Tuesday, July 19, 2011


This morning I participated in the running "group" therapy session with a fellow runner.  To compare my situation with hers is laughable.  I am continually shocked with the stories she shares, yet am honored to know someone so at ease with herself and willing to listen to my troubles.  For what its worth we are able to bounce ideas back and forth about running, child rearing and dealing with the varied aspects of mental illness.

We often discuss the fog, that sense of a heavy shroud falling over one's eyes, clouding our vision and obscuring the positive, happy things in our lives.  The fog can roll in light and quick, or slow and heavy.  In whatever manner the fog settles it sucks all the same.

My friend said her fog rolled in overnight.  Exhaustion and overwrought emotion set her on the edge of tears.  Raising a young family has a way of sucking all the energy out of you.  The worst part of dealing with the fog is listening to the voices that, like the siren's song, seek to pull you onto the rocks.  Listen too intently and proceed at your own risk.  Just know these voices are not friendly.

Even though we know the voices are internal and imaginary, she wondered why it is that she forgets how to lift the fog on her own - it is possible if you can suppress the voices and actively seek the light.  Not easy but possible.  

It occurred to me that battling the fog is much like a bare-knuckled brawl.  The fighters know to keep their hands up to guard against the flurry of jabs and hooks from the opponent.  As the fight progresses to the later rounds the fighters don't simply forget to maintain their guard, one of the fighters may simply get too tired to keep hands raised.  Suddenly fist meets face.  Head snaps back.  With enough force the body is off its heels and sent flying.  If the fighter is dazed enough he may not get up off the mat.

That is how it how it is with mental illness.  The voices inside my head are tireless.  They are constantly on the offensive.  I try to maintain my guard but sometimes I just get too damn tired to keep fighting.  That is when the sledgehammer connects.

The caveat is, that unlike our hero in the above clip, internal struggle is impossible to completely defeat.  There is no knock out punch.

* I make no claim to represent either player in the clip attached to this post.  That may incite future to debate as to whether each combatant is the self or the voices.  Feel free to comment in this regard.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who The Hell Cares?

As I struggle with the ups and downs of life, and assess my record nearing the mid-point of my statistically calculated lifespan I begin to ponder meaning.  More to the point "who gives a damn?"

Who really gives a damn that I want to run.  That I want to run ultras and good as far as my mind to bully my body into travelling?  That while someone may think the piddling distances I run in training are arduous for some, those miles are a drop in the bucket to the spans I dream of covering?

You know you gives a damn?  Me.  I am the only person I have to please in all of this.  I run to feel spent.  I run to process the emotions and disconnect from the mental stresses.  I run today so I can live a little easier tomorrow.

There is not sponsorship to earn.  There is no prize money to win.  There is no product to push.

The only thing I have to push is my ass out the door and down whatever path I choose to follow.

Some days I do feel like Superman, with the alter ego.  Off road I am the guy that gets little right.  Lots of "give a damns" to resolve.  Too many at times.  And most with piss poor results.  Then get me on the streets with running shorts and shoes and nothing but my own energy stores to slow me down.  Anything is possible, even with a shit knee or busted toe.  Oh to hell with Superman.  I feel like King Kong!

So when I threaten to skip a run or even pass on some cross-training bullshit I need to ask myself "who the hell cares?"  

I should!

"And why should I give a damn?  What does it really matter in the long term?"

Only my health and happiness and stability are at stake.  Other than that it is not a big deal.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week in Pictures from the Trail

 Pin Oak Gap parking area trail head. 

 First fork in road.

This .2 mile stretch was the smoothest section on the trail.

Creepy house in the woods.  Convinced Satanists were in the attic.

First of several log footbridges.

The trail became the creek bed.

After this soggy mess the footbridge became pointless.

Next turn.

Elk have been reintroduced to the Smoky Mtns. Tracking collars.


"That shit is sick!"

Skipping stones on the river.

Mingo Falls.

Atop Chimney Rock, NC.  I am sitting in my own poop at the moment.  Deathly afraid of heights.

I am smiling because I am far from the precipice.

Hickory Nut Falls, NC

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What I Discovered Deep in a Wood

The family went camping this week.  What this trip confirmed is that running is my safety value, my medication, some days it is even my validation.  There are not many days that I feel accomplished.  Most days I am rather incomplete.  But running is my mainstay.  It may not always go well, but I still go.  Wednesday was one of those days.

Andria was concerned about me going out for a run alone.  Camping is as such an opportunity to run trails as it is family time away from television and work.  I live for these fleeting moments alone on a mountain path, free from car exhaust and traffic lights.  Even if bears lurk behind every tree I feel safer than any run in my own neighborhood. 

Blind geriatric drivers are more deadly than bears.  No stats, just a feeling I have.

Of course Andria's greatest fear when I head out to run is that I will not return, or will come back with some horrible injury.  Trail running is not an easy activity.  Broken legs, twisted ankles, scraped hand and knees are always a possibility.  Getting lost is a concern as well.  You can only control so much, make the best of it and head out into the wild.

My control was in planning the route.  I left a copy of my itinerary with Andria at the campsite (althought I undershot my guess on return time) and carried a copy as well.  I wrote out a copy on the dashboard with emergency contact info and how to locate my family, just in case...

The one thing I have yet to control is my focus.  Unlike road running, trails require constant attention.  Look off-trail for even a second and the party is over.  Look even a few inches from where you plant your lead foot and really bad things will happen.  One such bad thing happened.

I may not have broken my toe.  That rock was certainly fixed in place.  My little toe gave way and turned a nasty shade of purple.  I had but one choice.  This may sound overly dramatic.  I'll concede the point.  But knowing I had to get back to the car without assistance was empowering.  No aid stations with access to emergency services.  No cell phone to call for help, or even warn my family of a delay.

Even misstep over those final nine miles was terror inducing.  Knowing the shudder of pain that would radiate from toe to head led to muscle soreness from constantly tensed calves.  But there was no self-pity.  No cursing my fate.  No bemoaning my lapse in focus, nor did I question my choice of footwear.  For I was doing exactly what I wanted, how I wanted, in the manner I chose.  The injury probably added an hour to my trip.  Climbing 2500 feet in six miles was not easy either.  And dodging horseshit made the day more difficult as well.  I failed to mention that my garmin disconnected itself from Skynet and I was blind to the remaining distance after the last trail fork.

I didn't break a leg.  I didn't fall off a cliff, nor was I eaten by a bear.  What I did was push aside rather painful bump in the road and get myself out of trouble.  Self-reliance is a powerful trait, one I am happy to develop.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sedition & Suppression

If you recall from colonial American history the term sedition refers to an attempt to incite discontent or rebellion.  Sedition is an appropriate word for the struggle that often storms through my brain.  I have suffered this internal rage for as long as I can remember.  My earliest memory of this battle goes back to grade school, on the bus ride home from school.  The reason for the rage is long forgotten, the sense of mania and rage persist.

The key to this lay in honesty.  I may be too honest with myself.  Too willing to accept my perceived faults and weaknesses as truth.  Too willing to give in to the whims of others, putting myself in the lesser position, blind to my value or self-worth.  My curse is silence.  While my mind rages against me I am silent to the world.

I am not dishonest when dealing with others.  Not dishonest in so much as I do not speak the truth.  From the heart.  Making a declaration of my needs and desires.  I do not always say what should be said.  Often I hold back, fearful of the response.  My imagination creates all sorts of plausible scenarios or likely responses.  Instead of speaking up and vocalizing my thoughts I slink away and hide in shame.  I feel shame because I lack courage.  The voice in my head is happy to be allow with me.  It craves my attention.  It revels in my despair.  It feeds on my fear and anger and inability to be at peace.  For this reason even when in a crowd, when surrounded by people who care about me, I still feel alone.

This internal struggle - the voice that rages - places an obvious strain on relationships.  Until I can be honest with myself, and honest in my relationships, I cannot move forward.  This struggle has prevented some friendships from growing.  I fault the voice with severing a friendship that I found nurturing and emotional beneficial, but is now dead because this voice would not stay silent.

Allowing the voice to speak out loud is not the answer.  I have to find and develop my own voice.  Grow the courage to speak on my own behalf, before the voice has an opportunity to say something truly awful.  The voice does like to be suppressed.  It enjoys flexing a little muscle, showing me who is boss.  For a long time the voice was the man in control.  It is a megaphone with a 50,000 watt amplifier.

Did I mention that this voice, my ego, my bitterest enemy, hates running.  My breathing muffles its words.  My footfalls disrupts its own thoughts.  The sounds and movement of nature distracts me from its protestations.  Unfortunately I have not outrun the bastard yet.

What I cannot burn with speed may I drown with distance.

Should I ever insult you with my honesty allow me to apology in advance, for it may not be my intent.  A balance must be struck regarding my filter, between saying too much and nothing at all.  I am saddened though when I consider those I have hurt the most will never see this message of contrition.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lost in the Wilderness

The problem with running trails, especially in the dark of night, is that you may not always see the turn ahead.  You keep pushing forward till you crash face-first into a tree.  Or maybe you forge through underbrush to reorient yourself on a lost trail, only to discover you just bathed yourself in poison ivy.  Some mistakes are unavoidable, even with are eyes open and ears listening.  You want to believe the course is true, the path ahead clear of pitfalls, the map accurate in its scale and plotting. Till you recall one uncontrollable aspect of the endeavor.  Your ego.

You don't want to know you are lost, just how to get back on the path.  You are uninterested in learning how to avoid repetition of past mistakes, such as the poison ivy or dehydration or overexertion.  You just want desparately to get from Start to Finish as quickly as possible, the consequences of potential folly be damned.  

Fail to learn from the mistakes of the past and you are doomed to repeat them in the future.  You may not be so lucky as come away with only a nasty rash or bloody scrape.

Could I have avoided the mistakes which left me bruising and ragged.  This is a question that probably plagues many people in my position.  So often the loose gravel along the trail does not make itself known till you are skittering along and crashing onto your ass.  I have spent a few weeks looking back down the path, examining it for signs that may have foretold of peril.  To be honest, I may have ignored the warnings had they been accompanied by air horns, strobe lights and stripper poles.  My eyes were that blinded.

Never again is a pretty cocky statement to make.  Never is a long time.  Again, well that seems to happens frequently.  It is just a matter of when.  With any luck I will be able to spot the trouble and dig my heels in with space to spare.