I am a scaredy cat. I may not look like it on the outside, but my mantra basically my whole life has been, “Fake it until you make it.” Through school. Through college. Through job after job. I reach higher ground and I’m still telling myself to fake it until I make it.
Except I have made it, in a lot of ways. I am it. I’m doing it, being it. And slowly as I get older I’m finally owning all the its.
I am a leader. I do have expertise. I get things done. I do hard things. And it’s been too long that I’ve been thinking I’ve been faking it to get here.
That’s what my doubt wants to tell me, that I don’t deserve to be this far or have accolades for doing hard things. Doubt wants to make me think that I’ve gotten here purely on luck, because the right door opened at the right time. That’s true, but only some of the time. In reality if you look back at the security cameras, this girl was the one actually opening the doors and not faking a damn thing.
Maybe if I write about writer’s block, it’ll go away. You know, just like those bullies that called me “four eyes” and “nerd” and “goody two shoes” at school.
In a way, writer’s block bullies me too. There are many times throughout the day whether I’m in the car, in the shower, on a run, teaching a lesson, that I have this idea that is just bursting forth like a storm on a warm summer day.
And then by the time I have the time and space to write about it, it’s retreated. And it’s hella frustrating. And probably the #1 reason I haven’t been writing here regularly, as regularly as I’d like.
However, those moments of existential clarity as frustrating as they are serve a purpose. They remind me that I’m a whole person. A human being with a soul experiencing life and emotions to the fullest. Someone who is more than aware of her own struggles and attempts to overcome them.
Tangent: do we really overcome our struggles? Climb them like a hill and forget them when we get to the bottom? Because of my experience this week with a resurgence of depression, I don’t think we fully overcome them. I think they become a part of us, perhaps to the extent to which they’re a thorn in our side. Or they serve to make us stronger.
I’ve been living with dysthymic disorder since I was probably 13. Before that, I remember feeling an awareness of emotions. I don’t particularly remember if I was a “high-strung” child, but I know I screamed for basically the first six months of my life. I think they call those kids “high needs” now.
I don’t know when or how it kicked in, but I don’t remember a time without it.
For twenty years, I’ve been trying to tamp it down, hide it, and bury it six feet under. I’ve been in therapy, taken medicine, prayed for healing, and created endorphins by running to overcome it. Recently I read this book called First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson, and it’s all about depression’s cousin Anxiety. And for the first time in my life, I came away with an understanding and hope that anxiety can actually be a good thing, and it doesn’t have to rule over me, and I can use it in a positive way.
And all the while you’re being told there’s something wrong with you that has to be fixed. All the while you’re dependent on others’ ideas about what’s wrong with you.
I had a moment this weekend when I realized depression could be used in the same way, or at least the type of depression that afflicts me. (I still struggle with how to word this… I hate saying ‘I have depression’, like it’s a pet.) Depression has spurred me into so many things that are actually good for me… cue the list:
regular exercise for those sweet sweet endorphins
staying involved in a church for the positive environment
writing… this one is probably the most significant
openness and vulnerability about my struggle, which can contribute to a larger sense of community for myself and others
eating/drinking well – I had a philosophy professor that said if we all just eat lettuce we won’t be depressed. He was kind of right, kind of wrong, but I see his point.
Yoga/meditation (totally prefer the former and avoid the latter….)
Getting regular sleep
I believe with all my heart that just understanding the metapurpose of the anxious struggle helps to make it beautiful.
And as it turns out, all the things listed above help with anxiety too. The truth is, these mental health issues are part of who I am. But they’re not the whole picture. I am lucky (blessed? happy?) that the type of depression and anxiety I have are not debilitating. I am very thankful. And as sad as it is to me that I won’t be having any of my own biological children, I am glad that I won’t be passing on whatever genetic makeup has been responsible for depression/anxiety in my family for generations.
What I’m understanding from this early-morning writing session (fueled by coffee, lolz) is that we need to talk about this more. We need to talk about how it is to live with these ailments and how to be a fully engaged human on earth. We need to talk about how they affect our lives but also make us who we are. It emboldens me to see the stigma and conversations surrounding depression/anxiety changing in my lifetime. People seem to be more open about it than ever, and I think that is the true balm… connection and community.
I’m sitting on my porch typing with a bum elbow. It’s been hurting more today because I’ve been busy. In the kitchen. Like a good little wifey. Like the wife/mom combo I thought I would be.
I came out here with a glass of cab and a head full of thoughts, hoping to get something, anything, down. It’s been hard lately. I keep having all these things I want to write about, that bubble up. Adult responsibilities are getting in the way of my writing and processing. Recently I’ve wished for when I was 12 or 13 again, no responsibilities except for school. (I didn’t start working until I was 14.) Just checking chores, taking care of my sisters, and practicing piano off my to-do list.
Grown-up me had a substantive New Year’s Resolution – Be honest with myself. I saw the fruit of this resolution as me getting some clarity about life. But turns out the clarity I saw was through rose-colored glasses.
Three years ago, my husband and I decided to be done, really done, with trying to make babies. Turns out we really really sucked at making babies. We still don’t know whose ‘problem’ it was (most likely mine as I had uterine polyps and endometriosis… though I hesitate to put past tense on endo as there is no cure..). But we decided that we’d be done.
And three years later, I am just as, if not more, confused than I was about what I want in life. About faith. About my purpose on this planet. About God’s will in this. About the long-term implications of not parenting.
Frankly, sometimes it sucks, the not knowing. But here I am, being honest with myself. It sucks. It’s hard. I spent a good portion of this weekend in an acute and deep depression. Overall I was down in that pit for about 18 hours, but that was long enough. Fortunately for me, depression never gets to be a comfy place to be. So eventually something happens or I have a flicker of hope and I’m able to crawl up and out. It really is a horrible affliction, depression, and it certainly made itself known to me on the last day of Mental Health Awareness Month.
When we first decided to live childfree (or childless not by choice, lest I offend those for whom children have never been a desire), I was actually comforted by the not-knowing and transience of life. It didn’t much matter to me if we up and moved like we’ve been prone to do. I didn’t care if I had to make new friends or get settled into a new place or pack up some boxes. The thing that felt like a warm blanket was the not-knowing.
Now that life overall feels a bit more stable what with jobs and a house and church family and all, any threat to that stability could tear me limb from existential limb. At least today it would feel like that. Maybe not tomorrow. Probably not in a week.
And that’s one of the hardest parts about all of this… the un-knowing causes me to not be able to trust myself. But the thing is, I have to. Being honest and going with my gut are two strategies I’m using (if you can call them that). I can’t look too far into the future and hope that three more years from now all is well. I just can’t bear the thought of being just as confused as I am now.
There is a bird in our tree, stuck up high in an outer branch, its leg entwined in something. We couldn’t tell: we couldn’t get up high enough to reach it. It’s the saddest thing, really, to watch this animal try and try and try to get free. I know it will die… at least I think it will. Logic tells me so. But it’s not thinking about that right now. It’s not thinking at all. It’s just going off of instinct and trying to get away.
Maybe to outsiders I look a bit like that bird. I’m trying and trying and trying to get free. I will keep trying, because no one knows the future. I will keep trying, even if it takes me three more years.
Run the Hook in Sandy Hook, NJ, was quite the experience. I’d been to Jersey twice before, once to Wildwood and once to Jersey City/Hoboken to park and ride the train into NYC. However, this time, I travelled with a Jersey native and we stayed with one of her friends’ parents’. Packet pickup was easy – it was at the local running store. I also got a shirt that was on clearance, my favorite kind of shirt. Of course we hit Starbucks a few times over the 24 hours and checked out World Market and a health food store.
Sunday morning was pretty chill because we didn’t have to leave for Sandy Hook until 8:30 or so with a race start at 10am. We got to the parking lot and then had about a mile or 15 minute walk to the start. It was cold, around 50*, rainy, and windy (up to 26 mph gusts). I set my intention early on, even a few days before, because I knew I had to be in the right mindset mentally.
After warming up, we got to the start line about 10 minutes before go time. 10:00 came and went, and we were standing, shivering, waiting to get going. I did not consider bringing long pants or a long sleeve shirt, or even gloves to a May race. I had a short sleeve shirt and compression shorts so I was anxious to get going.
10:03, 10:04 rolled around, and people were getting antsy, so antsy in fact that they started yelling things like, “Let’s go!” “Start! Start!” When the RD came on the mic and said, “We’re just trying to make sure as many people as possible get to the start line,” people lost it – they definitely expressed their feelings with words. Jackie told me that this was a very Jersey experience, so I laughed and embraced it.
The course itself was great – very flat and easy to follow. I carried only my phone (in a baggie in my pocket), headphones, and my Garmin. We ran along the Sandy Hook Bay side of the peninsula (or barrier spit, rather). The wind was pretty constant except for some gusts that took my breath away. The rain was mostly unnoticeable the majority of the time except for when my cotton shirt got heavy. Eventually my hands warmed up past numb.
I had mostly negative splits, and was very cognizant of my effort towards the beginning. I knew that if I didn’t keep it under control, my heart rate would jump up at the beginning and it’d be a very difficult race.
We did a couple out-and-backs on the 10K course. I saw Jackie at one point and she got a couple pics. I was actually in really good spirits the entire time – mostly because I literally had no other option. We were gonna be cold and wet anyway, so might as well have a good attitude. I found myself smiling quite a bit, and I’m sure having music helped.
I crossed the line, according to official results, in 55:33. Strava says I completed 6.01 miles in 55:36. It’s unclear to me, even after the RD posted after the race, how long the course actually was. I started my watch late. With these differing results, I can infer that I ran between a 8:57 and 9:14 pace, which either way is a huge PR for me. In February, my 10K pace was 9:35.
I was so pleased and definitely had that runner’s high from even a few minutes into the race. It was a HUGE mental and physical breakthrough for me to run like that in those conditions.
It took a hot shower, layers, and brunch to warm up. We headed home and besides the rain, the drive was uneventful.
It’s Tuesday and I’m still elated from that race. I got to cross another state off my list, and be reminded that yes, training works. Yes, my body works. I have a runner’s body. I can do hard things. By far, this has been the best Mother’s Day in years.
I’m finally feeling like myself again. It’s taken a shit-ton of work. Physical work. Mental work. Emotional work. Hours of therapy. Hours of running. Of listening and meditating on music that feeds my soul. Of advocating for myself and my physical health.
Recently I’ve been reconnecting with the Elizabeth that’s down deep inside, the girl who’s now grown into a woman and hopefully likes what she’s become. As my grandma, Mimi, used to say, “You have to like what you see in the mirror.” Maybe she meant that you like your physical appearance. But I know that mostly she meant that you have to like the person reflected in that piece of glass.
A previous post I wrote about finding my 8th grade journal has taken me on a trip down memory lane. The commitment to writing on this blog with this name comes from a visit to the young Elizabeth who wrote late at night. Wrote poetry. Wrote songs. Some happy, some sad. The girl who in sixth grade went through a very interesting “Harriet the Spy” phase and sat on a stoop at recess with a composition notebook, writing about what she saw. The Elizabeth who wrote a collection of poetry for a project in advanced English in 8th grade entitled “Declaration of Independence”. (I know that period’s in the ‘wrong’ place, btw.)
My language arts teacher mentioned that my poetry was dark and depressing. Fuck yeah it was. I was encountering mental illness for the first time and trying to wrestle with it. Writing was my outlet. I didn’t feel taken seriously, I guess, and I tamped it down and convinced myself all through high school that I hated English class.
“Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
All of these 90’s themes coming back have been a catalyst to coming back to young Elizabeth as well. I remember having high-waisted pants. Scrunchies (even ones my mom made to match some dresses/jumpers she made me). Those plastic rings you used to cinch a intentionally too-big t-shirt. Flannel shirts. God, so much flannel. Mini backpacks as a purse.
I look at all these kids discovering these things for the first time and it makes me feel old. It also makes me sad that I ever let go of the things I liked. I’m trying to lean in to what I really like, and rediscover it. When you go through shit like infertility and crises of faith, you question your very being, your soul, your core.
So like I was saying in the beginning, I’ve been doing a lot of work to get back to myself. And dammit, I really like mini backpacks. I think they’re adorable. I really like taking running selfies with the self-timer on my camera and I just don’t care who sees me. I like wearing my hair down after a shower without drying and curling it. I generally am not into wearing a lot of makeup – mascara does it just fine for me. I like playing bluegrass really loudly when the windows are open.
Where did I get the idea that what I like to wear or do isn’t good enough? Where did I get the idea that I have to put on makeup and curl my hair in order to look “professional”? I got those ideas from society and culture, and they’ve been internalized. Somehow the cursory comparisons I made with other women got embedded in how I operate, and I’m sick of it.
I just wanna be me. I’m the same but different.
I turned 33 a few weeks ago, and I am so excited about it. 33 going into 34 is going to be such a great year. Maybe I’ll even buy myself a mini backpack.
Sometimes it takes saying goodbye to something to realize you really want it.
Mercies Per Mile has been here for a long time, and I’m not going to let it go.
It really is the theme of my life: it describes how my faith has infused my running, my cross-country moves, and just moving forward in time as I get older.
So I’ve decided to commit fully and buy the domain. I think I purchased it years ago, and then let it lapse. But I’m here to stay, and I want to fully break out of this strange writer’s block cage so that I can let my words flow free.
I’m thankful for the community that’s been created with blogging, and thanks to readers for making this a safe space for me to express myself.
The thought came to me during a run, and I was so excited about it. Mercies Per Mile… how perfect of a name for a running a blog that’s also about faith.
And so I wrote and wrote and wrote on this blog, pouring my heart out during all the idle time I had while my husband was away on some military endeavor. Through marathon training. Through just running. Through infertility. Through cross country moves.
It’s time, though, to move on to new things. I was just remarking to my husband how the whole of America is emotionally constipated. How Americans don’t want anything to die. They don’t want to bury anything or even see it changed. Americans so desperately don’t want things to die that they send their animals to the taxidermist and their loved ones to the embalmer.
But maybe in my rant I was talking about me.
So I’m moving on, letting this die, making way for something new. It’s scarier than it was before. I know more about people and the world and change.
I will leave you with an excerpt of a poem that is dear to me.
“The time has come," the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”