Why do we challenge ourselves? Why do we set goals and specific things that we hope to achieve? What is the difference between hoping to, and actually realizing that end?

Speaking for myself, this past year has been one that I have taken on a number of personally set challenges… and achieved a fair number of them…so it’s something that has been on my mind as my year wraps up.

I had someone ask me recently why I had done something. We were talking about events of the past year and I mentioned that I had just completed a race on November first. It was an outdoor, mud-based obstacle race. I had commented on how crazy I thought I was at one point when I realized that I couldn’t feel my hands from the cold and still had to use them. I was running. literally, with my hands tucked in my under arms trying to get them some feeling back. She looked at me like I was indeed crazy and asked simply “Why in the world would you do something like that?” My answer, after a second or two to ask myself that, was just as simple. To see if I could follow through.

For myself, it comes down to one thing really. Seeing if I can go from conceptualizing a goal, setting it as a goal, actually doing it and seeing that to fruition. It’s not even so much about how hard I can push myself or whether I can achieve something physically. The physical act of reaching my challenge is merely how I achieve a much bigger goal. One of knowing that I can do what I set my mind to. It’s not about the specifics, it’s about the bigger picture.

When I signed up for a 10km run that was in June, I knew that physically, it wasn’t that far of a reach. I was regularly running 5 – 7km a few times a week and had run a 10km distance a few times in the previous months so it wasn’t so much the physical. It was, somewhat unconsciously, a decision to commit to something and see if I could follow through. Even up to the day before, I was fully considering not going. I can’t stand crowds, I am not a fan of running with hordes of people in my way, the pre-run “warm up” that I never do… the list goes on of why I don’t do organized races. But I needed something to set and achieve. And I did it. In a great time; surprising myself and giving me a feeling of accomplishment more than a simple 10km race should have in my mind.

The next thing beyond that was the first of two of those aforementioned mud based obstacle races. A recap of that is here.
Coming out of that event and knowing just how hard it was physically was a huge sense of accomplishment for me. More than that though was the happiness that I felt not because of what I had achieved with the endurance or the strength but it was the mere fact that I showed up and did something that I committed to. It was something that scared me and I conquered it. Having to drive up island; knowing that I had signed up,solo, for a race that predominantly is run with people in teams; going into an experience not knowing details. I’m a control freak and hate the unknown. That race was a case of just show up and do what you have to as they don’t divulge course details other than the start location. So much more to that than just “can I do it”. Far more emotional than physical.

That alone, for me, is what this is all about. Being able to reflect and see a tangible result of my following through is more needed than any run or race to be honest.

Why do I do it? So that I can have a physical manifestation of personal achievement. That’s what is sorely needed.

Setting and achieving a physical challenge gives me proof – necessary proof – that I can do what I need to. Translate that to emotional and mental health. Can I feel joy and happiness and achieve the long game of living my potential? These little physical challenges show me “yes” and belief in that… hope… faith in my Self… that’s what it’s about. That’s why I do it.

A rerun from a few months ago but a good one and it’s fitting for today…

A love letter, from me… to me… because really, it all starts and ends with how you love yourself.

Closed eyes and a gentle touch
to the heart

arms felt wrapped around
wholly and fully, enveloping in comfort and love

whispered words…why I love You…

it’s Your strength that’s Your beauty
how You stand back up again, every time
it’s not that You never falter or sink down
but that You always rise up
breath in, breath out, move forward

the way You glance back to honour what made You who you are
without having Your gaze locked in the past
a past that holds no grip on Your future
shaped, but not cast in stone by your past
Your belief that who You are now and tomorrow is up to You
not decided by what anyone told You in the past
or by anything that happened to You

the way Your head and Your sight is firmly on the potential
and the silver lining of tomorrow, always visible to You,
even through the fogs that roll in and sometimes settle for a while
the way You run, forcing the fogs to retreat
how You know that You can always make that happen
and You do, over and over again
and that You will… as many times as You need to

I love You for your resilience and Your softness
I love You when You are weak and defeated, in moments of hopelessness
I love You for the way your brokenness hasn’t broken You
and for how it never will
And I love You even when You don’t see any reason to be loved
You are mine and I am Yours
I love You for You

little kiss on the nose and a nibble, cause I love that 😉

Inside the mind of a committed (read: obsessed) exercise enthusiast, or, how I went from “I am not going to even walk today” to running 10km.

5am: Eyes closed still. Sleepy. Been awake since 4:30 when the cat jumped on my belly and woke up my need to pee. Can’t fall back asleep; the alarm is set for 5:30… I’m not getting up any earlier…. Run day today. Ugh.

5:15am (ish): The cat is onto me. She knows I’m awake but I’m pretending to be asleep and ignore her pleas for food. I can hear the rain outside. I’m tired. It’s clearly raining hard. Probably windy. Definitely cold. I’m tired. Really don’t want to run… but I should…

5 minutes later: I know… I’ll go to the gym and run on the treadmill. No rain, no wind, not chilly. *envisions banging head repeatedly on brick wall* I can’t do it. The treadmill is the hamster wheel of hell. I’d rather not run at all than run on a treadmill.

5 minutes later: Well now, there’s an idea. Not go for a run… I should take a rest day. I know, I know, this is my month of my self-imposed challenge of exercise every day, no days off. Buuuut…. rest days are important, just as important as anything else. That’s when your body heals and repairs itself so it can become stronger….. I know this stuff, I’m a personal trainer and Yoga teacher… yes, I’ll take a rest day.

5:30am (alarm finally goes off): Sigh, up and time to get ready for work. I’m glad I’m taking a rest day… it’ll be good for me. I’m not even going to go for a walk today. Nope, complete rest day. Restorative. Good.

6:00am: I’m going to head out for the 5km route. I’ll just do a walk/run and take it easy. Better than nothing and I’ll be glad when it’s done that I did it. Can’t take the guilt of being sedentary.

6:15am: dressed and ready to go just about. Another glance outside and switching to the slightly more water repellant jacket as it’s coming down like crazy out there. It’s ok though, just a 5km walk/run. Won’t be out there long.

6:30am: out the door and starting to run. A few blocks in and everything feels good. Maybe I’ll skip the intervals and just do a straight through run for the 5km.

…Approaching the turn off that will take me from the 5km loop route to the 7.5 km route…
If I can do the 5km, maybe I’ll do the longer run… I won’t run it though… I’ll walk/run interval it.

…At the approximate 2.5km point… Usually take a 30 or 60 second walk break here but hmmm, maybe I’ll skip this one. I’ll do King George Terrace hill then do a walk break… yeah, let’s see how hard I can push through the hill without a walk break first…
… Hill done and kicked ass on it. No point in a walk break now that it’s levelled off… and I’ve made it this far. Maybe I’ll do the full 7.5km without a walk… yeah… see how hard I can go today.

…approaching the turn point that is the halfway mark for the 7.5 km route… hmmm, I’m feeling good, great even. What if I didn’t turn here and instead I kept to the right and kept going for the 10km route? I don’t have to run all of it… I can walk/run interval it. Yeah

… ignores the turn and heads on, now committed to the 10km route.

… 5 minutes later… it would be stupid to walk NOW. I’ve made it this far and I still feel great! I can totally do this without walking! I’m not going to walk.

…Approaching the Marina which signals the last 2.5 km of the route. Almost there. I can definitely do this without walking… I wonder how my time is? My timer is at home so I won’t know till I get there…

… I feel so proud that I’ve done this without walking – it doesn’t matter what my time is. Just doing it without walk breaks is accomplishment enough.

… I bet if I just pushed a little harder I could finish in a better time than last time.

… Not that the time is important.

… Oh hell, who am I kidding…let’s see how hard I can push and how fast I can do this last couple of kilometers. Timing is everything.

*Arrives home, sweaty, soaked from the rain but feeling amazing*

And that’s how you go from snuggled in bed, swearing you are not even going for a walk to running one of the fastest 10km’s you’ve done in 10 years.

Introvert. Out-going.

Two words that seem to contradict each other yet I consider myself to be both.
An introvert is generally seen as someone who is shy and tends to keep to themselves; someone who prefers solitude or just their own company over being around others; someone who is usually overwhelmed easily in crowds and large gatherings of people, even people who they would consider friends or family. A pretty standard description and one that fits me perfectly.
Being described as out-going generally means that you are someone who reaches out and connects with others socially, whether it be one on one or in a group setting; someone who’s comfortable in a setting involving many people; someone who seeks out companionship and enjoys interactions with others and even craves it seemingly.

Both very different, but both me…and I think not that uncommon.

Growing up, I was almost debilitatingly shy. Switching schools almost every year did nothing to get me over the fear of being in unfamiliar places and having to meet new people. I remember being physically sick every year for many years on the first day of school. Stopping to throw up as I walked to school because I couldn’t stop my body from reacting to the stress. Racing heart, tunnel vision and frantically trying not to cry (because that would just draw more attention to me when I already felt I stuck out as the new kid). Being afraid to speak up when asked direct questions… never volunteering answers in class because then people would turn attention to me and people would look and listen. Terrified at the dreaded book report time of the school year. I would do anything to get out of it.
I was called a snob, told I was stuck up because I didn’t talk or try to make friends. It wasn’t that I thought I was “better than” like they said… I was scared and shy and had no idea how to join in or to connect.

I went on this way for years. Then something happened. The start of grade 7, I decided that I was going to try to fake it. I reached out one day and found that it was easier than I thought it would be. A comment and a laugh and I had a new friend. And I liked it. I had someone to spend time with and talk and share and laugh. I still coveted my alone time and wanted it – a lot – but I also wanted to be around people. My circle of friends grew slowly. I ended up staying in that school the longest I ever did – 3 years – and I found a comfortable thing develop. I made friends easily. All sorts of friends. This was when the schools were made of very defined “cliques” and found I didn’t really fit in any one in particular. I had friends who I hung out with in science and others in shop class, others that I went for lunch with and smoked in the alley with after school. My closest friends that I spent weekends with roller-skating or going to the mall… I loved it, but I was still shy.

I was always the quiet one in the bunch when new people came in or we met up with others. I would then revert back to “me”. Quiet and shy and timid. But it got easier as time went on to start to open up.
Carrying through as I left that school and life marched on. I found that in new places, jobs, schools, I would take a deep breath and fake it on day one. Try to hide the discomfort and the unease that was clawing at my insides… and it worked.

I even specifically chose a career based on how much it terrified me. When I was 20 years old I decided that public speaking would never be ok with me; so I decided to become a fitness instructor. Not only public speaking but doing it in spandex! Not bad for an introvert with severe body image issues and an eating disorder to match ;). But I did it. Sure I threw up three times before my first practicum class, but I did it… and that set the path for me to keep going.

I’m still usually the quietest one in a group. Although people are usually surprised if I describe myself as shy because that’s not how I tend to present as now. Yet underneath, the constant desire to just sit and be quiet and unobserved is always there. That’s my default. That’s who I am. Not what I am, but who.

Which means… While I have grown to love that closeness and connection with those I call “mine” in my life; my chosen family, my friends, my loves… I still am the happiest sitting and watching and being part of it all but alone and separate and just “me”. I may burst out with a joke or be the giggly centre of attention for a moment but then I retreat again… eventually making a full retreat to solitude and an aloneness that will give me what my introvert spirit needs to restore and recharge. Quiet, solitary time with just me, my Self and I.

My craving for you grows stronger the longer that we’re apart
I desire you like no other
My body aches for you
Remembering times you were mine
My senses titillated with your nearness
I close my eyes and breath in your scent from my memories
I can feel you… taste you…
As the time when we’ll be together again draws closer,
I almost tremble with anticipation
You will be mine again…soon…
The holiday season is upon us and I will devour you
My love for you knows no bounds.
If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
My fruitcake, my love, you will be mine…

One of the saddest things in the world is not seeing yourself and not liking what you see. It’s seeing who you are and realizing that you are someone worthy of your love. And feeling all the years that you’ve spent withholding it.

Becoming aware that the only thing that has been holding you back from the self love and acceptance is yourself and your own envisioning of who and what you are. Skewed as it may be, it’s what has shaped your relationship with yourself.

Yet that’s also the wonderful thing. It means that you can change it. You crafted the way you see yourself now and you can chose to make the changes.

As I approach another birthday that truth is sitting heavily on my spirit…looking back honestly means looking forward just as honestly and being open about what I want to reflect on next year as my past. A past that I craft and navigate. Mine.

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” Toni Morrison

IMAG4938Question of the day… do we really need signs like this? Have we become, as a society, so ignorant of our own personal responsibility for common sense actions that we need signs to warn of us the most basic of issues? Darn good thing it says the stairs are closed (and permanently) … stairs leading into the water look like a perfectly viable option for a walk *shakes head*.

The past…the experiences that we have had…things that have happened to us and actions that we have done… all are a part of who we are and what makes us the people we are.

I firmly believe that life should be lived like how you drive a car; eyes ahead at where you’re going with glances back every now and then and keeping a lookout for what’s edging up beside you too ;). You can’t go forward very well if all you’re doing is looking at where you came from. I am not defined by what I see of my life in my rear view mirror. Yet I am influenced by what’s back there.

Everything that I have come through – the good, the bad, the horrible and the amazing – it all has helped shape who I am today. The moments that felt impossible to live through have helped me to better be present in the moments that bring a smile to my Self.

Today marks the day, 24 years ago, that I lived through an experience that brought me to a moment that I thought would be the last one I would ever have. Attacked while walking to work and sexually assaulted at knifepoint. Thinking in my mind that I was so incredulous that this was how my end would be. Coming out of that event in shock that I made it. I went back home right after (it was less than a block from home), calmly took a shower, changed and , after assuring my husband that I was ok and just wanted to not think about, went to work. Repression and avoidance – you bet. That’s how I dealt with things. I did report it that night and followed through with legal necessities such as they were.

For many of the first few years after, I was barely able to get through the date. The rest of the year I would be oblivious to it but I would start to get anxious weeks before. Nightmares, panic attacks…the fears gripped me horribly as the date would come around. Then something happened. I decided that it wasn’t going to affect me anymore; and I pushed it down and told myself that it had no impact on me. And I did a really good job of that for a number of years.

Then two and a half years ago, a death in my life blew that ability to ignore all apart. I did my best even with that. My “best” being trying to push even that down and just move forward. That only lasted a few months before it all fell apart and I had a breakdown… a breakdown that I have spent almost two years trying to come back from. I had spent my life perfecting the art of being “fine” and “strong” and crafting the ability to take anything that came my way and keep going. The truth is though that, when you take emotions and lock them away, eventually, the dam breaks and it all has to be dealt with.

So I’ve worked at facing what I have tried to not feel for so long. Not just the assault but so many things in my life. The truth I have come to see is that for me, my strength comes not from being able to suppress and power through… my strength comes from being able to acknowledge and feel, fully feel, the pain and the hurt and the fears, and still keep going. With it all there, not driven away. To live with it, because there isn’t another option. Feeling the pain, the hurt, the loss, the fears… Feeling joy, abandon, bliss, serenity… Letting go of labelling bad or good… Feeling means I’m alive, and after living with the apathy of depression, I’ll take a rollercoaster of emotions over feeling nothing at all, thank you very much. Yes, life hurts sometimes – but it also has moments of feeling more happiness than you think you can ever experience. You can’t have one side of the coin without the other.

So today, instead of pretending it’s just another day and that it has no significance…I acknowledge it for what it is; a day that has helped bring me to where, and who, I am now. And that person is strong – strong enough to admit that sometimes I’m not. And that’s what gives me the strength to go on and be ok.

Out for a bike ride recently (bicycle, not vroom vroom… that’s next year 🙂 ). It occurred to me how many things that my early morning bike rides have taught me. Here are a few gems of wisdom discovered from the seat of Lucy, my gorgeous and smooth darling of a bike:

1. You don’t always need a destination. In fact, many times, the best rides I’ve had have been unplanned meanderings. Plans can be constricting sometimes, you don’t always need them.
2. Smile in the wind. Sure, bugs may get in your teeth but that’s a slight price to pay for the feeling you get when the wind is in your face and you embrace it.
3. Speaking of embracing… Stop and look and enjoy. True, you can still see the beauty around you as it whizzes by, but its good to every now and then stop and soak it in.
4. Coasting is still moving. You don’t always have to be pedalling so hard and working to get somewhere. If life hands you a downhill and some ease to roll along, be thankful and enjoy it. There will always be another hill to get up so rest when you get the chance
5. Take a path less travelled. Or even unknown. Sometimes those have the best surprises and You would have missed. them if you had stuck to the same old routine.Take risks, it just might result in something awesome.
6. Even if the weather looks great when you start out, you can be going along and just get dumped on all the same – seemingly out of nowhere sometimes. Keep going. You’ll either move through and out of it or you’ll get back to your safe place. Life is the same way. Just keep moving.
7. Sometimes it’s important to leave your hand off the brakes and just fly. When you’re at the top of a hill it can be scary to open up and let go but it’s worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of flying!
8. It’s ok to be proud of your accomplishments. Take the moment (or second even) to bask in making it to the top of the hill that usually kicks your ass… for going further than you ever have before… for getting out and just doing it when all you wanted was more couch time. You earned the right to be proud of yourself, enjoy it and know you deserve it. You rock 🙂
9. Acknowledge those who pass you by. They may not be going the same direction or even travelling the same mode of transportation but they’re moving along the same fundamental journey. Spare a breath and a second and a smile and say “hi” or “‘morning”. I don’t recall the 40 spandex clad cyclists that blaze past me in a pack but I always remember the one lone one who calls out “good morning” or warns me of a huge puddle coming up. Take the time to connect to others on this journey.
10. Don’t get caught up in the “why” and the “shoulds” of why you do it all. Sometimes the only reason you need is because it feels good and puts a smile on your face.

“…I don’t just wish you rain, Beloved – I wish you the beauty of storms…” John Geddes

I love this quote. For so many reason, but the most prominent one being that I find such beauty in storms. The fierceness, the strength and the seeming chaos that is unleashed. A force of nature to revere and honour.

It mirrors what life can be and what enraptures me.
The sheer expansive power of energy. No way to control it.
Learn to ride it and know when to find shelter and ride it out.
Know when to stand in the eye of it and watch the hairs on your body stand up in the electric hum that buzzes.
Know the joy of rain lashing your face while thunder roars and lightning blinds you.
Know your smallness and feel it. Really feel it.
Feel how the energy flows and how you’re a part of it.
The beauty of a Maelstrom…

An unpredictable surface
Masking fortitude and composure beneath

The tempest rages…Explosive, volatile and erratic
Torrents of passion, seemingly undirected

A display of allegedly uncontrolled power
The overwhelming sense of chaos, disordered and tumultuous

The heart of the Maelstrom lies deeply within
A driving force, hidden, yet unfaltering

A known intention…focus unwavering
Strength and resolve, unquestionable