Friday, December 25, 2009

My Anti-Christmas Funk

It's Christmas again and I am depressed. My parents are deceased and I have no living siblings. I have no significant other. Friends are busy with their families. Everybody else seems happy. I know that isn't true. Some families hate each other. Some families are poor and don't have enough to eat and can't afford presents. It just seems that the rest of the world is enjoying Christmas but me. So to counter this funk I am listing the things that I am grateful for:

1. A roof over my head. My decor desperately needs to be re-done and is stuck in the eighties, but it is functional.

2. A wonderful daughter. Since my ex doesn't seem to want to interact with her on a formal schedule, I have her all of the time living with me. She is easy to deal with most of the time, intelligent, level-headed and only has her "moods" occasionally.

3. My health is fairly good. I may have my aches and pains and enough health issues to have insurance companies always refuse to under-write my health insurance, but I am healthy enough to do extreme physical things like an ironman.

4. I live in a good climate most of the year. Arizona gets 300 days of sunshine a year and has gorgeous scenery. If you live in a crappy climate with continual gray days and ugly scenery like the midwest, you really appreciate sunshine and mountains. This is why everyone wants to come here to live.

5. The climate makes for good star-gazing. I can't imagine driving two hours to look at stars in a humid climate. There is nothing like getting out in the remote desert or forest to look at celestial objects.

6. I live in a great country. You only have to hear about what people go through in times of war, especially women, in third world countries to realize how good you have it. In America, you can do what you want, say what you want and be what you want.

7. I have people around me who seem to care about what happens to me. I may not have the deep relationships that I crave, but I can get help if I need it.

8. The legal proceedings in my divorce are over with and I don't have to worry about what is coming next. I can go on from here and move forward.

9. MP3 players. What a great invention. You can listen to whatever music you want, whenever you want. It takes the monotony out of housework, makes waiting for a plane more bearable, makes waiting for an ironman to start less nerve-wracking.

10. The internet. I can connect with people with whom I might not otherwise have done and I can blather in blogs like this.

11. Christmas is almost over. I can stop stressing over what presents to buy and how my money is quickly disappearing, stop slaving in the kitchen preparing dinner, and not worrying about putting up decorations for another year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bah Humbug!

The thought of Christmas always puts me in a funk. It starts around Halloween or sometimes even earlier. You go into a store in October for some harmless little item and there it is staring you in the face. A Christmas decoration. The symbol of doom. I usually groan and ignore it.

Immediately after Halloween it starts. It may be 85 degrees outside, but in the store the full Christmas mode is going. The pressure to start buying even if you have no idea what anyone wants. The relentless obnoxious T.V. ads for stupid useless items start. The inane car ads. Who the hell buys a car for Christmas anyway?

Then there's the Christmas music. Some of the worst music ever written. I absolutely hate "Jingle Bells". Even if the music isn't poorly written, once you've heard it a million times, you hate it. It's like nails on a chalkboard. Please make it stop!

About two weeks before Christmas, I finally give into the pressure of the gaiety and send out cards, start decorating and buying presents. I keep my sanity by spending as little time as possible on these activities. If I can order a gift online and have it shipped, I do it. If I can decorate a tree by using fewer ornaments, I do.

There's always the pressure to buy a present for someone when you have no idea what they want. Parents are the worst the buy for. If you pick the wrong gift, you feel like a failure of a human being. Sometimes the person absolutely hates surprises, like my daughter and if you buy something she doesn't like, she lets you know it. Then you feel rejected. Sometimes the person doesn't like the gift, but fakes pleasure at receiving it anyway. You know they are faking it, but you pretend you don't.

Then there's the person who likes the present, but is embarrassed to get it, like they don't deserve it. Mothers often fall into this category. They act grateful, then they put the present away never to be used. You want to please them, but end up tearing out your hair in frustration.

The worst part of Christmas is the expectation that everything will be happy and joyous. It isn't a perfect world with perfect people. The myth is exploited anyway, in the media. When my divorce was going on last year, I saw all the other people with friends, family and spouses that seemed to be enjoying themselves and I felt all the more alone. I felt abandoned and depressed. I came to realize that people aren't always as happy as they appear and that I could create a different holiday for myself. I had to lower my expectations and be realistic about my life. If I had no one to buy a present for me, I could buy one myself.

Despite all things I hate about Christmas, I can still find aspects that are good about it. It's a holiday, which is an excuse to eat a lot of food and relax. People have parties. I may even get a present or two. People are more cheerful and generous. There's good old movies on T.V. that I have seen a dozen times like "It's a Wonderful Life." I am not particularly religious, but the holiday has a spirit of hope and redemption in it. If you peel away the layers of commercial crap, you can find a nice holiday.

The thing about a holiday, especially Christmas when you are older, is that the past is associated with it and the people you knew who are gone. When I was a child, I had aunts who used to come on the train from St. Louis every Christmas. They used to drive us crazy with their eccentricities, but now I would give anything to see them again. Those two were like a moment frozen in time. They would wear the same clothes for 30 years. They had hairstyles from the 1940's. They never bought anything new that they could buy used. They never threw anything out. But still, I miss them. Sometimes you don't realize how important people are to you until they are gone. These memories lay dormant in my mind, but sometimes pop out

Then there's the year that my father died two days after Christmas from cancer. That was over 20 years ago. The shirt I bought him never got worn. That was a dark year. The weather was cold and gray. Maybe that's why the short days of winter in December depress me. My mother joined him last year. I envy people who still have their parents around.

Children bring a different perspective to Christmas. It is more fun when you have little kids around that still believe in Santa. It reminds you of a time when you thought Christmas was magical and mysterious and when you still thought that Santa came through the chimney to deliver presents. They wake up at some ungodly hour of the morning and their eyes get big when they see the presents that have magically appeared under the tree. Everything seems possible to them. However, once they stop believing in Santa, it's like a light is extinguished and the holiday is ordinary again. As an adult, it takes a lot more effort to find the magic. You have to lower your expectations about what it supposed to happen. You have to find out what's out there for you to be positive about and what you can give to other people that's not necessarily at the mall.

So I will try to enjoy Christmas despite Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Do Men Want

Now that I am divorced, I look at men differently. I was married for so long that I never really thought much about how I interacted with men. Maybe I should have thought about it more. But if you are married long enough, you sort of go into automatic zone and you don't necessarily examine your relationships to see if anything is wrong or could be improved. You take your relationship for granted.

I am not ready to date, but it might be on the horizon someday. The whole thought of it scares me. But it would be nice to have a man again, but the right man. I don't want a relationship just to avoid being alone, but one that would enhance our lives together.

But right now men seem like alien creatures. I have been told that they are just people. Most of the time they seem normal. But since I have been hurt deeply by one, I have a hard time trusting men I don't know. Then there's always the creep factor as well. You don't know what their hidden agenda is or if they want to take advantage of you.

The psychologist Jay Carter has theorized that women have more power over men than they think. Boys try to please their mothers, and when they grow up and meet a life partner, the man's self-esteem is vulnerable to a woman's opinion of him. Men take criticism more literally and it wounds their self-esteem. They get defensive and disconnect emotionally. On the other hand, if you don't injure their ego, you can get them to do want you want because they want to please you. If you stroke their ego, you have power over them.

The idea of women having power over men is a novel one to me. To me, men seem to have an advantage in physical strength. They earn more money. They are bigger in size and height. But everyone has their vulnerability. Men can get just as hurt emotionally in divorce as women. They just may not show it as much.

I guess I should re-examine my assumptions about men, but right now I don't know what to believe about anything. The way I look at relationships has changed completely. I can't rely on anyone to make me happy, I have to do that myself. Nothing ever stays the same. The good relationship that you thought you had yesterday may be gone today.

Maybe men aren't so different than women. We all want to be loved. Women can be just as strange and nasty as men. My soul mate might be out there somewhere. I just have to figure out this dating thing someday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's Next?

I suppose I should be more worried about my major life issues such as what the hell am I going to do with a career that isn't working for me. Instead I am thinking about the next triathlon season. I can't stomach the idea of doing another ironman right away or even a half ironman, so I am going to do mostly shorter races such as sprints and olympic distance triathlons and 5k and 10k run races.

Every race involves pain if you are pushing your limits, but each has a different kind of pain. For me, an ironman race has the kind of pain , where the muscles get tired from working at a medium intensity for a very long time. You aren't breathing as hard as in a shorter race. In shorter races, the pain is more intense, but it doesn't last a long time. You feel like there is a vise pressing down on your chest and you can't get enough air. You are going at the highest heart rate you can stand and it hurts. With the pain, however, comes speed.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in racing was assuming that I could have speed without pain. I would run hard, but not go over the line into where the real pain would start. I assumed that I shouldn't push that hard and that my lack of natural ability prevented me from doing better.

This assumption changed when I was training for my second attempt at an ironman. My coach recommended that I work on shorter races to improve my ironman speed and gave me some insane workouts. It took me a while to realize what I could do. Going as hard as I could was a new concept to me, but I found that it worked. I could break barriers that I thought I couldn't. Before I could only run 10 minute miles in a 5k. I found I could now run about 8:34 miles, something I could never do before.

I will never be very fast. But what is fun to me is in breaking those barriers and seeing how far I can go. I can't do this if I am slogging through long workouts necessary for half and full ironmans. I just get tired and can't work very fast. My speed plateaus and doesn't improve. I am happy with my past season this year, but once I got into training for my longer races, my fast speed stopped improving. My best 10k race was in March and after that, I never ran as fast. My bike speed improved over long distances, but my fastest speed stayed where it was after May. I want to see where I can go again.

Eventually, I will do longer races. I want to do a half marathon at the end of the year because I think I can break my old record in this. I may do an ironman in 2011. It took everything I had to finish Ironman Arizona a little before the midnight cut-off, but maybe with time maybe I could finish another ironman like St. George, which seems like it would be much harder than Arizona.

For now, though, I am recovering from this year and dreaming about the next. And wondering what the hell I am going to do with the rest of my life.