Life Lessons I Have Found Through Spinning

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I couldn’t find a realistic picture of someone spinning, so I had to just go with the bike by itself. FYI: if you’re smiling while spinning, you are doing something wrong.

I fell in love with spinning about two years ago. I’m not talking about Soul Cycle where you are in lines next to people like factory-farmed pigs, and the person leading the class has maybe 1% body fat. I’m talking YMCA spin classes with people over 60. I’m talking, waiting until a room is open, and spinning alone.

Spinning, for me, is about being healthy, getting rid of anxious energy, and letting out endorphins. And perhaps more importantly, it is about deciding what challenge I want and choose to achieve that day. I realized recently that spinning actually serves as a fantastic analogy to the work I am doing in my life outside the gym. I never thought sitting on a stationary bike could provide life lessons, but it really does.

Here are some examples:

~ Life is a personal challenge. It’s not about what the people around you are achieving or what their goals are. You set your own expectations.

~ You are allowed to change your “goal” as many times as you want, whenever you want. Some days, you are not going to be able to do as much as you thought you could. And that’s okay. That’s what tomorrow, next week, or next month is for. You decide what you can do today. Because living is fluid, changeable, and varied. And if that change is permanent, if the expectation was unreasonable or no longer viable, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You just need to change your perception and definition of your “goal,” or maybe even decide you don’t want one.

~ Some days, you will push yourself farther than you can imagine, and other days, you just have to show up. Both are accomplishments.

~ You are not alone. You are surrounded by others who face their own challenges and there is power in that. However, just because you are together, doesn’t mean your challenges, decisions, or choices are the same. Nor should they be.

~ Sometimes, you may feel that no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving forward or improving; that you’re stuck in a stationary place. Just keep at it. You are changing and becoming stronger through your efforts, even if it feels like you aren’t going anywhere.

~ If you can just get on the “bike,” you may be surprised at how far you can push yourself; the work you are capable of doing; and how good you can feel. Trying is an accomplishment all on its’ own. Acknowledge your effort, not just the end goal.

~ Some days are just shit. They’re boring and hard and annoying. Try to be compassionate towards yourself.

~ Sometimes you need a few days to step “off” and relax. Giving yourself breaks are an integral and necessary part of the process – they are not failures.

~ Some days it’s going to feel easy, like you’re on a flat, straight path; and some days that hill is going to feel so hard, it’s going to take all you’ve got to not give up. Just do what you can.

~ You don’t know what is going to happen or what you might achieve until you start. Some of your best days may be on a day where you feel tired or off. If you can just get on the bike, you may surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try.

~ There is more than one definition of success. You can define it. You can change it. And you can work to reach it, day by day.

~ This shit is hard. It takes tenacity, time, good and bad days/weeks, acceptance of change, and self-care. It’s sweaty and exhausting. It’s not always fun or fulfilling. You can only do what you can or want to do in that moment, and that is good enough. Just keep spinning/living.

The ironic component to this post, is that lately I have gotten so sick of spinning. I feel like my motivation has just died out. I’m going to try and go to more classes and see if I can recharge and rev up some enthusiasm. I have to accept that it’s okay if I can’t do it alone. Sometimes you need to be buoyed with support from others to make it through. See, look at that! There’s even a lesson in my anti-spin feelings.

Now, if I can just believe all the things I just wrote. ;)

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I Fell Off the Wagon.

Disclaimer: This blog post does discuss self harm and suicidal ideation. If these are triggers, please protect yourself.

So I’ve been avoiding writing mostly because I’ve been ashamed and angry with how the past 5/6 weeks have been. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head, and perhaps writing would have been better. Maybe I didn’t want to see it written down. Maybe I didn’t want people to tell me it was going to be okay. But I’m still feeling scared and a bit weak, so I’m going to try and see if it helps. Apologies if some of this is repetitive from previous posts.

Ok, so I’ve been on Klonopin for what, 13 years. This is a controlled substance that you’re supposed to take for emergency panic attacks or maybe for a week or so to help bring you down. That’s because as a controlled substance, it’s highly addictive. Not like I crave it, but my body clearly does. Even if you’ve only been on it for a few weeks, it can take over a month to taper off – so trying to get off of it after 13 years…well it’s a very long process.

The Klonopin doesn’t actually do anything for me, except ensure my body doesn’t go into withdrawal. Since I’m going to London in September and their healthcare isn’t as tip-top in terms of mental health (which is saying a lot given how shit ours is,) I figured if I could get off of it, that would help. It also is known for impacting memory – in fact recently, they were recommending no one over 50 take it. The only comforting thing about this is that it could be one of the reasons why my memory and cognitive skills have been getting worse over the years. Given I’m about to go into an incredibly rigorous academic program, I want to have as much of my brain functioning as possible.

Anyway, I was really pushing my psychiatrist since I’ve been better to start tapering. I guess I was only thinking about the physical side effects of withdrawal and figured I could handle the shakes and sweats and vomiting – whatever happens when you withdraw from Klonopin (I naively based this on movies where people detox.) So I pushed her and we went down by .25. Ok, evidently that’s a LOT. You’re supposed to go down by .125 every 3 weeks or some shit like that. Anyway, I didn’t realize there would be brain chemistry psychological effects and I became very depressed.

It’s been over a year since I have had clinical depression and all of a sudden I felt the weight and pain again. That sucked, but even more so, it scared the shite out of me. It also brought some old depressive thoughts to the surface again. Ok, so after a week, we went back up to my original dosage. But the depression didn’t pass, which I still don’t get, but whatever. So then we tried to give me some extra short release tabs of meds I am on that helped with my clinical depression and they did jack squat. But each day my depression was getting worse and my bad habits came back to town.

Still, after this past year, I knew what it was like to not be clinically depressed and I could differentiate when it was the depression guiding my thoughts and when it was me. I really tried to be compassionate to myself. I excused not going to the gym, or thinking about my future. I allowed myself to not leave the house for days. I don’t know, I suppose I thought if I resisted it, it would just make it worse. But it was like the angel and devil on my shoulders – they were fighting each other. And so the mood swings went from fine to so fucking low I wanted to die. And while in my heart I knew the depression was chemical, it still feels rational and true. And so the same things that before might have made me anxious but excited, became terrifying and pointless.

And then I fell off the wagon. It’s been over a year since I’ve self-harmed.

Looking back on that Friday, I had been in therapy earlier that day. I had been told that there was another life path that might be better than going to LSE which had kind of mind-fucked me since I was already doubting my ability to go, and decision-making is my number one anxiety-maker. And my therapist, who is still an intern, told me that she would not be able to communicate with me if I was in London, or out of the state where I currently reside.  I have known this was a possibility for a while. It was part of the reason I deferred from LSE last year. I wanted more time to work with her. Anyway, she told me and I kind of just voided it. I guess it was just too much for my mind to handle so I put it in the emotional void of overwhelming news and went home.

I was cooking dinner, watching some tv, and all of a sudden, the depression just hit me. I mean, it came from nowhere. I wasn’t ruminating about anything at the time and then all of a sudden it was like I had just been punched in the gut. I couldn’t breath and found myself bent over in absolute mental pain. Everything imperfect, all of my doubts, it all came to the surface and slapped me. I felt nauseous. I tried to cry but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. And then the craving for self-harm felt no longer like an option but like a need.

So I did. And at the time, it felt amazing. I guess what it must feel like when you slip from your recovery and go back – that first sip or hit in a year, it’s intense and satisfying and feels fucking amazing and you wonder why you ever stopped. But I quickly realized it was escalating not calming me. I wanted to do it better and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stop. I went through the tiny rolodex in my mind of people I could reach. This person wouldn’t be available, this person couldn’t handle it, this person shouldn’t have to. I truly didn’t want to call anyone but I guess I knew I had to do it. I was at my threshold and I just didn’t want to tip over because I think there was still a part of me that knew it wasn’t real – that it had just happened too fast to be right or rational and I just had to stop it before I did something I couldn’t come back from.

I didn’t want to bother him, but I called my brother. I’ve called him before. I hate doing it because he has so much on his plate and he’s just such an amazing person and I don’t want to hurt him, but I also know he’s a police officer, so out of everyone I know, he has seen it with others and can understand it without freaking out. When I called him sputtering and hyperventilating, he went into police mode – asking questions to ensure I was safe, if I needed to go to the hospital, or call 911. I was yelling out everything I thought meant I couldn’t do this anymore but he somehow got my breathing to slow, to pull me back or out of wherever I was. He was at work, helping on dispatch – the irony of others calling 911 while he talked me through my emergency was not missed.

And he just stayed on the phone with me. He told me some funny stories about ridiculous debacles of the day, he talked about the chaos of his life, mundane and big. He kept me listening, asking questions, laughing. I patched myself up while we were on the phone. He stayed on the phone with me as he finished up work, got in the car, drove home, fed the dogs and started eating his dinner. And when I knew I was okay for the night, when the exhaustion of it all hit me and I knew I was too tired to think or move, we got off the phone. Thank goodness people like him exist in the world and I am beyond lucky to have one in my life.

The next day is always the worst. Not only do you feel the ramifications of your actions, you feel stupid and ashamed. It all felt so silly – and worst of all, I had broken my streak that had become a badge of honor. But I made it through that day. And I made it through the next and got to my psychiatrist. It was easier to tell her. She has known me for a long time, since the ECT stopped working. And she’s known me when this was a regular thing. I guess that felt better because I didn’t feel like she was judging me, because both of us at that moment, knew it was clear that it wasn’t me.

I had spent the week overanalyzing if I was making things worse, fighting to not feel better, trying to exacerbate the depression. But saying it out loud, it just made no sense. It also made sense why I felt overwhelmed – I was questioning my next big move, and my therapist and I were going to have to end our relationship. I was also turning 35 in a few months and even if I wasn’t clinically depressed it was still a heavy date to approach as I had declared it, when I was 33, as the last day I would live in the pain I was in. Even if I wasn’t clinically depressed this would have overwhelmed me.

So I’ve been recovering this past week. The med change seems to be working, and I can handle the side effects, which in the past with this medication, seem to dissipate over time. The cravings aren’t gone, but the temptation is low,  especially every time I see the evidence of last Friday and realize how ridiculous it looks and the amount of work that will go into hiding and healing.

Funny enough, we are doing distress tolerance in DBT, which is meant for situations just like those. It started four days after the incident. I’m still unsure if I’ll make it to the gym today. And I’m unsure if I’ll be effective or what choices I will make. I still know deep down that the problems that arose when I was depressed are real. The way I handled it wasn’t me, but it doesn’t mean the issues don’t still exist. And I do have to deal with them. Maybe not today, but I have to apply for my visa in two weeks, so soon.

I’m hoping in another week or so, I can look at that moment with some understanding and compassion. To see it not as a failure, but as a reality check of both how far I’ve come and that it really is a disease and not the true me. So many of my scars are memories of a time and place. I used to think of them as tattoos of where I was was and what I’ve been through – and maybe these too will come to serve as mere place markers in my life. But for today, I just have to decide that no matter what I do, or how effective I am, it’s ok. Because it is what it is, and for now, that will have to do.

Part I: Learning to Forgive Yourself

I’ve been trying to blog about forgiveness for over a month now and constantly get stuck.

As I see it, true forgiveness is a difficult but powerful action. To truly forgive, you must acknowledge the pain or failure caused, and harbor no feelings of resentment, anger, frustration, or begrudement. The actions and experiences leave their scars and imprints on us – we never lose them. But their impact and influence must fully disintegrate if we truly forgive.

People with depression or other mental illnesses demonstrate the difficulty of forgiveness. Most times, we blame ourselves and can’t forgive something beyond our control. Why aren’t we stronger than this? Why can’t we get up? Why are we failing those around us? Why are we failing ourselves? We judge the actions associated with our depression with hate and disgust, and we blame ourselves. And like most addictions, forgiveness is one key to getting better. But what does that really mean anyway?

I guess for me, it would mean letting go of the time I have lost. I get so angry at myself for wasting so much of my time hating myself. For missing so much opportunity, so much life, because I was too anxious and depressed to try. But I cannot get that time back. And now, I know it “wasn’t my fault.” I had no malicious intent, but rather I had something controlling me, beating me into submission, forcing me to fail, and in the end, begging to die. It’s hard to truly forgive the monster of depression itself. But at the end of the day, I’m the one who carried out the actions. I can intellectually understand that it is not my fault, but I was brainwashed to believe it was. I spent more than half my life telling myself every day that it was. And whether it was me or “the disease,” forgiveness requires complete and total acceptance. It takes away the coulds and shoulds, and we depressives, those are the words that feed our illness.

I believe I am accountable for both my actions and inactions. My decisions had consequences and I do have to live with them. But accountability is different than fault. My hatred of myself, those that bullied me, assaulted me, my reckless behavior to myself,  I made those choices – but I did not make them alone. I made them with a powerful voice behind me goading me, bullying me, taking my insecurities and confirming there wasn’t a monster next to me but that I was the monster. But I wasn’t the monster. I’m not the monster. Now that I have been afforded the opportunity to see myself without clinical depression, I see that I still make a lot of bad decisions that are both habit and because I am human, imperfect, and incredibly weak from years of hating myself. But those actions that I did while clinically bipolar feel disconnected. I remember them and I know that at the same time, there was a voice inside me, a voice I know can hear more clearly now, telling me not to do it. And I believe that is the real me. And I have to forgive those actions, though their imprint will remain marked all over my body, both physically and mentally.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m not ready to forgive myself. I can tell you I am, but I still am angry at myself for a life unlived, for the people I have hurt, for the pain I have inflicted on myself. I still look at the people I love and want to say sorry. They say they don’t blame me and they know it wasn’t my fault, but I hurt them regardless of why. Is it too late now to say sorry? (Accidental Beiber quote. I’m SO sorry for that one.) And if so, is it too late to seek forgiveness?