Dealing with (Mental) Demons

You can train your legs to run as far and fast as you want (within reason, but theoretically) and there’s always one thing that will be in your way.  It’s the biggest obstacle many runners face.  Your mind.  Training your mind is equally as important as training your body to compete, yet it’s often neglected and is definitely one the more difficult things to adjust.

Brain-Runner

I’ve always had decent control over my mind when it came to running.  It’s rare that I’d run a race and have my mind convince me I wasn’t capable of what I aimed to achieve.  Please don’t get me wrong, of course I battled the same problems many are familiar with, it just typically wasn’t an affect on my races.  I can’t remember a time I felt anxiety over workouts; nervousness isn’t something I deal with often.  I know I’m lucky in this regard.  All the years I spent auditioning for orchestras and bands throughout my schooling, and finally performing throughout college and teaching 75+ kids at a time (and having them behave!) — it has paid off dividends!

My mental struggle hasn’t been an issue up until recently, specifically the past 5-6 months.  The worst part of battling these demons is that I feel pretty helpless and hopeless.  Train my mind to be confident I can run a distance?  Easy.  Train my mind to trust myself that I won’t pass out during my runs or CrossFit classes?  Apparently really effin’ hard.

Running awayIt all started sometime this summer, I guess, if I had to pinpoint a time.  Well, honestly, I hit a wall during the Buffalo Half Marathon where I thought I couldn’t go on.  I was cold, though it was warm.  I had insatiable thirst.  I started to feel (or at least think I was feeling) faint.  I was obviously dehydrated.  I guess that would be the first time my mind took control.  I moved on.  I knew my hydration was crap that day and that was the cause.  You live, you learn.  I was humbled and I figured that would be the end of it.

Then there were a few runs where I felt this way again.  It was hot outside, I was hydrated and sure to stay hydrated but my head didn’t feel great.  It felt like at any moment my ears were going to buzz, my peripheral vision might go black, and I’d need to sit with my head between my knees.  I always stopped before this happened, but then I wondered if this was an excuse.  Did I feel that way, or just maybe, I was manifesting these symptoms in my head in fear that I might push myself too hard.  It was then that I ordered a Road ID and began to wear it everywhere.

Do you know how many times I’ve felt faint or experienced those symptoms truthfully during a run?  Zero.pass out gif

I have, however had these things happen during CrossFit a couple times.  It’s usually something silly I’ve done, like not eaten or drank enough and then worked out.  I’m much more cautious now, but sometimes it still happens.  The act of doing intense exercises on the floor, then standing up, paired with running or rowing makes my head feel a little airy.  I typically walk my transitions and take a few breaths to calm myself down to avoid this, but it’s annoying to deal with at any time.

Despite only feeling this not terribly often, maybe a few times over an entire year, it’s become a somewhat paralyzing fear as of late.  I have no explanation for it’s random entrance into my life and quite frankly, I’m annoyed by it.  How dare this anxiety pop into my life and act like I’ve never worked out hard or battled through fatigue in adverse conditions.  How dare it!  Doesn’t it know I’ve run in the blazing sun up 3000′ of elevation in 3 miles?  How can it not know I successfully finished a marathon three weeks ago (though, I did drink Gatorade excessively in fear of passing out)?  Has my body forgotten to mention all those difficult workouts at the gym?  You know, the ones where I lifted heavy weights and ran 400m sprints in 90% humidity, all while smelling fried chicken?  I didn’t throw up and I didn’t pass out no matter how strong that smell was, so hello, I’m way better than you, anxiety.

panic keyboardUntil today (Tuesday, as I write this) I hadn’t really considered the fact I might be manifesting these symptoms or having anxiety.  It’s not something I’m familar with besides what I read regarding other people.  Out of all the things one could develop anxiety over, I start to get it over doing something that should be flooding my body with happy endorphins.  Go. Figure.

So what changed, you wonder?
Why do I suddenly think this?

I was planning to go to the gym today after work for a regular CrossFit class.  As the workday came to a close I was refilling my water bottle at the cooler, thinking more about the class I’d be going to.  That’s when I started to feel weird.  My mind got spacey and suddenly my knees started to feel a little weak.  My head felt light and I thought at any moment if I did anything more than walk to my desk, I might start feel the familiar buzz in my ears and need help getting back to my desk.  It made me think about everything I ate and drank, questioning if I had enough.  Oh, I had enough.  There was no way I should be feeling faint.  And I didn’t feel faint, it was honestly a feeling of anxiety — a “what if” feeling.  A “what if” the workout is hard and I start to feel dizzy?  What if I pass out?

Do you know how many times I’ve passed out in my life?  None.

keep calmI’ve gotten close plenty, though.  As really young child at a summer wedding, I had heat stroke.  At least that’s how I recall it, but after 23 or so years, who knows how true that really was?  I do recall severe stomach cramps, being dizzy, I couldn’t see, and my ears were buzzing for an eternity (or probably 5-10 minutes).  After an entire Saturday food shopping with my Mom before breakfast or lunch as a medium aged child (see — this is why I can’t have kids, I don’t even know what they’re called), my vision went black in the checkout.  A few times during high school when I was getting my immunizations (and getting blood drawn), I started to black out while my mom was paying the copay or in the seat.  I’ve been in marching band standing for an hour or so playing in the heat and become dizzy.  But have I ever actually passed out?  Never.

So yeah, apparently anxiety over working out is a thing or at least I’m saying it is.  The great thing about the internet is it usually helps you find some potential solutions to your problem (or convince you that your sore throat is really a rare, life threatening disease that will kill you in less than 24 hours) but I haven’t found too much on my specifics yet.  The solutions are to start slow, go some place you’re comfortable, stay hydrated, etc.  These are great options for many people who are nervous in new situations but… please.  I’m not out of shape, I’m not uncomfortable working out with my friends, I’m not anxious over the act of being and doing at the gym.  I’m anxious over the fact that at one point, I felt like I could pass out, and now it’s become a phobia.  What the hell is that, anyways?  Now I’ve wasted an evening ranting and I only feel half better, if I could justify that.

This is stupid.
This is all so, so stupid.
I’m going to finish my angry beer now.

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Brittany

Just a 20-something homegrown Buffalo sports loving, distance running, gin drinking kind of girl.

2 thoughts on “Dealing with (Mental) Demons”

  1. First, I think it is awesome that you have opened up! I think writing these thoughts down will go a long way in helping with your current struggle especially if it more anxiety based. But just a quick ? Do you have low blood pressure? Sometimes people who go from lying to standing quickly and feel dizzy can have something called orthostatic hypotension. Just a thought.

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    1. I have always been on the lower end of normal for my blood pressure. Typically it isn’t an issue when I’m doing normal everyday activities without exercise, but maybe it is something that’s affect me when I’m working out.

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