susan omilian

Another night, another nightmare

“Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.” 

~Vivian Komori

Last night I dreamt I was in my ex-husband’s house.  Even though we were no longer together, I was visiting for some reason.  He had a bunch of company in the living room. including some of his brothers.  I was tired from having worked late and excused myself to go to bed.  When I left, the rest of his guests decided it was getting late and left to go home.  Enraged by the notion that I caused all his friends and family to leave early, my ex came after me upstairs and attacked me.  He wrapped his hands around my neck and squeezed for all he was worth.  I could feel myself being suffocated, gasping for air with no relief.  Then out of no where, Adam (my boyfriend) came in and stopped him.   I can’t remember much of what happened after that because I woke up.

That is just one example of the many nightmares that have kept me up at night over the past two weeks.  They typically come in cycles, but this one has been particularly long.  They don’t always feature my ex, and they are nowhere near as bad as the night terrors I had while I was with him.  However, they are bad enough to wake me up all night and leave me exhausted during the day.  On the bright side, this was the first nightmare I ever had someone come rescue me in, so maybe I’m making some progress.

Sometimes I wish I had a system reset button I could hit when this stuff happens, but instead I’ve come up with other methods (through trial and error) of dealing with it.  The hardest one if trying not to focus on or stress about the sleep deprivation because the more I fixate on it, then worse it seems to get.  Another trick I use is completely wearing myself out.  If I go through a particularly tough workout, many times that’s enough to work out the excess anxious energy.  Plus, it’s usually a great self-esteem boost!  I also try not to eat, watch TV, or use the computer right before bed (typical sleep hygiene stuff).  However, recently none of this has been particularly effective.

One thing that has changed dramatically over the past year is how much better I can deal with this situation now.  I can acknowledge that it sucks, but it doesn’t send me spiraling backward with frustration and despair like it used to.  I can reassure myself that it will be temporary, and I only need to work “X”  more days until I have another one off to attempt to catch up on sleep.  I am also more aware of my negative thinking, and the fact that it is just that.  It doesn’t make me a negative person, it’s just a sign that I’m fatigued or processing more than usual.  I am finally getting the point where I can cut myself some slack, and that is a MONUMENTAL step for me.

So, although I am currently being plagued by nightmares and had an absolutely terrible day of being run into the ground at work, I give this day an A+.  My reasoning: it sucked...A LOT, but I made it through and held it together. I didn’t get down on myself, cry, or allow myself to become completely overwhelmed.  Six months ago this day would have broke me, but today I made it through exhausted and smiling.

In other related news, I managed to drag Adam with me to the gym yesterday and conquered another 15 minutes on the stair master- and we did push ups (and by “we” I mean I and he critiqued)…  It was terrible and wonderful all at the same time. 🙂

Cannoli Pie…Breakfast of Champions

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”

William Barclay

My newest inspirational running shirt 🙂

I have putting off my weekly long run for the past two weeks, so this morning I knew it was time to bite the bullet , get my butt in gear, and up my mileage.  The recent heat wave has taken a toll on my motivation to work out, especially with the sporadic use of air conditioning at my local gym.  With the plan of a three-day road trip to Tennessee looming, it was now or never; and putting it off would only make for an incredibly stir crazy car ride. 

I’m the type of person who goes through what could best be described as withdrawal symptoms when I don’t get in a good work out too many days in a row.  For this reason, I was dreading  the idea of being cooped up in a car for days on end with little opportunity to even get out and stretch.  I was hoping that a long run would” get the wiggles out” and make the drive more bearable. 

Initially, I wanted to get in 10 miles, which is the furthest mileage I’ve achieved to date.   However, given the involuntary three-day hiatus ahead of me, I figured “what the hell, may as well push it to the and try for 12 or more.”  With no functional GPS device at hand, I decided I would try to run at least two and a half hours and hope it was more than 10 miles.  I woke up with the determination necessary to accomplish the task, but, admittedly, significantly less enthusiasm.  As much as I LOVE running, I have to confess that the idea of doing it for anything more than an hour feels a lot like work and more than two hours brings on an all out sensation of dread.  In order to prepare myself for the long, arduous task ahead I opened the fridge and scoured for something that would not induce vomiting in the sweltering heat. 

I have tried countless pre-running meals from cereal to yogurt, to protein shakes, to fruit, and even salad.  Generally. I find the result the same.  Within 30 minutes of starting a run, my stomach is growling and my focus goes to mush.  That is unless I am running with my boyfriend, Adam, in which case, I’m already starving by the time we set out due to the additional amount of time required for him to get ready. (He runs on California time…I could afford to be more like him)  So all that being said, I reached for the cannoli pie.  Yes, cannoli pie…breakfast of champions!  I rationalized it as follows:  it was loaded with calories, and there were carbs, dairy,  and even chocolate.  How could it be a bad choice?  Besides didn’t I deserve it for all the hard work and torture I was about to embark on?  I mean I practically already earned it, right?  I had a piece with a glass of water and headed out the door.

I ran to my favorite park and stuck mainly on the trails.  Surprisingly, the cannoli cake stayed down.  In fact, I felt pretty good, and remarkably made it through over two and half hours of running without so much as a rumble in my stomach.  I think I may have found my pre-long distance run meal (just kidding…sort of)  I was also pretty pleased to find all my training was paying off as, even in the heat, the run felt significantly easier than my previous 10 mile run. So, I am now halfway to my goal of running a marathon, and I owe it to the cannoli pie. 

When I got back home I had salad and humus for lunch, partly out of guilt for my indulgent breakfast.  Then a few hours later when my stomach was growling again, I went back and had another piece of cannoli pie and savored every bite.

It all started with a pair of shoes…

Marylin Monroe once said “give a woman the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world”.

Vibram running shoes

My "ugly" shoes have grown on me. Now they are always close by. 🙂

My boyfriend had been on my case for several weeks that I needed to switch over to vibram running shoes.  I wasn’t paying him much attention.  I knew my limitations.  From the time I started high school, I had a multitude of orthopedists explain to me exactly why I wasn’t built to run and shouldn’t do it.  They told me that my bone alignment was wrong, my arches were flat, my IT bands were too tight, I needed orthotics and knee replacements.  One particularly delightful fellow (and by delightful I mean arrogant and dismissive) even explained that women, in general, are not built for running.  He thought I should not only stop, but also avoid stairs and knee bends greater than 30 degrees.  I have patellar subluxation (a fancy way of saying my kneecaps pop out-of-place when I move), so running for me was always associated with pain.  However, the thought of not running was pretty much on par with not breathing in my mind.  I tried physical therapy, ice, the whirlpool,  medication, tape, stabilizing shoes, and cross training before, I ultimately learned to tune it out and run through it.  However, I was still limited in my mileage.

All that being said, how could a 6’2″ naturally athletic marathon runner possibly think that eliminating the support in a shoe would help me- the orthopedic disaster?  It sounded insane, but I had nothing to lose.  He was so confident that I would love them, that he even bought me my first pair.  I teased him at the time that he was just afraid of looking ridiculous by himself.   Nonetheless, I was now the owner of an ugly pair of toe shoes with a date set to test them out.

The day we planned our inaugural run I had done a particularly hard work out at the gym and didn’t expect much.  We headed to a  flat, gravel trail and started jogging at a slow place.  We were two miles into our run before I felt any pain in my knees, which was remarkable for me.  By three miles, my calves and ankle muscles were SCREAMING.  I was hurting in places I had never hurt before. We did another mile and called it a day.  The following day at work I passed out.  Yup, out cold- like dreaming and then rudely awakened to a room full of people staring…   Maybe I overdid it a little.  My calves were like jello for days, making walking difficult and stairs near impossible.  It was amazing none the less.  I had accomplished something I wasn’t supposed to do in shoes with absolutely no support.

Overcoming the physical barriers was only part of the sense of triumph.  As a survivor of domestic abuse, I had suffered from crippling anxiety and nightmares for well over a year.  Just waking up in the morning was enough to provoke a  sense of the world closing in around me .   I was miserable, exhausted, and completely drained both physically and emotionally.  I never reached the point where I wanted to die, but I certainly wanted to disappear on multiple occasions when facing another day seemed like too tremendous an effort to stomach.  I saw counselors, therapists, and even a psychiatrist who all reassured me that I was experiencing a “completely normal reaction to a traumatic experience”.  It certainly didn’t feel normal, or even remotely acceptable.  I was prescribed medications to help me sleep; but the first one made me completely sedated and irritable.  The second one caused me to outright hallucinate (which made nightmares seem not so bad in comparison).  By the time an antipsychotic called seroquel was suggested I threw in the towel and fired the shrink.

That was when I found Susan Omilian (creator of the My Avenging Angel Workshops) and decided to attend one of her 2 part sessions.  I desperately wanted to feel “normal” again and move on with my life.  I knew there was a happier and more carefree person inside, but didn’t know how to let her out.  Like she has with so many other women, Susan allowed me to get in touch with the part of myself that wasn’t “damaged”.  She helped me rediscover what I am passionate about and establish short and long-term goals for myself.  She and the other women in the group also made me realize that I was not alone, and it was the first time since my world turned upside down that someone told me I was going to be okay and I actually believed it.

So in a sense, that 4 miles was more meaningful to me than any other distance I had ever achieved.  I was redefining myself and my limits, and I didn’t stop.   I registered for my first 10 K with my boyfriend.  It was last-minute and a distance I hadn’t run or even been able to run in years.  However, it happened to be a trail race at one of my favorite cross-country venues from high school; and I (in a viewing myself as the center of the universe sort of way) took at as a positive sign.  During the run, I was convinced that if I did manage to finish it would be well behind everyone else;  yet, that was not the case at all.  I not only finished, but also managed to finish ahead of one other runner.   It was a slow pace, but I was moving and moving pain free at that.  Plus, it was a great experience to realize that most of the people I was running with were struggling as much as I was.  Luckily, that race was part of a 4 race series and I was hooked.  I did the second and third 10K and then decided it was time to set my sights on something higher.  The final race offered a 15K option, so I signed up and kicked up my training.  Then I registered for a Tough Mudder in NorCal with my boyfriend and the Diva Half marathon in Long Island.  I was excited at the opportunity to combine two things I loved: running and helping other people.  I started a bottle and can drive to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, then I approached Susan Omilian about using the Diva Half Marathon as a way to raise money and awareness for other victims of domestic violence.

Currently my plan to use all my future half and full marathons to raise money for CT-ALIVE (the CT Alliance for Victims of Violence and the Families).  I would encourage other runners to find a cause to run for as well.  It is a great way to give back and an opportunity to make the whole experience richer.

So, that pretty much brings us up to present date!  If you hadn’t figured it out yet, my purpose for this blog is to encourage other people, especially women, to get out there and do whatever it is that makes you feel alive.    I love running because I feel like it’s the only time I get to be alone and selfish and not feel guilty for it.  It’s my quiet time. Plus, it’s hard to waste energy being anxious when you are using every ounce to push up a tough hill.

I think many people discount themselves thinking they can’t run, and that women specifically short change themselves instead of realizing what tremendous inner strength they possess.  Distance running is a women’s sport- especially ultra running- because women are built to endure better than men.  They are the glue that holds their families together.  They deliver babies. Running a few miles is no big deal compared to that!

That is why I am here to tell you to get out and run because  if I can do it, you can too!

To Be a Woman

To Be a Woman

 

 

How great it is to celebrate being a woman!

 

Strong, courageous, and powerful

 

No creature is more mysterious,

 

No man more capable.

 

She is resourceful and determined,

 

A steadfast, caring friend

 

And loyal confidant.

 

A nurturer, teacher, and enforcer,

 

She balances many hats,

 

And transitions between them with grace and ease.

 

Is there really any nobler thing to be?

I Cried

 

I cried

At the thought of all the women

Who know what I’ve been through

And those who continue to live it.

I cried

At the notion that so many men

Could commit such heinous acts

Toward women they were supposed to love

And promised to protect.

I cried

At the idea of women

Being stripped of their identities

And made to feel worthless

Beaten, bruised, and worse…

I wept

Because their pain is mine.

I know the ache in the depths of their souls.