How do we keep moving when the obstacles pile up higher than we can handle? When anxiety and despondency and exhaustion steal all of our energy? When stress cripples us?
Life is a series of difficulties, one level after another. We graduate from one to the next and hopefully get stronger along the way.
But that doesn’t happen automatically. It only happens if we take care of ourselves and keep moving.
I know of a man who lost his business and never recovered. He sat on the couch, played video games, lost his wife and all of his stability.
I also know people who’ve lost it all, worked each day to rebuild a new life, and are now happier than they would have been without that initial loss.
What’s the difference? One thing I’ve learned from running long distances is that it’s all mental. As someone said about the 135 mile winter race that is my big goal: it’s 80% mental and 20% mental. That’s not a typo. Life requires mental toughness to keep going. Especially when the circumstances around us keep changing in unpredictable ways.
It’s been a pretty stressful last couple of months for us. We’ve dealt with a lot of challenges, including the dreaded infertility. We feel we’ve become broken records about this. It’s painful and it sucks. However, the week before a scheduled insemination, the stars finally began to align. We’ve been on a long ruck dealing with infertility and trying to conceive and everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. We sat in the waiting room for two and a half years, so to speak. We’ve become weirdos who talk about sperm like it’s not a really awkward word for most people to hear. BUT FINALLY, this was our big moment. Melinda produced three glorious eggs. My contribution in the cup at the fertility clinic garnered my best sperm count since the vasectomy reversal (still “low”). This was our moment. Even though the odds of conception were small, we felt they were definitely in our favor.
It may sound like no big deal, but we sacrificed a lot to even get to that point. Melinda has cried more tears than I can count. And my numbers may have been “so good” that day due to the fact that my wife begged me through more tears not to run more than ten miles at a time to help with the count. For me, this was torture. For her, it made total sense. I did it, and I guess she may have been right (but we will never know for sure *wink wink*.)
After the procedure, Melinda slept. I went on a long run to celebrate–30 miles on country roads Saturday evening, 8 on river ice the next morning. In the surreal, painful ecstasy of hours on the trail, I broke into another dimension. I communed with God. Insights crystalized. Problems dissipated. Action steps became clear. My present and my future opened in fresh ways. Courage flooded through my veins. I was ready to do hard things, make hard choices, embrace the pain of what I sensed could be the most difficult year yet. But in the process, I pushed my body too hard and stressed the muscles in my legs.
After that glorious experience, I couldn’t run a mile without crippling pain. Then work demands piled up, new family complexities arose, financial challenges loomed.
I hit a wall.
I was less than 4 weeks away from a 50 mile race that’s the next step in reaching my big goal. I could see the finish line, not just for this race, but for life in general. So many good things were happening. But too many opportunities and challenges stacked up in too short a time.
I’d reached capacity in life. Something had to give.
I think about David Goggins’ 40% rule. The famous Navy SEAL says that when we feel like we’ve maxed out, we still have 40% more left.
But at what cost?
Sometimes the plan has to change. Sometimes the dream has to die in order for us to keep our commitments and care for the people we love.
That week, I made the tough choice to kill my dream of running long races this year. Maybe ever. But I’m kind of dramatic and I totally broke down and Melinda rolled her eyes but tried to comfort me, which is honestly close to impossible, and I had to admit that it will all probably be okay. But like many others, I had to go through demoralizing grief to get to the next step of seeing things more clearly.
Then COVID-19 started shutting down America. Ironically, this terrible virus gave me time to catch my breath, get some rest, and think more clearly about what to do next.
So, here I am two weeks later. Thanks to Dr. Folske’s therapies and his prescription of daily stretching/strengthening exercises, my legs have recovered enough for me to complete a 22 mile training run. My race in April was cancelled, but I’m still planning to do those 50 miles on my own … in a way that meets stay-at-home laws and social distancing requirements.
My dream of running didn’t die after all (yet).
I have a choice to make today. We all do. We can sit and wonder when life will get easier. Or we can accept the harsh reality that perhaps it won’t. We can let life kick the shit out of us, drain our hope, and leave us a shadowy shell of our former selves. Or we can man the f&$k up and keep moving forward.
By the way, our IUI procedure didn’t work. But more about that in a future post.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m going to keep rucking and see where the path leads. Right now, it’s taking me to work on our tax returns. Wish me luck.