I’ve toyed with writing this. Stalled to post it. It’s #BellLetsTalk day today, which seems like as good a day as any to share. Maybe my words will help someone. Maybe they’re just meant to help me. That’s the beauty of words… there doesn’t have to be a singular purpose behind them.
I describe myself as someone who cries like the mother in the movie “Love Actually”… fanning my eyes while taking a few deep breaths whenever tears start to form. Growing up I didn’t have time to cry. I was responsible for my younger siblings and to cry was to be weak and to be weak was to fail them. As an adult it rarely seems like there is an appropriate time for it. It has given me a reputation of being tough… some friends even think nothing can hurt my feelings. People I have loved have failed to give weight to the moments they have seen or made me cry.
I am analytical with my emotions. Pragmatic with my caring. It is how I have learned to cope with the highs and lows I’ve experienced so far. It’s why writing this is proving more difficult than I anticipated.
When I’ve deemed it necessary, I flip a switch from caring to not caring. And once that switch is flipped I do not look back. I’m a talented person. This isn’t a talent I’m particularly proud of, but it is likely a reason why I have made it to the level I have in my professions.
I am also a pro at shelfing things. Promising to deal with them later… knowing I’ll never provide myself the time to do so. This has proven a useful tool during my professional careers when there is no room or time to process my feelings. Olympic Appeals, online bullying, or even simple training weariness… toss those issues up on a shelf and get out for that run.
Coming off the high of the Olympics it was easier to throw myself back into training than to risk the post-Olympic slump that people had described. I found it was a necessity when I had to deal with the emotional backlash of being around people who themselves were falling into the slump.
By early October though, I realized my shelf was full and things turned ugly. So this time I buried them… only to end up with pneumonia… things do not stay buried long. In my mind however, I didn’t have much a of a choice. NYCM was around the corner and I couldn’t afford the time to sort through and process my emotions. I type this hearing “there’s no crying in baseball” in my head.
By the time NYCM was done I was ill. My burying techniques clearly were not up to snuff. Instead of talking sincerely about it I made jokes and would send YouTube music clips to my friends and family about broken hearts. Snark… my greatest defense mechanism.
By Christmas things seemed like they were getting better. Just after Christmas I tied up some of the loose ends of my Fall and was looking forward to starting 2017 with what I believed to be an empty shelf.
On December 29th we lost my Dad. We weren’t close. And that’s what people said to me when they learned of his passing. “Sorry for your loss… I know you weren’t close”. It stung. Not because I doubted the sincerity of those who passed on their condolences, but because they were stating a reality that can never be fixed.
This is too big to place on my shelf.
When my Dad would come up in conversation – which was rare until recently – I would feel embarrassed, annoyed, frustrated, even disappointed. Never anger or sadness really… until recently.
My Dad suffered from depression. He never talked about it, but we all knew. Anytime his behaviours were addressed he’d shoot the subject down. He coped in a very different way from me. I’m the master at shelfing things and putting my head down to forge forward. He found other synthetic ways to cope and ignored his overall health.
I flipped my switch. I was 11. You can’t help someone who refuses to help himself. That’s the saying isn’t it? I am ashamed to admit that at some point in time that is how I viewed him. Over the last 21 years I calloused over. We all did. We didn’t lose our love for him… it was how we coped.
Mental health is a taboo subject. It seems this Fall I have found myself in the trenches of the taboo, so why stop now?
As an adult I understand depression and addiction are illnesses. That understanding has made me try to be a better person when I see someone is struggling. It has made me try to be better about vocalizing when I’m struggling… telling those around me that the stress of things is just too much that day (but not actually showing the emotion behind it). Unfortunately, perhaps because of the tough girl persona I am known for, some people doubted the sincerity of my words.
My understanding didn’t help me soften towards my Dad. When people now ask me how I am feeling my response has remained consistent. I am confused. My analytical and pragmatic approach to things tells me that I should be feeling sad because that’s how normal people would feel… but that I wrote most of him off years ago and I shouldn’t be upset. My athletic response is mad at him for putting me on an emotional roller coaster when I am supposed to be focused on training. My anger grows when I remember that I never allowed him to have any impact on my training before. But then tears well up for no reason and I find myself trying not to “love actually” cry on a run. It’s hard enough to breath at altitude… This is not helpful.
Recently a friend asked me if I thought my accomplishments stemmed from having someone like him as a father. I still do not have an answer. I do not believe I am who I am because of him. I am not who I am in spite of him either.
There is a lot of guilt associated with mental illness and addiction… by those who suffer from it and by those of us who are trying to manage it. My family and I are dealing with a lot of guilt. We didn’t do a good enough job bringing things up and we have forever lost that opportunity. We are trying to be better for each other now. In just a few words, a short text from my sister last night, I learned I wasn’t the only one having a bad day. I’m learning to never underestimate the power of talking.
My Dad and I both coped without talking. Differently, but we accomplished the same thing. I shelf my emotions and issues… he buried his in pills. Neither are healthy approaches. I get the chance to do better.
So today we talk. But let us talk without restrictions or judgments. Let’s talk without doubting the sincerity of what is being said. For some, discussion comes easily... for others it is how you receive our words that will matter most to us.