There are times when it's challenging for me simply to get out of bed. Thankfully, these tougher days are few and far between, but I've had more than a couple of weeks of those days and I'm finding myself incredibly frustrated. I go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up early (not too early) and I rise feeling more exhausted than when I went to bed. I know I have been experiencing some stress, but when isn't life at least a little stressful? Everything just seems to be going wrong. It's as though I started off one day having a bad moment, and that moment snowballed into a day, and then multiple days, and now working toward multiple weeks (which is not something I'd like to see happen). I find myself angry about things that I would normally just let pass over without a second thought. I can feel my body wanting to sleep in the middle of the day. My body is involuntarily twitching (my eyes, muscles, etc). Everything I attempt to paint 1) never gets finished, and 2) looks like complete garbage - and since that is my job, well, you can imagine that it's sort of like sitting at a desk in an office for several days (or weeks) and not actually doing anything (it sounds great, but the reality is it's boring and demotivating). The more trouble I have during the day, the worse the next day feels, and I never dig out of this dark hole that has enveloped me.
My self-convincing started with some talk about only needing to go for a few miles. Normally, I say this to myself knowing full well that I just need to get out the door and everything will fall into place. I'll end up riding more miles than I intended, and return home feeling better. On this day, however, I wasn't convinced that a short ride would turn into a long one. I didn't even want to put on appropriate clothing to exit the house, let alone bike-riding attire. Still, I talked myself into putting on some shorts and a jersey and drug myself out the door with a bottle of water and a key. I was almost (but not quite) angry to be heading out for a ride. It was as though I was being scolded and told by a parent that I had to go out; yet, I was fully aware that I was only doing this to myself and no one can make me ride.
I was so unenthused I didn't even do my typical (mildly) obsessive check of the air in my bike tires, patting of my saddlebag to check for the spare tube, and so on. It was almost as though I was willing something to go wrong, simply to be able to return home and have something to complain about - something that would seem more valid than the depression-like symptoms I'd been exhibiting for no real or discernible reason.
As I got out on the road, I could feel myself internally whining. On this particular day I had an appointment scheduled, so I knew I had a very limited time frame. I tried to shake the "poor me" thoughts and told myself that I needed to appreciate it and get in what I could. As I got a couple of miles in, I very slowly passed what appeared to be a bike commuter on his way to work. I could almost sense him pushing on his pedals harder to keep in front of me, but I smiled politely and nodded as I rode by, trying to seem human and not like the roaring, slimy beast I more accurately felt I was on this morning. No reason to take out my frustration on another human, and beyond that he'd done nothing to antagonize me.
In that moment though, something sparked inside of me and a mental game began. Despite the fact that I'm fairly certain the rider turned off the road about 1/4 of a mile after I passed, I was convinced he was right on my tail, and I internally began an imagined game of sorts, stating (in my best Gandalf voice) 'you shall not pass.' And so began the ride that would turn out to be my fastest average ride to date.
Not only was it my fastest average to date, but it was nearly 2 miles per hour faster. How did this happen - and how do I make it happen again? It's not the first time that playing a kind of mental game helped me kick it into gear or to get a faster overall time, but 2 mph is a significant gain for me (okay, it's a significant gain for anyone) - particularly as I am not in personal cycling shape at this point, and as you will recall, I was barely able to get myself out the door for the ride at all.
The strangest part of all is the realization that even this accomplishment did nothing to change my mood. One would think that after such a feat (and it definitely was for me), I would be able to work out of the funk, but instead it felt like any other day and any other ride. A kind of "so what" attitude settled in and it didn't seem anything would shake me from it.
Over the weekend, I headed out with Sam on another would-be ride. Recalling the "victory" I'd experienced earlier in the week, I tried to believe that I would be able to duplicate that ride, but even as we prepared to leave the house, I could feel my body protesting. About a mile and a half down the road, I ran over a patch of glass and got my first flat of the year while riding. I took it as an omen, while Sam reminded me that this is part of riding a bike and it wasn't a big deal. He was right - this is part of riding and I knew it - but I still wasn't happy about continuing on. Everything felt achy, I was dizzy, my hands hurt, my feet were already numb, and I could feel myself giving up. I made it a few more miles before I said, "You're going to have to ride without me. I just don't have it in me today." Not wanting to ride alone, Sam returned home with me, which just made me feel worse because I know he needs to get in training for a ride he'll be racing in next month.
Normally, this would be the point at which there would be something positive or uplifting that would happen or that I would realize, and I wouldn't feel [as] guilty for writing such a gloomy post. That didn't and hasn't happened, however. Instead, I've gone into self-exploration mode and realized that there is something (or several somethings) bothering me and they seem to be adding up. It's partially social media (both its time-sucking capabilities and often lack of usable/useful content), my art (inability to create and/or creating complete rubbish), bicycles (more specifically lack of appropriate riding buddies and/or bike fit - depending on the day), physical location (questioning whether I've found my place in this world), and a slew of other tidbits I could throw in to the mix.
I know that I have a very cyclical sort of personality and that there is an ebb and flow to my emotions, thoughts, and so on. I want to believe that this is simply a down point and life will return to whatever is "normal" soon. Another part of me, however, wants to use this extended low to create change. While I despise feeling this way, I sometimes find that my greatest improvements, modifications, and growth happen during these times. I find myself wanting to build a tiny traveling house and roam this country. I want to throw off the shackles of living the way most of us are trained/brought up to live and simply see what happens. I imagine us selling off nearly everything and taking the dogs and a couple of bikes to just see what's out there - to have experiences that aren't part of the every day, to actually speak to people face-to-face, to get a better understanding of simply who I am and why I am here.
But, I have many dreams and thoughts throughout any given day or week, and I realize that this sort of life -even temporarily - would have its own costs and pitfalls. It's not practical or realistic in many respects. Logistically and financially it could be a complete nightmare. The reality of giving up nearly everything simply to find ones self and to explore may not be the wisest of decisions. The analytical and practical side of me fights with the let's-be-free part, and the battle itself is sometimes enough of what I need to let the ideas go. Still, a person can dream, and sometimes the daydreams and fanciful thoughts are enough to get me through the less exciting or down moments in life... and, who knows? Perhaps the 'let's be free' side will win out one of these times and it will start an entirely new life adventure, or maybe this is the adventure and weeding my way through it is all that is needed.