I was gone for a long time and now I am back. Before I move forward, start my training plan again and get back to work I need to do a post-mortem review. What went wrong? How can I get out of it faster next time?
Last week of August – Three Weeks Ago
While getting dressed to go for my weekend long run, I noticed that everything felt heavier than usual. There wasn’t a gargantuan difference – I wasn’t struggling to lift my shoes off the ground nor was my posture crumbling under the weight of my headphones. Instead, I noticed that everything felt a little bit more tiresome to move. As I put my shirt on, I felt like it had the weight of a post-run shirt, soaked through with sweat. It wasn’t, of course, because I am not gross. Walking across the living room towards the front door, my feet felt like they were walking through mud under the weight of my sneakers. I ignored these feelings and went out for a long run.
It was not a good run, to say the least. It was a run checkered with frequent walk-breaks. These weren’t the type of breaks that are scheduled, planful and purposeful. These are the spontaneous, unintended walk breaks where I suddenly realized that I was no longer running and are at the risk of stopping all together. As quickly as I could notice I was walking I would try to rationalize with myself, “ok, we will walk for now but at that next light post we are running again.” That self-talk worked for the first few breaks but quickly my long run turned into a long walk marked by occasional jogging breaks. My frustration rose steadily, and I started to curse myself, the heat, the sun and every single person out running that morning.
When I look back on what went wrong – how I went from a steady training plan, good eating and frequent updating of my running project I can clearly see that this was ground zero, the first of a series of mistakes I made that nearly knocked me out. Mistake number one….
- I didn’t listen to my body
That afternoon I showered, ran errands and spent time with friends. If I were paying attention, I would notice that the heavy feeling of life was spreading to nearly everything I did. I would have noticed that I was moving slower, speaking slower and generally struggling with a hefty dose of fatigue. The stutter that plagued my childhood was creeping back in. But, I soldiered on.
The next morning, I got up at 4:45am and got in a run. The cool morning air made it significantly easier to make my way through the streets at a steady pace. Two miles in to my four-mile run it felt like someone had poked a hole in my gas tank and I was slowly, steadily leaking energy. I walked the last 100 yards, frustrated and upset with myself and only my self due to the lack of scapegoats out running at that hour.
Midway into my afternoon at work I started to feel sick. My stomach felt both full and hungry at the same time and my head felt like I was swimming. Everything I had to do felt like an insurmountable chore. Writing an email response became crafting some epic tome. Being asked to co-sign notes or answer a consult request was taken as personal slight to my own feelings and were avoided. This was the first time across the two days that I realized I may be in trouble. A drum pounded a rhythm in my head right behind my eyes. I pushed myself away from my computer, pushed my elbow onto my knee and rested my head in my hand, pushing my fingers into the bridge of my nose. If I can just give myself a minute, I thought, I’ll bounce back.
There was a knock at the door and suddenly my eyes were blurred over. I was blinded and disoriented. I could just make out on the clock on my phone that 45 minutes had passed. I had fallen asleep.
There was another knock at the door.
I opened it to see one of my colleagues, a primary care physician, and a patient of his. The doctor handed me a red folder and gave me a cheerful, “here you go” before turning to the patient and clarifying “Dr. Wusik will be the one to help.”
The patient sat down, and I sat across from him. I tried to calmly and casually blink my eyes clear. I must have looked psychotic. I still only had a lose grip on time and space and had zero idea why this man was in my office. Quickly into our discussion, I realized that he didn’t either. It was not a good session.
When I got home that afternoon I collapsed on the couch, falling asleep half a second before my body contacted the cushions. I slept hard and without any dreams. I woke up when Diana got home and was up just long enough to eat dinner and hear about her day. As soon as the sun went down, I dragged myself to bed and slept. Midway through the night I woke up freezing cold and in a pool of my own sweat. I got up to change my shirt.
The next day I was full blown sick – tired, nauseated, headache, and achy. I took a planned nap in my car during my lunch break, a nap when I got home and went to bed early. With my level of fatigue, it felt like all I could do to make it to my next nap. This is the second point of error on my part…
- I listened to my body too much
I was clearly ill and believed that rest would be the best. However, I was being gratuitous with my rest. I was gorging on sleep and being more ill for it. The more I slept, the worse my sleep quality got and the more my illness ravaged through me. By the third day, my chest was fully congested, and I was coughing through my sentences. As the illness sped up, so did my rate of mistakes….
- When I got sick, I let all of my routines fall apart
On the third day I realized I needed to drink more fluids – a noble intention. To do this, I decided to abruptly stop drinking coffee. On a normal, healthy week I can go without coffee in a day and may only experience a mild headache in the afternoon. When sick, apparently, going cold turkey shoves rusty nails into my eyes. By the end of my first no-coffee day I was dizzy with pain from my head. The double problem was that the pain distracted me, and I never ended up drinking more water than I normally would have.
By Thursday, I had fallen into a rhythm of coming home, going to sleep, waking up when Diana got home, and then going back to bed. It had been days since I ran or did anything more physical than walking from my house to my car or from my car to my office. Diana came home Thursday evening and said “we’re going running tonight” in a way that completely lacked any hint of doubt that that would happen. I’m not sure if she intended it to be an order but that is how I interpreted it. I told her that I planned to take a walk while she ran, and I got dressed and ready to go. Twenty minutes later I made possibly my fourth mistake
- I was physical but I was also stupid
When we got to the start of our group run, I changed my plans. I decided in that moment that I would run, slowly, for 5 minutes and walk the rest of the time.
Five minutes into the run I was at a figurative fork in the road – stick to the plan and walk or keep going. I pushed the pace and kept running. For the next 5 miles, I felt something close to good. The pressure in my head ran out through my nose and the heat from my body broke up the congestion in my chest. By the time I rounded the last turn through the Ulele outdoor dining area and up towards the sidewalk, I felt triumphant – as if I had made a grand return.
The next morning, I woke to death sitting on the edge of my bed shaking his head judgmentally.
The next week…
Going into the weekend, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was sick. I didn’t work out Friday in hopes that a night of hard sleep would set me straight. Saturday rolled around without a run and Sunday looked to be the same. I felt fatigued and achy. Between the increased sleep, the decreased activity and the poor eating you all are accurately assuming I started to develop a phase of depression.
When I get depressed, it comes with a few, reliable symptoms that are typically easy to spot and cope with. First, I usually get extremely tired. Then, I become easily overwhelmed. Finally, I start getting a looming sense of guilt and feel the need to reassure myself that everything is okay by pestering people around me.
At times when I am physically ill, the early signs of depression are usually masked by the signs of the illness – I felt tired and achy from the cold and my early depression signs were more easily attributed as illness related. I felt overwhelmed, but I was also very easily fatigued – see symptom one. By the time I noticed the guilty feelings, my depression had snuck up on me and I didn’t realize that that’s what was going on.
By this point, I had missed a full week of writing pieces for this project. I started feeling guilty about that.
Going into the work week, it became harder to pick apart what was feeling sick and what was feeling depressed. By Wednesday of the following week, I had nearly completely stopped running, my diet had warped back into a carb-heavy comfort-fest and I was becoming less and less productive in my personal projects. When I sat to watch TV, I would see my guitar and feel guilty that I had not written a song or even played in months. When I went onto my computer I would get a deep sense of sadness that I hadn’t written anything for the blog. It felt as if my dream of a fruitful, consistent writing project was slowly drifting away like a ship at sea.
At that point, I would pull up Netflix on my computer and distract myself with that.