running 50+ miles per week to nothing almost overnight was just crushing me.  I had no idea what to do.  I told Sarah "I feel like I've lost my identity."  Sunday (the day that was supposed to be my marathon) was especially difficult...  All I could think about were the "what if's?" and "the weather is perfect, I could have crushed it."

Since then, I've been feeling much better.  Almost as if I've "detoxed" from the running addiction.  I've been walking as I've been able, but am finding other things to keep myself and my mind busy.  I'm sure at first I was driving Sarah crazy...  A few times I found myself just pacing between the living room, dining room, kitchen, etc. just trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing.  Eventually, I started cleaning... and cooking... and generally helping around the house (things I should have been doing before).  Anything to distract my mind and keep it off of the "I should be running" thought train.

On the physical side:

My leg does seem to be slowly getting better.  I've tried running on the treadmill a couple of times.  On Friday I was able to run 3 miles comfortably before I could feel the knee pain starting to creep in, so that's where I stopped.  The pain quickly went away and I knew that I hadn't overdone it, so I felt good.  I decided to try again on Saturday and the knee pain started to come back again just a mile into my run, so again, that's where I shut it down.  I'll be taking (at least) a few more days off before I give it another attempt. 

At this point, I'm trying to figure out mentally if I'm trying to run because I WANT to run, or if I'm trying to run because I feel like I HAVE to run.  It sounds strange, and seems like something that I should know, but it's not quite that easy.

The food and eating has proven to be my biggest challenge so far:

There are definitely two sides to my brain at this point: the "logical" side and the "disordered" side. 

Logical - I know I need to eat to survive.  I know that eating regular meals, eating enough to feel satisfied, and having healthy snacks (and even those "unhealthy" snacks on occasion) when I'm hungry are all healthy, normal things.

Disordered - It's like my brain often says "you haven't even run a mile today, how dare you be hungry?", or "you can't eat that snack, you didn't do anything to earn it!"  Even though I've deleted my app from my phone and stopped measuring out portion sizes, etc, I still catch myself subconsciously calculating the calories for the different items I've eaten throughout the day.

These two sides of my brain are in constant conflict with each other when it comes to food.  The good thing is that I feel as though (and this has come with a TON of help from Sarah) the logical side of my brain is slowly starting to win more of the battles.  It's not coming without a lot of anxiety, and there is a long way to go, but I am starting to feel a difference.

So that's where I'm at right now.  I'm definitely feeling like I'm in a better place than I was just a week ago, but know that there's still a lot of work to be done.  I appreciate all of the continued prayers, and will try to provide regular updates throughout my "recovery".

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Actually No, I'm not "good"

Why am I writing this?  As what is supposed to be my first full marathon approaches, I’ve suddenly developed an injury that is quite likely to sideline me and keep me from running it at all.  This is something I’ve been training for and heavily focused on all summer long.  Because of this, I’ve been quite depressed.  However, this has also led me to do a lot of internal reflection.

One thing you may notice if you read through this, is that something is missing.  Throughout, I make no mention of God.  I’m not sure when, but at some point this had become all about me and I had placed God on the sideline.  As I wallowed in self-pity while my wife and I were talking, we both seemed to ask the same question at about the same time.  “What if this injury, at this most inopportune time, is supposed to be a wake up call from God?”

So, with that, I am hoping to take it and use it as such.

"Actually No, I'm not good"

How many times do we pass by each other, look each other in the eyes and say something along the lines of "Hey, how's it going?" usually followed by a response of "I'm good, you?". This type of exchange has become so common that any answer other than "good" would seem to violate the "social norm."  Which begs the question, how many people are struggling, searching for the right opportunity to give a REAL answer other than the "good" that everyone expects to get in return?  This is where I'm at, and it's time for me to open up and be honest to anyone that cares to read this.

So let's put it out there right off the bat and get this thing rolling.  Over the last year and a half or so I seem to have developed an eating disorder, which has led to an exercise addiction and then followed up with bouts of depression.

Bare with me while I give a little background...

It started out innocently enough.  The company I work for was having a “biggest loser” competition to promote a healthy lifestyle.  Some co-workers needed another person for their team so I figured “why not?.”  I really had no expectation of losing a ton of weight or doing anything crazy, but being 5’ 11” and 193lbs at the time, I knew it wouldn’t hurt to lose a few pounds so I set a goal weight of 173lbs.

To begin with, I cut out unhealthy foods and stopped snacking throughout the day.  We already had an elliptical at home, so I started out doing 30 minutes every night on that.  I eventually started tracking my meals using an app on my phone.  This helped me to learn the calorie content of various types of foods and really get an understanding of food that I didn’t previously have.  I don’t remember the numbers from each weigh-in for the competition, but it was working!  I was consistently losing weight at every weigh-in and quickly hit my goal.  I was feeling great and the elliptical workouts were getting easier and longer.

At some point, a friend who was looking to get back into running learned about me getting into better shape and suggested we both start training to run a 5k.  It seemed intimidating to me at the time, but also sounded like good motivation to keep up the healthy lifestyle.  I followed a training plan, continued to watch my diet and track my food, and it wasn’t long before the 5k race took place.  What I learned through this process… apparently I’m good at running, and fast.  It wasn’t long before I ran a 10k, some more 5k’s and a couple of half marathons.  Each time turning in fast times, usually at least placing in my age group, sometimes placing (or winning) overall.  This eventually led me to sign up for my first full marathon.

On the outside, everything seemed great.  I was still losing weight, running a lot and by all appearances I had simply adopted a new, very healthy, very active lifestyle.

In reality, things were not “good”...

I’ve never really been “great” at anything…  In school, the most athletic thing I had done was bowling.  Sure, I’m good at my job (at least I think so…), but it’s hard to explain what it is that I do and it’s not like I get recognized outside of “professional circles” for it.

I can’t be sure, but I think this is what played into the addiction that slowly developed as I ran more miles, more races, and continued to get faster and faster.  I was being recognized for my ability… knowing that people were truly impressed with what I had been able to accomplish gave me a rush and a great feeling of pride.  It drove me to continue to push harder, run further, run faster.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I also gained a fear.  This fear seemingly took over and took control of too many aspects of my life.  A fear that if I stopped tracking what I ate or stopped running, everything I worked so hard for would come undone.

In my mind, I had created a direct link between running and eating.  If I didn’t run enough, I couldn’t “allow” myself to eat much, for fear that I might gain a pound or two back.  Especially if it were an unhealthy treat or indulgence (ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, etc).

I use a common app that synchronizes with my garmin watch to calculate how many calories I’ve burned each day.  Basically, it takes the calories that it determines I need to eat just to maintain my weight, adds calories burned from additional exercise, and that’s the total number of calories that you should eat for the day.  Then, as you enter the food you’ve eaten into the app, it subtracts that from your allowance.  The intention is that if you are looking to maintain weight, you want the number to be close to 0 at the end of the day… Simple enough, right? Calories in = Calories out.

I became obsessed with these numbers.  I was terrified that I would eat beyond my allowance and gain weight.  Everything I ate would be weighed on a small kitchen scale so I could be sure that I accurately entered all food, snacks, etc into the app.  I would check the nutrition labels of EVERYTHING.  If we were planning on eating out at a restaurant, I would try to find a place that had nutritional information available so I could accurately enter calorie counts for items I would order.  If calorie counts were unavailable, I would make a “best guess” and enter the info, usually making sure I aimed high “just in case”.  

My calorie deficit would continue to get further and further away from 0.

Eventually, if we were going to a party or just an informal get-together with friends or family, my anxiety levels would go through the roof just knowing that there would be “unhealthy food” available, and I would be terrified that I wouldn’t be able to control my eating and would over-indulge undoing everything I had worked for.  Many times, I would try to avoid these situations altogether by simply not going.  This is something I truly regret.
During those times that I would “slip up” and let myself splurge on a great meal, or an unhealthy treat, I would have an incredible feeling of guilt shortly after.  Like I had just done something horribly wrong.  This would be followed by depression, and then likely cutting out a large amount of food the rest of the day or the next morning to “make up for it.”

At the same time, I was running more and more miles training for the marathon.  My schedule would ultimately look something like this:

Monday - 6 miles
Tuesday - 10 miles
Wednesday - 9 miles
Thursday - Rest (but usually would still walk 4+ miles)
Friday - 5 miles 
Saturday - Long run day, anything from 13 to eventually 23 miles
Sunday - 7 miles

This schedule on its own is probably not unusual for someone training for a full marathon, but it was just another part of my addiction.  I would let NOTHING interrupt my running schedule, and if something did, my anxiety level would once again be insanely high.

I knew in my mind that this was wrong.  It was killing me knowing everything that I was missing out on by doing this to myself, but for some reason I still don’t understand, I couldn’t stop.  Each time the scale would show me at a lower weight, it became my new line of what I needed to keep under.  Again, I knew that this had reached a level of being very unhealthy and dangerous, but felt like it was completely out of my control and something I had to keep doing.  

It’s so hard to explain what was going on, almost like being a prisoner in my own mind.

Apologies need to be made:

So far I’ve only talked about what was doing to me, but I know that it was also having a very unhealthy impact on my relationship with my family, our friends, my coworkers, as well as impacting my job performance.

I’m so thankful that I have a very loving wife who has been doing everything within her power to work with me through this, and doing her absolute best to understand what I’m going through.  I know that I’ve neglected her and put unnecessary pressure and stress on her.  Also with my son, who I know I’ve also neglected spending time with in favor of “having to get my run in”.  The times throughout this summer that I insisted on running for multiple hours, instead of spending time with him, is time that I’ll never get back.  Missed outings with friends and family because I was worried about over-indulging on something that “I shouldn’t” eat…  The list could go on.  To Sarah and Evan, I am truly sorry.

At work, I’m sure that my attitude, temperament, and focus have all suffered.  Days without getting a run, or being tempted and eating an unexpected cookie or treat (might seem funny, but it has happened more than once) causing my anxiety to skyrocket.  I know that there were times that this left me with an incredibly negative attitude, short/snappy responses, and getting angry at seemingly innocuous things.  To my co-workers, I am sorry.

I know there are details that I’m missing in this that I’m sure I could go into, and if anyone would like to talk I am willing to share and answer any questions that people may have.  My hope in writing this is two-fold:

  1. That it helps me to realize and better cope with what I’ve been doing and make corrections back to a more “normal” lifestyle.
  2. That if anyone else is struggling with something similar, you’re not alone.  Feel free to reach out to me if you just need someone to talk to who can understand.

At this point, I don’t expect things to be corrected immediately, but I’m hoping that by putting this out there and making things public it’ll help me get moving back in the right direction.  

No, I don’t plan to quit running.  It is far too enjoyable and I want to continue living a healthier lifestyle.  I’m just hoping that I can find the proper balance between keeping it enjoyable and not letting it get in the way of all other aspects of my life.  I’m hoping to also achieve the same balance with my food.  I LOVE food, I want to be able to enjoy food without feeling guilty.  I’m sure with time and the awesome support of my family and friends, I’ll be able to get back to that point.  These habits didn’t develop overnight, so I’m not expecting them to go away overnight either.

Update #2

Another week down... Running/exercise: I really feel like I'm starting to find a good balance and relationship with the exercising....