The Vine: July 7, 2010
Hi Sars! To cut directly to the chase (so to speak):
About four years ago at age 28, I started running, basically from scratch (although active, I was unfit and overweight and could only run for about half a mile at a time). Last August, I completed my first marathon (verrry slow at 5:20, but I finished it!). Yay, right?
The thing is, I seem to suffer from post-race depression. It's a bit like a sugar high: you spend a few days in a euphoric state of mind and then it all comes crashing down. I guess it's related to realising you've had this great achievement but at the end of the day nothing changes, life goes on, people aren't really interested. You start questioning why you bother and who cares, anyway? I think it's at least partly physiological, to do with hormones and stuff.
This happened to me after three half-marathons and a bunch of shorter runs and the depression seemed to last between two and five days. Fine. Then I'd get back into training and life would go on. Then came the marathon. The euphoric stage lasted for about a week. Then I was pretty depressed for at least a week. I took a trip where I couldn't exercise and ended up eating all sorts of junk and ruining my healthy diet. I went into "what the heck" mode and before I knew it, it was Christmas, I'd started eating chocolate again after 3-4 years and basically OD'd on it, I'd barely run 26 miles in total after the marathon, and I'd put on 10 kg on top of already being a bit overweight. And so I was full of self-loathing. Okay, so maybe it can't all be traced back to the marathon in a straight line, but that was the chain of events.
Add to the "natural" depression the fact that I was in a running school last year, and when I went to a class just three days after the marathon, not only did the coaches not remember I'd been in the event, despite my having mentioned it a few times, but when some of the other runners asked me about it, they weren't really interested — especially after I told them my time (I guess they're used to coaching elite-level runners). At that time I was still proud of my achievement and would have been bursting to talk about all the details, especially to fellow runners! I was the only one in my group to complete a marathon last year.
But then a couple of weeks later someone from their previous year's group did her first marathon, in about half of my time I guess, and the coach asked her to talk about it and give advice in front of the whole class, and asked lots of questions. I guess I shouldn't care because I'm not in elementary school anymore, but it did hurt. At some point I asked the teachers about post-race depression and they acted like they'd never heard of it and it was all in my head.
In the new year I managed to get back into training and going to the gym and being more positive about life, but I haven't got myself motivated to diet. (I even signed up for a challenge where money is donated to charity for every kilogram you lose but failed at it, so now I've got guilt about the poor Nepalese kids in addition to my general self-loathing — great.) A couple of days ago, I ran my fourth half-marathon. I don't know if it was lack of training (although my mileage this year belies that) or the extra weight, but the whole experience was painful and a struggle. I added 15 minutes to my time, and was basically glad just to make it over the line. No euphoria this time: straight to the blues.
In a month I've got my next full marathon. Now I'm scared (a) that I might not even finish it or (b) that if I do, I'll get into the same depression cycle as last time. I've signed up for a charity fun run for the autumn, so I've got a goal to work towards — i.e. I'll have to force myself back into training during the summer. If the marathon was in my hometown I might think about giving it a miss, but it's in a different country and my husband and I have a non-refundable trip booked. Being a specific marathon trip it's much more expensive than if we just popped over there on holiday. (Hello, guilt!)
Anyway, I'd be glad to hear your take on this. Do I just need to get over myself? Should I not take part in public events? (The thing is, I need set goals in order to stay motivated.) Is there a way I could prevent the depression now I can predict it? Do I accept defeat and find a different sport? There is a whole tangled mess of other issues related to this that I could tell you about, but I guess it all just boils down to my lack of self-esteem. I thought something like running would improve my self-esteem!
I also thought running marathons would somehow turn me into a "runner" with an "athletic lifestyle" and instead I'm still the same lazy fat girl who has to force herself to exercise. And in the background is my mother's voice — she is very supportive and takes care of me on race days and comes to watch and cheer me on, but then she'll talk excitedly about how she saw the winners whizz past, they were going so fast and of course they were stick-thin! (I know she doesn't mean it that way, but…).
It's very hard for me to be supportive to myself when my progress is so slow and I know I'll probably always be in the bottom 10% of all marathon-runners, coming in just before they start taking down the finish line. I know it shouldn't be about that; it's about staying fit and staying the course and improving gradually, etc, etc.: I know it intellectually, but I can't seem to convince myself of it emotionally.
I belong to this great online community called heiaheia.com, and when I put up a really disappointed post yesterday about the half-marathon, all my online friends left really supportive and sweet comments and when I read them I felt even worse, because I knew I was just wallowing in self-pity and I didn't deserve their kindness anyway. What the hell is wrong with my twisted brain?!
I've been thinking about it, and it seems to me this whole thing could be an elaborate form of self-sabotage. Like deep down I don't believe that I deserve to succeed at anything, so when I do, I have to ruin it in some way. (Same with the weight-loss thing.) But if that's what it is, I have no idea what to do about it either.
Thanks for your comments,
Sad little runner
With the understanding that the woman you've asked for advice hates running enough that, when she thought a chunk of a World Trade Tower was going to fall on her, still did not break stride from a purposeful walk…I think that most of what you're describing vis-Ã -vis the after-race letdown is completely normal. It's partly the ebb of the endorphins, but I felt it after the play I put on, and after turning in my senior thesis in college; I've felt it in varying degrees after lots of big events.
Sad that it's over, sure, but in your case — and, often, in mine — I think it boils down to this sentence from your letter: "I also thought running marathons would somehow turn me into a 'runner' with an 'athletic lifestyle' and instead I'm still the same lazy fat girl who has to force herself to exercise." In other words, you thought running a marathon would change your entire life; you thought it would change you, would take that little drop of awesome you found deep down and pop it out into a big delicious fluffy whole bite of awesome.
…Wow, that metaphor was so lame that now I'm depressed. Heh. Seriously: that is a form of self-sabotage, that unrealistic expectation — because when whatever it is (running, no chocolate, putting on a play) fails to make over your entire life permanently and for the better, you use it as an excuse to give up, to not try the next time, to just load up on fries because nobody cares and it doesn't do any good anyway. And when I say "you," I mean "many many people, including this brother."
It takes many many forms: buying shoes we don't need because that one perfect pair might make us cool (or because not having it will leave us on the outside of something); turning into a Bridezilla because having that perfect wedding will mean we're happy and never have to cry or worry or work on a relationship ever again; et cetera and so on. Totally normal. Totally unconscious.
So, now what? Well, I would keep training for the upcoming fun run…okay, I wouldn't, because: hate running, but you know what I mean. Keep training for it. Anticipate that you might suffer from post-race blues, but don't let it rule the experience; accept it as part of racing, and tell yourself that, if it's too much this time, you can always move on to some other activity. Start paying more conscious attention to your aspirational style, and by that I mean, when you want to do or buy or learn things, what is the fleeting thought underneath that want? It takes a little time sometimes to get to the root of it; writing it down somewhere helps, so maybe you want to start a "race prep journal" and work things through there. Why did you start running? Why did you keep running? What was running supposed to do, or save you from, or change that it hasn't — or has?
Again: we all do this. It's why cable has so many decluttering shows, you know? It's why I have an entire drawer of beading supplies. The trick is to realize that you do this; forgive yourself for doing this; avoid choices that perpetuate the cycle (in this case, that means finding a running school that's more encouraging — or doing another sport that has different benchmarks for a while; not to get too Special Olympics about it, but you picked an activity whose measurements of achievement are not the most forgiving); and identify more realistic ideas and goals for change and improvement.
Running is great, I have heard. My chiptastic ankles and I are not trying to join the fun, but I understand it's very rewarding for its own sake and I think that's great. Your problem right now, I think, is that you're attaching all of the rewards of running (and possibly everything else in your life) to the approval of other people. We all do that, too, but spend a few months making yourself more mindful of that and trying to separate what makes you happy from what other people think is cool or impressive.
…Says the currency nerd. (Hee.)
My mom died two and half years ago. It was horrible. We were incredibly close and I still miss her all the time, but I have managed to climb out of the incredibly deep depression that left me semi-suicidal, unable to work on my masters, and deeply uninterested in the fun things in life. I'm not "over it" but I'm living my life again.
One of the silver linings was that I became very close with my father after her death, while we had always gotten along we had never been very emotionally close, more like baseball buddies.
Last year he told me that he was re-dating his high school girlfriend, whom he had dumped in favor of my mom back in college. It turned out he had gotten back in contact with her about 9 months after my mom died, and she left her husband three months later. He told me about eight months after they started dating, basically when he was moving in with her.
I felt incredibly betrayed that my father had lied to me for 9 months and I really don't trust him anymore, even though I understand that he probably didn't want to upset my sister and me by telling us before it was serious. I kept my feelings to myself, basically, until, I came home for a visit a few months later and met her.
It didn't really go that well although nothing terrible happened. She's clingy and possessive, which I find grating in couples under the best circumstances, but I was willing to swallow that irritation and put it down to differing relationship styles. But…at her behest, my father took down all the pictures of my mother in the house. My sister and I both told him that this bothered us, and he said that he has to love someone who is alive to feel like his life has meaning, and didn't want to upset Girlfriend, who is sensitive on the topic of my mother.
I decided it would be too emotionally difficult for me to come home for Christmas under the circumstances, and went with a polite fiction about disrupting work on my MA thesis; my sister went with work excuses because she didn't want face the situation on her own. Girlfriend sent us an email taking me to task for not considering our father's feelings. I felt that this was incredibly presumptuous, ignored her email and told my father that I was incredibly pissed and expected to never receive anything like it in the future. He told me he wasn't going to tell her what to do. My sister ended up going home for the holidays. (She, I should note, was not as bothered by the email, and while she is angry at my dad, has much less antipathy toward Girlfriend.)
Now that I am actually finishing my thesis I will be returning to the city where Dad lives with Girlfriend and (when they're not with their father) her two daughters. I am really dreading this because there is nothing polite to hide behind, and despite the anger I am feeling, I genuinely love Dad, and try to avoid hurting his feelings, which makes it hard to confront these issues.
Basically, I want to have no relationship whatsoever with Girlfriend and her family. She is clearly holding onto her 30-year-old issues with my mother and encourages my father to behave in ways that are disrespectful to my mother's memory (she baked him a cake on the anniversary of my mother's death, for one enraging example).
I am angry at my dad too (after all, Girlfriend wasn't married to my mom and doesn't owe her anything), but I always had a close relationship with my family and I hate the idea of being estranged but I hate the idea more of pretending to be in a family with people who are, essentially insensitive strangers.
Is it okay for me to basically insist that I only want a relationship with my father, and that if he wants to see me, he can arrange to do so at times when he's not with Girlfriend? Is it okay for me, when they get married, to not go to their wedding? My friends are torn on this issue — some see it as equivalent to refusing to acknowledge a gay family member's partner, but others point out that the gay partner is usually not doing anything damaging.
At this point I feel like the harm is done. Even if Dad puts the pictures back up he'll only be doing it because I'm angry, not because he is actually interested in honoring the memory of my mother. He seems to be setting up house with Girlfriend and her daughters, like a substitute family of undamaged people (he took them all out to brunch on Mother's Day, which made me cry after he told me on the phone). I understand the impulse, but it hurts.
It's not my fault or my sister's fault that we are still grieving our mother, and we can't just replace our mom. I understand that Dad has to grieve in his own way, but I honestly think that he is so afraid of losing someone he loves again that he will never stand up to Girlfriend and will always prioritize her comfort over my sister's and mine because he thinks we won't abandon him. Additionally, he adopts this Pollyanna attitude about it all where he refuses to acknowledge that we're upset and just attributes our reactions to being "overwhelmed with happiness" for him.
I am afraid of doing anything I can't take back, because I know my judgment isn't at its best in this area and I know my tendency to have fantasies of not just burning the bridge but nuclear-bombing it. At the same time, I don't want to keep putting myself in a situation that hurts me either, and at this point…
Thanks in advance for your advice, harsh or otherwise,
It's not okay for you to insist that your father only socialize with you sans Girlfriend, or to refuse to attend their wedding, and I think you know it isn't. It's okay to want to do those things, or to fantasize about doing those things, and you can try it, I guess; you can ask Dad to leave Girlfriend at home and meet you at a neutral location, and you can check the "no" box on the invitation and stay home with a good book. But it's not going to get you the results you want.
And what you want is twofold: 1) for your father to mourn your mother the same way you do, at the same pitch, on the same timeline; and failing that, 2) to keep him for yourself. If I've made it sound childish, I apologize — it is somewhat childish, but in the sense that it's very primal and natural and you may not realize consciously that you have these desires. I don't think it's crazy or inappropriate to feel how you feel.
What is crossing a line is expecting everyone else to feel the way you do, and/or expecting that your feelings should trump everyone else's. You say yourself that you didn't have an emotionally close relationship with Dad prior to your mother's death; do you know he doesn't still grieve? Do you know how he organizes these compartments for himself? Do you understand that he'll do it differently from you? "Girlfriend wasn't married to my mom and doesn't owe her anything" — is it your place to say what your dad owes her? Your dad is not you; your dad's relationship with your mother is not the same as your relationship with her; you did not know everything about the marriage, and you don't know everything about him. What is your dad owed, in the final analysis? Your mom is gone, and this cannot be changed. Is Dad not owed love and companionship unless it comes from your mother, or when you're ready?
"Even if Dad puts the pictures back up he'll only be doing it because I'm angry, not because he is actually interested in honoring the memory of my mother." See above. His failure to meet your honoring standards doesn't mean he's not honoring her. It means he's showing some compassion for Girlfriend by putting those things out of sight; sure, maybe he's over it already and isn't honoring your mother, but maybe he's doing it in his own way, out of your sight, because his relationship with your mother, as it continues after her death, is not necessarily and/or fully your business. And if he does do it because you're angry, so what? Do you want him to put the pictures back up? Or do you want him to remain a sad monk out of respect for…you?
Look, I think Girlfriend's behavior is presumptuous too, and again, you feel what you feel and that's okay, but I also think you're expecting too much from the man — starting with an ability to read your mind. It's time to acknowledge these feelings, to acknowledge them to him, to tell him in so many words that you feel betrayed and lonely and sad that he's moved on, to say that you don't appreciate Girlfriend dictating the role your mother will have in the family going forward.
It's not about making him pick a side, or assuming that expressing yourself means that you'll get what you want, and you should say as much to him. But he needs to know how you feel, and he needs to know that you need him to know how you feel, even if he doesn't do anything about it. (He should, however, let Girlfriend know that just because your mother died doesn't mean she isn't still part of the family. It's not a competition.)
But you also need to have a little compassion for Dad, and for Girlfriend. Yeah, the cake is weird, but I get the feeling that story had more layers (forgive the pun), and believe me, in her position, there kind of isn't a "right" way to handle the late wife — and if there is, it can change from day to day. She's not always going to get it right. You don't have to BFF it with the woman, but try to imagine for a few minutes what it's like to be in her position. I know that the pain of a loss like this can block out the sun, but this isn't all about you. These things are not just happening to you or just being done to you.
Own your feelings, while not expecting everyone else to share them, or to share them with you. Just because Dad isn't in bed all day with tears trickling into his ears doesn't mean he doesn't miss Mom; it doesn't mean you shouldn't be in bed all day some days; it just means he's different from you and he's trying to live his life. Taking Girlfriend out to brunch doesn't mean he's trying to make a substitute family and forget Mom ever existed; it means that Girlfriend is here, now, and is a mother, and brunch is what you do on Mother's Day. Not everything he does with or for Girlfriend is by definition at the expense of you or your mother. Sometimes it just is.
You need to talk to him. No ultimatums, no list of Girlfriend's transgressions; just tell him how you feel, that you still have a hard time, that you worry about what it means that Mom's pictures got taken down, that you love him and want a relationship with him but you can't just snap into place with Girlfriend and you'll need some time, and you hope he can be a little flexible as you figure things out.
And then you need to listen to, and try to sympathize with, a man who is probably lonely and misses having a family in the house. I'm not on his "side"; I'm not on anyone's side. There aren't "sides," is the point. Everyone's just trying to work around the hole your mom left without falling into it.
So I had a pretty solid group of seven close friends in college, and many of us have remained friends since graduation five years ago. There was never any serious in-group romance, which probably helped, though Leslie and Colin had a brief flirtation and I know Jason had a bit of a crush on Laura. Colin actually ditched us midway through senior year when he met a girl who didn't like us, and he's completely out of the picture now. Laura and I were particularly close, as we were co-leaders of a student group for a few years.
I lived with Laura for the first year out of school, then Kristen moved back to the city and three of us all lived together. A couple of years later, Laura and Kristen and I all went our separate ways, and I have consistently kept in touch with Jason and all of the girls EXCEPT Laura.
Here's the thing: I'm so, so glad we're not friends anymore. In the last year of living together, my individual friendship with Laura disintegrated. She was condescending and combative and generally unpleasant toward me all the time, but we managed to stay civil for the most part. I'm sure I was no picnic, as three years of roommate-hood takes its toll, but others have offered unsolicited opinions that she was particularly nasty to me even when unprovoked.
Laura had confessed to me several years prior that she and Colin had an affair in college (they were both in on/off serious relationships at the time), but that nobody else in the group knew about it, and that she trusted me with her secret, blah blah. I was shocked at her confession, but I didn't say anything to anyone, because it seemed like nobody got hurt and she said the relationship was long over. She has since gotten back together with her on/off serious boyfriend.
A few months before we all moved out, when all the girls were in town visiting, she drunkenly told us that she had confessed the affair not just to me, but to each of us individually, and told us all that we were the only one who knew, just to keep us from talking about it to each other!
Sars, I was livid. I felt betrayed and used and lied to. I told her that. We had it out, and mostly avoided each other for the last months of our lease. We all moved out and I have only seen her once briefly in the two years since, and have made no attempt at contacting her. I thought we were done, and I was glad for it.
Then yesterday she sent me a chatty email. I got engaged a few months ago, and aside from a Facebook "congrats!" wall post she hadn't said anything, but she just sent me a paragraphs-long email asking about plans and how I was doing, and then get this: she signed it "love you, Laura." When I first read it I actually said out loud, "No you don't!"
So I guess this very long setup is for the question: what the what? The friendship is over for me. I don't want to be pen-pals, I don't want to get together to catch up. I hope I don't run into her around town, but it's not like I walk around in dread. If we see each other I'll be civil. I know she doesn't keep in touch with any of the other girls or Jason. I don't want to invite her to my wedding in the fall, though I am aware it will make it significantly more awkward if we see each other in a year and she wasn't invited, given our past friendship.
Should I even bother answering this email? Is she just angling for an invite so she can see all the people she hasn't bothered to keep in touch with for the last few years? I do not get it. Do you?
I would answer it, keeping it as short, cheery, and generic as possible. "Great to hear from you — sounds like everything is going [however it's going]. I'm doing well, very busy with work and [whatever else]. Take care! Now."
Of course, not everyone considers "take care" as fatuously dismissive as I do, but you get the idea. It doesn't really matter why she's reached out — she misses you; she doesn't get that she treated you poorly; she does, but doesn't know how to fix it; she likes wedding cake; who cares. You aren't interested in a friendship.
But I don't think you're interested in creating drama where it's not necessary, either, so a pleasant note that sends a message with its brevity and lack of specifics is indicated. Ignoring her email entirely is also an option, but may occasion a stickier follow-up, and while the jovial brush-off doesn't mean that won't happen anyway, you can jump off that bridge when you get to it.
Don't engage her. Two sentences, zero details about the wedding, send.
Tags: friendships health and beauty the fam