Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Longest Month of the Year

Our now deceased snowman
This morning my son cried for over half an hour.  Why?  Because the snowman he built two weeks ago melted.  We got three inches of snow overnight, and since he went out to play this morning, he just noticed.  While this length of temper tantrum is a bit on the dramatic side for a four year old, I held him while he cried anyway.  I tried to comfort him by telling him that we are getting another foot of snow tonight and he can certainly make a new and bigger one tomorrow.  That just made him cry harder.  "I'm just so sad!!!!" He wailed.

Boy, do I know how you feel.

February is by the far the worst month of the entire year.  It is dark.  It is cold.  The hustle and bustle of Christmas is past, and the smaller but equally fun burst of joy that is my daughter's birthday is also gone.  Spring is still months away.  New Years Resolutions have mostly petered out.  By coincidence and the nature of my job, work is busiest in January, so that by the time February rolls around, I'm usually exhausted on all fronts.

And sick.  On New Years Day, flush from finishing the Sterling Freezer Five Miler in record time, signing up for longer distance races seemed like a brilliant idea.  Four weeks later and I am seriously questioning the decision.  I have not been able to bring my A game in the last month.  Looking back over my Training Peaks log, the first week I was sick.  The next I was well, but my foot injury was back.  The next week my daughter was sick and I was up all night with her multiple nights in a row.  Sleep deficit forced me to miss a few workouts.  Then there was Sunday...

Sunday I was supposed to meet a friend in the next town over for my long run - a 6 mile recovery run.  It had been in the 50s all day, and I was looking forward to running with someone I hadn't connected with in a long time in the unseasonably warm weather.  I got dressed for cool weather running, and the Jedi told me to take off a layer.  I'd roast.  Ok fine.  I drove to the next town (a process that takes 20 minutes out in the boonies where I live).  Almost to my destination, my friend texted that her daughter was ill and she had to stay home.  Bummer.  And it had started raining.  Double bummer.  Also, she had the route.  Frick.  I wasn't as familiar with the roads, but I did pick a route.  I checked the weather forecast, which predicted no rain, and decided it would stop soon.

I was incorrect.  The rain did not stop.  I was not dressed warmly or visibly for solo road running.  My garmin quit on me.  So did my lungs, which sucked wind at every step.  Over seven miles later (one extra walking bc I got lost) I made it back to my car.  I was soaked to the skin, chilled, and really, really cranky.   My splits were abysmal.  I was amazed that I came in around 11:00 minute miles with all the stopping I did to check where I was, mess with my phone, make a stop in the woods (no judgment please), etc.  It was also my first run using Strava - the exact opposite of a run I wanted to share with the world.  Ugh.

Definitely feeling this
After a very conciliatory Jedi drew me a warm bath and got me some hot coffee,  I was ready to just shake it off as a bad run.  Got ready for the Superbowl.  Gave kids dinner.  Chores done.  Three minutes before kickoff, the last of the snacks was just coming out of the oven, when I almost dropped the bowl I was carrying and ran to the bathroom.  Hello stomach flu.  I spent the first quarter on the floor of the bathroom, crawled downstairs for the second quarter, and went to bed after halftime.  At least as Superbowls go, this was one to miss.

Two days later and I'm still not right.  I'm reading and re-reading my conversation with Sheriff that a few missed workouts isn't the end of the world.  I didn't really want to run a half marathon anyway....

Because that's the thing about February.  It wears at you.  For those of us that battle depression on a regular basis, this is the battleground of the year.  It is easy - oh so easy - to feel hopeless and powerless when you are sick, you never see the sun, it is freezing and grey and wet out.  I feel like I am a bad employee for missing work, a bad athlete for missing workouts.  I'm never going to finish those long running races.  I've nearly abandoned my clean eating except for alcohol and gluten.  I've lost 5 lbs and don't want to lose any more please.  Almost ready to give in altogether as a failed experiment, except that we switched my son onto a GF diet and I can't abandon him.  Jedi and I really need a date night.  Kids - actually I'm good on the kids.  Been a good mommy lately.  Many other bloggers are writing inspirational posts about braving the "Polar Vortex" and "How to Not Hate the Treadmill".  I want to write one on "How to Make Yourself Get Out of Bed".

Five things I hate about February

  • Girl scout cookies.  Being forced to sell them, being guilted into buying them, and then feeling guilty for eating them.
  • Valentine's Day.  Maintaining romance and good feelings is hard enough this time of year - it's like they put this holiday smack in the middle of February just to make me have to work harder at the cake business and reinforce the fact that the Jedi and I don't get enough quality time together.  
  • Taxes.  Not the rebate part - that is fun but comes later.  The assembling all the documents and putting them together.  Not straightforward with a job and small business both. 
  • The Christmas Hangover.  Not eggnog.  Credit cards & kid's expectations.  Both need to come down again
  • The Cold & Dark.  It is hard to get up in the morning.  I even have a treadmill in my basement now, but going from a warm bed to a 40 degree basement to run at 5 am is just hard.  I know - I should suck it up.  I know this.  Knowing that even in March it will at least be light out, if not warm, makes the next month better.
VDay cake pops.  We make hundreds of these....

Five Ways to Survive February

  • Exercise.  Ha!  No I'm not being ironic.  Get your heart rate up for 45 minutes or more on a regular basis.  A wellness coach once told me that exercise in durations of 45 minutes or more has the strongest impact on depression and mood.  While I don't have the study to prove this, in my experience it is correct.  Shorter workouts don't give the endorphin "peace" after the way longer ones do.
  • Light therapy.  My mom got my one of those sun-lamps to put on my desk.  15 minutes in the morning is helpful, if you can stand keeping your face within 6 inches of it.  It mimics natural sunlight and helps reset your system.  I really need to use this more often.
  • Get outside on days that you can.  Any way you can - walking, running, snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, building snowmen - let what sun there is shine on your face as much as possible.  Failing that, go to a local botanical garden or other indoor space with plants.  Breathe.  Repeat.
    My son demonstrates how to enjoy the cold outdoors
  • Drop the bottle.  One of the "bonuses" (sarcastic air quotes) of my month of Clean Eating is that now when I do have a glass of wine, it makes me feel worse.  Alcohol is a depressant.  It might take the edge off for an hour or so, but overall it will bring you down.  It also disrupts your sleep.  If you're not sleeping, you can't feel well.  If you feel like you need some sort of chemical help, please PLEASE talk to your doctor.  There are a wealth of treatments (not all drugs!) that can help depression and seasonal affective disorder.  There is absolutely no shame or stigma in availing yourself of help if you need it.  
  • Plan something to look forward to.  We often try to plan a short weekend trip or other thing to look forward to.  Although we're not staying anywhere overnight, we are planning our first skiing day with Jedi's sister's four boys at the end of the month.  We also are going to celebrate my adorable niece's birthday in early March.  (Near as I can tell, the birth of my niece was the only good thing to happen in February ever.  Oh yeah, and the birth of my brother.  I guess that one kinda goes with the other.....)

I hope everyone is surviving this winter.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to battle the dark of the year.  For now, I'm back to bed...

My daughter gave mommy her stuffed frog to sleep with


Anonymous said...

I was just recently thinking that I should maybe try light therapy. January was one of the longest months of my life. Probably because it was so out of control cold. We are going on vacation this weekend so that has definitely been something to look forward to. Running outside for a whole week? YES PLEASE.

Spring cannot get here soon enough!

Miranda Greenhalgh said...

Ooooh where you going? #6 - live vicariously through others.... ;)

Jen Niles said...

Oh boy, I'm right there with you on that. I have a two pronged strategy. First, remain aware. Realize that all the stuff going through your head is just garbage associated with this wretched time of year. I'm getting pretty good at that. Don't make sweeping judgements about yourself during this time, don't make big plans during this time. Just knowing you're in the Weird Place is so helpful!

Second, keep unbelievably busy, even if it's generally easy stuff. I don't even have to TRY on that one. With a part time job and an art job and a homeschooled kid and his individual needs (hi-maintenance), I don't have time to think or ruminate much. Also, since color is usually the first thing to go (and which I find hardest), making colorful art is a great idea. Make or bring as much color into your life as possible. Not because you want to (heck, you're too depressed to want these good things right now.) Just do it because it's That Time of Year and you NEED to.

Also, since I've watched you in all your high-achieving glory, I can say that you can dial down the self-judgement. You are OK even without all the amazing feats of greatness. You are OK just as you are, without races, without special diets, and so forth. You are a loving, and loved, member of that family, and that is more than enough. You are enough. Just keep saying it. You are enough. "I am enough."

((hugs)) Counting the minutes till Spring, and understanding 100%…..

Miranda Greenhalgh said...

Thank you Jen. I agree - a huge step is awareness. I know better than to get a new hairstyle or start something new this time of year (oh wait....). Seriously though, I know when I'm going into my weird place - I've been doing this so long. But others may not, and I think it's important to talk about.

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