Nov 11, 2018

Failure & Success

I am goal oriented. It feels great to set big goals and start to chip away at them, one thing at a time. To do lists with check boxes, sign me up. I love projects and seeing it through to the payoff at the end. Well, I love it during the goal setting phase and the finishing the project phase. The middle part is where the doubt and frustration always creeps in. It’s when I start saying things to myself like, why do I always do this, it’s so hard, I can’t finish this, I shouldn’t feel this way, the bigger the risk, the bigger the failure. What a self-limiting perspective. That’s not the way I want to think about myself and my goals. The truth is, it’s generally not how I think about my goals. Until I’m feeling like I’m facing the impossible and everyone will see me try something and not succeed.

This summer I set out to get first place at OABI (Once Around Belle Isle, 7 mile SUP race). This fall I applied to the Masters of OT (Occupational Therapy) program at Eastern Michigan University. Just stating when the race was or when the application was due really doesn’t speak to how long and hard I worked on both of these goals. I’ve been racing at OABI for two years before this race and had been training specifically for this goal for about 9 months. For the Masters program, I had been taking prerequisites for 3 years; including, but not limited to 10 college classes, 40+ hours of clinical observation, and the GRE.

I didn’t want to talk about OABI or my grad school application leading up to it. I didn’t want to remind people of these big goals that I had set. Winning OABI, are you insane? I placed 13th last year. The day was going to be filled with enough race day nerves, I didn’t need to add to it by putting in the pressure of other peoples expectations. I felt humiliated that I might have spent 3 years working towards a Masters program and not getting in. I had a hard time focusing on how good everything would end up and my mind often slipped into negativity.

The past couple years, I’ve been learning to look my anxiety and insecurities straight in the face. I’ve been working on tracing them back and examining them instead of believing or burying them. This has made me realize that one of my fears is the judgements and expectations of others. I worry that they won’t understand, will look down on me, or that I won’t live up to their expectations. If you know me it is hilarious that I care what other people think. I’ve worked so hard to build the idea that I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’ve always been very blunt and direct, I speak my mind. I don’t wear makeup, don’t do much with my hair, I dress very comfortably, I don’t look at myself in group photos after they’re taken or often look in the mirror. These things, on the surface, would make it appear that I really don’t care what others think or feel about me. But as I dug deeper I realized that I so care. I thought about how after every party I worry about the thing that I said that may or may not have been perceived as rude, I thought about how I turn the stereo down when I get to a stoplight in case the other drivers judge my music, how I am always wondering what other people in line at the store are thinking of the food/clothes/snacks I buy. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen it before.

Anxiety is filled with many different fears and I’ve learned that as you address one fear, the others tend to get stronger. I’ve also learned that the road through is not linear at all. When I finally felt like I had shed other’s expectations of how I would do at OABI (which are non-existent by the way, no one would care if I didn’t do well in a 7 mile race in the Detroit River! Those who care would be proud of me for even trying), I started believing the imaginary judgement of what people would think if I didn’t get into the only graduate school where I had applied. I don’t even know what I thought they would think but the idea that I might have to tell everyone that I failed sent me into backup plans and searching for another future that would make this failure seem more tolerable.

Something else happened too though, in the setting of this gigantic goal, I trained harder than I ever had before. I visualized myself crossing the finish line first, grabbing the black paddle. I believed in myself in a different way than I had when training for this race the two previous years that I competed. In my classes, I achieved the best grades I ever had, I did well on the GRE, I took notes and learned a lot during my clinical observation hours. Sure I wanted to block out other peoples opinions on my performance, but I opened up space for myself to achieve more than I thought was possible.

Big goals have taught me that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. The failure of not reaching a goal is so much smaller because I end up further than I would have if I set an easy goal to begin with. I never would have gotten 4th place if my goal had been to PR. I never would have gotten into at OT Masters program had my goal been to attend a school without a GRE or a competitive admissions process. 

Moving forward I am excited to take this as a lesson and set huge goals again and again. The next time I fear failure or start to get worried about what other people think, I’ll stop and look closer. There is so much to learn in every day. I’m grateful for this reminder to check my thoughts and make sure that I’m imagining the things that I want to happen, not the things that I don’t. I also now realize that we’re so supported by our loved ones. I’m so grateful for all the cheerleaders that I’ve learned have been on my side the whole time. Cheerleaders that are there even when, especially when, I fail. We’re capable of so much more than we know, we just have to be willing to fail.

Apr 25, 2018

Mental Strength

I love working out. I feel energized when I'm active. I love getting stronger and moving my body and trying new sports. I've always been very active, played most sports you can think of as a kid, and I even played volleyball in the early years of high school. However, about a year and a half ago my anxiety got in the way of being active.

I was struggling with panic attacks and high anxiety. Everytime I worked out, the elevated heart rate reminded me of the physical symptoms of my anxiety and I started to panic. It's amazing how the brain starts to anticipate an appropriate reaction based on a stimulus. At this point in my life there were many stimuli that told my mind to slip into the pattern of panic. It felt like a downward spiral that I was having a really hard time getting out of. It didn't help that I often walk, hike, run, SUP outside alone. So, I joined a gym and I felt comforted working out around other people, it helped me work through the pattern of panic that started with an increased heart rate and was escalated by imagining the weird worst case scenarios that I could come up with. Just knowing that I could ask for help if I needed to really helped.

I also worked with a therapist who completely saved me during that time. Among many pearls of wisdom, she reminded me that a heart rate that was not elevated while working out would be a symptom of a much bigger problem, that it was healthy and important that my heart raced while I was running or working out. Just this simple, and obvious, reminder helped me to reset this pattern. It took a lot of work, but through cognitive therapy I have been able to be panic attack free for more than a year. Now when I feel the physical symptoms anxiety and the thoughts that are associated, growing within, I have practices in place that help me to calm down and get out of the downward spiral.

Working out has been instrumental in overcoming my anxiety. Not just in changing mental reactions to phsyical stimuli, but also in getting me off the couch when I'm not feeling well mentally. Getting into, and in touch with, my body again has helped me in ways that I can't explain, but I'll try. When I was really struggling I tried to dissassociate from my physical body. Sitting down to do yoga felt unbearable, and I do yoga everyday (and did it through that period as well, although barely). I would sit on my mat with my opening breaths just crawling out of my skin. As I transitioned into some simple flows, I'd move quickly through downward dog into forward folds, getting up to put things away and pick up laundry in between poses. Anything to keep me out of my body. Feeling my breath and my heart beat made me immediately start to overanalyze and come up with ways that it might not be right. I started to turn into a hypochondriac with worry. The same thing happened when I worked out in general, I would feel my heart race and start to come up with crazy things to be concerned about. It was as if my mind was trying to come up with worries to justify the panic I felt in my body, and my body was trying to keep up with all the stress, and I didn't know which had come first; chicken little or the sky falling above.

Overtime I was able to sit a little longer, linger in poses more easily, find comfort in the breath flowing slow, in the feeling of my heart beat. I was able to spend more time alone in the woods again, my thoughts didn't go dark as soon as I started. I learned to focus on the good again. The way that things are working well, instead of coming up with the ways that things could go wrong. I don't know which calmed first, my body or my mind, because they're son inescapably connected and intertwined. But as I did the work they both shifted. The work looked like showing up on my mat to meditate and practice asana (poses), even if only for three minutes of distracted breath. The work looked like taking walks and runs in the woods even if I had come up with a million reasons that I should be afraid to do so alone.  The work looked like watching my patterns of thought and action. Soon the work became stopping harmful patterns of thought and action. Finally the work became breathing a little deeper before the downward spiral even started.

Somedays I still only practice for three minutes, and I've shifted towards spending more time outside with someone or with my dog. But these days my practice is much more focused and I am truly feeling all my body has to offer. I'm finding what I need and balancing where I'm at. I'm truly seeing where my mind is going and if I'm repeating any common patterns of thought. I have found a lot of mental healing in getting in touch with my body again.

I started working out regularly to become a better stand up paddleboarder. When people asked me what my goals were in working out I answered simply; strength. I want to look good of course, but I'm more motivated by function than aestetic. Strength has always been my goal in being active, however, I never thought about how much mental strength working out would give me as well. Perhaps that explains the addicting quality that endurance sports have: The ability to train the mind and the body to respond to intention instead of physical stimuli. When I'm on mile 4 and the water is rough and my arms ache and my shoulders burn and my lower back is killing me, intention is what keeps me going. I've found that the intentions that work best in race situations are the same ones that save me when I'm falling into patterns of panic. "I think and speak only words of love. I am at peace with life," will stop negativity in its track. These simple words repeated to myself will help me push 3 more miles, they help me turn a bad day around, they help me when I'm feeling out of control.

This has been life changing on and off the water. The true ability to shape the way I see the world and bring myself out of negative thinking has turned me from a pessimisitic "realist" into an optimist who doesn't let a few frustrating situations throughout the day get her down. It has taken years, but paddleboarding and the training required to race, have fast tracked me into seeing just how strong I can truly be.

---A special thanks to my business partner/friend, Amy for reminding me to slow down and for all of her compassion towards me during this challenging time.

---A double special thanks to John, my life partner for always reminding me to breathe and coming up with ways of distracting me from my self-sabotage when I needed it most!

Apr 18, 2018

Food

I've always had a hard time eating healthy. Despite the stereotype of yoga teachers, I have only just started eating healthy consistently. I've been working on it for years. Years. It took me a long time to bring food into balance. For most of my life healthy time periods would be met with a longer and more intense period of binging on unhealthy foods. Sugar is the biggest one, but eating out in general has always had a huge appeal to me.

I think it all started with me being a picky eater. Anyone who knew me before the age of 22 (yes I said 22, not 12), and especially those that knew me as a child, know that there were a few very starchy white staples that I would eat and that was it! Spices, flavors, were all too much for me as a kid. Sounds boring, right? It didn't really bother me, unless I was eating in a group setting which was always awkward. However, as I got older and tried to eat well, my unadventurous eating got in the way more and more. I had a hard time branching out, eating more vegetables, and eating less pasta. I began to admit how it was impacting my health, so I worked on making a change. It started simple, like adding broccoli into my pasta. Slowly, I evolved.

I've learned a lot over the years, slowly branched out, and am now eating healthy very consistently. Yet sometimes it feels like more work then it should. I love sweets. I find a lot of comfort in food, I think most people do. I always have this idea of treating myself after a long day, but most days are long. Having a few beers on the weekend or a lot of ice cream when on vacation, really starts to add up much more quickly as I get older. I do great throughout the week, but when the weekend comes I go out to eat, I get dessert, I make quick and unhealthy meals, I forget about vegetables.

I've found that it impacts the way that I feel even when I wasn't noticing how it affected my health. It's embarrassing to say, but it took me a really long time to connect the way I feel with the things that I eat. I still sometimes don't quite connect the dots. In the moment it always feels worth it to treat myself instead of thinking about how it will make me feel later. But then it takes forever for my stomach to feel better again, I get jittery, I crave more sweets, I'm not regular again for a week. It's one of those lessons that I will continually have to learn, but hopefully the self-control will become of the norm. For now sometimes my self control will win and other times I'll learn the hard way. All I know is that I feel better, feel clearer in my mind, and much stronger in my workouts when I do eat healthy. I'll never be a person who is 100% plant based or doesn't eat sweets, but I hope to find balance in my diet and my health.

 

Apr 6, 2018

Self-Doubt

It is amazing how much self-doubt creeps in whenever I start to believe in achieving the goals that I set out for myself. I speak the self-doubt out loud. "I'm applying for a Masters in Occupational Therapy, but it's really competitive," or "I'm racing OABI for the third time, yea I've said I want to win, but it's a really hard race and I've never placed on the podium." However, perhaps louder, I speak this self-doubt to myself. I'll be a social media manager for a political campaign if I don't get into the Masters program, or When I don't win OABI I'll be able to share how much I learned about myself and it will still be meaningful.

It is strange that telling others, don't worry, I know this probably won't work out. I know my dreams are too lofty, I know I'll fail; somehow feels safer than just declaring my dreams and telling people the things that I am working on. But it is more damning to say that to myself as well. To prepare myself to fail, to get my mind ready for heartbreak. How much hope is lost in those moments, how much am I limited myself if I can't even dare to dream?

Don't get me wrong, I dream, big and often. But I also play out the worst case scenario, just in case. It is totally crazy, there are so many worst case scenarios. What a waste of imagination. But this relationship, this goal, this career might not work out, so let's think about what you would do if he left, if I failed, if the career wasn't a good fit. Instead of dreaming up all the things that could go right I have spent so much of my life dreaming up the way that things could go wrong. At first glance, no big deal, change the way you think, right? Not that easy. It's is an ingrained habit that is more than thoughts. Some days it grows into a monster and can manifest as an overall horrible attitude towards the world.

So of course all of these patterns came to a head when my first blog post went live. It was great to get all of the support and encouragement, but with each new like, each new comment a little voice in the back of my head started speaking up. That self-doubt. Your competitors will see this. It's all great for people on social media to hear about your goals but what about the people that are actually there on race day. Races are challenging enough, scary enough, you're going to add this pressure to it?

This was amplified by the fact that I was in immense pain in my thoracic spine. I have this area between my shoulder blades that sometimes can feel a little bit sensitive, but last week it was worse than it has ever been. I've been adding a lot of strength to my shoulders and haven't been as good about stretching as I should be. Sure I do yoga everyday and I stretch it then, but I haven't spent the dedicated time before and after every work out to stretch my shoulders and upper back. All Saturday I felt like I was on the verge of throwing my upper back out. I couldn't stop thinking about how I had just declared I would be doing this big race and I didn't even know if I would be able to complete it.

This is the work. Awareness of my limiting beliefs and habits is the first step, the next step is starting to catch them before they turn into a long story. Usually at first I catch them about 15 minutes in, Oh shit, I just spent way too much time thinking about how I'll explain loosing OABI. Then, overtime eventually I catch myself just a few minutes into it, Oops, I'm fantasizing about failing again, [insert replacement succeeding fantasy here]. This process is really never ending. It's helped me through anger, anxiety, depression, and is obviously still very relevant to me today. Through this slow shift in perspective, my goal is to invite more hope into my life. Because honestly what is the worst case scenario if you dream big and fail? Failure? I don't think anything can truly be a failure if we learn and grow along the way.

Mar 29, 2018

Goals Alive!

I don’t often declare many of my big goals loudly. The sure to be successful goals, definitely. You won't be able to get me to shut up about those. The risker goals, I keep those hidden as I work through the uncertainty quietly. When there is competition, self doubt, the unknown; I keep it to myself. Better to fail without an audience. Better to strive alone and share victories once they are sure to be just that, victories.

It’s not that I don’t set goals. I do. Often. Huge goals, small goals, long term goals, short term goals. But I don’t write them down, I rarely speak them to anyone but John. 

I’ve been working on prerequisite classes to apply for a masters in occupational therapy for three years. Three years, but most of my closest friends are only just finding out about it. It’s a competitive program, no one needed to know. In case I didn’t get in.

What a lonely place to be. Most of my friends thought I was just taking classes for fun. Not wanting to risk the vulnerability of failing enough to announce the things that I'm working really hard on. But here's the thing, if I'm not willing to risk sharing the failure, then I'll never get to truly share the victory.

So here I am. Ready to set a huge, possibly unachievable goal. Ready to take a risk. Ready to work hard, to do my best, and maybe fail. My goal is to win OABI.

OABI stands for Once Around Belle Isle. It is a paddleboard race, the biggest in my area. The 7 mile race, that I have participated in for the last two years, is the distance around the island, Belle Isle. This island is in the Detroit River with Detroit on one side and Windsor, Canada on the other. We start about a two thirds of the way up on the Detroit side, go up around the tip of the island, continue on the Canadian side, around the bottom of the island and then up the American side to the finish line. The Canadian side of the island is wide so there are freighters and large yachts in the water. This means that when the weather is good, there are about four feet waves coming from all directions. When the weather is bad, it's really bad. But we race anyways. Two years ago the rain was so brutal we could hardly see in front of us for some parts of the race, but we paddled on.

I love this race for a few reasons. It is a huge community event, it probably has the best turnout in the midwest. All the Instagram paddleboarders from Michigan you follow are there, which is one of the ways that I've made some really great friendships! My SUP yoga company, Root SUP, teaches paddleboard yoga there every year. There is live music, food trucks, beach games, etc. I also love this race because it is the most challenging one that I do every year. Being from inland Michigan, I'm a flat-water paddleboarder. I don't get much practice on big bodies of water like the Detroit River, aside from the couple times each summer that I make it to Lake Michigan. The current plus the choppy waves make for a super challenging and rewarding race.

The awesome thing about setting a goal that is this big is that there are many other goals that I'll be checking off on my way to the big one. I'll train all summer and work hard to do my best at OABI, I'll hopefully get my best time in the race, I'll train and fuel my body in a way that I'll feel like I can walk after the race is over (something that has been lacking the last two years that I raced through the finish line and immediately collapsed into a chair), I will write about the journey of training in a consistent way, I will hold myself accountable to listen to my body, to feed it well, to work as hard as I can towards this goal.

So here I am committing to some big, scary, probably impossible goals. I want to win OABI (in women's 12'6" division). I would rather shoot for a crazy goal than sell myself short, and I would rather share it with the people I love then keep it quiet for fear of failing.

Tune in here, every week to keep up with my journey to OABI. And keep an eye out! I'll be offering a training program in the weeks leading up to OABI if you'd like to train with me!