(From our very own First Lady Sarah.)
BAMs, it is October. The PUMPKIN ALL THE THINGS retail frenzy is in full swing. Canada is so over summer that their Thanksgiving has come and gone already. Over at Home Depot, they are already setting up the Christmas displays.
With the lazy days of summer assuredly in the rear view mirror, fall is a fitting time to refocus and reset. September started off strong for me but as life got busier again, my old pattern of pushing self-care to the margins crept back in. Without being intentional about the path to my long term goals, I know they will fall to the wayside. I am confident that I am not alone in this struggle. In the spirit of BAM Buddy accountability, I thought I would share with you my own high and low points from the last few months.
Back in January, Ruth led us through a goal-setting exercise to prepare us for the year ahead (click here to read it). She talked us through choosing SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely). As part of the plan, she recommended we review our progress quarterly.
When I last checked in with you in June, I talked about the work of re-assessing goals when life happens. At the time, my challenge was motivating myself without the accountability of a half-marathon training schedule while preparations for an upcoming move were eating up all my spare time. I set a modest running goal for myself and a secondary goal of joining a rowing club after we moved.
I’d love for this to be the part where I tell you a fabulous success story, wherein I run toward victory, stress-free, with muscles rippling and a toss of my impossibly glossy hair. But here is the unvarnished (wild-haired, exhausted) truth: The running goal fell apart not long after I made it. I had underestimated how consuming our move preparation was going to be this time. I forgot how needy my children could be when their parents are stressed-out. I forgot about last minute attempts to squeeze in time with friends. And about farewell parties and field day and ballet recital rehearsals. I did what I could, but I didn’t run three days a week. And then we moved.
Our moving truck was two weeks late, which threw off our careful planning for the first month in our new home. We pitched a tent in the living room of the empty house and waited. We decided to repaint all the bedrooms. Once our stuff finally made it across the country, we discovered two things: this house has significantly less storage than our old one, and one of our movers helped himself a very generous tip–my engagement ring and anniversary band.
Having moved so many times, I knew to anticipate a case of the blues. It happens every time–a few weeks of everything feeling just…hard. I used to get angry with myself for my lack of resiliency. I’d watch a little too much TV and struggle to be productive. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I hack it?
In the midst of one of these seasons several years ago, a therapist asked me a question that changed my life: “What if it was just neutral?” she said, “Not good, not bad, but neutral?” It was a revelation. I didn’t need to be so hard on myself. As long as the less-productive choices weren’t destructive, could I allow myself to call them neutral? When I gave myself this bit of grace, the shame and exasperation evaporated. I know now to expect some move-induced entropy. I also know that the struggle won’t last forever, so I don’t need to be as frustrated by these blue periods.
Try, try again.
If you ever plan to climb a mountain in the snow, one of the skills you have to develop is ice axe self-arrest. The only way to practice self-arrest? Launch yourself down a snowy incline and try digging your axe in as you tumble. You practice because when you fall by accident, the ability to sit up or flip over and dig in while sliding downhill becomes a matter of life and death. In practice, you also learn pretty quickly that you probably won’t stop the slide on your first try.
In a lot of ways, this summer felt a bit like I was falling down the side of a mountain. Tripped up by unexpected events along the route I’d charted for myself, I tumbled downward, reaching for something to anchor myself and end my free fall. I knew on a purely chemical level, if I triggered the neurotransmitters in my brain with exercise, I would feel better. It wouldn’t make the mess in my house go away. It wouldn’t make me less lonely. But it might lift the cloud a little and give me the energy I needed to slog through the rest. One particularly challenging afternoon, I told my husband that I was going to run on the treadmill at the local Y until I was happy again. (Mercifully, it only took about 2.5 miles.) I understood that moving my body would help wake up my brain and I could run my way to a better attitude.
The summer wasn’t even half over, though, and despite being driven to the treadmill in my moment of desperation, I still hate running indoors with the white-hot loathing I generally reserve for thong underwear. But I needed to move and it was 100 degrees outside, so I readjusted my expectations. I found some group fitness classes at the Y and started going.
As my body adapted to the familiar rhythm of moving again, my mood improved. I met some neighbors. I reconnected with old friends. And I emailed the rowing club.
On a muggy evening in late July, I climbed into a rowing shell for the first time in 19 years. Out on the river that evening, it felt a lot like the relief of finally getting the tip of your ice axe solidly into the snow after a few hundred yards of tumbling. I wasn’t at the summit. I wasn’t safely back in my tent. There was still a lot of work ahead to get where I hoped to go, but I wasn’t falling anymore.
So it is now October. In a few weeks, I’ll be rowing in a regatta for the first time since 1997. I don’t know that our time will impress my 21 year old self, but crossing the finish line on the course will be a reminder that I can find my way through a challenging season and come out stronger on the other side. The humidity is finally ebbing away here and I’m finding my way back to running again too.
I’ve got a 5k on the calendar for December. This one, though, isn’t just for me. I want to finish out 2016 running a race with my 7 year old daughter. This move has been really hard for her, too, and she is still trying to find her place here. But she loves to run and has watched me finish a few half-marathons over the years. This time, I want to cross a finish line with her. I hope to show her how to set a goal, how to work toward it by putting one foot in front of the other, and to share with her the thrill of finding strength within that she never knew existed. All while wearing jingle bells on her sneakers.
And how about you?
As we roll into this last quarter of 2016 and reassess our goals one last time, we want to hear your stories of how this year has gone. What setbacks or unexpected victories have you seen? How did you re-calibrate? What unfinished business do you plan on checking off before the curtain falls on this year?