come on aht

I was straight all my life. At least, that’s what I thought.

It’s what I was told, anyway. It’s what I learned. Society, my enviornment, and my upbringing taught me that I was just “jealous” of the girls I thought were pretty and fun, because that is what girls are –  jealous of each other. The idea of attraction to girls wasn’t even entertained, by me or anyone around me. As I got older, I was obsessed with what the other girls were wearing, how they looked, and how could I make myself look that way too. Maybe if I looked that way, I wouldn’t be such a weirdo.

Public middle school introduced girls in jeans to me, as I had been in a private Catholic elementary school through 6th grade, and we had uniforms. This was brand new and I liked girls in jeans. Or rather, I told myself I was just envious that they looked good in their jeans. I know better now, but back then, not so much. The idea that I was a lesbian, attracted to girls, it truly didn’t enter my mind. I was just a jealous weirdo who came to the school knowing no one at all, not wanting to stand out or be teased.

(Aside: my obsession with jeans also had to do with the fact that once we started in public school, my mother forced my brother and I to “dress up” for school 3 out of the 5 days of the week. That meant no jeans. She was convinced that we would learn more if we were dressed up. Instead, with my mother apparently not knowing the painfully shy child I was, I couldn’t concentrate because when you are 12 years old, you just want to be the same as everyone else. So when I started going to a school where the dress code wasn’t uniforms, I was excited. That didn’t last long. Since I already felt like a freak, I would bring jeans and change on the bus, behind a tree at the end of our yard, in the school bathroom. The jeans I had weren’t even my own, they were hand-me-down Wranglers which were embarrassing, but at least they were denim. Honestly though, I’d kill to have those jeans back in my life.)

I’ve been quiet, shy, and most especially, awkward my entire life. That hasn’t changed, but I know it contributed to not living my truth until the ripe old age of 31. I was involved in relationships with guys, which were also awkward. I wasn’t attracted to them, but if they were giving me attention, I thought I was supposed to go with it. Thanks, Catholic church, bible, and patriarchy. Literally though, I thought I was supposed to do whatever dudes wanted. I remember there was a kid I worked with and went to high school with who seemed to be an actual white supremacist, and I didn’t know how to “let him down easy” because I was worried I would hurt his feelings. This is how people raise their daughters, and we daughters have to figure everything out on our own, hopefully before it’s too late.

Because I thought I was supposed to bend at the whim of men, the relationships I had were abusive – mentally, emotionally, sexually. This isn’t easy to write, in fact my hands are shaking. Reliving those feelings is hard, but I know it’s important. I was made to feel like a cheating whore, an ungrateful bitch, a selfish prude, a histrionic head case. I became more and more broken, and allowed more and more to happen to me.

When I got engaged to my ex, I figured that was it. That was going to be my life. Living with a man I feared, who pressured me into sex, encouraged me to starve myself, and who was never on my side. I was miserable. And then I met my wife.

Five years ago, my wife walked into the store where I was working. I knew of her, because of Facebook, but when she walked in, I was captivated. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was off work that day, and we talked and laughed for several hours. I was hooked.

As our friendship quickly grew, I started to realize that I was feeling something else. Something I couldn’t tell anyone. The reason I couldn’t stop thinking about her was because I was falling in love with my best friend. I had growing resentment towards my ex, because I started realizing that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t deserve the abuse. My wife was in a relationship as well, so I wasn’t about to confess my feelings and ruin our friendship or her relationship. I had never met anyone like her, and we had so much in common it was downright freaky at times. But I felt trapped, so I stayed in my relationship, growing sadder every day, because I knew I could never be with her.

It unfortunately took us until after we both were married to other people to have the courage to tell each other how we felt, but when we finally did, I felt so much clarity. I felt a literal lightness, as though I was floating around in a dream and would wake up any second. Even though the timing was unfortunate, and my ex had been so subtle with the abuse that my oldest friends actually sided with him when I told them, I still felt free. I went about telling my three closest friends in an impersonal way, over an email. At the time I thought that was the best way to get the information to them all at once so there wouldn’t be a game of Telephone before I could contact everyone individually. I was afraid of how they would react, and evidently for good reason, because they no longer speak to me. While I regret hiding behind an email now, it was the mindset of what I had to work with at the time and I can’t change it.

I do have thoughts of reconnecting, explaining, and apologizing every now and then, but then I remind myself –  it’s been 4 years. They don’t miss me, I am a bad person in their eyes, and I should leave things where they are.

My parents didn’t take the news well either – my mother suggested marriage counseling. She couldn’t seem to come to grips with the information that I was in love with a woman. My parents are pretty religious, and we didn’t have much of a relationship after I came out, but things have gotten much better recently. I used to be a champ at holding a grudge. It’s something I’m working on, and honestly, I would like to have a relationship with them.

Coming out at age 31 was pretty difficult. I lost friends, people who I thought were friends, and my parents weren’t supportive. I had to pack and move all my belongings by myself in 3 days. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, because of the way my ex reacted, I was afraid things might get violent. It was not an easy process.

If I could go back in time, would I change things? Hell yes I would. Since I can’t, I’m sharing my story in case there are other late bloomers out there like me. It takes a lot of strength and courage to overcome a situation like this. If you can figure out what will make you happy, you will eventually find your people. They may not be who you think they will be, but they will be on your team.

Today is the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. For more information, check out this from the Human Rights Campaign. Visibility matters.

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the personal best marathon that wasn’t

On New Year’s Day, I decided on a goal for 2018. I signed up for the Erie Marathon, and it was going to finally be the personal record that I have wanted since the beginning of my marathon running. I had trained for a 4:30 marathon several times, which fun fact, is pretty damn average. Not for me, though. My best marathon time was 4:40, which I acheived at Steamtown (Scranton, PA), and it was an improvement of about 22 minutes.

Last year, I had come off a pretty decent couple of training cycles: On my 34th birthday, I bested my 50k time by one hour, 45 minutes, and 49 seconds. I ran the entire race with no walking, another big feat for me. In September, (one year ago on Monday), I completed my second Ironman triathlon, and my training allowed me to improve my time by 56 minutes and 52 seconds. I had lost some weight, which helped, and was around 190 pounds at that time. I was set up pretty decently to have a good next year, as long as I kept up my training and eating well.

Unbeknownst to me, however, my brain’s neurotransmitters and genetics had other plans. Much, much different plans. Destructive and dangerous plans.

According to Havard Health Publishing: “Throughout life, different genes turn on and off, so that — in the best case — they make the right proteins at the right time. But if the genes get it wrong, they can alter your biology in a way that results in your mood becoming unstable. In a genetically vulnerable person, any stress (a missed deadline at work or a medical illness, for example) can then push this system off balance.” If you have some time to read, it’s an extremely informative piece.

A lot of people don’t really understand this, which, fair enough. I feel that most humans, by nature, are selfish. They internalize why someone close to them is not feeling 100% joyful at all times. They skip right over the depressed person and go right to themselves – what did I do? What didn’t I do? Why can’t I make X happy? Am I not enough? Meanwhile, it can be just as “simple” as how the depressed person’s brain is handling neurotransmissions (or not handling), with certain genes at that particular time.

Depression is a thief. A sneaky, clever and throrough thief. It can, quite literally, take the life right from you. You may not realize it at first, and sometimes by the time you do understand what’s happening, you’re too far gone to even care. It took a long time for me to realize it. I was riding the bus home from work one day, standing room only as usual, and I was near the rear of the bus standing beside the side rear doors. As the bus was speeding down the parkway, I clearly visualized and contemplated pushing open those doors and jumping out. And even still, I didn’t care enough to seek help. Or maybe, it didn’t occur to me because I didn’t feel like I deserved help.

Another thing depression does is wholly diminish your self-worth. I thought I was a piece of shit. I felt like a piece of shit. I hated myself, and I didn’t want to be aware of what was happening. I didn’t want to feel, or on the occasions where I was feeling, I wanted to drown it. And drown it, I did. Alcohol helped at first – wine was my favorite. After awhile though, one bottle of wine wasn’t enough to make me “feel” better. It made me feel even worse. Due to my mental state, I didn’t see the alcohol as exacerbating the situation though, so I’d just drink some more in the hopes the feelings would disappear.

Zero exercise, garbage food every day, and new work stress on top of my functioning alcoholism added on a good 30 pounds to my 5’7″ frame. In mid-January, I began working from home 4 out of the 5 days per week, and I was assigned a new, complicated client. Since I didn’t have to put on real pants every day, I wasn’t realizing how much weight was piling on because when you work from sweatpants, who cares. I ended up wearing the exact same outfit every “office” day, until my pants became too tight and I had to go buy the next size up.

I had that idea, on January 1 – to sign up for what would be certainly my personal best attempt at the marathon. I wanted to try for a half marathon PR as well, in June on a familiar course. I naïevly assumed that simply paying for a race, booking a hotel room, and telling people I was going to PR was going to solve my alcoholism and not getting off my ass. And truly, I should have known better, but again, who really knows what my brain was doing with what it had to work with at the time?

I made myself training plans and added them to my calendar. I decided I didn’t just want to run a 4:30, I wanted a sub-4:30, so my plan was for 4:27 for a time cushion. As it turns out, you can make ALL kinds of plans, but if you don’t do them, you won’t get better at anything and the time will still pass all the same.

So instead of running, I was lying on the couch. Instead of getting up early to do yoga, I slept in until the very last minute before getting out of bed and walking straight to my desk. Instead of eating mindfully to help reach my weight goals, I ordered pizza, fried fast food garbage, and endless burrito bowls. Instead of cutting down on the alcohol consumption, I acquired a bottle and a half of wine habit per night.

Shockingly, none of these things helped me get into PR marathon shape. It barely got me out of bed. I was in a haze of sadness. I had at this point met with my primary care physician for antidepressants, and was taking bupropion (Wellbutrin) which for me, caused a happy side effect of curbing my appetite. However, I felt like eating, so I did, and that side effect didn’t help me. It unfortunately came with another side effect of severe tinnitus (ear-ringing), which increased to the point where I truly felt like I was going insane and I ceased the medication full-stop. Obviously you aren’t supposed to alter the way you take prescribed medication unless your physician instructs you to do so, and for good reason. I couldn’t get an appointment for a week so those seven days off medication was an extremely dark time. I contemplated suicide multiple times. Every time I saw a knife I imagined how you were supposed to slice your wrists – was it across, or down? I imagined finding a gun and walking off somewhere and dispatching myself. Being home alone all day didn’t help matters, with no one there to stop me. I didn’t think anyone would miss me, so these were all very real scenario in my head.

Fortunately, I never acted on my thoughts, and eventually I was able to see a psychiatrist for more in-depth evaluation and medication recommendations. We worked through many dosage changes and it seems we’ve reached an effective one. Unfortunately, I lost most of this year to this episode. The year that I was supposed to run my best marathon. The first year in my new house with my wife. By the time I got to a place where I could function, it was too late for my marathon. I sadly made the decision to DNS (did not start).

I keep getting emails from the race director, because tomorrow is race day. And while I remembered to cancel my hotel reservation, I neglected to remove it from the calendar on my phone, so it popped up today. Add on the fact that this weekend last year was my successful Ironman – it’s been hard to see the memories that pop up. I haven’t run since April, but maybe tomorrow being race day, I should ceremonially give it a shot.

It can only go up from here, right?

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sleep just to dream her

So, I am cautiously optimistic that my psychiatrist has figured out the proper medication and dosage to control my depression, or rather, keep my depression from controlling me. And I think that I have figured out (relearned, more like) that self-care and routine help me immensely in my daily battles. For example: eating well. It’s such a simple thing, really, but for someone with depression, it can be damn near impossible. It’s something that I would imagine many people don’t even consider in their everyday lives – they can just do it without thinking.

I’ve managed to start and keep myself on track since July 30. This entails, for me, being essentially militant with what I consume. I keep track using the MyFitnessPal app. Logging what I eat helps me stay within my daily calorie goals, and this in turn is helping with weight loss. I’ve read disputing information on how long it acutally takes to form a habit, but in my case, this is a habit that is currently firmly in place.

I haven’t been working out yet, and though I know it will help me as well to reach my goals, I told my psychiatrist that I felt like it was too much all at once to attempt. You see, I am very all or nothing. Moderation, by definition, seems so simple. For me, it’s incredibly difficult. So honestly, I felt a sense of pride when I recognized that if I attempted to do ALL THE THINGS all at once, like a strict diet (i.e., not consuming all the bottles of wine and pizzas) plus a training plan, I was most likely setting myself up for failure. My psyciatrist smiled as I explained this to her, and agreed that my approach was wise and very self-aware.

However, I am still unfortunately plagued with insomnia. I’ve been having the best of intentions to get out of bed early, when my wife leaves for work, in order to exercise prior to starting my own workday (from home). This has yet to occur because I’m always zombified and desperate for more sleep. There are three dogs that sleep in the bedroom at night, and it becomes a cacophony of raucous snoring, panting, and licking.

I have never been a person to fall asleep with a tv on, because my brain focuses on the sounds rather than tuning out and relaxing. The snoring etc. is worse, because not only does my brain focus on it, it fully engages and is just waiting for the next loud snuffle. This in turn triggers frustrated adrenaline, causing my mind to race.

I wish I could say this is always the dogs’ fault, but it isn’t. They say it takes the average person 7 minutes to fall asleep. I WISH. Even if the dogs aren’t conducting the worst symphony ever, my mind will not shut off. My head just feels full. My psychiatrist prescribed a benzodiazepine, and my primary care physician prescribed a seratonin antagonist & reuptake inhibitor… neither of which seem to work. Benedryl, Advil PM, melatonin – no success. I bought Valerian root but have yet to try it.

Sleep is so important to overall health, especially for someone with depression, therefore it’s just so incredibly frustrating to not be able to fall asleep. My psychiatrist recommended I look into an online program called SHUTi, so I did and it’s like $150. I’m considering it, because it would be great to not take medications that don’t work anyway, but the cost is weighing on me. I’m coming to grips with the fact that my health is worth the cost, but… yeah. Maybe next payday.

Something else that is interesting – when my wife leaves for work in the morning and I manage to drift back to sleep, I seem to have the most bizarre, vivid dreams. I researched this a bit and found that vivid dreams actually tire one out, because it is not considered a restful portion of sleep. To add to this, depressed people dream more intensely and for longer periods because the brain is having to deal with an overload of arousals caused by excessive worrying.

I know what I need to do: I need to begin forcing myself out of bed early. This will keep me from having unrestful sleep full of bizarre dreams that confuse me, and in turn will tire me out earlier in the evening, prompting a reasonable bedtime. As it is with all things, this is easier said than done. Wish me luck, reader, and please send sleepy vibes my way.

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the genesis of my diagnoses

As a child I would use my allowance to buy candy. I intended to have it for a period of time, but I would always end up eating it all at once. I would try to make it last, but I seemed incapable of stopping. Thus began my disordered relationship with food.

Growing up, I spent lots of time in my room, alone, reading and re-reading the same books, over and over. I would lie on my stomach, with the book propped up against the pillow. Hidden behind the pillow would be a pile of freezer pops and a pair of scissors. I would bolt to the basement freezer, grab a strip of the colorful, artificially flavored pops, and shove them into the waistband of my shorts to hide them under my shirt in case my family saw me. I would flee up the two sets of stairs, back to the safety of my room, to gorge myself in secret. If my brother or parents were to come into my room, it would appear that I was simply enjoying a single freezer pop, with a dozen empty wrappers safely hidden away.

My first memory of depression is from when I was in my early teens. I don’t remember a lot of what was going on in my life, but I remember an immense sadness that was more than just simple teenage angst. I spent endless nights crying myself to sleep without knowing why. I was extremely introverted, painfully shy, unable to focus in school with poor grades to show for it. Looking back, I am not sure how my mother, a nurse, did not make the connection that I had attention deficit disorder.

I was in my late teens when I first remember having issues with skin pulling, i.e. dermatillomania. I had always had trouble leaving scabs alone. Something was there, on my skin, and it was a strange sense of satisfaction to pull it off. I began destroying my thumbs, primarily, pulling the skin away from the sides of the nails, to the point of drawing blood. I am still this way, and it’s often times compulsive and uncontrollable. It becomes worse when my anxiety flares. I have learned what the “good” bandages are, and which ones will start coming off right away. At times, covering my fingers is the only way to keep myself from pulling.

At 20, I became involved in what turned out to be a controlling, manipulative relationship. It was so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was happening. My insecurities, disorders, and naiveté were preyed upon, exploited, and used to make me feel worthless. It happened over a decade of time, so again, very subtle. Even when I started running marathons and lost weight, I was told, verbatim, that “it’s good to be hungry” and that there was nothing wrong with fasting. At my lowest weight, I would come home from running 20 miles, and was told that I should eat something “light” so that I wouldn’t undo all the running I just did.

It’s taken a lot for me to get where I am these days, despite the disadvantages I’ve been handed in life. I’m coming out of a severe episode of depression, finally seeing the light at the end of a ten month long tunnel of darkness. I’m using all the tools I can to get control of the things that have been controlling me for so long.

It’s really quite delightful and refreshing to be on this side of my life.

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The Flinch

I wish this book was available in print form.

“You don’t know anyone at the party, so you don’t want to go. You don’t like cottage cheese, so you haven’t eaten it in years. This is your choice, of course, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also the flinch. Your personality is not set in stone. You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine. You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like. If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way.”

— Julien Smith, The Flinch

never too late to start fresh

I’ve been struggling with my most recent depressive episode since last November, so wow, almost a full year. It’s been difficult, overwhelming, debillitating, and extremely detrimental to my health. I am a creature of habit, it’s how I stay on track. I’m all-or-nothing. I need clear plans laid out, I need checklists, I need control. Last summer, control was lost.

My wife and I built a house and sold the old one; unfortunately the timing didn’t match up so we moved in with my mother-in-law for five months. We lived out of one hot upstairs bedroom over the summer. I was training for an Ironman at the time, and it was difficult to get my training in as I would have liked, but I made it work. However living in someone else’s home, with 95% of your belongings buried in a storage unit, makes it hard for a type A such as myself to function.

I also began a new, completely different job last July, which required me to commute on public transit. The Port Authority of Allegheny County leaves much to be desired, to say the least. After my six month probationary period, I was able to begin working from home four days a week. Unfortunately, the moment I transitioned to working from home, I was moved to an extrememly demanding and difficult client. My stress and anxiety sky-rocketed. I figured this out the other day – I gained 29.8 pounds since I began with this client mid-January. I was shocked that it was that much, but it makes sense. I ate and drank my feelings constantly.

Despite being in our own space, with control, I felt helpless to control myself. It was easier to have pizza instead of make dinner, so that is what we did. Countless times. And countless bottles of wine, drank by myself. Generally one per night. I told myself I was too stressed out to excercise, and should just relax on the couch. No wonder I gained so much weight.

I named this blog the way I did because obviously I am working on losing weight, but it also has to do with how far I fell away from myself over the last ten months. I lost who I was and became someone else – someone depressed, crippled with anxiety, a physically inactive alcoholic. I was just simply alive, despite many, many thoughts about remedying that situation.

I lost Lora: the person, the wife, the friend, the athlete. I am slowly finding my way back to her, while losing the literal heaviness I picked up on that spiral down into simply existing. I need to remind myself that I didn’t get to this point overnight, and to be patient with myself while I heal and get back to being the me that I like.

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