Friday, August 12, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Existential Crisis Edition

I don't know exactly when it happened.  And by "when" I guess I mean I don't know when it started or when it ended though I am better able to pin down the end date because that was so recently.

I've cried decrepitude for a long time.  I probably over-dramatize my middle-agedness.  While I am forty-two years old I neither act, look, or truthfully feel old in any way.  There is a reality which says that my body is not the same as it was when I was twenty-two years old.  Compared to many guys my age I'm downright athletic.  Of course there are many athletic folks who are my age and older and who put me to shame.  Their fitness levels have nothing to do with how I feel on a daily basis.  Mine does.

If you're a long time reader you know I was once a daily bike commuter.  For four or so years I rode one hundred miles a week to and from work and then whatever on top of that for fun.  In 2011 I rode 5,100 miles and in 2012 I rode 5,400 miles.  Then in 2013 I stopped keeping track of my miles, though I'm certain it was more than 2,000 that year.  There were less miles in 2014 and even fewer in 2015 and so far in 2016.

My cycling miles fell off after I stopped being a daily bike commuter, shifted more toward mountain biking for recreation, and I also focused more heavily on running.  I had a particular propensity for trail running with an ambition for ultra distances.

In 2014 I ran my first trail race: the Rugged Red, a super tough half marathon in my native Red River Gorge.  As is my obsessive nature I schemed and dreamed of taking trail running to the extreme.  I wanted to run a 50k, and maybe then a 100k, and I had dreams of a hundred mile like the Leadville 100 or Kentucky's brutal Cloudsplitter 100, and beyond that I wanted to chase a FKT unsupported record on the 300+ mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail.

Fifteen miles is my limit.

I will say that limit is for a forty-some-odd year old guy who is thirty pounds overweight and never ran enough to be ready for that kind of distance.  So suck on that.

The limiting factors are fairly obvious. There's no mystery to why I can't run farther or faster.  A) I'm a fat slob with no self control, B) I have adult responsibilities which I have not figured out how to effectively balance with the lifestyle I want, and C) I have too many competing goals and interests in life.

I want to be a great husband and father.  I want to be a published writer.  I want to be a successful photographer.  I want to excel at mountain biking (and because there are no good legal trails near where I live I have been almost singlehandedly building trails). I want to get back into rock climbing after a ten year hiatus.  I do want to run long distances on trails.  I want to spend more nights camping.  I want to find a community of like minded people with little drama to socialize with.
I also want to be active in my local community in participating in river clean ups, volunteering as a cross country coach for my daughter's team, in creating opportunities for more people to be active.  I want to help people.  I want to inject positive energy into the world.  I want to make a difference.
Can you see my problem?

There are twenty-four hours in a given day.  I typically allocate myself out for thirty and beg off for mental health after four. Nothing I truly want ever gets done.  Nothing ever comes to fruition.  The cart dumps over and I have to start again.  

I need simplicity in my life.  I desperately need simplicity.

At thirty-three years old I was diagnosed with ADHD.  That revelation emotionally vindicated me from a lot of pent up guilt, but without delving into that issue at even greater length let it suffice to say guilt still permeates my life.

I resolved that I wasn't going to let that diagnosis dominate my life or determine my identity.  I can't say I've been completely successful in that effort.  And maybe dodging the issue on principle instead of facing that demon head on hasn't been what's truly best for me.  I've denied my nature in an effort to maintain a false sense of control over my life.

What being ADHD means for me is crippling inattention, overpowering impulsiveness, and living in a constant state of being overwhelmed. 

I have survived adulthood by developing innovative coping skills.  I escape.  In mind, in body, in spirit...I live in an alternate universe.  It's the only way I can tolerate the sensory barrage that is modern life.

I started this post to explain how my body feels so much better these days.  I seem to have regained a good deal of my youthful energy and strength after being cut off from it for almost a year.  But the real problem wasn't that my body was beat down, though that was assuredly the case.  My real problem has been a malaise of the spirit coupled with the complete inability to mentally focus on my problems or study up on potential solutions.  Day to day life distracts me from the long view. Always.  Except, to deal with the mundane of the Now I escape in my mind to places that are much more desirable. 

I live in mind palaces where I don't have ADHD.  I'm not bad at paying bills.  I can read other people.  I know where I'm going, and I have my $#!+ together.  I don't hate inhabiting a cubicle, and everything I do matters.

In my world nothing distracts me from my goals, and I am focused.  People like me.  I like people.  I've been able to plan and delay gratification so I can enjoy the fruits of my labors.  In this imaginary nirvana I'm never the victim of life and my bank account never overdraws.  

Somehow I've learned how to live with one foot in this imaginary world and one foot in reality.  I am able to hold down a job and even be modestly successful.

What I've not figured out how to do is have a focused dream and chase after it with balance and sobriety.  Too many dreams; too little balance; maybe not enough reality.

When I focused on running ultras I think I aimed too high.  I should never have set a goal to run a 50k trail race in the Red River Gorge.  Or at least not until I had more running miles under my belt.  I over did it.  Pure and simple.

I peaked at the Iron Horse in October last year.  But even then I was fretting over not being able to get in enough training for the Rough Trail 50k in November.  Rough Trail didn't even hurt me all that bad.  But it had burned me out.  

After Rough Trail in November I stopped running.  

While I intended for it to be a short term hiatus it became indefinite.  And since I was out of the habit and routine of cycling I didn't just pick it right back up either. The next-to-final nail in my coffin was...November.  I stopped being active as winter eased into the world.  I told myself it was okay because I needed the rest.  

The easy lassitude of the 2015 holidays sidled into the short, short days of early 2016, cold weather, and less activity.  I was sitting a lot.  At work I was glued to a chair.  I commuted ninety miles round trip each day by car and travel quite a bit with work. My office chair and broken down Honda Civic bucket seat twisted and knotted my back.  

While back problems didn't begin with my "retirement" from ultra running  they definitely flourished as I lounged around my life completely unable to relax.  Ever.

Early winter deepened into full blown five o'clock dark.  Spring didn't bring fresh air or inspiration on my part.  My body just tightened and weakened as the months dragged out.

I found when I did rode my bike I had lost any speed I might have ever enjoyed.  It was disheartening and depressing.

I have a newer car now.  I move around a little more now.  I've tried to start running and cycling again...simply for fitness--and have failed to re-establish anything resembling a routine.  But I have pressed on.

Sometime in the recent past I noticed that my back just doesn't hurt like it did before.  I have some nagging chronic lower back tightness, but that predated the misery of this past year by a decade at least. No, the pains of the past couple of years have simply evaporated. 
 
I have power in my limbs that I hadn't felt in a long time.  I have energy.  My knees don't buckle under merely my body weight.  I don't moan and groan when I get out of bed or stand from a chair.

I'm not complaining about my quiet return to health, but it perplexes me, and leaves residual worry in the shadows of my mind.  What caused my decrepitude...and will it return as unheralded as it fled?
There is an allure to diving back into my recreational obsessions.  I want to rock climb.  I want to mountain bike.  I want to sign up for the Leadville 100 again.

These are not simple solutions to my fundamental underlying problems.  Physical activity is crucial to managing my neurological maladies, but I have to find balance. 

My problems are not rooted in my family, or even in myself, or my job necessarily.  What I fight against every day are the corporate/industrial expectations of modern life in the First World.  My crisis is a First World Problem.

I don't say that to diminish the real and present impact of that world on my mind, my heart, and my soul.  I know I have it good compared to many, many people, but that doesn't make the minutes tick by any easier, or the oppressiveness feel any lighter on my shoulders.  I should be comforted in the knowledge that my station in life is equal to that of kings of old, and I should wipe my tears, hitch up my britches, and get on with my life.

I could push aside all of my playful fantasies and buckle down.  I could do the work, collect my pay, and take my two week vacation every year.

Then I see Donald Trump in the news.  Then I think about how much gasoline I burn every day.  Then I hear a story about how we consume two hundred pounds of meat each year as individual Americans.  I don't want to pull away from my small node of influence in life.   I want to expand it and enhance it.  So I cling.  Except the things I cling to in hopes of changing the status quo are the underlying infrastructure of said status quo.  The corporate clock, the cubicle sentence, the hour long lunch, committees and conferences, and all the accoutrements of our modern society...they draw me and repel me.

I fear being too comfortable in the recent financial stability my family enjoys.  While I have longed for and worked for it for years now, and sacrificed a previously hard won dream to go down this path to financial stability, I fear it.  I fear complacency and ambivalence toward issues I feel are critical in the world today. Comfort makes you lazy.

While my superficial problems are definitely of the First World, my existential conundrum is more universal.

While I desire to untangle all of these threads and sever the extraneous ones, I know that wish is so close to impossible that it will never happen.

If I could spell out my perfect day it wouldn't be an unreasonable life to live.  I struggle to define what I want in life when the answer is right in front of me: I want to be self-employed, work from home, and do good in the world.  I want to help people and live a good life.  Everything else follows.

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