Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Unforeseen Battle

I’ve been told that if you don’t mind, then things won’t matter. A new spin on “mind over matter” if I’ve ever heard.

But what happens if it’s your mind that is mattering? What if you do mind?

After my crash, I was more determined than ever to get up, get going, heal, recover, and move on as quickly as I could. I reasoned that the only thing holding my back were my doctors; and that if I worked hard enough, if I pushed, if I believed, then I could get better in record time.

Three to six months, I was told. Twelve to Twenty-four weeks. 84 to 168 days. Don’t bother with the hours; it’s a lot. Trust me.

I decided to make it half that. Two months, perhaps three at the very most.

And with a lot of hard work, with a lot of effort, with a lot of patience, belief, and sheer will, I began to recover. I was told “no!” by a lot of people; many of whom didn’t trust my judgment with respect to the physical aspect of my recovery. But I fought through, and I continued to fight in spite of their lack of belief. My belief, my mindset is what mattered.

My back recovered daily, my core grew stronger with physical therapy, and slowly I returned to swimming, biking, and eventually running. It wasn’t easy, but with boundless determination I clawed my way to better health, focusing only on the physical aspect of my healing.

I thought the worst was over. I thought I was beyond the hard stuff. Through a horrific crash, through long surgery, through endless hours in the hospital, I had made it. I was convinced the worst was behind me, in my past. I had been given the green light to work out, to return to a “normal” training level, and to resume with my daily activities. Even though I retained a long scar from the crash and my nerve sensation wasn’t yet at 100%, my body was mostly (physically) healed.

It was the mental stuff that got me in the end.

And I was totally unprepared for what happened next.

It was tough to understand: I should have been happy, nay ecstatic, to return to the sport that I loved. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand the sadness, the sense of grief that encompassed me. And the more I thought about it, the more I puzzled over it, the worse it became.

Because unlike the physical aspect of healing my back, I couldn’t work myself into “good” mental health. I couldn’t take my mental outlook, the sadness that seemed to follow me around, and give it a set of ball balancing exercises or a long bike ride to recover. How do you force your mind to recover? How do you will your way to feel happy?

And the more I searched for an answer, the sadder and more depressed I became. It became a struggle to get out of bed, let alone leave the apartment. Physically I was healed. Mentally I was broken.

And the break wasn’t recent. It had occurred March 17 on a beautiful stretch of California highway. I was just so focused on the physical aspect of my recovery that I neglected the mental part.

One friend suggested that I was going through what sounded like a grief-reaction: I was mourning the loss of my former self. She listed off the stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually resolve; and then explained that I would hopscotch between the five, sometimes moving forwards, sometimes back. And that I should expect to repeat the cycle several times.


And then I really started thinking about what she said. I thought about my upbeat attitude for the first three or so months post-crash. Could that have been denial? Was I too afraid to admit how seriously I was hurt, how awful the crash and recovery process was?

I pondered that and moved on to the next one: anger.

I have always been afraid of anger, never wanting to rock to boat or make others think I’m upset. I’ve used anger in the past when I’ve raced, but don’t like the person I become. So more often than not, I’ll push it aside, bury it deep within my soul and push on. Even as a little kid, I would pretend everything was okay, never letting myself succumb to anger. Could I be doing the same with my recovery? Was I denying my anger as well?

I had never really gotten angry about the crash, nor upset about the damn bugs that blinded our sight. I never bemoaned the fact that Torry Pines Hill was one of the first hills that Liz had gone ahead of me down; she was being helpful and pointing out objects in the road. All weekend – being the heavier rider on the bombproof aluminum bike (with the triple ring, thank-you-very-much) – I had descended in front of Liz, my body weight and heavy bike combined to zoom ahead of her down the hills, while she geared out behind me. Even the Saturday morning Swami ride, with our double pace line at 45 mph down the canyon roads, I had been ahead. And yes – I got a clear view of her backside dancing up the hills, as the elastic between us broke during every climb.

But on nearly every downhill, I went ahead. Except for Torry Pines where I crashed.

And looking back, yes I’m angry. Denying the fact would be denying my true feelings. I know that it was an accident; but I can’t help but wonder what if I had gone ahead, what if there had been no bugs, what if we had taken a different route?

So denial and anger: check. Denying that I was angry: double check.

Next came the bargaining. I wasn’t really sure where this fit in, but realized soon that I was making deals with myself about recovery, workouts, and returning to every day life. “If I can hold a sub 7:45 pace running, the I know that I’ll be okay….” And so on, and so forth.

The problem was, after 12 weeks of non-running, my body wasn’t ready to handle any sort of time constraints or pace goals. The smart thing would have been to take off the heart rate monitor, ignore the mile markers, and just run for the pure joy. Instead, I watched my heart rate rise higher and higher, watched my splits grow slower and I became upset with myself; angry that I was no longer the athlete that I once was.

I kept flashing back to previous runs, especially to my Last Run in California. At the time I didn’t think anything of it. I remember the day was beautiful and bright, the rocky trail made for careful footing, and I had been nervous about a sore left hamstring. It turned out to be fine, and the run felt effortless, free, and fun. Had I known that it was going to be my last run for months, I would have enjoyed it much more.

Swimming and biking were different; I have never held the same connection with the two as I had with running. Running had always been my outlet, my source for inspiration, to clear my mind, for peace. But it rapidly became something that I would dread as one run after another failed to live up to my unreasonable expectations. Expectations that at the time seemed okay – but now looking back, were way off kilter.

And in the end it had nothing to do with my physical ability, and everything to do with my mind.

Eventually, I slipped into the stage of deep depression. Functioning became difficult and I pondered weather or not I wanted to continue with the sport. I threw away every award I had ever received, convinced that I would never win again. And even if I did, even if I earned a future plaque or award for participation – what did it matter? I didn’t do races to win; I did them for the experience. I did them because I loved the sport, loved the people, loved to learn, and loved how it made me feel.

But seeing the awards I had earned in past races did little to help my current state of mind, my depression; and I couldn’t bear to look at reminders of what I once was, convinced I would never be the same athlete, the same person.

I’ve always thought of depression way of viewing the world without color. I have suffered from this illness in the past; on and off throughout high school and a little in college. But this new depression, brought about by something as improbable as a bike crash, was different. It’s like living in a fog; you know the blue sky and bright sun exists, but you just can’t see it, can’t feel it.

The depression robbed me of my rational thought, of my passion and drive, of my ability to see the world in color. I sent emails to a few friends, asking for answers on “how to recover after an injury or crash” – and nearly all responses were identical: you have to want to return; you have to want to come back. You have to be ready.

And for the first time in my recent memory – I don’t know if I do. I don’t think I am.

Beyond the doubt and insecurity, beyond the pain and anguish, lies fear. I am afraid. At first, it was of not regaining my physical ability, of my sacral nerve never healing. But now, I’m afraid of my mind, of never being the same person that I once was. I am afraid of never having the same desire, passion, or fire. I don’t know how long this will last, but expect the healing process to be vastly different from the physical aspect of this journey.

I am depressed, angry, in denial, and fearful for a reason: because on March 17 I crashed my bike and broke my back. Anyone could understand that. But four months later, I am still shaken and still having flashbacks. And my mindset has changed. Yes, I am predisposed towards anxiety and depression, having suffered from both in the past. But this was brought about by a horrible accident.

Just as my body was broken, as it turns out – so was my heart. And a bit of my soul.

And if it’s one thing I’ve learned, is that I have to listen to myself. Even though the back is much better, and my nerve sensation is slowly returning, my mind – my mental state – is just beginning the healing process.

So where does this leave me?

Well, for starters I’m giving myself some time off – a bit of a break. I’ve decided to not race in Chicago and my late-season schedule is on hold. When I do return to racing, I want to make sure that it’s for the right reason, and not because I feel that I have to.

Training for now is on a day-to-day basis. Some days I feel great, and others not so much. Jen has been extremely patient and understanding, and I don’t know how I could get through this without her incredible support.

I am frustrated by my inability to see clearly what lies ahead. I wish there was a simple solution; I wish I could snap my fingers and make everything better. But I can’t. And I know that one day I’ll find meaning in this. It’s just hard to think about the future when surrounded by a self-induced foggy state.

I am talking to someone about this, and I know that what I’m going through is chemically induced. Without going into too much detail, I’m getting the help I need and am learning how to deal with these emotions without stuffing them down or denying the fact that they do exist. In addition, I’ve realized that expecting myself to hit pre-crash time goals while working out is setting myself up for failure and more depression. My body has never had to recover from a broken back and nerve damage before; this is all new. So I need to give myself a literal break – be kinder and gentler to myself and realistic of my expectations.

I have never recovered from a broken back before; therefore it is unrealistic to expect that I’ll hit my pre-crash times.

It is hard to watch the world pass by and feel that I’m stuck, a helpless and hopeless cause. And while I am so happy for friends and fellow-Bloggers with their triathlon season and with their successes, a part of me is beyond sadness at the season that I didn’t have, jealous at how everyone else can carry on with their lives as though nothing happened. The rest of the world is outside, happily at play while I’m stuck inside, trapped in the fog of my own mind. I want to shout “Look at me, I’m here! I want to be just like you!” but the world keeps passing by, oblivious to my struggle. I am trying to stay upbeat and positive, but lately that has been increasingly difficult. Please accept my apologies.

For now, I’m taking things day-by-day. I know that it won’t be easy. If there were a physical way to mend my mind, to fix my broken heart and repair my soul, I would do it. But it isn’t a matter of willing my mind healthy, of pushing the sadness away. This takes something more; and I don’t know just yet.

So this is where it stands, another part of My Journey.

I write this blog because I want to remain true to my feelings. Daily observations, thoughts during workouts, funny things – all facets that constitute this blog. But there are serious things as well, parts of my life that I wouldn’t normally discuss with people, but somehow when put in writing, seem to make sense, that make me feel better. And its true to who I am.

I know that I’m not the only one out there, not the only person who has ever gone through something like this. And it helps me in writing it, in getting my feelings out. Because one of the big parts of my recovery – the physical and mental parts – are figuring out what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Knowing what I know now – that I’m going through a depression brought about by a bike crash, has given me hope that I didn’t have before (I found out). At least there’s an explanation for my behavior, a reason why I’m feeling the things that I am. So as I embark on this journey, I’ll do my best to remain true to myself. And be understanding with my feelings, with my recovery. Because I know that it won’t be easy.

Then again, life rarely is.

Thanks for reading – I appreciate your understanding and support.


Anonymous said...

I'm here for you, sweetheart!


Beth said...

I really admire your honesty Marit. And the fact that you are dealing with what life has handed you. I won't pretend to understand or to know what to say as I've never had to deal with depression or anything like it. But I will say I am so, so thankful and glad you are getting the help you need and if there is ANYTHING I can ever do for you please do let me know!! I'm rooting for you and know in time you will get back right where YOU want to be! Take care of yourself Marit! Praying for you!

Courtenay said...

great post marit! so well thought out and well-written. i hope it's all part of your road to happiness.

Terri said...

Marit -
I sincerely hope that you find your path as you are such a talented athlete. You were able to physically overcome your injuries quicker than anyone could've imagined - if at all.

I would think certainly fear would be ever present but as you get into your workout or a race, the fear tends to dissipate even though possibly every time you venture out, the fear may accompany you.

I have to say that I don't understand depression - never really experienced it, although I have experienced extreme sadness at times. It surprises me that this is something that you've suffered in the past, as you seem to be an extremely positive person. I do think that you are fully capable of fighting your demons if you put your mind to it.

It's good that you recognize this and have sought out assistance. Sometimes we need to be able to lean on someone else and not carry all the weight.

You are young and I think it is part of the growing up process to encounter different roadblocks in life - some are harder than others. But at the end of the day, you become a much stronger and better person for having endured.

The accident wasn't your fault and the what if's are irrelevant - you should not waste your time on those. You should be proud of the way you have fought back physically and will do the same mentally.

It's just another part of your journey.

Good luck and know that your "friends" are always in your corner.


rr said...

Hey MCL -

I'm a BTDT on the depression front, and I know the fog that feels like it will never go away. But as you know, because you've lived it before, it does. And I think you're making a great choice to wait, to not force it back before you're 100% ready because you feel like you should. Triathlon is not going anywhere, and even if it were, your happiness is much more important.

Hang in there.


Anonymous said...

Hey Marit,

I really enjoyed reading this, even though some of it was quite painful since I can relate to so much of it on a very deep level.

Let me know if you ever need someone to talk to about any of this kind of stuff.

Also, I totally hear you on the writing, blogging, and honesty. I wonder if it's a good idea for me to write about how i'm sick of triathlon and here are it's problems but I've been going ahead and doing it anyhow because it was in my heart. I'm really glad to see you writing about this stuff, getting it out there should be a big step forward for you and so many of us can relate.

best wishes,


Danni said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danni said...

I am glad you discovered and accepted the new challenge life has thrown your way. Your courage is admirable. Hang in there and I know you will get past this.
Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

Take care,

Train-This said...

Sister I am with you on this one. And I think people can't truly understand unless they have been there. So know I am there!

:-) mary

TriGirl Kate O said...

I have found such support from my tri friends in hard times--even through injuries and family emergencies, they are there to help. Triathlon is what brings us together, but it isn't all that KEEPS us together. You will persevere--because you are strong and have great friends.

Pedergraham said...

thank you for sharing this with such honesty. I had noticed that you weren't writing much and was a little worried but chalked it up to your time in Pensacola coming to a close. I was hpoing this was meaning that Nate had more free time and you were spending it together. I wish that my hopes had been true. You are in my thoughts...I think with this post maybe you have won the battle and are turning the tide, to use a Nate-themed analogy.
xoxo Danielle

Ryan said...

If you ever need a break, or a dose of crude and stupid jokes, feel free to give me a call or we can meet up for "emergency sushi" where I promise it will contain no tri talk.

Although I have no depression issues that I will admit to, I think I can somewhat understand the void created by the crash. You prepped your body and mind for a full year toward a single purpose of racing an IM. You were right on the verge of "max fitness." Your body and mind were ready and then all of the sudden............. it was taken away and you were left broken, in more ways than one. It is like you went to the moon, but never got out. All that work for no payoff.

Take your time. You have great friends and family supporting you. Nate rocks!

That's all I have,

Damie said...

I am glad you have a good support system. Keep working hard at the things that you can control and improve (like eating more peanut M&Ms and looking forward to today), and let go and ease up on yourself for the ones that you can't readily control (your body's crazy physical and chemical reaction to such a serious injury). Thank you so much for sharing this with us- and everyone is very proud of you in so many ways!!!! And, don't forget to get some Tab and Gimpy purrs for the day :)

Anonymous said...

You and your future are bright and beautiful. Never deny it.
Time can be kind and torture at the same moment, but I'm sure you'll see that blue sky.

A big hug, quick prayer and plenty of sunshine to you! You are brave and open and kind and WILL HEAL.

may the wind be at your back today!

Erin Wichtoski (in WI)

akshaye said...

Marit.. I came across your blog a month or so ago and although I have never commented, I read your back story.

When I read about your injury and the way you came back from it, it made me think a lot. Since March I had been struggling with a number of different (very minor) knee injuries.

When I saw how you approached your injury, you literally made me get my butt out of the couch! After a couple of months of working hard, I am finally once again enjoying running again. And for that I have to thank you.

I wish you a speedy recovery and I assure you all it takes is a little unlikely spark to get the mind back into the game.
p.s. I wish I had commented before!

Eileen Swanson said...

Hey Marit,
Hang in there! Like I said on the phone, it feels like things will never get back to normal when we are hurt or sick, but everything will come back and when it does it will feel magical! You are an AMAZING person and athlete and we all are here to support you. Let the blues go, take some time off, and think happiness, positive thoughts, and you know everything great will come back soon. Think of how awesome it is to have N, HM, and MM with you......They love you unconditionally and so do we.....


Amber and Eric Rydholm said...

Marit, through your blog you have been a great inspiration to many people. You are a big part of me getting my fire back for triathlon! Just remember, sport is important to you (an to many of us, your readers) but it does not define who you are. Use sport to push your limits and learn more about yourself when you meet or exceed various challenges, but don't let your athletic success or failures define your self worth. You are a beautiful, inspirational person. You will move past this... and we will all be your support crew in-waiting. I had a hamstring injury take me out of sport for a year, 10 years ago, you can beat this.

GoBigGreen said...

Hi Marit,
I dont know you but i read your blog alot. I live in MN and so i know your connections to the "state of hockey.." or snow or winter or whatever..and i know the descent on Torrey Pines...
I admire your courage and your honesty and as RR said, the races will be there. They arent going anywhere. Your friends and family love you for you, not for your athletic achievements.
Take good care.

BriGaal said...

Dang, Marit! Look at this all support you have! I don't really have anything insightful to say, just that I'm thinking of you and hope you start feeling better soon. It sounds like you are doing all the right things.

Alili said...

Day by day, step by step you will rise. {{Marit}}

Wes said...

All of these things, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, resolve, laughter, excitement, fear, joy is Marit. It always been a part of you, and we are just now getting to see it. I would imagine that's why your friends are here. You are going to be just fine, Marit. Just fine...

Damie said...

okay, I thought about you this morning while I was out and felt the need to comment again with some big hugs your way.

bca said...

I caught the article about you in Triathlete and thought your name was familiar. Unless I am mistaken you either attended JJ Hill, Groveland or Ramsey as a kid in St. Paul, MN (i.e. I'm fairly certain I went to grade school with you but can't remember which one).

I just read this post and and wanted to wish you the best of luck in your completing all aspects of your recovery. With enough time I'm sure beat this. Hang in there and keep waking up every morning. One of these days you'll feel that bright sun again.


Brendan Abrams

Alicia Parr said...

Your doing the right thing naming your demons. There's some catharsis in that.

Now go ahead and feel all the things you need to feel. Feel them as fully as possible with all your heart and soul. You have full permission. If you feel sad, cry. If you feel angry, yell. The only way to the other side is through the fire. It's worth it. You can do it.

Bruce Stewart (施樸樂) (ブルース・スチュワート) said...

I haven't read your blog much recently, but I was glad I did today, even though I have probably never learned so much about one's person's difficulties in relation to depression as I did from reading your article. It was a really good article, even if you felt sad writing it.
I think this thing will pass, just as you had some great times in recent weeks as you got back into swim races, etc. However, it is probably a good thing to reassess your life as a whole, of which triathlon and racing is but one small part. For someone like me, there is the frustration of getting older and not being able to train or compete as in the days of our prime. As time goes on, life appears to get more lonely, and, at least for me, there is the constant feeling that I have to face most major challenges (like health, finance, etc.) alone. This is even in spite of being married and having grown-up sons.
I would certainly recommend you spend more time around friends you can physically be with. The blogging is great to a point, but we need company day to day (more than cats!). I realize you no doubt have your hubby and friends around you, but certainly just being with them will help you spend less hours pondering your plight.
Maybe Bree can recommend you some good books for the mind, which can be used not just for your training (which you should continue) but in helping you being successful doing other things, too.
In my mid- and late-20s (in the prime of life as it were) I remember often feeling sad. Until I finished college in my early-20s, I enjoyed life a lot, but then the reality of life thereafter hit me, struggling to make a living, doing a job I hated, having trouble relating to girls, not knowing what the future held for me, etc. When I arrived in Taiwan at 27 I felt I had a new lease of life, even though life was fairly hard there at times. I hope you find a new lease of life, too, maybe doing much of what you are doing now, but having that something extra. If you are physically well, the mental part will no doubt come, too. All the best. I hope my message doesn't overload your computer!

Bob Mitera said...

Hey Kiddo! When I'm feeling blue I get out. I need to be around people. The triathlon channel is great but life is so much more than that. Online you are surrounded by friends and support for you but as others have said, you need to see real people.

I would like to lobby for you and Nate to come to Chicago. (Race or no race.) have to see how fast fat can move. I haven't swam in 6 weeks... yikes!

You need to have a good time with all the Chicago people before our 4 weeks of summer are over and we re-freeze into popsicles.

Lorrie says "hello" too and also suggests you guys come to Chicago.

Give Tabbitha a pet for us...from a reasonable distance of course.

Bob Mitera said...

...and peg leg the kitten.

LZ said...

Just by reading all these have a lot of people who are supporting you in all that you do. You are doing the right thing by stepping back and reevaluating. Just be patient, as you don't know how long it will take to tackle all that is pushing you down.
Keep your spirits high and take this as a time to work on yourself!

CAMI said...

You are incredibly inspirational. I say that not only because of all of the wonderful positive thoughts you shared in your first few months of recovery, but even more so because of the thoughts you share here. You describe depression exactly as I have experienced it. You have a lot of people supporting you, but as I'm sure you know from past experience, depression is something that always feels like you have to suffer alone. You don't. Talk to people, laugh with people, cry with people. And KNOW that one day the fog will lift again - when you least expect it. The sun will be shining not just for the benefit of others, but for you as well... and that day will be a wonderful one. It may again be followed by dark ones, but the dark ones will become fewer, less dark, less scary places. You will get your color back! Don't rush it and try not to be too hard on yourself. If you ever need to talk, I'm more than happy to offer a shoulder. I've been there.

Cy said...

MARIT- You are strong and compassionate to write from the heart like that. ALthough I've only known you post crash, you have always amazed me with your beautiful spirit and positive attitude.

You have so may friends (from these comments alone) and a supportive husband who loves Marit for who she is in the ups AND downs. That's something to truly cherish and can hopefully shed a bright light in your path to recovery.

Don't give up girl-YOU have WAY TOO MUCH TO OFFER.

Big Hugs

Kim said...

I am just catching up on missed blogs from the past week and I have to say, yours had me glued to the computer. Mostly because I can see so much of all of us within your words. I appreciate and truly respect your willingness to put yourself out there. Even more so, I can see myself in the exact same mind-set and thought process if I were to ever be in that position. It's not abnormal, in fact, it's MORE normal to have those thoughts and feelings. I know I don't know you very well, but what I do know is you have a very strong sprit and soul, and if things are meant to return to a life similar to what you had before, they will, in good time. Don't rush it. Know that your words influence others, and I really do think of you sometimes when I want to complain about my long day or how crappy I feel, and it turns my attitude around!! So, thank you again for sharing and glad you are getting some much needed help & pressure to come back to far or too fast, when you're ready, the races, the friends, the atmophere, will all be here, waiting..

BreeWee said...


You are BEAUTIFUL... you are INCREDIBLE... life gives us moments worth smiling about and others worth crying about- it is never easy...

You are so not alone in this. Not at all. I think you are doing the most brave thing by being true to yourself, it is always human nature to please and satisfy others...

Take all the time you need, your real friends will love you through whatever you have going on (and I think I am the 32 comment on here! so that is at LEAST 32 of us!)

Triathlon is NOT life, whoever made that dumb bumper sticker obviously has no heart...

Love ya much! Hugs and prayers your way...