Running for Beginners

Last month, I bookmarked an article on Lifehacker discussing how running isn’t cheap and the costs that come with taking it up as an workout routine. Thing is, unlike the Lifehacker of old, this article was just a complain piece to recommend and insert affiliate links to mentioned products, many of which aren’t necessary for beginner runners. $50 sports bras? $18 pairs of socks? A $40 hydration belt? Climate differences between my place of residence in comparison to the author’s, gear at those price points are for seasoned runners that are looking to keep pushing themselves further. While premium socks and a hydration belt would be nice to have on any run, my regular 5 mile route was mastered using regular ankle cut big-box store athletic socks and a $10 refillable plastic sports water bottle. Lifehacker of Gina Trapani’s days of yore would have posted an article with strategies and low-cost alternatives/DIY solutions. So rather than silently turn my nose up at it to myself, I decided it would be better put to use as motivation to write something myself — the piece that article should have been. Coming off a 2 month break from my old running routine, I’m finding the challenge of getting back in the habit to be not unlike how it felt when I first started running years ago at a starting weight of little over 250 lbs.

Gear Up

The Clothes

Running is just putting on clothes, shoes, and heading out the door, but those choices can make a big difference, and the cost of proper running gear can be very prohibitive. When I started running, I didn’t want to spend money on high-end running shoes and clothes because I wasn’t sure I was even going to stick with it. So, I ran in old cotton shorts and tees and whatever sneakers I had in my closet (90% of my shoe choices then were boots). It was sufficient, but unpleasant. Proper microfiber running shorts with built-in underwear and shirts ended up being a worthwhile upgrade. Rather than staying soaked and weighed down (and putting additional heavy wear on my day-to-day underwear).

Brand name apparel can be ridiculously expensive: $50+ for a pair of shorts $40+ for a shirt, $120+ for shoes. I’ve picked up some of that stuff at reasonable prices through online deals, outlets, and retail tent sales, and I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with the return on that investment. I’ve done shoes by Adidas, Nike, FILA, and Asics, clothes by Asics and Saucony.

To date, the best return on the dollar for comfort & wear has been Hanes’s Champion brand of athletic wear. Running shirts & shorts can be found at local Target stores for $20 bucks each, $13–15 if they’re on sale (and a little more if you happen to find them on clearance). Lately, I’ve found some results on Amazon, eBay, and Wish that look promising, but haven’t lured me away from just sticking with Champion stuff.

Target Champion Shorts

For the shoes, Payless Shoe Source is a handy retailer to use. I actually joined their mailing list to get additional %-off coupons when their Champion running shoes go on sale/clearance. This brings shoes down anywhere from $12–20 a pair depending on promotions at the time.

Champion Gusto Runner Shopping ListingChampion Gusto Runner Shopping Listing

Champion Gusto & Gusto Cut-Out Runners, My Go-To Shoes

So even without discounts, you’re looking at approximately $20 per item, and one pair of shorts and a shirt will not cut it if you’re running multiple times a week. Shoes should also be alternated, so you’ll want at least two pairs. I don’t wash my clothes after every run, as I don’t require them to be freshly clean before I go getting them drenched with sweat again. I let them air dry between runs, and wash them every 3 runs. This prolongs their lifespan (wash/dry cycles are hard on these things), and if you’re in CA, nets you bonus points for being drought-conscious. One thing I’ve been meaning to do myself is get a small washboard so that I can gently handwash and air dry my running clothes on my shower curtain rod. They’re not made of absorbent materials, and dryer cycles seem to put the most wear on them.

Finally, there’s socks. You can invest in luxury athletic socks if you want, but I maintain that those are only really for 10k/Marathon runners. I buy various athletic socks online if I see a deal, but by default I’ll pick up a 6-pair pack of Champion socks at my local Target.

The Accessories

Armband

If you’re going to be taking your phone with you, you’re not going to want to have to hold it the entire time you’re out running. Out of the few that I’ve tried, I’ve been most pleased with the TuneBand products available on Amazon. Not only is it a quick and low-fuss option, it also has replacement elastic bands available for purchase. Over use, those stretch and warp, and it’s nice to not have to buy a whole case altogether.

Tune Band

Headphones

I’ve tried various $20–30 bluetooth headphones off of Amazon, and they’re all been consistently underwhelming. Their maximum volume isn’t high enough, audio playback occassionally stutters, their weight makes it hard for them to stay in place (even using Comply foam tips). If you’re going to go the bluetooth route, go with a pair of Jaybirds or some other big name in that space. I can’t vouch for those, but I can say the 5 star reviews the afforadble options get on Amazon are certainly generous.

I recommend sticking with wired headphones for the time being. Even then, you’re still going to have a hard time finding the option that works best for you. Here I’ve used quite a few different sports headphones — YurBuds, Sennheiser, Skullcandy, Sol Republic, and JLab, to name a few. My input here is to be wary of headphones marketed as sweat-proof; most of the time, it ends up not being the case. Headphones with good sound quality and an inline remote/mic make it easy to change tracks/volume without having to distract yourself with your phone’s screen, something that can be really hard to do when it’s strapped to your bicep at an inconvenient angle and your fingers are moist with perspiration, but they’re also the ones most prone to failure. I’m not a profuse sweater, but even so I’ve ended up returning far too many pairs of headphones due to sweat causing them to trigger pause/play and volume controls at random without any actual button presses taking place. If you can find a pair that holds up, great. I prefer to avoid the potential for failure, and stick to headphones with no mic/remote these days.

The other big issue I’ve had with headphones are fit. It’s distracting and annoying to have to constantly fiddle with earbuds and put them back into place. I’ve noticed sport headphones these days now come with stabilizing ear tips, but mileage can vary with those. The best consistent solution for me has been to buy a pair of Comply foam tips. Those expand in your ear canal after you pinch and insert them, so you get a great seal that results in firm placement and great sound quality.

Comply Foam Tips Webpage Screencap

Going with the absolute low cost option, a solid $10–15 pair of headphones and $10 for a pack of foam tips will have you covered.

JLab Jbuds 2 Shopping Listing

JLabs JBuds 2 are my current running headphones and have gone down over 50% in price since I bought mine. The supplied stabilizers don’t provide as solid a seal as some Comply foam tips would, but they’re  good enough to where I haven’t had the need to buy some.

The Maintenance Supplies

Another “hidden” cost of running is the stuff you’ll need for personal care; as a result from the conveniences and comforts of modern life, running puts certain strains on your body as it adjusts to the habit of doing what nature designed it to do, and you’re going to need a few thigs to help along the way.

Sunscreen

If you’re running at any time of the day that isn’t dusk/night, you’ll want to make sure to apply this. It’s common sense. My skin tone and genetics don’t leave me pre-disposed to sunburns, but I still pass on the unnecessary UV damage nonetheless.

Lubricant

Whether it’s just petroleum jelly or a water/oil-based personal lubricant, you’re going to want something to minimize the friction on your skin. At the beginning, I had a bit of an issue with chafing due to all the fat on my thighs. After burning a lot of it off and taking up longer distances are higher frequencies, I still found it necessary to avoid a burning agitation of my nipples.

The Oatmeal Comic

(©2016 Matthew Inman)

Dracula kisses do not feel like kisses. They feel like bee stings. Be kind to your nipples. Lube ’em up if you’re going for more than a couple miles.

Salicylic Acid or Callus/Corn Shaver

Running puts a lot of pressure and friction on your feet. Despite whatever preventative measures you take, they’re going to rough up a little bit the more you do it. In order to keep your feet from looking ragged, you’re going to have to get that dead skin off. I started with salicylic acid (about $5 a vial), but as the rough patches got bigger and harder with time, I ended up needing to do multiple coats to get them off. Eventually, spent the $10 on a safety razor to just trim it off. It’s very safe and practically impossible to cut yourself with one, and takes far less time than applying salycylic acid and waiting for it to dry.

Corn Shaver

Tips

Let Your Imagination Run With You

When you’re running for an extended period of time, you run the risk of getting bored. You’re not speeding by at 60 MPH like you in a car, so the things that are off in the distance take a while to actually get to, especially when you’re starting off and haven’t developed your pace.

My workaround to this was to employ that good ol’ childhood imagination. I’d let myself pretend I was a character in one of those high-action worlds of powerful protagonists — in my case, that fell to my favorite video game franchises.

Part of my route involves crossing a long bridge that passes over a wide highway. I would recreate the Clash on the Big Bridge scene from Final Fantasy V in my head as a Hollywood calibre production, and project myself into the midst of it.

only like:

 photo Squall_Vs__Sephiroth_DISSIDIA_by_th.gif

If you decide to give that whole “power of imagination” thing above a try, then having a fitting soundtrack will really help with immersion. For the video game crowd, studios will usually publish soundtracks and remix/rearrangement albums for games. In addition, the indepedent music scene at Overclocked Remix has a treasure trove of additional tracks to make use of. I highly recommend their various Mega Man remix tracks. So explore with different things, and run yourself through your favorite movie, book, or game.

(OR Let Your Mind Work On Real Stuff Instead)

If the imagination option sounds like it’s outside your wheelhouse and not something you’d enjoy doing, real life can be just as effective an escape as fantasy; many a run of mine have doubled as a workout and a self-therapy or productivity planning session. Rather than focus on how hard it is, how tired you are, or how much longer you still have to go, plan ahead what it is you’re going to do after your run.

Get the RIght Rhythm to the Burn

Following on the theme from the talking point above, variety is important in order to keep you from losing interest in going on a run — going running shouldn’t necessarily mean putting your mind to work. Sometimes, you do just need a good music playlist to zone out to and focus on your run. Put music to your workout — hardly anything new and groundbreaking here, most everyone does this by default. Thing is, your choices can impact your performance negatively as well as positively.

By all means, listen to whatever you motivates you to get out the door. But as you start pushing your endurance and pace, give yourself that extra boost by picking something upbeat that drives you. Some people like curating playlists for themselves, and a collection of fast-tempo tracks would take a very small amount of time to make. For anyone looking for a no-fuss option, I highly reccommend Spotify’s running originals. They have adjustable BPMs, and auto-set themselves at the start by using your phone’s sensors to match your pace. Just pick a theme and go — I myself am partial to Burn, Chase, and Escape mixes.

Spotify Running Webpage

Use Apps

Another good tactic to motivate yourself would be to make a game out of your workouts. I used to use ZombiesRun as a good way to add atmosphere to my night runs and drive me to tie the laces and get out of the door, but these days I prefer to just run to music and log using an activity tracker — meeting a certain number of miles each month is game enough for me.

Searching the app stores for phones will bear no shortage of running apps. I’ve tried pretty much all of them, and would recommend anyone new to them to just skip ahead to RunKeeper. It’s the most well designed, easy to use, and integrated with other health tracking apps/services. With the more recent updates, they’ve really done a good job of integrating Spotify, so you can fire up RunKeeper, pick a Spotify running mix, and start your run without having to manually switch between apps.

Run Keeper

Bring a Buddy

I’m not really much of a social exerciser. I usually prefer to be able to move at my own pace and not have to worry about keeping up/not leaving behind others. However, the times that I have gone running with other people, it’s proved to be a delightful change of pace. The only reservation I would have about this approach is becoming too reliant on the social aspect of it and not wanting to go out for a run alone.

If you happen to know other people who run and use the same tracking app as you do (or at least cross-post to another social network you follow each other on), you can still have a social component to your running even if you’re going out alone. I’ve had a few friends pop up as recommended Runkeeper buddies, but no one seems to actively use it as much as I do.

Breathe Smart

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome when I started running regularly was the issue of breath. I was an obese smoker, and running a mile under 15 minutes was a big deal for me. As second-nature as breathing is to us, doing it optimally for physical activity is not an automatic response. Some people will run and try to breathe entirely through their noses, others with just their mouths. Some huff and puff rapidly, while others will take slow and deep long breaths between strides. While everyone’s body responds differently, what I’ve found to be best, after experimenting with the various breathing tips you can find online, is making sure that you are concurrently breathing through your nostrils and mouth with each inhalation & exhalation. It takes some getting used to doing it naturally, but it doesn’t take long.

Another problem I frequently had when I started running was the dreaded side stitch, which nobody knows to be its definitive cause. One article I read suggested slowing your pace and exhaling in step with the foot opposite the side you feel the pain on in your abdomen. I had limited and varying degrees of success with that. One thing I did find that my body responded well to was employing the Ujjayi breath of yoga at a slower pace. If you’re not familiar with it, see if a local yoga studio offers free trials. Here in San Diego, there are plenty of Core Power Yoga franchise locations that you can do a week for free at. It’s good to take up yoga not just for the breathing exercise, but as a supplemental workout you can do at home to improve your strength and endurance for running. If group activity isn’t your thing, Gaiam’s Yoga Studio app is a great way to practice from the comfort of your own home. That app worked well enough that when I went into my first heated yoga class at Core Power, most of the movements were already familiar and managable enough to perform and hold in unison with everyone else in the room.

Make it Minty

Another tactic that I found to be helpful for me was to hit myself with mint before and during my run. When I first started running, I would have a mug of hot green mint tea, and take a cold bottle of water with a few millileters of mint extract mixed in. I also would pop in a couple of sticks of mint gum (those who don’t trust their lingual kinesthetic awareness enough to not end up biting off their toungue chewing while running would be better off substituting hard mints to suck on or those dissolving breath strips). You know how deep breaths taste sweet and cool when you have mint? It makes running breathing that much more pleasant as well.

Advisories

You Will Suck

If you start out as I once did, largely sedentary and extremely overweight, you are not going to perform like an athlete. You already know it, but you’ll still feel lousy for it. I would always think of middle school PE class, how target times for running a mile — 3 laps around the adjoining community park — were 6–8 minutes. The really athletic kids could do it in under six. The non-athletic under 10, and the overweight & obese like myself at 12–15 minutes. I picked up running right when activity apps started hitting the nascent App Store, and would be highly disppointed with my times still matching up with those from back when I was 50lbs heavier in grade school. It felt like no matter what I did, no matter how hard I trained, I would be the exception to the rule. I wouldn’t improve over time, I’d always be stuck in the bottom tier as an abysmal runner.

But stick with it, it gets better. I say it to people all the time: if I, overweight as I was and (still) with a smoking habit could do it, anyone else can too.

You Will Ache

Beginning running was hard not only because of the high fat-to-minimal-muscle ratio, but also because of the other stresses it puts on the body. It was not uncommon for me to feel my leg muscles ready to go for another run, but unable to do it on account of all the blisters and pains on my feet. During the intial phases, it’s a good idea to double down and wear two pairs of tighly pulled on socks. For additional protection, Johnson & Johnson makes a friction block stick that you can apply to your feet much like deodorant.

As your legs and core become used to the motions of running, you’ll build up a small degree of muscle mass. This, along with learning to moderate your breathing, will allow you to overcome (and eventually, eliminate) cramping up with a side-stitch.

You Will Quit

The ratio of phases you’ll have where you’re wanting to run versus those where you don’t are stacked in favor of the latter. You’ll think of things you have planned that you don’t want to be tired and sore for. You’ll negotiate with yourself and think you’ll eat light and make up for it later. You’ll be demotivated by how slowly you’re improving, and unwilling to deal with the muscle soreness and the blisters. And after a while, all those mental acrobatics will become just as unpalatable as the thought of exercise, and you’ll settle for just not doing it and getting back to it “later”.

This is one thing that may get easier to manage over time, but doesn’t ever really go away. And in order for it to get easier, you have to overcome it a few times and fight yourself for the victory, you have to exercise willpower and commit. I didn’t really start to get better at my running until I started planning my day around it, what else can I do in a day if I have work for 8 hours and 1.5 hours set aside afterwards for exercise? Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Myself as an adult without any pets, children, or significant other, assuming 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours at work, and 1 hour commuting to and from those points per day cycle theoretically leaves only 7 hours of the day to use for personal time — eating, using the bathroom, cleaning, bathing, getting dressed, exercise, phone/internet time, etc. Since those are spread throughout the day and not in a continous block of productive personal time and there’s real world time limitations to consider, it’s really easy to lose track of that time and not use it as productively as possible. You leave work at 5 PM and get home at 6PM. You want to running, but you also need to grab groceries and will need to cook dinner and eat it; going on a run first means you won’t be done until 7:30–8PM, and driving to the store, shopping, and driving home won’t put you in the kitchen starting on food until 9PM at the earliest. By the time you’re done, you’re eating dinner past 10 PM, left with less than two hours before a late midnight bedtime, and still have a sink full of dirty dishes to deal with. So it’s easier to tell yourself working out is something you can’t afford, go buy groceries, eat & watch TV, and go to bed.

It falls to you to take whatever measures you can to make your exercise happen for the day. In the scenario above, order groceries online during your lunch break. Get your shopping planned and done for the week during the weekend. For every problem that can get in the way of your workouts, there is a solution to be found — you just have to make the effort to find it.

In Closing

Skimming over what I’ve written, I can’t think of anything that I’ve forgotten to mention. Above are the most affordable & reliable options for running gear I’ve found, and the pitfalls and strategies I’ve come across along my journey as a runner. This is the pamphlet I would give to new runners. I never imagined I’d be able to run as long and far as I have. Adopting running as a regular part of your life isn’t as easy and simple as it sounds, but it doesn’t have to be a cost-prohibitive necessary torture session. With enough persistence and the right frame of mind, it can become something you enjoy and grow to love.

Repurposed

It’s hard to believe that March is almost at its end. Even though I’ve been telling myself I need to plant my ass down and write an update for “a while”, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since my last entry about that inconsequential social media block from BT. One of the main drawbacks to going so long without composing an entry is the loss of momentum — even with the blog feed pulled up on screen, I’m hard-pressed to remember what all I’ve written lately and what topics I’ve made mental notes to write about I’ve actually touched upon. It’s difficult enough to recall what it is I did just last week without having to use a point of reference like social media updates and camera roll snapshots, much less what it is I wrote about almost a whole calendar month ago. Now that I do find myself sitting in front of a text editor ready to get at least one of those talking points fleshed out and posted, it’s challenging to pick one and get to to typing — not unlike the exasperation that comes when tidying up a room that’s a catastrophic cluttered mess.

Having taken a good break after the introductory paragraph above, I’ve finally picked a thread to pull on: purpose. Late last year, I wrote an entry on the subject and concluded that it came down to “power”; specifically, how I went about trying to rediscover mine. Re-reading it now, it feels like reading something I wrote much further in the past, but the underlying idea still holds true. I know that I still have plenty more to say on that journey through my own personal hell, not to ruminate on it but to have something that may be useful to others come out of it. That said, in a fashion similar to how I looked back on 2014 in that entry and saw an entirely different state of mind, so too can I do for the ones I wrote in 2015. On this side of a new year (and another decade in age), I’ve now spent months of my life in the place of personal cohesion and fortitude that I spent years trying to obtain. Now that my “self” has been removed as an obstacle, now I’m faced with tackling the reality of my existence.

At this stage in life, I’m past the mournful remorse of needing to spend so much of my time putting together that broken individual I used to be and the setbacks it’s left me with. I browse my social media feeds these days, and see the peers I used to be adolescents with now become working professionals, homeowners, parents, and so on. Meanwhile, I’m little over a month into 30 years old, and feel like I’m at a place most people find themselves somewhere in their mid 20’s. Where in the past this used to be a demoralizing point to acknowledge, I now possess the clarity and acceptance to actually do something about it and make up for all that lost ground.

“Fear and Anxiety are what drive us to compare ourselves to others because we start deriving our sense of who we are and what our value is based on how we stand next to other people”

—Merlin Mann, Back to Work Episode 4

I’m in a good and stable place at the moment. I have a day job that I enjoy and pays moderately well. Though I regularly feel as if I do not have enough time to make the progress I’d like to, I know that I’ve got a comparative advantage over many people out there. I do not have the obligations of dependents or the considerable debts that come with educational loans that most others are working at paying off at my age. Yet, on the flip side, I’m also keenly aware of my disadvantages. My professional skill set is highly generalized. I don’t have anything by way of vocational or academic accreditation. As a matter of fact, I’m technically not even a high school graduate outside of the state of California; back in the early-mid 2000’s, the only out I had to avoid being a high school drop-out or repeating a year of general public education after the events of the home/personal life at the time took their toll on my credit requirements was to take the state’s California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) and obtain a certificate that is the legal equivalent of a high school diploma.

Though I’ll abstain from going off recapping in detail, what I’ve already explored multiple times in entires past does bear repeating at this time: my life after high school that has not been the best it could have been. Despite the ups and positive experiences I’ve had along the way, I lost whatever shreds of strength and fortitude I believed myself to have. I gave up on life. I became chronically depressed, I stagnated, and over time, grew to resent myself to the point of outright hatred, disdain, and disgust. Though I’ve only admitted this next part to only a few close friends, it got so bad in 2012 that I got to the point where I wanted to die. I never took up any actively self-destructive behaviors or ran the risk of suicide, but for a good long while, I did start my days secretely hoping that some mortal tragedy would find me, getting plowed down by a runaway bus or taken out in a terrible car crash.

2005 was when things first started to spiral downward, and 2011–2013 were my darkest times.

“No one should brave the underworld alone”

— Poe, “Hello”

But I did. I didn’t have the love or support of family or close friends to guide me through or alleviate the suffering, all I had was the pain, doubt, and self-hate that goverened me. Drowned in the chaos, I finally chose the metaphorical death in lieu of the literal one. I chose to externalize and detach from my past and my emotions. I chose to accept and believe that I didn’t have anyone, and that I didn’t need anyone. I chose to let that old self die, and to build a new one of out the handful of remnants that I allowed to remain.

Which brings me to circle back to the topic of purpose. This is still about power. These days, not so much on my efforts on how to find it, but rather how I did, and more importantly, how to begin utilizing it productively. That tumultuous past I’ve endured is something that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but one that the Internet and current events clearly indicate others do share. I read about people, children even, who succumb to their hardships and misfortunes to where they do reach that point that I never met, where they do decide to give up completely and end it. Yet, I know first-hand that it is possible to go from losing everything, fiercely detesting one’s self, and feeling absolutely lost and hopeless to being strong, determined, and capable. But as I’ve suggested above, getting away from where you don’t want to be is only the first part of the battle — the second half, and arguably the harder part of the whole, is getting yourself to where you do want to be.

The Sting of BTrayal

So, the post title is a little on the melodramatic side, but some word plays can’t be resisted…

This past weekend, I was reading through the Twitter stream and realized that it’d been a good while since I’d seen a tweet from BT’s account. I found myself wondering if he’d given up on Twitter, since BT also happens to be the name of telecom provider in the UK, and due to the shared name, he frequently receives complaint tweets from UK Twitter users. I tapped over to his profile in my Twitter client and saw that my account was shown as not following his. I was a little perplexed, since I didn’t recall ever unfollowing him, and pushed on the button to resubscribe to his feed. That’s when I learned that I’d been blocked.

btblock

I was a little incredulous, and in a spout of denial, considered it may have just been errant behavior by my phone’s Twitter client. I fired up a web browser and navigated to his page, only to have my finding confirmed:

BT Blocked Twitter Account

 

At this point, I found myself dealing with two distinct reactions. The first was anxious wonder, trying to think of what could have possibly led to this. Maybe I’d been blowing up his notifications with constant tweets? A quick Twitter search ruled that one out. Perhaps something I’d said? Re-reading the content of the tweets in that search result, I saw nothing but my usual praise and support for the man & his work. And as I was running through the possibilities in my mind, the second reaction started to really take hold: frustration with myself, a freshly-turned-30 year-old man giving something as trivial as social media more importance that it should receive.

The thing is, it really did matter to me that much. Over the years, my passion for music has waned considerably. Where my teenage self had so many musicians and bands that I felt so passionately about, BT was one of the handful of artists whose output still managed to illicit a strong and legitimate engagement from me. So much that instead of just streaming, I actually bought his music:

As much utter disdain as I have for Los Angeles, I once happily made the trip out to catch one of his shows and waited until 2:30 AM for his set to start:

And while I don’t have a hard calculated statistic, I would guess that 1 out of every 10 tweets would get engagement from him via either reply or being favorited (which as of recent is now a Twitter “like”).

IMG_1124-2 IMG_0525-2

 

(I used to screen cap all of them, but those were the only two I could readily find and seemed sufficient to illustrate my point here.)

Just the other week, I had a friend that I’d turned onto BT’s body of work tell me that he thought A Song Across Wires was pretty much the best album ever, that listening to it consistently made him feel like being out in the desert out with all of his friends and blissfully dancing the night away. He is just one of the many to whom I’ve preached the gospel of BT over the recent years.

So, yeah, it’s “just the Internet”, but those interactions were my own slice of the upside-to-social-media pie, the direct engagement between artist and fan that I passively had with one of the few music artists that I still really cared about. Going from occasional reply/favorite to flat out blocked without any identifiable cause has left me (annoyingly) feeling somewhat like a teenage girl/gay wondering why the guy hasn’t called/isn’t returning texts.

 

4v95ftt
Substitute “Friendship” with “Support” and this meme feels pretty on point.

Buuuuuutttt…all that said, my adult self recognizes that in the pre-mobile internet days I grew up in, this would have never even happened. Maybe it was an unintentional block, maybe he had a reason for it, who knows. Aside from the fact that I do admittedly feel less inclined to promote his work word-of-mouth, it doesn’t change my enjoyment or respect for the man and his work — A Song Across Wires is still easily sits towards the top of the “best albums I’ve ever heard” list.

10 Over 30

Ten days ago, I hit the big 30 milestone. To celebrate, I got taken to Arizona by my best friend to make my first ever visit to the Grand Canyon, a trip long overdue that had been promised as a 29th birthday present. All good things are worth waiting for, they say, and this was no exception. We both took Friday the 12th and Monday the 15th off from work to have a four day weekend for our trip. It turned out to be a very insightful and transformative experience. As much as I feel the need to expound upon that in a longform entry, I’m believe I summed it up effectively in the Instagram-to-Facebook cross-post I composed after our return:

My favorite snapshot from this weekend. All my thanks to Chris for giving me a perfect 30th birthday. I came back from Arizona feeling like I found important things there (and not a day over 29).

Out there, hiking down what felt like the edge of the world with just him, everything else in my life/past ceased to matter completely; I was whole, and I was happy. The family and past loves I’m missing in my life leave me lacking nothing — I’ve got Finneas, and he’s way better than any blood relative or boyfriend could ever be.

Prior to heading out on the trip, there were a few entries that I wanted to draft and get out of the way before turning a new decade in age. That didn’t happen, and the same can be said for my plans to compose those entires in the time since I got back from that trip. For the past five years that I’ve been posting on this blog, I’ve been through so many ups and downs, finding my way and putting myself together. In the 203 entries (70 unpublished & archived). LIttle over 200 entries over the course of 1,825 days, many of them repeating myself trying to find the perfect way to communicate what it is that got me to that dark place I used to be in and finding my way out of it. As I know I’ve mentioned before, my output on that front has been so limited because I’ve felt actual progress has been so minimal. In these past five years, I’ve remained married to that melancholy, feeling trapped and unable to move forward, an impostor and a hopeless fraud. While there has been the occassional entry at times in which I have found empowerment and momentum, the feelings have always been temporary and fleeting. At the end of each day, I’ve still seen myself as a tragically flawed and broken individual, unworthy of the expectation for a good happy life, resigned to fighting an unending battle of self-improvement to make myself, at best, marginally worthwhile.

Yet, for those four days that I can think of no other way to describe other than “magical”, I truly was free of all of that. I simply was, and I was happy. I had no tragic past. I had no remorse over the family I used to have and lost when I decided I needed to turn my back on them in order to start truly healing. That self-prescribed total emotional shut down of recent years didn’t exist. All I had was that present moment, one in which being happy and thankful to be alive was once again second-nature.

10 days later and counting, I still haven’t let that slip away from me again.

False Start

In what feels like the blink of an eye, January 2016 is already about to be over, and the past 30 days haven’t exactly been the best for me. I ended 2015 on a high and optimistic note, but in the weeks since then, I’ve been dealing with what has felt like systematic physiological failure. I can’t recall the exact order and/or duration, but off the top of my head, this month I’ve had:

  • Bronchitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Persisting knee joint pain
  • Soreness on the balls of my feet
  • Oral inflammation
  • Dental pain (I think those wisdom teeth are now effectively on borrowed time)

It seems that fall last December was just the tip of the iceberg, and continuous wave of physical illnesses — along with the early nights and cold winter weather — knocked the fight out of me. As soon as I felt good to go and over one thing, the next one would kick in. Rather than getting bummed out and depressed about it, I ended up mentally checking out, using a fair amount of marijuana to mitigate the pain & discomfort and shifting my diet to one where I’d eat whatever the hell I wanted to.

To say to myself (and write publicly online) about this big push to make with the coming new year only to find myself betrayed by my body and incapable of following through…old, broken, hopeless…those are the types of thoughts I was frequently visited by. Even though I didn’t let the feelings take hold and get to me, it didn’t make the thoughts I was thinking throughout this time any less tiresome to process and push out of mind.

All of this is “the latest”, the reality that I have as a material for an update, and it’s obviously not the entry I would have wanted to find myself composing one month into the new year. In addition to being something I’d rather not have to think/talk/write about, doing so would then require doing something about it, which the past weeks have left me doubtful about being able to do.

Even now, this cloudy & windy Sunday afternoon, I’m not feeling anywhere near 100%. Honestly, it feels like my max has lowered and 80% is as good as I can get. Still, looking back on where my thought processes and general outlook has been this month, I’ve been contradicting my personal philosophy and resilient self-perception. Best to put a stop to it now rather than let it become the precedent for the remaining 11 months.

Goodbye 2015

For the past few years, every New Year’s Eve I’ve unfairly gauged the quality of the year based on my attitude towards the coming New Year. And each New Year’s Eve, I’ve felt a sort of dreadful disinterest. Rather than the wave of inspirational enthusiasm that leads us to make resolutions for the coming year, all I’ve had is the feeling that I didn’t accomplish enough, and that whatever resolutions I would make are just additional items on the mental to-do list that seems to constantly grow but never shrink.

A couple of weeks ago (to the day, actually), I made the following post on Facebook which ended up very accurately and succinctly summing up my year:

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 9.13.03 AM

Taking it at face value, 2015 wasn’t too bad a year for me.

Still, that sense of needing to get the burners ready to run at full-blast looms over me. Going by my last update I was supposed to have done that this month. Just a few days after that post, I had a friend go through a nasty breakup, and moved all his stuff back to my apartment where he’d be crashing until tomorrow when the 1st hits and he’s able to move into his new digs. The move itself took up a fair bit of time and energy, not to mention having to help put things “away” so that the living room here wouldn’t be a complete chaotic mess. As the month wore on and the nights grew longer and much, much colder, my workout consistency dropped proportionately; I’ve mostly been gaining weight and getting fat this month.

Christmas week, I ended up having a nasty fall after a recent rainfall, slipping on a sidewalk metal utility access panel as I learned just how absolutely devoid of traction a certain pair of shoes I own are when it comes to wet surfaces. That spill hurt my hips, back, and shoulder pretty bad — and broke my phone’s screen, protective hardshell case and anti-scratch screen film on it be damned — leaving me spending the vast majority of the past week laid out in bed, swathed in topical analgesics and beached atop a heating pad. That same night that happened was the night my roommate’s family arrived from Germany. Months ago when those plans came up, it was agreed that the roomie’s brother would crash here with him for a few weeks during the lull until the Spring semester started. So, despite having a home full of people, the usual holiday blues I get compounded with the events of this month had me feeling utterly broken, defeated, and alone.

it’s been one of those times where all my usual talk of emotional separation comes into play. I was weighed down by negative feelings, but their very nature as feelings, manifestations of my emotions that I’ve distrusted and disregarded for so long now, made them powerless to actually break me down. It’s like…feeling the pain without allowing it induce actual suffering. Also notably: the complete opposite of how I used to cope with things less than a handful of years ago.

Today, on the eve of 2016, I’m back to being ready for the challenges to come. My body has healed from that fall, and as I stated earlier, this year doesn’t feel like a total wash. Quite the opposite, it’s been the first time in a decade where I had a sense of self that wasn’t mostly mired in melancholy and self-resentment. It hasn’t been the year in which I’ve completed many of the goals I’ve set for myself as a person, but it’s been one in which a lot of a progress towards those efforts have been made. By and large this year, I really fucking liked myself. Running those 200+ miles in August and through the humid 90º+ weather in autumn along with the body weight and dumbbell training I started in November had me feeling incredibly strong and capable. Mentally, it’s felt as if my brain has finally regained the ability to think with razor focus and clarity. That sense of individual wholeness that we take for granted as kids, that the depressed mind so desperately craves. And unlike in years before, it was consistent…and it hardly faltered.

To 2016 — I’m eager to see what my reflection on the end of the coming year reads like.

Unshipped

November seemed to just fly by, and all of a sudden, the final month of 2015 is now well underway. This one’s a particularly big deal for me, as I have a February birthday and with the coming of 2016 looms the inevitability of turning another decade older. Doing some reflective thinking on both the year and my life as a whole, I find myself feeling admittedly overwhelmed. My 20’s have been a decade-long ordeal — half spent spiraling into the depths of depression, the other half crawling and fighting my way out. It’s only in the past couple years that I’ve started to pull myself together as I intended to, and the pressing realization of just how much lost time I have to try to make up for bears down on me every day. I’m going to be turning 30, but vocationally and academically I’m not much further along than those who’ve just turned 20. All the time and energy that should have been applied on those fronts I’ve ended up having to allocate towards figuring out my damage and fix it, all the while feeling like shit for having it and for not being able to resolve it quickly and easily. More specific to this year, I’ve made constant mention of making a “harder push”: mapping out and manage my time with deadly efficiency, maximize productivity & learning, expanding the focus/frequency/insensity of my workouts, and improving as a writer. So far, the closest I feel that I’ve gotten to embodying that was back in August of this year when I ran a cumulative distance of over 200 miles.

During a recent listen to an old episode of Back to Work, the following question was posed to listeners:

What Haven’t You Shipped, and Why?

I decided to start blogging again years ago as an accountability mechanism and as a progressive journal. For the longes time, I didn’t write much because I felt I didn’t have much progress to log. Yet, with all that’s changed/improved over the recent past, the output doesn’t reflect that. As for why:

  • On Guard

In my entry about Thanksgiving this year, I made mention of how openly I write about myself publicly but am very guarded when it comes to discussing myself in person. Similarly, I write more freely about myself when it concerns my past, but when it comes to the present or recent events, there’s a heavy reluctance to do so. Partly because I’m still somewhat figuring that out on a day-to-day basis, and partly because of…

  • Sense of Lack of Authority

Writing about being a depressed trainwreck of a person is easy — it’s what I’ve lived most recently for such a prolonged period of time, it’s what I know best. In areas of other relevant interests, like Greek stoicism and Buddhism, I’m such an unlearned novice that trying to take those on as writing topics feels like it would only result in uninformed noise.

  • Time Mismanagement

As stated above, there’s a lot of other things that I’ve got on my plate in terms of personal improvement. Physical fitness goals, career skill development, hobbies. In constantly shifting my focus across the board instead of dedicating time to hone in on one at a time, I’ve been getting a whole lot of nothing done.

  • Good Old Fashioned Procrastination & Laziness

Enough said.

Ultimately, these are excuses more than they are reasons, in spite of whatever amount of validity there is behind them. Last month, I thought I’d be able to pull off a repeat of August with my running and get a lot of writing done riding the NaNoWriMo wave. That got derailed, but already finding myself a week into the last month of the year, I’m feeling the fire under my ass I should have been channeling last month.

The Better Personal Quality That Was Lost

Shortly after typing up yesterday’s blog entry, I headed over to join the friends for that Thanksgiving day dinner I’d mentioned in the post closing. I’d been invited via direct message from the host, so I had no idea what it was that I was walking into as there wasn’t a social media event page whose guest list I could review in advance. I hadn’t really questioned it, and assumed that it’d be a gathering of the usuals when these sort of things come along. I arrived to a party of nine people, out of which only five I had anticipated. Three of them — the host’s housemate and two of his friends — left shortly after eating dinner, leaving me in very mixed company. On one hand, there was my best friend and two other good friends; on the other highly ambivalent hand, the best friend’s boyfriend, a former flame who was the first person I’d ever fallen in love with back in the final years of my age ending in -teen that I haven’t seen in ages, and his present long-time boyfriend/partner/whatever it is they would call themselves.

In other words: three people I would have chosen to spend the holiday with, and three people who are not a part of my life and effectively strangers but have some degree of history with that leaves me generally disinterested in socializing with them, given the personal sharing and “opening up” that doing so entails.

The initial leg of the evening felt stilted and awkward, something that I attributed to my general outlook on Thanksgiving day itself and not to the present company. That, and my sober state of mind. Shortly after the first hour, I decided to lend myself a hand a socially lubricate by helping myself to a few shots of whiskey. Not soon after I did so, I ended up in a “catch-up” exchange with Mr. First Love from my old past life. Admittedly, it was actually somewhat enjoyable, a brief glimpse (albeit a severely anemic imitation) of that closeness we had once upon a long time ago. Up until the question of family came up.

“How are your sisters?”
“I wouldn’t know, I haven’t had anything to do with my family for years now.”
“But what about all your nephews and nieces?”
“None of them either, they’re all just collateral losses”
“That’s unforunate, you used to be so close with your family…that was always one of your better qualities.”

I responded with a cold and matter-of-factly tone that it was something that it was something that did unfortunately need to happen and ultimately nothing more than the price required to be paid in order for me to find and take on other far better personal qualities. Naturally, his follow up question was “…like what?”, but luckily more people came into the room, providing the opportunity to break away from the “serious” conversational topic at hand to something more general everyone could partake in…and in turn, sparing me from having to fill him on the events of the past years and sharing about present self to provide context.

From that point on, I grew increasingly disinterested as the night wore on. As much as I told myself that I should be trying to enjoy the moment like I’d intended to before leaving home, after that exchange, all I could think about was how I should be using that time productively rather than socially. All I wanted to do was to be home by myself and using that time and energy to exercise or work on my present goals rather than having face-to-face discussions whose underlying themes were how drastically different I’ve become from the individual they all remember me as, especially in relation to the topic of family that I’d written about just hours earlier. I stayed for a little while longer, but took my leave and made for home right around 10PM before calling it an early night and climbing into bed.

Now, as I’ve been typing out this narration of the last night, I’ve been asking myself “where am I going with this?” At face value, it reads like I had the loss of family (and Thanksgiving with them) that I was trying to get away from inadvertently thrown in my face and subsequently ruining the night. In actuality, it serves to highlight the big difference between my thought process when I’m thinking (and writing) to myself and when I have discuss myself with others. For instance, in regard to privacy, I’ll publicly post what I write when I earnestly reflect on myself and think nothing of it; but when it comes to actually talking about myself in face-to-face conversation with others, I’m very highly guarded and withholding. Similarly, when I reflect on my life, my past, and present person with myself, I think of all the things I’ve lost along the way and the struggles I’ve faced alone…but when it comes to sharing it with others, I exemplify that calm acceptance and empowered bravado I want to naturally default to when I’m thinking to myself, especially since that’s what I end up writing & posting. The lamentation of my first post in the day is what I think; the aloof detachment and general “nothing” with which I was discussing my non-existent familial relationships is what I feel. Effectively, living with the pain of memory without the burden of suffering. It’s not something that’s exactly new on a day-to-day basis, but it is the first time that the holidays haven’t caused it to go flying out the window and reverting back to old thought/behavioral patterns.

As far as the effort to reconnect with my ability/willingness to be warm & open with people and the holiday spirit goes, last night wasn’t a smashing success by any means. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Still, it went fairly well considering it’s the first time in years that I’ve made some semblance of an active effort instead of just being a hermetic turkey-day scrooge. But when it comes to resolving my outlook towards Thanksgiving, strengthening my personal self-awareness, and ceasing to pine for times & people long since past, improvements were definitely made.

Ingratitude

Growing up, Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday out of the entire year, even more than Christmas and its promise of presents. It was the day out of the year where family squabbles would be put aside and I was most likely to see all my siblings, nephews, and nieces gathered together under one roof. In our home, once everything was laid out and everything had taken their seats, it was my mother’s custom for everyone at the table to take a turn and express what it was that they were most thankful for that year — even the youngest children who barely had the cognitive & speech development to grasp the concept of being thankful got a turn to reflect and share. After dinner was done and the space cleared, the rest of the night would be spent in mass harmonious familial coexistence. Every year, I looked forward to that time of togetherness, to getting my turn to have everyone hear me verbalize how happy I was to have everyone gathered together and always çhallenging myself to do a better job than I had the year before.

When I lost most of my family after the fateful summer of 2001, my feelings toward Thanksgiving began to sour. For the better part of the decade that followed, I still had an active relationship with one of my sisters and getting together with her family was still something I looked forward to. Yet, in the recesses of my mind, I carried a private lament that the times of family-wide reunions would no longer come again. In the past handful of years that I’ve been completely separated from my entire family, fighting my way out of depression by myself and killing off my emotions in the process, that soured feeling towards Thanksgiving has turned into a yearly dread.

I still very much believe in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but like many other things in life, I’ve come to accept it as something that other people get to have and experience that I no longer get to. I see friends on social media sharing their get-togethers with family & loves ones and feel happy for them, all the while feeling the stings of the reality that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that perfect sense of absolute unity and belonging myself, and the strong likelihood that I won’t ever get to again.

My attempts to look at things objectively and be thankful for the “small” things don’t fare much better — they come loaded with guilt.

I tell myself I should be thankful for my current job and the fact that I’m not stuck in a dead-end drudge like I was before, but immediately think of all the people out there who are.

I tell myself I should be thankful for the comforts of “first-world” life and the luxury of having a warm bed that I can sink into at the end of my day, but there are millions of others out there that can’t because they weren’t born in the right place/time like I was. To focus on that is effectively feeling relief that I’m not suffering as much as other people in the world are without having done anything special to deserve such an exemption.

I tell myself that there are plenty of people & friends in my life that I should be thankful for, but the ways that my experience with the disillusionment of unconditional love, support, and trust with my family and my efforts in removing myself from my own emotions keep me from feeling gratitude for them. To not feel thankful for them them now reinforces just how broken and incapable of basic human function I’ve become over the course of my life. To force myself to be thankful for them in spite of all the above feels like I’m relegating them as consolation prizes to a nobody.

Such is the way things have been for years now, and the way I refuse to let things continue. That is why this year, instead of holing up and shutting myself away for the day like has become customary, I’ve decided to take up an invitation to go spend Thanksgiving in the company of said friends.

Champurrado Flavored Coffee

One of my favorite Mexican seasonal foods growing up during the holidays growing up was champurradoa variation of hot chocolate with a thick consistency. While tasty, it’s consistency gives it a very heavy feel for a beverage and more along the lines of a small meal (think bowl of oatmeal). That, and the preparation process is a little involved, meaning it either has to be the holiday season or you really have a strong craving enough to push you to make some yourself if you’re drinking it.

Luckily for me, I’ve found a quick an easy substitute that as a bonus entails my true favorite drink: coffee.

Don Francisco's Cinnamon Hazelnut Coffee

You buy a can of Don Francisco’s Cinnamon Hazelnut flavored coffee, brew a pot, and pair it with a hazelnut creamer until it turns a camel brown color. In it’s own ways, it’s better than the real thing.