The Big Day

The monthlong wait for my surgery will end early tomorrow morning. I’ve already filled out my paperwork (and even got my patient ID tag when I went for my pre-op appointment last week). I’m off all this week so I can take care of errands, pack for my extended stay with my parents (who are looking after me after the surgery) and see my eye doctor for my annual appointment.

I’m looking forward to hopefully feeling better, but not wanting to get my hopes up too much like I did when I had the shot. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than suffer another disappointment.

Going for pre-op last week definitely made the surgery more real for me. On Friday, they took a blood sample so they could cross-type it against their blood supplies to make sure they had mine in stock (hopefully, I’ll finally find out what type I am – for some reason, nobody ever told me!) They said it was unlikely that anything would happen, and the procedure itself is one done routinely, but that .9 in the 99.9 percent odds gave me a momentary pause. And for some reason, I keep seeing the Operation board game and the patient’s red nose lighting up.

I knew they would be drawing blood at the appointment, but I started feeling weak when they tied the plastic tube around my upper left arm and told me to make a fist. The nurse commented that I was trembling, and afterwards, gave me some juice because she was afraid I would pass out. I’ve never been good with needles, but the thought of having blood drawn again, not having a doctor tinker with my spine, is making me nauseous!

I haven’t been outwardly nervous in the month leading up to the surgery – I’ve deliberately not thought about the details too much. When my mother and mother-in-law were asking me about the surgery this past weekend, I found myself forced to think about the details of the procedure. And then the anxiety began to kick in a little.

My husband has been trying to cheer me up the past few days, joking with me that I should make the surgeon play the Operation game before the surgery – if he made the red light go off one too many times, he couldn’t operate on me! My husband will stay with me overnight at the hospital Wednesday, and hopefully, I’ll be able to go home with my parents Thursday and not Friday. My plan is to stay with them a few days. My husband has to work, and I thought it would be easier to let my parents play nursemaid. If I need something, they can get it for me, and though I’ll probably spend a lot of time reading, it will be nice to visit with my parents and play endless rounds of Yahtzee with my mom.

All month, I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster that’s slowly been climbing a hill of death-defying height before plunging back down to earth. My stomach is churning with anxiety, I know my heart will feel like it wants to push past my lungs on the way down, but I’m making myself yell and smile and wave my hands over my head and try enjoy the ride.

I will give an update of how things go on Wednesday. See you then!






My Real Masterpiece

A friend posted this Huffington Post blog article on Facebook this past week, and it really struck a chord with me. I turned it over in my mind as I finished up the workweek and while I lounged on the couch Saturday morning, enjoying coffee and bingewatching the finals of American Ninja Warrior (I had no idea it would be so addictive!)

The blog, Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece, urges women to stop obsessing over perfecting their bodies, and that our bodies are not projects, but paintbrushes we use to create real art, whether it be through our spirituality, our relationships or our work.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with accepting my body for what it is. I’ve gone through periods of being chunky (like when I first went away to college and didn’t have mom’s cooking or her watchful eye against junk food) and out of shape (like recently). Around ages seven to nine, I also went through a chubby phase, and I think that my mother worried that I would grow up to be fat. She enrolled me one summer in aerobics, which I hated. I felt humiliated to have to leave my friends and playtime to go sweat it out with a bunch of middle age ladies (who seemed ancient to me at the time). I also remember how hurt I was when the girl down the street called me fat and told me I needed to lose weight. I remember not being able to wear the designer jeans that other kids wore, or not being able to have certain foods that my friends could eat (most types of cereal were off the menu, except for Cheerios – when I saw the cereal bar at the college cafeteria, it was like dying and going to heaven!)

Once I turned 10, I grew out of my chubbiness. Today, I look at pictures of me in junior and senior high school, and I see what looks like a normal, healthy, sometimes pretty girl. But in the back of my mind, I saw myself as not thin enough, and therefore not good enough. Problems with acne, haircuts and clothes that I deemed not cool enough compared with others, and self-esteem issues due to the cruelty and indifference of so-called friends just exacerbated my negative feelings towards myself.

I’m not saying this to hurt my mother — like all of us, she did the best she could, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. And I know that I’m not the only woman who feels this way (given the dozens of diet programs and pills advertised on TV that promise to deliver amazing results, the plethora of exercise programs out there, as well as plastic surgery and other beauty enhancements available.) Combine these with the magazines that feature models with figures the majority of women will never have (and the airbrushing of photos to make these women even more perfect), and clothes in a number of stores that seem to be made for women with no curves at all, and it’s no surprise that women today have body issues. Even when I’m shape, I never feel like my thighs are thin enough (and trust me, running doesn’t make cellulite go away. I’ve tried!).

For a long time, running and exercising were a way for me not only to mold my body, but a way of addressing the insecurities I felt about myself. Like I’ve mentioned before, being sidelined with an injury has given me time to examine other areas of my life, and I realized that I was so focused on running, I had neglected other areas of my life, such as a deeper relationship with my husband and friends, as well as nurturing other areas of interest. The idea that I should stop obsessing over the shape of my paintbrush (my body), but what I paint (the relationships I build, the work I do, my spiritual life and other interests), really hit home with me. I also realized that I’ve spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME obsessing over what my body should be, and not what it is, and learning to love what I have.

It’s ironic that I was thinking about all this while watching American Ninja Warrior, a show about people who push their bodies to the limit to do incredible things – run, climb, jump, and crawl up tower walls like a spider. They’ve made the bodies and their athletic abilities projects — one contestant even quit his job to focus on training for the American Nina Warrior finals in Las Vegas! I found myself really getting into the show, cheering, yelling, knee bouncing with anxiety as I watched people struggle on the course. I don’t see myself actually competing on the show, but would love to be in the shape that some of the contestants are. But the article made me realize that my body is not the ultimate project, nor my hopeful future marathon times, but what I give to others and to the world in other areas of my life. And that is the real masterpiece that I can contribute.


A Bucket List of Bucket Lists

This week is my last full week in the office before I take time off for my back surgery. I have my pre-op appointment early Monday morning, and then I get to go into the office and try and cram in some of the assignments I have to turn in before I leave. I suspect I won’t finish them all, and will likely have to haul my laptop home so I can finish things up for this month.

Not running has been frustrating, particularly when I receive my weekly newsletter with the group training schedule. It’s strange not to be rushing to the track after stopping at home to change and have a quick snack or preparing my fuel belt and laying my clothes out Friday night before the long run Saturday morning. I have found ways to occupy my time during this forced break (including the book challenge I wrote about last week and my return to piano lessons, which I’ll blog about in the future), but I’m still finding I don’t have time to do everything I want, like start outlining the novel I want to write during National Novel Writing Month this November, and should want to do. For example, I should spend more time cleaning house, but frankly, I’m not that good at cleaning, and the house just keeps getting dirty, so why bother? I do the basic necessities, such as laundry and running dishes through the dishwasher. I actually swept the downstairs floor today, but didn’t feel like I made much of a difference!

I am riding the exercise bike and doing some swimming, but as any devoted runner will tell you, it’s not the same, not by a long shot. This is the first time in my life that I have been so sidelined with an injury (and I suspect it won’t be the last, given that I’m getting older!) It’s given me a newfound appreciation for not only being able to run (even if it’s a crappy long run or track workout) but made me appreciate just having good health, something I think I have taken for granted.

It’s also gotten me thinking about bucket lists. I’ve kicked around different ideas about places I want to travel, marathons I want to run, and other things I want to accomplish during my life. A friend I had lunch with this weekend told me that I’m too young for a bucket list, but given that the first 41 years of my life went by in a blink, I’m thinking I should actually type up the list.

My desire to be super-organized (which I don’t always live up to in real life), is to have a bucket list of bucket lists – top travel destinations, top marathons, and a list with miscellaneous items, such as my goal of appearing on the game show Jeopardy before I die. I think I may start working on it now, and perhaps post the lists on my blog in the future. Maybe I might actually achieve some of these goals if I make myself accountable to my audience! (I’m also thinking of just starting a Bucket List savings fund so I can actually pay for these goals). After all, this blog is intended as a chronicle of my hopeful comeback to running marathons (and running pain-free is definitely high on the bucket list!)

I’ve also decided to use the blog as a way of examining my life – what is actually going to make me happy, and what goals do I really want to achieve. There are a few things I’d previously wanted to do that I’m more than happy to leave behind, such as sewing (that damned bobbin thwarted me every time), knitting (I really think I have four thumbs instead of two) and skydiving (I’ve had friends rave about it and say I should jump, but I just keep seeing myself panicking at the last minute, and someone having to push me out). Renewing my scuba diving certification and writing a book are still high on the must-do list.

I realized the other day that I’m finally making progress on something that hasn’t really been a bucket list item, but something I needed to learn for my own well-being: Making peace with imperfection. I’d read about it in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (mom gave it to me, hoping I’d finally get the message). I’ve always been hard on myself in terms of my achievements and shortcoming – someone told me it stems from being an only child, which may be true. To be honest, I think I’ve used running in the past as a way to escape, not just from problems in my life, but from my imperfections. There’s nothing wrong with using a run to blow off steam from a bad day, but I think I sometimes used it as a way to block things out. Not running has forced me to look at myself and my life, and I’ve come to a realization: I can beat myself up for gaining weight and not being in the shape I was in January, for not saying the right thing at a social function, for fumbling something at work, for this or that so-called shortcoming, or I can let it go. I’m also not going to get down on myself for not getting everything accomplished that I hope to in a weekend, or for watching mindless reality TV on a Friday night (like I did after another LONG week).

In short, there’s always going to be deadlines or something that needs tending around the house. Even when things are going well, not everything will go according to plan. I don’t think I’ve yet had a good race day where I got everything exactly right; perfection, I’ve realized, is a never-ending pursuit. And while I still hope to keep pursuing more great race days, I’m learning to be more accepting of myself and the challenges I’ve been facing.





Oh Captain, You Will Be Missed

I was shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Robin Williams earlier this week. From Mork and Mindy in the late 70s and early 80s to his decades of filmwork and stand-up comedy, Robin Williams touched so many lives (including mine) with his strong comedic and dramatic abilities. I loved him as Mork, and so many of his movies were classics and favorites of mine, from The World According to Garp to Mrs. Doubtfire to Good Will Hunting.

I couldn’t help but feel deflated this week after hearing about his suicide and his recent struggle with depression that caused him to take his life. Truly, a bright light that illuminated the world with such positive rays has been extinguished. Having struggled with depression in the past, I felt for him, and it makes me ache to know that he was in so much pain. One of the many tributes posted to him on Facebook sums it up – Be kind to everyone, because you don’t know what kind of journey they’re going through. In the marathon called life, some people are faced with enormous challenges and struggles, and sometimes, the ones who don’t seem to be struggling are the ones having the toughest go of it. The black dog – as Winston Churchill described depression – can plague even those who seem like they have everything.

Of all his movies, the one film that made the biggest impression on me was his turn as Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. I was 16 and a junior in high school when the movie came out, and it made such a huge impression on me. We watched it in English class – I think I even wrote a paper on it – and I really took to heart the movie and Mr. Keating’s call for his students to seize the day and to make their lives extraordinary. Maybe it was because I was 16, with my life still stretched out before me, and the fact that I truly wanted to make my life extraordinary – maybe that was why the movie resonated so strongly with me. Carpe diem was a motto I wanted to try and live each day, not just some motivation saying on a coffee cup. I could relate to the students’ struggles to achieve what they wanted, whether it was a dream career, a dream date or just to enjoy some good rock and roll music. I also was young, felt invincible (and probably a little hormonal too) and was just ready for the warm-up act called high school to end and for real life to begin.

I also was excited to see a recent commercial campaign that had a clip from the movie, where Mr. Keating is asking the students what their verse would be. Some might argue that it’s just another example of a great 80s movie being cheapened to sell something, but I really liked how they did the commercial. And how could anyone measure poetry like you would a figure from geometry? J Evans Pritchard should have been shot, or at the very least, forced to do geometry problems for the rest of his life.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about the movie, hearing the music in my head and thinking about the movie’s classic scenes. The ending scene is my favorite movie scene of all time and one of the best scenes ever: Todd and some of the other students standing on their desk as Mr. Keating makes his final exit, and instead of saying good-bye, they salute him with Oh Captain My Captain. Not all of the students stood, but the ones who did definitely got what Mr. Keating was trying to teach them. It made me wonder if Todd became a poet, or if Knox married Chris. And whatever happened to Nuwanda? Probably sent to military school, and probably still a rabble-rouser.

In a lot of ways, I still feel like I’m working on my verse. So far, I like what I’ve written, but there are more adventures to be had, more avenues to be explored, and more poetry to taste and let drip like honey from my lips. I’m still looking for the right words, and hoping that someday, I’ll be able to write a conclusion to my verse that would make a dead poet proud.

I’d read about some folks posting to social media pictures of themselves standing on their desks. I had debated doing this, but wasn’t sure what my boss would say, or whether my desks at work and home could take the weight. I had thought about throwing a desk set from somewhere, but couldn’t get access to the roof at work. So I thought I would post my tribute here. So good-bye, Oh Captain, My Captain. You are gone too soon, and will be sorely missed.



The Challenge of Fun

I once again find myself playing the waiting game. My surgery is scheduled for the last week of August, and the day can’t come fast enough for me. Of course, this past week dragged at work, especially the afternoons. I wasn’t the only one who was watching the clock, trying to mentally move the hands until Friday afternoon finally rolled around. But for me, it was especially long, waiting for August 27 — a day that I hope will bring a new beginning for me as a runner. It also seems to be passing quickly as I try to wrap up work projects before I leave for my time off. I’m still wondering if I’ll get it all done.

I’ve spent so much time training for races, I’m used to having a schedule to follow and a big goal ahead. It’s strange to feel like I’m adrift, headed to a new and hopefully great horizon. Like when I’m at the starting line of a race, waiting and anxious to see what unfolds.

To distract myself (and satisfy the Type A overachiever side of me), I’ve found myself trying to challenge myself with new sources of fun. One major fun challenge I’m pursuing is a book challenge. Reading as always been a way for me to recharge and escape – now I’m pursuing it like a sport.

I got involved in the challenge after reconnecting with a high school acquaintance. She now lives in Australia, and decided to host a book challenge among her friends and family on Facebook. People from almost every continent are involved – it’s good to know there are still lots of people out there who like to read for fun!

From July 1 to October 31, each participant must read 10 books, one for a different category. The categories range from a book that is at least 200 pages long, a book with a color in its title, a biography or autobiography, a book in a series, a book by an Australian author, and a book with a one word title. Each category is worth a certain number of points.

I read constantly when I was younger. Many times in the summer, I would stay up until nearly dawn, caught up in a book I was eager to finish. But the older I get and the more time I spend at a desk each day, it gets harder and harder to muster the enthusiasm or energy to read for fun at home. Other times, I’m so busy playing catch up on chores, laundry, or bills that I don’t have time. I still read a lot compared with people I know, but my days of marathon reading are definitely behind me until retirement!

I’m proud to report that I’ve read five out of the 10 books I said I would read.  The girl hosting the challenge is beating us all, I think. In fact, she just released a bonus category – if I remember correctly, it’s the same categories again, but you can also get bonus points if you select books that other people picked for their original challenge lists. Let me put it this way — if you could qualify for Boston by reading, she would be a shoo-in.

My Challenge of Fun is a way to distract myself from running (it’s sort of working, but at least I’m not going as crazy as I was before). It’s so easy to get caught up with the list of must dos, that I find myself not planning for the fun things I want to do, including reading for fun. For the past few years, running has been a way to exercise, have fun and relieve stress, but given my current issues, I’m looking for other ways to fill these needs. The challenge has been a fun way of ensuring I get my fill of reading stuff other than oil and gas, and to connect with bookworms around the world.

I hear people talking about needing to challenge themselves in terms of fitness, work goals, or other things. Why not a challenge of fun? It’s not the same as the spontaneous fun I had when I was a kid — playing outside all day with the neighbors kids, playing hide and seek or hanging out on the jungle gym or in the treehouse. But I’m okay with extending my to-do list to get the fun I need.

A Big Decision

Earlier this summer, I had a steroid shot in my back that was supposed to relieve the pain I’ve experienced in my lower left back (and which is pinching on nerves and causing other issues). Unfortunately, the shot did not have the intended effect, and the follow up sessions of physical therapy only brought temporary relief. Rather than try another shot or more therapy, I am opting to have surgery. I was given the option of a less invasive procedure (which the doctor said wouldn’t clear up all the issues I have) or to have a degenerating disc replaced in addition to cleaning up a second disc that is bulging. I’ll have to stay overnight in the hospital and take a week off from work; after that, it will be another month to six weeks before I can run again.

I never thought I would be having back surgery – I used to hear how back surgery procedures used to be horrible, with long recovery times and uncertain outcomes. And even though the technology has improved, the idea of someone tinkering around with the spine makes people nervous. I would be nervous, if I weren’t so ready to get rid of the problem once and for all! I imagine I’ll be nervous when the surgery finally arrives – just like the moment when the roller coaster leaves the loading ramp, and you’re strapped in with no escape.

I’m trying to think of the week and a half I’m taking off for the surgery as the introvert’s dream staycation. I’ll have a couple of days before the surgery, and won’t be able to drive for the following week, so I’ll have plenty of time to read. I read a lot in my line of work, but I still need to recharge my battery with some good fiction (or non-fiction unrelated to oil and gas) on the weekends. It will be nice to have a built-in excuse not to go anywhere for a change!

I have done a little run-walking, but decided to hold off until I feel like I’m in shape to train the way I want. I did go out for the group run this past Saturday – mainly to see people I know and just to feel a sense of normalcy – but I could definitely tell I’m not in the shape I was in January. It’s sad how quickly you can lose fitness! My Slo-Mo Snail Pace and the hot humid weather made for a long five miles. A comment from a fellow runner about how I wasn’t running my usual pace made me even more self-conscious about my current state. I found myself wanting to run faster than I should — I realized later that the comment was harmless, and that people were not judging me for not running at my usual speed. It was the critical voice in my inner head, the one that says I need to keep up and won’t accept imperfection, no matter what.

I decided to skip the run this past Saturday to swim (and believe me, I wanted to be running and enjoying the rare August cool front). Instead of sleeping in on Saturday morning (and lying on the couch watching reruns of home renovation shows), I’ve decided to maintain the schedule I have in the past – getting up early on Saturday morning to do something active, whether it’s the elliptical at the gym or swimming.

I met a fellow runner friend who’s been dealing with injuries, and we caught up and commiserated over laps and breakfast at Starbucks. We talked about what a big role running had played in our lives, and how it can be difficult to relieve stress and even make big decisions without our running. This injury has really shifted the balance I used to have in my life – things that used to not bother me can set my teeth on edge, and work and issues that I’ve been dealing with in my personal life loom even larger without the release I get from a run at the park.

I know that there are no guarantees, but I’m hopeful that the surgery will take care once and for all of the issues I’ve been dealing with. I will likely end up running the half at Houston (and will definitely not be shooting for a new personal best), but just to be able to run with no issues with be a welcome treat. This experience has been a reminder to me to never take the basics – particularly the ability to run and my health – for granted. Hopefully, the surgery will allow me to reestablish the balance in my life that I’m sorely missing.