Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Preparing for the Last Chance

The Last Chance starts tomorrow and I am filled with conflicting emotions -- excitement, anxiety, relief, all products of months and months of anticipation. I haven't been riding as much as I had planned, partly because of the move from Boulder to Washington, DC, but also because late July and early August included a lot of hard rides, leaving me feeling pretty burned out by the middle of the month.

The last long ride I did was the Stonewall Century, a beautiful but rather nasty hundred mile ride south of Pueblo, CO. An out-an-back course over Cucharas Pass, it was either up or down the whole way, and the return, especially, drained me -- strong headwinds at first, followed by the much steeper side of Cucharas. More significantly for me, however, was how quickly I got dropped in the early going. My friend Eric and I spoke confidently in the parking lot of riding hard all day. We both did, I think, it's just that his hard turned out to be a lot faster than mine. I came away from the day kind of upset and anxious -- where was my fitness? Was this a bad omen for the Last Chance? How much more could I do to train? What else might go wrong between then and the start of the big ride?

Competitiveness wasn't the issue. Like many riders, I like the pressure of "racing" friends on short club rides, sprinting to the top of a hill or along a certain stretch of road. Living in Boulder, however, I've ridden with riders of widely varying levels of fitness and speed and learned that while I'm almost never the slowest, I'm also never the fastest. While there are things I could do to get faster (or not do to get slower), there are some things I just can't change. I am too big to climb fast and this is basically beyond my control. Losing 20 pounds would help my cause in this regard, but I'm not sure I'm ready to choose the level of single minded dedication that would be required to lose that weight. Surprisingly (at least to me), I'm comfortable with these limitations. Indeed, they feel like part of the beauty of cycling -- the same weight that slows me down on the hills helps me pull hard on the flats, while my "lack" of dedication gives me more time for family, friends and work (however much I might still neglect all three).

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But how to apply this philosophy of acceptance and comfort to other parts of my life? In therapy one day, I expressed great frustration about the times I am unable to work consistently, about how my mind scatters rather than focusing the way I want it to or feel it ought to. My therapist told me that this was something I needed to accept, that this was part of my life, part of how my brain works (or doesn't work) and part of who I am. I felt, and often still feel, that this concept, the idea that I am limited because of bipolar, was totally unacceptable, completely contrary to who I imagined myself to be and how I hoped to live my life.

It is hard to see this limitation in the same way I see climbing, as part of the beauty of life, the beauty of who I am. In my darker moments, it makes me feel cheated. My life wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be able to be anything I wanted, to do anything I wanted. Accepting this version of a bipolar reality means accepting a life narrative that seems somehow disappointing. It means that my life will come and go with a weakness that I did not choose and that I do not like. Accepting bipolar means accepting my own mortality, because having something for the rest of your life, whether it's bipolar, marriage or a trick knee, means that there is a rest of your life and that one day, that rest will be gone.

If I have to have a rest-of-my-life, though, I don't want to spend it being angry about having bipolar. I think my therapist was both right and wrong when she spoke about acceptance. On the one hand, acceptance cannot mean giving in, coming to believe that limitations are immutable and cannot be pushed. On the other, I believe that acceptance, true acknowledgment and ownership of my bipolar, is the only route to letting go of my anger and my disappointment. Ultimately, I need to get to a place where living with bipolar is like climbing.
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On the way back from the Stonewall Century, Eric encouraged me to let go of my concerns about that day's ride and the Last Chance because they are beyond my control. At this point, I think I've done a pretty good job of that -- I'm looking forward to the ride, to four days on my bike without a phone or email, meeting new people and challenging myself. I'm sure there will be moments when it feels like a death march (how could 750 miles in Kansas not have those moments?), but I know that I'm really lucky to have the freedom to do this, that I've prepared myself as well as I mentally and physically could, that I'm going to make new friends, see new places and learn new things about myself. This feels like a good step towards accepting limitations and embracing life as it comes.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I love who you are, and really benefit from the external thinking that you do on this blog. Thanks for sharing your bird's-eye view of the ride and how it connects to the journey of your life and self-discovery. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers these four days, especially today as I drive the big blue farm truck (I graduated!!) over the rolling hills between the farm and Fort Collins.

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