Precariously Positive with Patient Practice

I think it’s high time for another un-earthing of old journal entries.

Last week at November Project was the week of wonder. 5 days, 5 workouts, 1 badass group of people doing work every morning. How fitting that the middle of the week gave us an opportunity to throw-down our toughest workout in the early morning summer sun. ‘The Messenger,’ as it’s called, is exactly one half-hour of running up, and down, the deceivingly treacherous hill at Gold Medal Park. Up and down thirty times – your rest period dependent only on how fast you can get up and down to the other side. It’s not terribly difficult to understand how one might be making this face during the fourth iteration, knowing you got a long 26 minutes to go:

When I run now, I embody just about everything I hated about runners when I was in high school. Could these guys look any more ridiculous with 1” inseam shorts? What the fuck is the point of a hat if you’re just going to wear it backwards? Could you possibly show anymore skin? And yeah, we get it, you run. Does every shirt you own have to have one iteration or another of the word ‘run’ on it? The answer to all of those questions, of course, is swag. Yes – Ryan Duff wears swag and he wants you to know about it. And if you’ve never run in high inseams, a running tank, and a backwards cap, then have you ever actually been running?

But it’s not all bad. It’s not just suffering. It would be kind of pointless if there was no means justifying the end, right? And for myself, well I don’t even need to wait that long. In the heart of all these workouts, it’s everything I can do not to exude every ounce of leftover energy from the previous repeat by heaping on encouragement to everyone else coming down the hill.

I often fail.

So much so, that for the second time since my induction into November Project I was bestowed the Positivity Award. Sometimes in this life, it does pay to be an obnoxiously enthusiastic asshole. I’ll take what I can get. Represented by a miniature bat etched with the group name and the tribe’s city, being a recipient of the award allows me to reflect on what my relationship with positivity is, and how that’s changed over the years.

I am not a photogenic person. I’m not able to take myself serious, and as evidenced in the previous picture even when I’m not posing for a picture, my already limited aesthetic value plummets with physical exertion. I embrace it though. I’m what some people call ‘extra’. I call do it what makes me happy. ‘Extra’ happy, even.

One way that that is made easier is by having a journal to reflect back on – and compare the content of my writing then (a terrible place mentally/emotionally/spiritually) to now (a work in progress, but MUCH better). I am not naturally a ‘positive’ person. At least not internally. External manifestation of this is reclusion and isolation. A feeling of wanting to be alone. This is a pretty natural state for someone who would be considered an ‘introvert,’ but when that label becomes a crutch to cling to bad, ingrained habits, well, the results speak for themselves. I spiraled into my own proverbial well of self-loathing and pity, enamoring myself in my own sorrow until I convinced myself that solitude and melancholy were just fundamental attributes of my personality. Unchanging, and destined to the defining characteristics of my soul until the passing of my physical presence in this world.

Pretty fucking grim, yeah?

Well, believe it or not, that’s where my headspace was not long ago! And look, I can prove it! Read on for some insight into the most authentic, only slightly abridged (out of respect for peeps’ privacy) details of my thought process from that time. Below are small excerpts of a few journal entries I’ve selected that should give some insight into just how, well, not positive it all was for me. This one comes from a journal entry the day after a night I shared with one of my best friends. Names are changed, some omissions made for clarity (but the content is unchanged/unedited!), and I bolded some text for emphasis:

Tuesday August 17th, 2015

Anna came over and we watched movies and talked literally until I could not keep my eyes open anymore. I’m not sure I have met somebody else who shares almost exactly the same sentiments toward their father as I do my mother…I know I haven’t had that kind of meaningful interaction with another person in a long time. Probably (rather, definitely) any other guy in my situation would have come to the conclusion that they are attracted to and interested in dating (or with most men I know/hear about, fucking) her. Whether it is because I am stubborn in keeping my word or because I’m determined to fulfill this vision of myself as a ‘loner,’ or because I’m truly not interested, I won’t be in a romantic relationship with Anna…I don’t think of myself as attractive and would be horrified to think of people seeing me not fully clothed, due to sheer embarrassment…I can’t imagine having to divulge the inner workings of my mind to another person again. And above all of the reasons I have already given there is something inside that pushes me to isolation so strongly that I am most happiest in seclusion. Perhaps it was the two years that I lived in solitude at the U that has made me so terrified about what other people think?

And then just a few days later:

Thursday August 20th, 2015

…It’s interesting that many of the new people I have met from work think of me as someone who has got it all figured out. I truly don’t myself as any more than a below average person who can’t find the discipline to succeed. I am absolutely baffled at how much other people can stay organized and happy, how others can make things happen for themselves. How they can find what really motivates them. I miss the confidence I had in myself, and would frankly give just about anything to have it back.

OO! And this encapsulating snippet right here:

Tuesday November 11th, 2015

…as I have stated many times, it is not a life I’m destined for. Solitude is the end-game for me, no doubt.

Alright, last one. This comes from an entry in which I was pushing myself to write stuff I hadn’t yet had the courage to put to paper. It comes from a conversation I had with a friend in which I came home feeling guilty that I was still holding onto intimate parts of my life when my friend was willing to share so much with me. I even lied to their face when they asked me straight up ‘Did you have an eating disorder?’ I plainly said no. Unconcerned with how terribly I lied. I was so afraid of myself that it was just enough to turn the conversation in another direction. But I managed to work the courage to spit out on paper, and now, 2 years later, I’m here to share it with you. It gets a little dark – bear with me:

But here is a list of things I have divulged to almost no one (and some things that have never been divulged)…we’ll start with me. No, Anna, I have not been fortunate enough to escape the clutches of eating disorder. Not anorexia, but disordered and binge-eating, you betcha. Suicidal ideation: You know I hadn’t really even thought of it as an issue at all, or even as a terribly sad thing, until recently. I imagined it all of the time actually, but in my childhood it was more me not getting the love of my life, or playing a martyr, or something. Now it has grown up a little and I see it more as an actual means to an end, especially since the binge-eating.

Time, effort, and practice are excellent modalities for change. And I mean BIG change. As I paged through entries of my old journal looking for the snippets that I could use to contrast my headspace now to then, I was honestly amazed at how much negativity I carried with me. I regret not writing and journaling more during those years in college where things were bad, just so I would have an even better understanding of how low things had gotten. To the point of giving credence to thoughts of self-harm? Maybe I would have put down on paper the times when I bounced a knife up and down on my forearm, just imagining how easy it would be to press down a little bit harder. And contemplating suicide? For me, well, that’s pretty fucking far down the hole. But just like physical training, and studying and learning, that journey from self-hate to self-love takes practice. It takes effort. It takes patience. It takes time. I talk about some of those things more in my best friend’s podcast – I encourage you to listen to it. Take a break from reading this (and thank you so fucking much for making it this far – I truly appreciate it) and put this podcast on 1.5x speed. I think you’ll learn a little!

Okay, where are we at? Positivity – yeah. Alright, let’s end this with two things. Firstly, I want to give you an example of what my journal entries look like now. I assure you that thoughts of self-harm and suicide are in the past. Let’s take a look! This comes from the end of the first week of 2018. The week following my epic 50 mile run, my return to NP, to Mill City, and the start of second semester of grad school. Names are different, content’s the same, bolded text for emphasis. Let’s take a look at what practicing mindfulness for a few years did for me:

Sunday January 7th, 2018

Let’s maybe put this week into perspective (not just write a bunch of fucking events). I have been more honest, open, and insightful than I have in my entire life combined. I have told people things I at one point thought I never would, or could. I talked with Beth about how terrified I was when I thought I was never going to give up binging. And maybe 2 months ago, that would have simply been impossible to mention…I surround myself with those I can confide in- those who take a true interest in my life. Those who love life, and the people in it, and love to laugh and share positive experiences. They love to learn, grow, and connect. Not complain, stagnate, and isolate…I love life again. I let myself give and receive intimacy…I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable, but feeling absolutely free, strong, and empowered every time I share my story. I’m admitting all of my faults, and maintaining humility on the (few, if any) proudful accomplishments in my life. I continue to grow stronger everyday – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Freeing myself of that disgusting, consuming habit is the single greast, defining moment of my life so far. I’ll use it to spread as much love and knowledge as possible. ‘Til next time!

I think you’ll notice a difference in tone. And it’s not exclusive to this entry. I’m not going to tell you that everyday of my life is some cherry-blossom, bed-of-roses, self-loving, fairy-tale. I am a person like any other – I still struggle with my body-confidence. And my self-confidence. I receive compliments about as well as I can swim (I could drown in a kitty pool). I’m not an enlightened individual by any means. But I practice being positive. Not just to others, but to myself too (although the former is wickedly easier for me). But that’s why they call it practice. I had to do some dirty, internal work. And I continue to have to do to that. I have to meditate. I have to sit with those nasty, hateful thoughts, and learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And I have to embrace the positive aspects of who I am more tightly when I recognize them. But like I said, the results speak for themselves. What you’ve read in this post is the contrast between what it’s like to be a slave to self-deprecation, and what it’s like to be fighting for self-gratitude.

Those are my thoughts on positivity. Hopefully I’ve elucidated that it’s not some magical millennial buzzword that hipsters throw around when they’re getting stoned. It’s a real damn thing that really damn changes how you think, feel, and act. Get out there and get some for yourself.

November Project – MSP asked peeps to fill out a questionnaire if they wanted to be showcased on the IG and FB page. Of course I filled one out. One thing they also do is take a picture off your profile page they can use to headline their showcase of you. This is the one they found. This is just before my first marathon in 2012. I don’t know if there is another picture of me that embodies the confidence I strive for every day. Them are curly locks of empowerment, I assure you.

Machismo my Asshole

I serendipitously had two different conversations with two girlfriends the other day. Each was concerning what I regard as an extremely important topic. The subject?

Masculinity.

Well, in a broader sense, how in our culture it seems to be a distortion of our natural tendencies as human beings. Men, consciously and unconsciously, are instilled early on to don a façade of stoicism, apathy, and crass bravado that ultimately can wreak havoc on the psyche of millions of young men (myself included) by creating diametrically opposed states between our outward expression and our inner, authentic selves. Whether through television (Netflix is included, sorry everyone), movies, advertising, or non-media related forms of influence from societal and social institutions, we are inundated with an immense pressure to appear infallible. Invulnerable. Impervious. Like a Greek God whose parents had the sense to dip him into the River Styx twice¸ each time being held by the other ankle…

Shitty Greek mythology commentaries aside, it really doesn’t take much to realize that men (me as no better example) are just as fallible, often incompetent, emotional, scared, sometimes lonely, and confused as any other human being fucking things up, trying to figure out life. One of those friends I mentioned above turned me onto a podcast many of you may know called the Hidden Brain. The first episode to come up on the playlist was ultimately the inspiration for my post today. In a nutshell, what is discussed is the dissolution of men’s interactions with other men. We are promulgated with the notion that our male-male friendships are to be these glib interactions in which the average depth of our conversation’s go down as far as the results of the last sporting event, who got drunk at what party, and who ‘got lucky’ last weekend (it makes me cringe writing just the phrase). We succumb to that societal influence to be ‘bros’ at the expense of an active pruning of our emotional intelligence, of ourselves and our friends.

The podcast episode integrated perfectly with a discussion I had earlier two weeks ago with Rebekah (not afraid to name her, she’ll enjoy the minimal amount of free publicity she’ll garner – check out her podcast and the badass work she is doing). I am not one to concede men have to endure anything in our society with more difficulty than women, but Rebekah elucidated a point on this I hadn’t considered. Let me give you an example. Imagine yourself (as whatever gender you identify with) experiencing a hardship: relationship ending, death in the family, car stolen (sucks that I can say that last one happened to me – pro tip, don’t leave your fucking keys in your car). Alright, which of your friends do you turn to? Are they male or female? Is the only person you talk to your significant other? How many people do you trust you can confide in? I’m willing to say it’s likely (for the few people reading) that if you’re female, that that person was not only your significant other but a group of close group girlfriends you have developed some level of confidence and trust in. People who can empathize with your pain. And if you’re a guy, that group of guy friends is significantly smaller, or perhaps non-existent. Maybe you have only an SO, or family members you turn to. Great outlets to be sure, but what happens when that relationship ends, or as often can be the case, the problem is the family? And what if, like myself at one time, you have entirely shut down the mechanism of identifying and sharing emotions at all. The result can be huge gap in the availability of social support. The best evidence suggests that our connections with each other have fallen significantly. That we are offloading (as the hidden brain gets into) our baggage solely to a significant other, or even worse yet, to the finite bottle of welling frustration and anger in our soul. All the while outwardly expressing an aura of nonchalance consistent with all of our male ‘role models’ we engage with on every medium. The results of this disconnect are horrifying.

I’m a numbers person. I like data. Here are some things I have found that illustrate what I’m really getting at. Men are over 4x as likely to kill themselves than they are to be shot and killed, and are almost twice as likely to do it with a gun than someone to shoot and kill them with a gun. It gets much worse as you get to middle age. Suicide rate among men is over 3x what it is for women, and with guns it’s not even close. As much as we talk (and need to talk more and take some action, here’s looking at you you badass high school demonstrators) about assault with guns, I can think of more than a few reasons why one of the most potent enemies men face are themselves. And that’s not a target that any man (or woman) should confront with lethality. There are many reasons that men tragically befall a death by suicide. For sure there will still be many (one is too many) that occur every year, but the correlation between increased social isolation and the rate of self-injury and death is startling.

So much for the negative – what about its positive effects? Here are some folks who looked at the effects of social interaction and longevity. Including over 300,000 participants, the basic finding of their research was that the greater one’s social support system, the likelier they were to add years to their life. The effect was comparable to quitting smoking (yes, like upping your friendship game having the effect of not putting tar into your lungs) and even exceeds impact played on obesity. This protective effect of social interaction is even measured down to the biological level – with high social interaction potentially decreasing your risk of heart disease (based on measurements of a specific protein in your blood) by 2.5 times as much as someone with low social interaction. Heart disease is bad – making friends is good. Science is simple shit.

Okay I’m babbling. And taking quite a bit of time researching and summarizing google hits each of you can accomplish competently on your own. Let me end this long overdue post by saying my maturation as an adult (oh dear god I fall in that category) will include a conscious effort to establish a greater quality of male friendships. In my early life I have actually been quite successful in establishing quality male-female relationships. I have longed questioned the role that society has placed on the ‘manly man’ and my relationship with that. It’s only recently that I realized I was still under its strong influence. That I had adopted its overly prescriptive demand that I be un-feeling and cold when it came to my own feelings. I work on undoing that as often as I am conscious of it (which is more now than ever). Essentially, I was halfway toward an emotionally intelligent man – establishing myself (and enjoying the role immensely) as a confidant of my girlfriends while reciprocating none of the honesty I was receiving. If you’ve been following my experiment since its inception, you’ll know that I’ve made a helluva lot of progress on the latter.

Armed with some more knowledge, it’s about time I elevate the principle of open honesty to the other half of the not-usually-neglected population. Men – I think it’s time we did away with the useless, superficial ‘How’s it going?’ and start asking the questions that actually produce a real fucking answer. ‘How are things with your boyfriend/girlfriend?’ ‘How has your family doing?’ Fuck, why not just be outright – “Anything on your mind lately? Something you want to share?’ Why waste time with the bullshit when we know the answer is going to be ‘fine’ or ‘good’ or ‘same’ or whatever generic nonsense that is spewed as a pre-determined response to a predetermined question of which neither reflects any truth or value. How the hell is that masculine? (You know I’m letting loose on my inner monologue when the curse words are flying out). Let’s really embody what I consider are ‘masculine’ values: Honesty, especially with regards to our fears, doubts, and emotions. Letting go of our preconceived notions of what strength is (something built in our own isolation) and finding strength in each other. There are countless ways women are leaps and bounds ahead of us, but this one may be more pressing than of them. We can continue on this culture of machismo and depraving ourselves of meaningful, lifelong friendships, or we can change. It’s quite literally costing us our lives.

Let’s start getting to the heart of our own, and each other’s, matters. Let’s start relying on each other to carry the burdens of life, and sharing in its infinite pleasures. If nothing else, at least you won’t get a damn hard-attack. The great thing is – we (well me anyways) have excellent role models that embody just the type of relationship I’m describing. To close – here’s a picture of two men who are #relationship goals. JD and Turk are everything any friendship should be. They happen to be men. Scrubs happens to be the greatest TV show of all time. And it just so happens, I’m done with this post.

Scrubs is the greatest damn show in the world. If you don’t believe me I seriously doubt your capacity to function as a human being. I will fight you. How’s THAT for masculine?

Kindness is our Mandate

I like science – as anyone earning a degree in my future field probably should. It affords us the opportunity to achieve an understanding of our universe that is unparalleled in comparison to other organisms. The advancements bestowed upon us as a species due to our scientific capabilities seems unquantifiable. Though, I’m not talking specifically about fancy homes, appliances, smartphones, jets, cars, TVs, etc. It obviously has given us all of our modern conveniences and material possessions that most of us so desperately hold onto. Some of them are great. I love sitting down to NFL Live at dinner time and allowing myself to look at a different fluorescent screen (read: not my fucking laptop lecture slides) for an hour, or being able to take my car 3 miles to my favorite restaurant in St. Paul to satisfy a chocolate-peanut butter-soy-ice cream craving at just about any given time of the day.

Yes, I love modern convenience as much as the next person. But one of the beautiful things about science is our ability to enhance our understanding of ourselves. We now have so many tools to shed light on not only what our innate behaviors are, but why. Through a multitude of disciplines, we can understand what the best known ways to eat, learn, sleep, communicate, love (love love love – I love the word love), etc, are. And we can say them with confidence. And we don’t need to use anecdotes to provide a foundation for our reasons and arguments. The facts are a keystroke away. We have so much data, for just about any given subject, that our individual understanding of our universe is essentially limited only by time and our personal motivation for truth. In an effort to rein in my self-diagnosed ADD, let me touch on one of those subjects in particular.

Kindness.

I read an article recently in Runner’s World that touched on the benefits of positivity. For the sake of me wanting to finish this post before I fall asleep in my bed, let’s consider that as an extension of kindness. The opening line of the article asks the reader if they can recall a time when someone gave them motivation during a run or race. I remembered instantly a long training run in December. It was the longest run I’d ever completed at the time in preparation for the Frozen 50. I was in the last 5 miles of that 35 mile run when I ran by a man who, tacitly, smiled huge and lifted his arm and hand for an unforgettable high five you could have heard from across the river. It had come not a moment too soon. I was dogging it– my pace slowing, breathing and heart rate increasing. I’m sure I looked almost beleaguered and, frankly, down for the count. But after that? I managed some smooth, easy, and relaxed 5 miles back to my apartment. I had all the external motivation I needed from my lonely fan. One stranger. A moment’s kindness and my mental and physical performance changed dramatically. It would turn out to not be the last time complete strangers’ kindness would prove invaluable to me during an ultramarathon (you definitely should read more about it here and here), and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The above example is what I consider completely selfless kindness. I’m going to say with some confidence that old man was not expecting money or material reward for extending a helping hand (literally). So what mediates such kindness? Is he just some one-off, 3 standard deviations above the normal gentle man who is vastly different from the likes of us conniving, thieving, cold, callous, cutthroat neanderthals? Or is there some scientific basis for the adaptivity of kindness. A sort of intrinsic virtue – one that represents the norm rather than the exception?

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who pondered the question – and the science seems pretty clear in its answer! I read an article from the Scientific American that included the transcript of an interview with a man who has worked extensively on this very subject. His book is already on its way to me (thank you Jeff Bezos). Basically, he uses his own research and personal stories to tell the narrative of how our evolution has designed us to be compassionate, altruistic beings. He credits none other than Charles Darwin (yeah, the survival of the fittest dude) for being a pioneer in describing our human nature to be intrinsically compassionate. This was well before PCR techniques, human genome project, NCBI, all of the tools we use today to quantify our observations. Which means its all the more striking that, in light of today’s science, such observations by Darwin on the evolutionary advantageous act of kindness have been corroborated by studies on kindness and telomere shortening, directed prosocial behavior, compassion training and positive affect, and lots of others. Rather than inundate you all with a literature review you could easily accomplish on your own, let me end this rambling with some of my own parting thoughts.

It seems as a human species, we are apt to forget the things that tie us intricately to the universe at large. I’m no less guilty of it than any of you. Even with kindness. As anyone who has ridden as a passenger in my car, I have some of the most intense bouts of road-rage you could envision short of physical violence. Let’s just say I’m easily excitable…but I promise it’s more often than not in a good way! Even still, the simple things – getting enough sleep, being kind to others, eating right, exercising, being compassionate, saving money, all the things we know we should do can elude us daily. I’d argue the trait we’d do our best to hold onto, if all others were to fail, is kindness. Not only for others, but for ourselves. Kindness (and love, which is even better, but love isn’t in the title of this post so we’re going with kindness) is the foundation of any positive action. Kindness is the underpinning of acceptance, and acceptance grants us the ability to let go of doubt, of fear, of hostility. All of the barriers to unfettered selflessness are dismantled the more we can practice this wonderful virtue. And the best part? It’s not a zero-sum game. The more we give the more we receive, and the more we give the better we’ll feel, regardless of the opportunity for the kindness to be reciprocated. So be kind – you won’t regret it! And if you see me heading down your way on the sidewalk, throw your hand up for a high-five. You’ll have no idea how good it will make you feel.

A Link to the Past

The post you’re about to read are the ones I’m most looking forward to sharing. Just writing (typing) that is monumental for me. There was a time I would never have thought about going public with any of this. These posts are old journal entries from a notebook I have been writing my thoughts and musings in for the last five and a half years. These posts will be unedited and reprinted in their entirety (I removed last names of peeps for privacy). My hope is to give you a glimpse into how this completely haphazard yet still ostensibly functional organ inside my skull once was, and what I’ve learned (albeit with that same fucked up brain) from that tumultuous past.  It’s not a big notebook, however, which is unfortunate it’s taken me this long to complete it. For the sake of avoiding making this post an impressive wall of text, I’ve included pictures. Yes. Pictures of a plain black notebook. Just read on.

I love the cover of this notebook. Two things that evoke truth more than anything are writing and running. I’m trying to get better at both.

I was given my notebook, along with some other goodies, after completing the Twin Cities Marathon in 2012. Something about the ‘middle of the pack’ award where they gave me a duffel bag that had that notebook, a (signed!) copy of Ultramarathon Man by the legendary Dean Karnazes, a $25 gift card, and a bunch of snacks and Clif bars. Needless to say I was elated. Ask anyone who knows me how much I love free stuff (or stuff that I make free…it’s really all about perspective. I’m not a thief). Anyway – that gift card and those snacks were gone quickly. The book was less easy to devour – and honestly I didn’t believe this guy. People don’t run 100’s of miles at a time. That’s impossible! Well, just a few years later and I’m one of those so-called ultramarathoners. You can read about that cold adventure here. Someday I’ll make it out to a race like Leadville or Western States. So many inspiring athletes out there suffering though unimaginable conditions. Anyway! That’s another post altogether.

It’s amazing to me that this notebook has remained in my possession for as long as it has. It’s somehow free of coffee spills and ketchup stains. The same cannot be said of quite literally anything else I own.

Let’s get to it. This entry comes a few days after Christmas four years ago. Two of the most spectacular women alive that I’m fortunate enough to call my friends came to visit me during the coldest winter I can remember. We went to Phantom of the Opera, and as you’ll see, I had some pretty intense feelings that surfaced as a result of having had the opportunity to spend time with, and shortly after say goodbye to, my best friends. Read on. If you’re feeling good, stick around while I go full-throttle Freud on myself.

It is unblevelable how sad I get having to say goodbye to friends when they leave. I believe it is something I have felt my entire life but I haven’t actually realized it to this extent. Last night, Hallie, Mollie, Hallie’s younger sister and I went to Phantom of the Opera. Poor Hallie’s dog got sick yesterday though and she got a call saying that the dog would probably not survive. Poor kid. Anyway, it was fun, and I shouldn’t have anything to be upset over. But right after they left I was literally almost in tears. It’s like I am always holding out for some moment of catharsis, where we just sit and reminisce and talk for hours like I used to do with those who I have been close with. I miss having a best friend. I feel as though I haven’t had a meaningful conversation with someone for 3 fucking years. I haven’t made a new friend since I was in high school and have only lost them since. That used to not bother me. In fact I was almost “proud” of it, in a way. Now I feel so bored and isolated I barely want to hang out with Abe or Eric, or even Rebekah. And why would they enjoy being around me? My interests have largely faded – there are not a lot of things I really enjoy doing. What areas of interests do I share with other people? Nobody really wants to get up and run with me. Nobody wants to talk about Italian shit with me, or video games, or Chipotle. How many other people my age envision a good time as sitting around and shooting the shit, or going to a show? Everybody wants to party. I DON’T. It’s not fucking fun for me. I take no pleasure in meeting new people. I know who I like already, and I love those people to death. Talking to other people isn’t the same and I just want my old friends back. It’s funny – I remember before leaving for college all I wanted was to get out and make new friends. Then I realized how uninterested I was in other people. Given the choice between meeting new people or being by myself, I pick the latter every time. And nothing excites me more than just being around people I love – and just talking. It’s why I was always would be on the phone with Hallie until she would literally hang up on me. And why I have sat at Rebekah’s house until 6 or 7am, until I could hardly stand I was so tired. And why I would spent almost every free hour of my life senior year with Zoe B. It’s even why I would spend so much time hanging out with people like Kevin in Junior High or Brandon or Abe in high school (albeit to a much lesser extent). I loved (and still do) just hanging around. But I’m smart enough to know it’s not normal and its certainly not what other people want from me. Nobody wants to be my friend that much, or in that way. Most people (everybody but me) enjoys the company of many. I am the only person I know who is by far the happiest when I can be with on other person. For some reason it generally works better with women. I would give just about anything to be as good of friends with Hallie, or Zoe, or Hailey as I used to be. I can’t lie when I say they were the most memorable times of my life. And I feel as though I will never have these kinds of friendships again in my life. And it has nothing to do with physical intimacy. In fact I would do just about anything to throw all of those where things got physical – from the sex right down to every kiss. It only ruined all of these friendships. It turned all of those relationships to shit. I feel like so much has happened in two years and I have absolutely no one to trust with it anymore. My mom has a heart attack – and the only person I tell is Zoe well after we stopped dating. My mom threatens suicide and sends me a “good-bye” message – the only person I got to tell that is myself, twice in this fucking notebook. But what can I do? I don’t know how to make friends. I’d rather just have my old ones back.

Okay. You still there? Awesome! You made it. PHEW. There was a lot of shit in there. That was even difficult for me to transcribe. And I wrote it! So what do we take from this? What insight can you or I glean from this rather old stream of immature consciousness? Firstly, I promise I’m not that despondent anymore. Like holy shit 21 year-old Duff, have you ever heard of Xanax? Second, there is a lot that needs to be said about isolation. Third, (just know you are reading this almost as directly as it’s coming from my mind) there is even more to be said about limitations.

Let’s talk about isolation. Something I’ve grown to learn that I feel is truer every time I’m reminded of it is that, (purposefully) barring any 3rd party intervention, I can convince myself of any negative emotion running through my mind. I’ve obviously learned a lot about the power of being an observer of thoughts though meditation, but when it comes to those nasty self-deprecating habituated thought patterns, reflecting on them with trusted friends is crucial. It’s easy to see how isolation led me to believe that ‘only I feel this way,’ and ‘everybody else is like this,’ and all the other snippets you can pluck from the passage. As paradoxical as it seems, one of the things that keeps me grounded and confident (relatively) is knowing that I’m really not special. I’m not the only person in the world who misses their old friends. I’m not the only person who finds it hard to make friends. And I’m definitely not the only person in the world who likes to run in the morning (read about it here and here). Nor am I the only person who likes video games, Chipotle, medicine, food, sports, and all the other things other normal people like. But it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to believe I was if I did exactly what I did – shut myself in, be too stubborn and scared to make friends, and not have the gumption to connect with old ones more often. Just reading this makes me wanna go back in time and slap the living hell out of me and say “YOU’RE NOT THAT COOL CALL A FRIEND, DUMBASS!” Because, in reality, it’s not cool, or tough, or a measure of fortitude to feel you’re unique in how lonely you are. There was no reason I had to be – or feel that I was. Which brings us to the last point.

There are things I am limited from doing. I will never dunk a basketball. I have no desire and even less ability. I will also never understand why people watch NASCAR, or why at concerts the instruments are so loud you can’t actually understand the words people are singing. What I am not limited from doing is changing my mindset. Reading this post, I was never actually prevented from being closer to any of the aforementioned folks. I was never actually inhibited from forging new friendships or figuring out a way to enjoy life in my current circumstance. Those were entirely constructs that I had created. I was not being held hostage in my apartment every weekend. I wasn’t limited to access for help from friends, and family. I convinced myself that those were denied to me. I was so unable to recognize that being sad was completely normal, and there were very normal, human remedies for it. Please, if you’re reading this, know that I haven’t had a stream of thoughts this negative in months. Maybe for the better part of a year. Recovery, real, true recovery, is a beautiful thing (read about it here). Any affliction of thought is curable by real action, and I can take any instance in the above passage and can say with some certainty in how I would go about resolving the conflict exemplified. Most would involve calling a friend, watching a move, or just being present and aware of those thoughts and letting them go.

Now you might be asking, ‘Ryan, what was that about your mom, and your old high school friends, and women, and –’ don’t worry. There is a lot left in this notebook that we’ll get to. And believe me, I’m learning as much about me as you are. Alas, I only have so much learning I can cram at a time. Graduate school has excavated that well of knowledge capacity greatly, but for this entry, it’s tapped out. Thank you for joining me on this first un-buried post! I’m having fun – hopefully you are too!

Why I Run

Frozen 50 – 09:48:50

Minnesota in December is a cold fucking state. I started this event at just before 9am on the last day of 2017 and it was quite literally -16 degrees. Weather Underground tells me it was the coldest day of the year. But, as any true Minnesotan will tell you, things aren’t actually freezing cold unless it’s also windy.

It was also windy.

For me this hasn’t generally been a big issue. Even on a normal long run in the winter, I usually have the ability to run at such a speed which allows me to stay warm and/or decrease the time exposed so I can stay properly thermoregulated. When you’re running an ultramarathon (at least, when I’m running an ultramarathon), you’re gonna be running slow and you’re gonna be out there for hours and hours. This effectively negates the easiest strategies for keeping yourself from wanting to Uber your way to the nearest Asian restaurant and dunking your whole body in ramen broth (believe me, there were times I came pretty damn close). But after reading so many books about ultrarunning and ultra-endurance athletes, I knew this was the next progression of my running career. I just had to experience what it was like to slog through miles and miles and miles. All these incredible, inspiring human beings detailed their accounts of personal catharsis through unimaginable hardship.

I knew that my recovery from an eating disorder would be capped with an endurance feet of my own. I had wanted to run an ultramarathon since I first started reading about legendary people like Scott Jurek, Ann Trason, Dean Karnazes, and others. You can check out my haphazard route if you’d like. I could not think of a better way to celebrate the end of a 4 year-long brutal era of under/over eating and the beginning of a new chapter in my life than suffering a (almost) couple of marathons in the frozen tundra. On my own. With nothing but some homemade superfood muffins (kept warm and moist with handwarmers) and 3 planned espresso pit stops along the way.

I have recovered from binge-eating but as you can see, I’m still bat-shit crazy.

I wanted this chapter of my life to begin with a new-found sense of being. To break a mold that I had casted. I had proven that I knew what it felt like to ‘fly’ for 26 miles. I loved picking people off on the trail during training runs and acting like I was being chased from behind when there weren’t folks to pass. This would be a new challenge. Not just because of the distance and the time on my feet. Difficult things to endure for sure. But during training I had to learn to accept that I was gonna be the individual people were picking off. I had to learn not to chase down the person in front of me, no matter how fast or slow they were going. You don’t get to make random long runs a tempo run when you’re putting in 30, 35, 40, even 45 mile weekends. Back-to-back long runs aren’t conducive to spontaneous speed sessions. That’s just the level I’m at right now. And that’s okay. One of the many beautiful lessons I had to take to heart running this ultramarathon was the old adage: “All’s well that ends well.’ I like my couplet addition: ‘If it’s not well, it’s not over.’ Things can suck (and I mean fear-of-permanent-frostbite-on-your-quickly-icing-hands suck) but however unbearable a pain, a thought, an emotion, or a feeling gets, all of them come to pass. There is an endpoint, and it’s a helluva lot better than whatever my impulsive and demanding brain can make me feel right at any given moment. Sometimes you just gotta sit with it. Or slowly jog though it. Either way, each nagging thought or negative, habituated pattern of thinking is an instance where the grass is truly greener on the other side.

This wonderful blister showed up about 4 weeks before the big day. I let that blister fester thinking it wasn’t a big deal. I hardly ever get them. But then a blister forms on a blister, and then they get infected, and well, case in point, I’m not the brightest dude around…take care of your goddamn feet!

Overall, many of the things that make a successful ultra are the same things that make successful binge-eating disorder recovery. You have to be patient. You have to observe the negative thoughts without judgement, not letting every detracting emotion lead you astray. You separate that icky, disgusting, filthy, part of your limbic brain from your rational self. That’s as much as I want to make a comparison between ultrarunning and recovery for now. They are independent entities, and one cannot lead to the other, or save you from the other. And you cannot replace one for the other (if I could have replaced bingeing for running I would have long ago). One individual I have heard describe alcohol recovery on my favorite podcast is this: ‘I didn’t always want to go running, but I always wanted a drink.’ You can’t love running (which is good for you) and hope it will replace something more powerful and destructive to you. Running is hard, but bad habits? Those are easy. And get easier and easier the longer they last. I can now say from experience that running an ultra doesn’t get any easier the longer it takes.

This is a snapchat at the end of this glorious run. I was cold. Basically the only thing keeping my motivation up was the fact that I was soon to be in the warmth of an uber car. I was either too emotionally drained or too glucose starved to actually be crying. Or cold. Hell I was delirious – you decide, you’re guess is as good as mine.

But it’s neither here nor there (a mantra that kept me going for hours on this fateful endeavor). The title of this is post is Why I Run, so let’s explore that. Hopefully through the series of pictures and related text I can convey what it means for me, and why it’s so important for me to be able to continue this for, well, ever. Much like the answers I provided for over a dozen medical school applications, I can tell you it’s multifactorial, and that the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Each facet is intrinsically related to the next, and they all operate interdependently, creating a product that is restorative, enlightening, and ever-changing. Each run represents a chance for me to realize a truer version of who I am, regardless of the intended distance, pace, speed, or workout. So let’s get into it! The following pictures represent some of my favorite views across this most memorable trek. Each one is chosen for the insight its given me over the years (and in one specific instance just on that day!), and its ability to help me explicate my specific reasons for why the wind and cold is no match for this mother fucker (hadn’t used the eff word in a while – wouldn’t want to disappoint you!).

This place is awe-inspiring. It’s a behemoth structure that a crappy picture doesn’t give justice to.

I can’t actually tell you how many laps I have run around this stadium. It represented my first foray into speed work as a runner. For years I had no idea how fast I would even run those repeats – I figured you just ran hard enough, with the same consistency on each turn, to make sure you were pretty winded once you got done…and that honestly hasn’t changed much even to today. Why I Run here is the same reason I would push myself during sprints in high school, outside of football and basketball practice. To improve. To know what it feels like to get faster, and fitter. Sprinting sucks, but the feeling of recovering after is a much stronger, positive sensation. It’s always worth it. Although sprinting exhaustion has a completely different quality than endurance exhaustion, they both are awesome.

I talk highly of this 8% grade, 400 meter demon. In actuality I probably really do hate it. These captions really get to the root of my subconscious. They are all in italics. If you have a sense of my writing style by now, you know that when the letters get crooked, the truth comes pouring out.

If there is anything more awesome (read: shittier) than running around a stadium 8, 10, twelve times, it’s running up this thing an equal number of times. Up/down, up/down, up/down. If running laps on flat ground allowed me to increase my speed, then running laps up and down this bad boy allowed me to increase my strength. Nothing burns my legs and lungs harder than working like hell to hit 5:30min/mi splits going up this incline for 400 meters. Over and over again. Why I Run this hill is the same as the euphoric effect of working to exhaustion around a big, beautiful oval.

There is no better description for running on this lake in the middle of winter than what’s written on the sign. You are at the mercy of mother nature, and if you find yourself in trouble, you’re likely on your own.

I have practiced formal meditation for only a few months, but much of what I understand about it relates to the experience of running my Sunday long runs on this lake in the early hours of the winter mornings during college. If you needed reminding, Minnesota sucks in the winter, and so does waking up early. So you can imagine the silence that entails breaking a sweat before the sunshine in subzero December weather around this beautiful body of water. No music, no friends, for 20 or so minutes I would focus just on the sound of my own breathing and the repetitive, rhythmic crunching of the soles of my shoes on the snow. It was peaceful beyond belief. By the time I made it out this far in the middle of my long run, I had locked in a pace that allowed my body and mind to operate in complete synchrony. No fighting to push a pace or back off. Why I Run around Bde Maka Ska (usually before other people are awake) is because I can cultivate a space that allows me complete dissociation from the city, while literally right in the middle of it. I can find calm and warmth while allowing my body to move without restraint in a vacuum of shuttering cold. It’s a measure of serenity that’s incalculable. It’s like living in that moment just before you fall asleep, where you completely surrender to the world around you and just let go. And I would experience that feeling for whatever length of time it took to complete the 3 mile circumference around Bde Maka Ska. Whether I returned to Lake of the Isles or took it out farther to Lake Harriet was inconsequential while I was in the moment. Which is basically the center of my meditation practice. A loop around a dark and silent glacial lake transcends physical or mental experience – it is spiritual at its core.

I really do wish I could capture what this lake looks like at sunrise on a warm spring morning. It’s magical.

Water is fucking awesome. Whatever the human species’ fascination with it (beyond it’s necessity for our survival) is beyond my comprehension. And I prefer it that way. Running provides an opportunity to surprise you when you venture farther and farther outside of your comfort zone. I remember training for my first marathon and seeing that I needed to run the chain of lakes as part of the course route. From a bird’s eye view on a map it doesn’t look so far from Northeast Minneapolis – where I lived at the time. However, it was a distance I had yet to cover before. This would be the first time I’d run 20 whole freaking miles in my life. I was nervous. But this infamous 20 mile long-run was so-called ‘essential’ to marathon training, and it was on the schedule. ‘Here goes nothing?,’ I thought. So I took my training run down the west side of Lake of the Isle, Bde Maka Ska, and for the first time, Lake Harriet. I was met with the most spectacular view of Minneapolis that I’d ever encountered, before or since. I’m almost remiss that I couldn’t get a photo of it here, but I suppose you’ll just have to venture down to the south side of Lake Harriet to find out for yourself. There is an opening in the tree line that gives way to a view that is unforgettable. The skyline is so distant and stalwart, with this ginormous, beautiful, bright blue (at least when I first saw it) cavern of precious water dominating the foreground. This view, for me, has forever been the most impressive of the city-scape. And I’ve seen some bomb-ass views of Minneapolis as a result of my love for the sport. Which is another reason Why I Run – it surprises you. There is a positive correlation of the amount of courage you espouse in the face of fear with the level of surprise and satisfaction you achieve when adventuring on your two running feet. The brand new sights you see, the wonderful people you meet, it all comes back to you in a big, big way. In 2012, this was my ‘longest run ever,’ and in brought with it a surprising and unforgettable experience. The novel experiences haven’t stopped since. Read on…

The picture doesn’t give one a great idea of how epic this hill is. The view of the rising sun from this hill is really something to behold.

I had a professor when I studied in Italy that talked to us about going to the top of the famous cathedral in Florence. He discussed with us the pros and cons, and ultimately shared his thoughts on if it was worth it or not. He told us that most people would climb all that way up to the top and realize that the view of the cathedral was much more impressive than the view from it. Well, I can tell you that doesn’t apply to this badass hill. The view of it and the view from it are awesome. I have chosen to give you a view of it. Fitness is achieved on this hill and deserves to be highlighted. When is that fitness achieved? Well you can read more about it here. But this post is hella long and I’ll say only that Why I Run is because I can’t be fit and healthy unless I have a community of kickass people that will run up and down this bastard 30 times in 30 fucking minutes. All with a smile on their face. It’s all about camaraderie. November Project. Google it. Check it out and then show up.

In all honesty my favorite view is a toss up between this and Lake Harriet. I know, I sorta lied before. These captions are all truth though.

Motivating yourself to be fit can only take one so far. I think competition is really the spice of life. It allows you to take that emphasis off yourself and your own wellbeing and translate it into something that will allow you to really test your abilities. Whether that’s against a personal best and/or against others, this motivation can take you a long way (so long as you’re smart about it). And it’s fun! I learned about being a part of a running team while on a brief stint with some fine, fine folks at Mill City Running and their race team. I’ll be returning to that same team next month. This establishment sold me my first GPS watch (so I could stop pretending I had any idea how far I was running, and how fast), and even gave my first experience racing on a team. Why I Run is not only for the benefit of making myself stronger and faster, but to pit my fitness against others. Sure, this view of Minneapolis is from just a regular, easy, 5 mile route I would take with some great friends from this store on Friday mornings, but every time I see it I’m reminded of the spirit of competition and the beauty that is wanting to beat the individual next to you to the finish.

I don’t know how to caption this picture. What I experienced inside was life-altering. Just keep reading and you’ll find out why.

Before I took on this 50 mile endeavor, I envisioned breaking down into tears on the steps of the capital building. My finish line. A celebration of recovery from an eating disorder that had plagued my mind, body, and spirit for years. I had not anticipated my gloves completely freezing 6 miles before the finish and giving me immediate fear of frostbite. I was forced to turn back toward the Target I had just left to regain my warmth in this diner not far away. I couldn’t even make it all the way back to the Target – I was sidelined to this burger and shake shack as it provided the only neon fluorescence I could immediately see this late on new year’s eve. I also didn’t anticipate bearing my soul to a group of complete strangers, sobbing in their arms as their generosity provided me coffee, a hand-warmer, and an abundance of love. The catharsis I had ‘planned’ would be rescheduled for right now. There are moments in your life that are impossible to forget – and I experienced that this day. The sequence of events that drove me here are not for me to analyze, to figure out the reason for, or to determine what happened or why. It’s not even important. The generous folks at this malt shop heard my story of ultrarunning, eating disorder, recovery, and celebration, and showed unabated love in return. Why I Run is embodied in what happened on that cathartic, cold evening inside this restaurant. I run to learn. To live. What I learned that day was, that at the root of true catharsis, is love. And love, loves, company. It isn’t something you can give to yourself. It’s felt and experienced when you share. There is no way I could feel that level of this emtoion while in isolation on the stone-cold marble staircase in Saint Paul (even if my blood sugar hadn’t been so disgustingly low I barely had the energy to breathe, let alone cry). There isn’t enough of that wonderful emotion that you can contain in one individual. I would eventually make it to the capital steps to finish this race, but no matter how many great workouts I put together on my own, how many awesome tempo or long runs or repeats I put in on my solo runs, achieving catharsis comes when running with (or to) others and feeding off each other’s accounts of personal hardships and recovery. It comes from giving and receiving all of each others’ energies. It’s achieved when you know, in a raw, palpable sense, that whatever you’re going through is a shared experience with those who surround you. Who love you. Why I Run is because I love to run, and now, I’m realizing, it’s because of how much I love to love.

A Peanut Butter Ice Cream Nightmare: Food, Impulse, and (re)Ascension to Average

Today is a sort of special kind of day. Two rather significant events occurred. One: I ran a long ways (not that significant but more than I ever have before). Two. I cried. In the arms of a total stranger who had the generosity of helping warm my gloves and my heart during this awfully cold run. It’s been years since I have been that open with another human being, and we had known each other for all of about 4 minutes. It felt amazing. It’s unimaginable to me that I have held held back for so long this almost uniquely human experience for the sake of establishing a façade of stoicism. Not anymore.

So who gives a fuck right? (Btw, you’ll see this is rather uncensored commentary, and an uninhibited Duff probably falls on the heavier end of ‘vulgar’ language. Bear with me). Well, I have no idea. But it’s gonna be put out into the world regardless. Cause if 25 years of living has taught me one thing, it’s the more garbage you hold in, the more septic your mind and spirit become (yes, Ryan Duff is getting spiritual, hold onto your fucking hats). And you don’t need to be in medical school to know that sepsis is really not a good thing. In accordance with my all-or-nothing, impulsive, do-or-do-not attitude, allow me to take out the trash.

So you’ve made it this far and you have no idea what I’m talking about, or why. If you have spoken to me in person you’re in familiar territory. Let me explain. Let’s take a little trip back in time. I grew up in what I will finally admit to the world (or the maybe 5 people reading this) was not an average household. I have lied about that for a while, so let’s unpack that dumpster. Out of respect for everyone involved, I’ll just say I was privy to a torrent of alcohol addiction, drug addiction, eating disorders (remember that one we’re coming back to it), and a suicide attempt to boot. Fights were the norm. ‘Walking on eggshells’ was the rule rather than an idiom. And all around a relative dearth of communication – between anyone. Talk about dysfunctional. As the youngest of 4 progeny, I thought myself ‘lucky’ having escaped all this misfortune personally. ‘I’ll never be like that!’ said my (even more than now) naïve self. ‘How can people be so selfish?’ ‘Why can’t they just be happy?’ ‘Why would they do that to themselves?” Little Ry-blaster had it all figured out. I’d have to wait until my twenties to learn just how dumb I really was.

Sidetrack: I took a liking to running from a young age. There were times running with my mom as a grade-schooler when I remember really being authentic, having meaningful conversations, and pondering on what it means to run through exhaustion. Hell, I still use ‘run to the next street light’ as a motivational ploy to persevere through a long-run bonk, and I developed that at the ripe age of 7. It served me well this morning, this afternoon, and this evening. But it truly took off in college. I remember specifically one cold evening during winter break of freshmen year when I get lost out in the country roads for a couple hours to come back and realized I ran my first half-marathon. Go me! But it was fun. And I felt alive. And I fucking loved it. Whatever concoction of neurochemicals that were sustained in my brain (I’m sure I’ll learn more than I ever wanted to know this Spring) during that first, true, cold, long run was enough to get me hooked. And hooked I still am. But that wasn’t so much the issue. If running was the ‘yang’ of my solitary happiness, then a dark ‘ying’ lingered in the shadow of my constrained spirit: food obsession. Growing out of a sense of loneliness (not solitude) and dissatisfaction, my obsession with it manifested in much the same ways as is common among young adults (usually women, but ask anyone who knows me just how much I hate gender stereotypes). It was borne out of an obsession with body image, a sense of ‘accomplishment’ in achieving a certain look, and a more desirable motivation of wanting to just run faster and farther. It took time, but by my midway through sophomore year of college, well, I was finding out just how deep that rabbit hole went.

I never quite matched the clinical definition of anorexia nervosa. I think I never hit that low of weight, and it didn’t significantly effect my energy levels, but certainly a drop 30-40 lbs in a relatively normal weight, active 20 year-old would be cause for concern for anybody. But with a lack of meaningful interaction with friends and family, who was there to stymie the symptoms? To keep me in check? To ask how I was doing and intervene appropriately? Okay, I would never, ever, hold anybody else accountable for my actions. I was responsible for what happened, and me alone. But I would also never, ever, suggest that I had an ounce of training in dealing with negative thoughts and emotions, how to manage stress and external pressures, and how to just generally socialize with others in a way (well, in ANY way) that is conducive to emotional well-being. Without any of these skills to cope, what’s a rather impulsive, stressed-out, food-obsessed, eating disorder pre-disposed, 20-something-guy going to do?

Okay, fast-forward. About a year and a half. And to, in my mind, more dire straits. We’ve been keeping up this restrictive diet for a while. Restrictive is maybe not the word – let’s go with highly ordered with a (un)healthy dose of mal/undernourishment. What a mouthful! Anyway, fast-forward. Right. I remember it like it was yesterday. Coming home from class, getting ready for my usual dinner of flaked mashed potatoes. Yeah, like the ones that come in a fucking box. No butter or cheese, made with water, but an abundance of salt. Delicious, right? But! A thought occurred. You know what sounds good right now? Like, REALLY fucking delicious. A peanut-butter jelly sandwich. On a bagel. A sweet, chocolate chip bagel! Now this is something similar to what I’d eaten for breakfast just about every day of my life for the past 2 years (keep the pb+j, take out the bagel and replace with 2 slices of some ‘low-calorie’ bread). But for dinner?! You gotta be kidding me – I wouldn’t dream of it! Think about how many calories that would be! Didn’t I already have a big lunch? But sure enough, before I knew it, I was putting away that pb&j bagel faster than you could imagine. Maybe not the craziest thing in the world. Not a totally uncommon snack in America. Especially for ‘runners,’ as one might describe me. But that voice wasn’t finished. That was not satiating, not even close. What’s the harm in another one? When I was in high school, two PB&J’s and a couple of chocolate milks constituted my daily lunch. What really was the harm? Come on, you ran 8 miles this morning, you can put another one away! That sandwich was delicious – have another! And for the first time in many years, well…that’s exactly what I did. Still, no regrets (yet). But here’s the kicker. Now is where it gets really crazy. I mean a little (lot of) bit psycho. About 10 minutes, 4 more Pb&J bagels, half a quart of chocolate milk, and a few handfuls of candy later, and I was, well…satiated? Full? Hmmm…let’s try sick. Enter normal brain: What the fuck just happened? I felt like I had just entered a zombie trance. At no point during that exercise did I feel anything that amounted to rational thought. And…and, well by god – it felt good! At least, while it was happening. That amount of peanut butter, bread, and dairy will put a fucking knot in your gut. But when was the last time I ate something without looking at a food label first? Without knowing it has x calories or y grams of fat? I actually thought I’d accomplished something – like I was really breaking free! Sure, now I felt sick, but wasn’t that better than being perpetually unsatisfied? Anything had to be better than that prison of malnourishment, obsession, and starvation, right? As it turns out, for the better part of four years, I’d find myself in a new rabbit hole that went deeper, and was far worse than anything I’d ever experienced before.

Having not been fruitful in meeting the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, my perturbed brain thought it would try its hand at binge-eating disorder (it was a rousing success). What I described above was my first episode of binge eating. It was, unfortunately, not the last, not the most severe, and not the last time I’d say ‘never again’. For now, I’ll refrain from expounding the gory details. Suffice to say, there was significant weight gain, a food log, calorie counting, broken promises to myself, attempts at purging (and 2 physiologically induced purges from a couple of really intense episodes), and even some suicidal ideation when I did finally bottom out (another topic for another day).  I truly cannot estimate the pints of ice cream, jars of peanut butter, donuts, boxes of cookies, whole pizzas, sandwiches, burritos, blocks of cheese, bags of chips, and every other imaginable shit food I had consumed individually in those years. If I thought I had been obsessed with food before, I didn’t understand what being under the dominion of it really felt like. Every waking moment was focused on how I could stifle the voice. What and where and how much I was going to eat. And, at its worst, about 5 nights a week, ending with an all-consuming binge. All I can tell you now, is through true recognition of what I was doing, and why, and the tools to stop it, was I able to put that beast to bed. FOR GOOD.

There are three books I read specifically that got me out of that hell. It took a while for me to put that knowledge into wisdom (much like I had the knowledge that an eating disorder could fuck up your life but not the wisdom to actually prevent it), but eventually it…well, it just clicked. Brain Over Binge, and its compendium Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide, as well as Rational Recovery. The RR book was designed for alcoholics, but if I could (and the author of the former book could as well) ascertain anything from this despicable habit, it’s that impulsivity is a mutual component of both binge eating and binge drinking. And that’s what these books got to the heart of. Again, for now, I’ll refrain from the exact processes that are involved as its not the focus of this admittedly long post. The point is that I needed just a little more than what was given to me in these books. I needed to communicate. To share. Even if it meant just putting it on paper. My true thoughts. I needed to establish friendships. I didn’t predict that my that my recovery would find its birth within the middle of the first semester of medical school – but I’ll take it. I will fucking take it.

I couldn’t have recovered, made it through this semester, and (as scary as it is to admit) possibly survived without communication. Without expressing to individuals what I was feeling. There were other factors to (another post for sure), but principally this is a story I’ve needed to share since before it even started. Anxiety and stress exists within all of us. You can hold it in or you can share. I tried the former. Hopefully this post has conveyed to you that didn’t work. Through the semester I tried the latter – no, I didn’t share this level of personal experience. In fact, this is the first I’ve told anyone any of this part of the story. But the overwhelming stress of school, the problems with family, the joys of running (and the not so joyous occasions of falling/spraining ankles). All this I started to share with friends. I could have balled all that shit up into a binge. Into isolation. You don’t destroy yourself with food while around people – it’s a solitary endeavor. Whoever said misery loves company doesn’t know how good 2 pints of Ben and Jerry’s are after a whole pizza and a box of chips ahoy cookies watching Netflix by yourself (it’s miserable). Though I almost had it beat before I started school, it wasn’t until a cold day in early November when it clicked for good (another topic, for later). I had all of the knowledge that I needed to overcome that beast. I knew I had found ways to deal with the urges, to mitigate stress, and to just be present. It’s all because I sought help, and found it within the books described above. But the final piece to the puzzle was communicating my thoughts and feelings. The everyday things that, if left untouched, WILL break you. All the things that just ad to all the toxic garbage that builds in one’s mind and soul. That place of isolation and secrecy is not a place I ever want to be again. Which brings me to this blog. If communicating some of my thoughts/feelings/emotions amounted to successfully ending this nasty ordeal, what effects could there be by communicating all of them? Why wouldn’t I try it? Let’s see how far that rabbit hole goes…

So hopefully you stick along for the ride. I have some ideas for what will be produced in this blog, but regardless of the point of each post, rest assured knowing that the words will represent, now or at some point in the past, my truest and most authentic self. Some reservations will be placed only out of respect of those people involved who would like to be anonymous. Not that I consider myself as someone with a story really worth writing home about. Honestly, this experiment is more for my benefit than anyone else. I know it will keep me ‘sober.’ And if it doesn’t, I’ll be damned if it that story doesn’t end up on here anyway. In full fucking detail. But in my opinion, even a barely average dude like me has got something to share. Meaning everyone has got a story to share. Whether that story is completely public or private, shared with many or shared with few, it deserves to be heard and understood. If I’m good at one thing (and if grad school taught me anything, it’s that that might just be true), it’s doing shit people don’t often do. Run 50 miles to celebrate ‘sobriety?’ Fuck yeah. Write a public blog detailing every hitherto tacit event that almost destroyed you for the sake of being honest? Tell me where to sign. It might be dumb, or strange, but it’s definitely me. And who I am now is definitely closer to me than I have ever been in my life.

Me. Unleashed. Hopefully you stick around. I think we’ll both learn something.