The Cobra Ironman 70.3: A promise fulfilled

BEGINNING THE JOURNEY

To finish the Ironman 70.3 began as someone else’s dream. It was the dream of a man who had always believed that when it came to physical training, everything could be achieved with discipline and perseverance. Beau lived a life on the edge and when he set his goals on something, he focused with such precision that it left little room for error, much less failure. It was no wonder then that he looked the part. He had molded his body like clay, with every part sculpted patiently; belly flat from a thousand crunches, back and arms strong from the long hours traversing the walls and climbing up inclines.

I on the other hand was the complete opposite. I shared the passion for sports and the competitive spirit, but instead of willpower, I had the willfulness, patience and sweet tooth of a seven-year old child. I didn’t like extended periods of pain. Competitive sport climbing suited me. Although it required long hours at the gym, training required short bursts of power, not the long heart squeezing, slow burn pain of cardio training.

When Beau first suggested we do a full marathon together, I just said yes because I thought it would eventually erase my hatred of running. Oh how I hated running. It was a program that required 6 months of training, training that my mind seemed to consciously reject. There was always an excuse — my job, my health, and family responsibilities. Come race day I was nowhere near prepared for it. But it was our first year anniversary as a married couple and I imagined it wouldn’t do at all to have a husband rendered romantically incapable by running his first 42km while I waited around twiddling my thumbs. I might as well run with him. I decided to run one loop of 21km with him then wait for him when he gets to the finish after completing the full Monty. I ended up suffering through the entire 42km. But I did it. He told me then, as he hugged me, tears streaming down my face, that he always believed in me. “You could do whatever you set your mind to babe,” he said beaming. “You just have to start believing”. I lived in the afterglow of that accomplishment for weeks.

One day, months later, he told me he wanted to go into triathlon. I told him I would support him all the way, as I always have in all of his endeavors. When he told me he wanted us to do it together I smiled brokenly and told him there was no way I had the confidence to swim, bike and, God forbid, run in a flimsy piece of lycra. It was bad enough that I have lived my life being the overweight athlete, the one who surprised everyone with an above average performance not because it was truly amazing but simply because I just did not look the part. But my husband had a dream and I was not the one to stand in his way. We found ourselves at a Century Tri Hard triathlon clinic shortly after. And the rest was sharply bitter history.

THE PROMISE

On the day of valor, while the nation celebrated courage and heroism, my handsome, adventurous husband took his own life; defeated by a foe that nobody saw coming. It was like a fog that descended heavily into our lives, as if our happiness was a farce and we were mere puppets pulled by the universe with strings that we did not know existed. I wrote his eulogy in a daze, more eloquent than I have ever been. And in those final words I made a promise — I would finish the Ironman 70.3 for him. I knew that to him it would mean more than finishing a race. It meant I would have begun to have faith in myself, something he promised me he would spend a lifetime helping me gain. I never imagined a lifetime would be so short. And if a lifetime were so, then 6 months felt like nothing. Before I knew it, it was time.

A RAINY RACE DAY

When you make a promise like mine, the thought of not being able to fulfill it summons demons of extraordinary power. In the week running up to the Ironman I could barely sleep. My stomach felt permanently out of whack, my throat sticky and dehydrated and my mind kept serving images of failure. I was haunted by all the reasons why I would not be able to finish the race, all the hours of training that I had missed, my inability to change a flat on the fly. It didn’t help that I was booked in the city, 30 kilometers away from the race venue and that my bike, although also in Mactan, was on the other side of the island. Post-race my parents and my brother in law, who had raced with me, would be parroting lessons learned. First, arrive at least 2 days early to get a handle on logistics. Second, triathlon is an expensive sport. Book at or near the race venue even if economics has turned your dream into a cash cow. Third, no matter how anal one can get about preparations, things can always go bonkers on race day.

The one thing that is predictably unpredictable is the weather. While I am sure all 2,000 athletes prepared to bake in the heat of the southern sun, I doubt even half of us were prepared to handle the sudden squall. The night before, I stared out into the burgeoning swells of the sea from a hotel room balcony. Memories of a time not so long ago, when I bawled like a baby from fear of sea creatures and drowning in the open sea, came flooding towards me the way the water pounded the sand below. Whatever will be, will be.

THE SWIM

It was a riot. The water seemed calm enough when I dipped alongside the throng of athletes trying to expend nervous energy and warm up before the gun start. But when it was our turn to begin, the waves decided to up the ante and give us something of a challenge. We marched shoulder to shoulder like cattle being herded towards the starting line, which apparently was a string of small buoys 50 meters offshore. We looked like a bunch of yellow and pink apples bobbing in a bucket on a stormy Halloween day. I didn’t actually even hear anything. I lost all sense of direction. I concentrated on keeping calm while I floated up and down on what felt like titanic swells. Then just like that I was in the middle of a frenzy of flailing arms and legs going I knew not where. The buoy line had all but disappeared. I had no choice. It was follow the throng, find a space to swim or sink to the depths. I muscled my way through those first 200 meters. My heat rate was racing and I feared I was expending too much energy too early on. But I didn’t even know where the buoys were. If I chose to stop I wouldn’t even know what to hang on to. I might as well swim. I swam hard. Eventually I found my little space of calm, found my rhythm and began to slice methodically through the water. Periodically I would be alone in the deep, swimming too far from any warm bodies, then without knowing how, I would find myself in the middle of another group of arms, elbows and kicking legs and I would have to disentangle myself, propel myself through until I found my own space again. I have never wanted to get out of the swim so badly. I was out of the water a little over 40 minutes but it felt like so much longer.

THE BIKE

I have always loved a good bike ride. I loved to go fast. There was something so exhilarating about the wind on your face when you ride. In a mostly flat course I was more concerned about conserving as I had a tendency to lose myself in the moment and pedal with reckless abandon only to find myself nursing a creeping cramp before the run began. When I ride I feel free, the steady release of energy from muscle and sinew was empowering. Too soon, a pothole. And another. The smooth ride was over and I worried about the creaking and grinding of my complaining bike at each bump in the road that tried to slow me down. Thankfully there were a lot of distractions and the road conditions quickly relegated itself as a necessary evil I could do nothing about. There was also a lot of cheering from schoolchildren along the length of the road, probably promised a star on their little hands if they cheered for people they didn’t even know. There was also a lot screaming, this time from teenagers, mothers, cougars all beside themselves at the thought of catching a glimpse of “Mattio”, “Irwan”, and of course the iconic Papa P, who surprisingly, had the time and energy to smile and wave to everyone. The screaming followed him like a never-ending wave. Then silence.

I have mixed feelings about silence. It unnerves me at times because I wonder why I felt alone in a field of over a thousand athletes. I felt left behind and a part of me wondered where everyone else had gone. I busied myself trying to spot teammates and people I knew but they were few and far between. But I welcome the calm that the silence brings. It is when I truly enjoy the race, when I go back to who I am, why I am there and what I need to do to bring myself home. I make no apologies for being an emotional athlete. It is the well from which I draw from. I felt it strong, that headwind that I had been warned about for weeks. But it bothered me little. I consciously maintained my level of effort, looked to the sea, colors dead from cloud filtered light. I would sigh, stretch, hunker back down and continue spinning.

The specter of the Marcelo-Fernan Bridge was intimidating. While it was a beacon that heralded the end of a long ride, it loomed in front of me like a circus clown ready to crack a joke at my expense and blow my confidence away. I loved the tunnel but I do not like hills. Hills are highway hold ups that rob me of my joy. It was frustrating to be pushing hard and not be gaining any speed. I could see the crowd, they waited and I just knew I would do anything not to walk. But sometimes what we imagine is worse that what is actually there. Before I knew it I was over the peak and on the way home.

I finished sub 3-hours on the bike. Surprised I readied myself slowly for my arch-nemesis, the 21km run.

THE RUN

I don’t understand why people don’t believe me when I say I cannot run. And to be honest, I don’t even know exactly why I can’t in the first place. Having finished 2 full marathons already, one would think I had made peace with running. Runners talk of the second wind, that moment when you breach the crest and you feel like you can keep running forever. I have never reached it. My peak is to realize that I refuse to continue panting like an asthmatic dog and give in to the need to stop. It is rarely my legs that give me trouble. I think I give up far too early for my muscles to feel the stress of overuse. Heck I started walking after 1.2 kilometers and began to execute a whim-driven run-walk strategy. Forget Mr. Galloway. Even his evenly paced intervals had no space in my defeated mind. This is it, I told myself. Barely two kilometers in and tears were pooling under my lids. 19 kilometers to go. It seemed impossible I would survive it. And to be honest, I don’t know how I did. At least the weather was perfect. Had it been as hot as we thought it would be, I felt like I would have dropped dead at the side of the road. Not because I was really that tired but because I thought it was all I could do.

I looked at the side of the road and focused on trees, people, other athletes, using anything and anyone as mental landmarks as to how far I had to run before I would allow myself to walk again. They were intervals of hardly more than 20 feet each; it was as far as I can imagine pushing myself. When the illusion of the constantly moving finish line failed to fool me, I would look at the crowd, concentrate on little details of their faces, strain my ears to listen to Visayan conversations I could not understand. The aid stations were little pockets of heaven. At least when I walked towards one I felt it was a valid excuse to stop running, unlike the constant walk breaks that my plan did not originally include. I can imagine my coach scratching his head at my lack of willpower. There I was again, the 7-year old child, more willful and impatient than focused and enduring. As always I got angry with myself, a virtual Gollum with an internal struggle that probably showed on my sweat-drenched brow. I carried on like that for most of the race. Physically capable but mentally crippled. People who had not even seen my behind during the bike began to pass me one by one, and with each of them went pieces of my shattered confidence.

It was the belief of others that again saved the day for me. Beau would have been shaking his head if he were there. Fellow triathletes, teammates and friends who would bump into me along the course and say I was doing a great job. They saw it. They said I looked strong. That I was well on my way to the finish. I smiled at them because I thought it was ironic, but at least I smiled. Before I knew it, I had hit the halfway mark and last 10 km did not seem so daunting anymore.

I picked up the pace, ran faster than I knew I should to make up for the walking I absolutely needed in between. It wasn’t ideal and was far from any plan a coach would advise me to do but it was all I had then. I remembered my last race and focused on my breathing. The kilometers fell away and there it was, Shangrila.

Shangrila is described as a secluded and mystical hideaway, a place of great beauty and peacefulness. In a way that was how it really felt for me. I ran as fast as I possibly can, mindless of those who passed me in the last 100 meters.

It took me 2:48 to finish 21km. But it didn’t really matter. All I knew was I was there. I was done. I had finished. J

I began this journey because my love for Beau was so encompassing that I couldn’t bear the thought of not fulfilling what was then his greatest aspiration. I crossed the finish line to fulfill someone else’s dream. But to me, the line had a more pregnant meaning.

To me it is the beginning. The birth of a hundred more dreams just waiting to be fulfilled, not for Beau but for me, and for all those that I hope to inspire as I continue my journey through life. I will forever feel an emptiness that Beau had been destined to drop out of the race. Why that had happened is between him and God. But for those of us who live, there are countless finish lines yet to be crossed. I still believe in rainbows. I still believe in love. I now believe in me.

Life is what we make it. Let’s not just be survivors, let’s live victoriously everyday. I know I will. LIFE IS GOOD.Image

Can You Think Your Way Out of a Depression?

I’m sorry I’ve been out of it for a while. I tried to keep myself from thinking about Beau too much. I thought it would go away. This horrible pain and loneliness. But it’s back. I spent so much time thinking about so many things. I spent so much time trying to make sense of it. I figured i should write it down. It would help because it helped me before. But I’ve become lazy. But I came across this article posted on my FB account from a friend of mine. It spoke to me. I wanna stop thinking but I’m wired that way. But reading this made me realize I might be digging myself into a deeper hole. I hope it helps someone out there too.Image

Can You Think Your Way Out of a Depression?

Think about it
Published on April 26, 2011 by Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D. in Charting the Depths

Whether it’s advanced language, ability to reflect upon the past and plan for the future, or our access to a rich shared culture, our unique human traits are usually a source of pride. But, in my last post, I explored the riddle of rising depression in humans. It seems that the same capabilities that enable our species to harness fire and put a man on the moon lead to self-defeating efforts to control low mood. Do our special cognitive capabilities play into a uniquely human pathway into depression?

A main function of low mood is to draw attention to threats and obstacles in unfavorable environments. The consequences are a pause in behavior and a more careful analysis of the environment. In humans, this analysis is more explicit than in a tiger or a tree shrew. Our advanced language ability permits construction of detailed theories about where painful feelings come from.

It’s natural to expect, “If I understand why I feel bad, I will know how to fix it.” Humans have unique powers of mental simulation (we don’t need to put our hand on a hot burner to know it would be a bad idea to touch). Although it’s easy to make fun of coulda, shoulda, woulda counterfactual thinking, our skill at understanding why bad things have happened helps us to prevent their recurrence. By forewarning ourselves, we are forearmed.

As a scientist who studies mood, I’m naturally all for the examined life. Insight-oriented psychotherapy, weekly talk therapy sessions with the guidance of an expert, can be helpful for depression. It’s also possible for a novice to think their way out of low mood and depression by themselves. But humans are not nearly as good at this as they think they are. Here are several pitfalls of trying to think your way out of a depression.

(1) Repetitively thinking about the causes and consequences of low mood can become habitual. Some people do it even when there aren’t significant challenges in the environment. Research shows that excessive use of this strategy, sometimes called rumination, is associated with depression.

(2) Our advanced language and ability to hold ideas in mind forms a dangerous echo chamber for mood. We are in a sense too good at meaning-making. We can easily think about the meaning of a troubling situation well after the situation has passed (my boss seems mad at me; maybe it was that email I sent three weeks ago?). A bad mood can prompt a potentially unlimited number of stories and implications. These may or may not be relevant to the source of the mood. The meaning-making machine might be doing its thing 24/7, in full overdrive, coming up with dozens of reasons for “why I am so blue?” All the while, low mood could be due to a thyroid deficiency, or some other “meaningless” source.

(3) People tend to be overconfident in the use of thought. It’s much easier to list these pitfalls than to recognize in the moment when thinking is not working. The belief that, “I can just think my way out of depression” comes partially from the fact that we humans solve so many other problems by thinking!

(4) Our meaning-making machine can get stuck.  The worst situation is when persistent thinking does not arrive at a stable theory of the problem, does not solve the problem, and cannot come to terms with the problem; it simply perseverates on the fact of the problem.

(5) As time wears on, the focus of analysis turns away from a problematic environment to a problematic self. This escalating-self-focus is far from benign.  A chimpanzee does not lie awake at night thinking, “I am a terrible mother.” A human does. The next day startssleep deprived, with a mood hangover and little new wisdom won. What started out as an environmental analysis ends up as vicious deconstruction of the self.

(6) Repetitive thinking on the failings of the self is associated with a deepening of depression. Again, this exposes a unique human vulnerability. A dog does not ask itself, “why can’t I just get over this?” or “why am I so weak?” An elaborate conceptual self puts us at greater risk for serious depression when sustained analysis of mood holds the thinker at fault. It’s as if we humans are constantly playing an action film of our own life in our heads. When times are good, we are the hero; when they are bad, we are the villian of the piece.

(7) Once the meaning-making machine is up and running, it’s harder to change gears than you might expect. Our meaning-making machine does not respond to the easy advice, like “snap out of it” or “stop thinking about it”. One must be quite clever to avoid getting sucked into a spiral of negative thoughts. Talk is cheap. Totally squelching mood-relevant thoughts is almost impossible once a serious depression has taken hold. Rather, the trick is to critically engage your thoughts without getting embroiled in them. Some people figure out how to do this on their own. Others use several therapies such as acceptance, mindfulness, or cognitive behavioral –all of which involve techniques for turning down the volume on the verbal meaning analyzer. The goal: To become a detached spectator of your own mind. As you learn how to stand apart from your stream of nasty cognitions, you can question them as they occur, a first step in reclaiming thought for psychological health.

Mockery of a Vacation Leave

“Oh! Really? Aaaaaahhhhhhh…”

Awkward silence. Inner struggle. Brain shifting. Gears cranking. Losing self control. Eyebrow raises. Itching to ask. Cannot help self.

“So if you’re not working then what have you been doing then?” 

I find it almost hilarious how some people around me react when they find out I have asked my office for an extended leave. I’ve come to expect the bewildered look on their faces. I can tell from the slow creasing of their foreheads how puzzling it is for them that I, always put together, responsible and dependable, would choose to simply wallow in my grief and misery and decide to do NOTHING. Once I answered back to say I was doing a lot and received another bewildered “Like what?”. Hysterical! Makes me wonder what they think my grieving is like. Do they imagine me sitting batty in a bathroom corner, twirling a strand of imaginary long hair, feeling sorry for myself all day? I imagine they would expect the old me to be more productive than that. Time is a wasting. And it won’t help me to allow myself to drown in sorrow. Indeed. I know it. And I am fighting tooth and nail to fish myself out of this quagmire.

As it turns out, when your life gets turned upside down in an instant there is an insane amount of work to be done. Let me begin with what is tangible and physical. Beau and I were married. We lived our own life, in our own little home. There, in our humble studio we’ve kept the stuff of our lives that describe who we are. There is the stuff that show the things we loved to do together. Ropes, harnesses, carabiners, chalk bags, rock shoes, a crash pad that doubled as an extra mattress when we had friends too drunk to even get out the door. On our refrigerator door is a chaotic display of magnets collected from places we’ve traveled to, small reminders of experiences shared, people we’ve met, cultures we’ve learned and appreciated. There was a lot of space left for more magnets, space that spoke of future dreams, space that allowed for possibilities, for the growth of love and wisdom that should have accompanied what i thought was a certainty of graying hair, facial wrinkles, sagging body parts and the smell of liniment. Our pantry is a picture of our duality, painted by packs of rolled oats, whole grain cereals, skim milk and a variety of herbs and spices sitting uncomfortably beside Beau’s party sized packs of chips, instant noodles, bottles of insanely hot pepper sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, fish paste and other liquids that guarantee a gall bladder surgery at some point in the future. Shopaholics that we were, our cabinets were full to bursting with dry-fit shirts, running shorts, cycling jerseys, and jackets. How he loved jackets. He would obsess and discuss excitedly the benefits of tape sealed seams, the differences between a parka, a windbreaker, a fleece. I had always wondered in bewilderment what we would do with all of them, in a tropical country where I honestly would rather enjoy the rain on my face rather than rivulets of sweat. But he had them all, in brands that branded him, us, as members of a proud fraternity of outdoor adventurers. He had taken most of his clothes when he had left to search for answers, but still, now that he is gone, I am left with the task of discovering what has been left behind.

Storing a past, present and future is no easy task. And while there are kind souls who have helped me pack away, I am alone in the pain brought by each memory attached to every material thing that disappeared into those boxes. I sat and cried while friends wrapped our matching dinnerware in newspapers, to go into the box where the fine cutlery gifted to us during our wedding had already gone. A wedding still so fresh in my memory that the end of a marriage seemed like the most grievous of lies. I sat and smelled every stray shirt of his we found in the closet and despaired when I was told to let go and put it in the pile we were going to hand over to his brothers. Better for them to be used instead of constantly cried on, I was told. Let go, they say. In the bathroom I smiled sadly as I gathered up the badges of his vanity; bottles of men-specific toner, facial wash, moisturizer and after shave.

Weeks after, the boxes clutter up my old bedroom in my parents home where I’ve moved back into. And still, our apartment remains unoccupied, with still a few more boxes of things left behind as I have still been unable to get myself to go back and completely close shop.  It simply takes up too much energy to re-arrange a life. Moving days are usually exciting even while stressful. They usually mark a new beginning. I too have a new beginning. But to begin from where I started is understandably different. It’s like having to start from the beginning when you’ve already gained momentum. It takes time. Packing takes time. Unpacking takes time. And trying to hold myself together while doing all of this takes time. How much time? I’m only starting to find out. Days for sure. Weeks just as likely. So no, I’m not on leave simply because I am lazy. I truly am just more than a little unwell.

Trying to heal my fractured psyche takes up a lot of time and energy as well. Going to therapy has been helping me immensely but it exhausts me just as much as running a marathon, with the endorphin rush replaced by a feeling of release brought about by a waterfall of tears and boxes of used tissue. After two hours of pouring your heart out one is left bleeding and raw, as if every integument, both clothing and skin, are stripped from you and you are left naked as the day you were born. Imagine dissecting your soul, layer by layer, peeling off year after year, trying to get to the bottom of the mysteries that magnify the pain of your loss. It takes time to go back in time, to revisit dreams and childhood experiences in the hopes of healing wounds long left untended. Old wounds I never thought I even had until a loss so colossal brought them all to surface.  The sessions are so physically and emotionally draining that I have been asked to refrain from driving, to start taking medication to regulate my sleep, to meditate and pray and the most difficult of all, to abstain from thinking too much.

Aside from therapy there are visits to the doctor for medication. I’ve had to resort to a cocktail of anti-anxiety pills and anti-depressants to control my morning panic attacks, ones that began to visit me daily the second consciousness returns after a night of restless slumber. As it turns out, getting the cocktail right is an exercise in trial and error, with some combinations requiring up to a month before we can evaluate results. The first try was a nightmare, with the sleep medication leaving me completely lethargic. I would sit in our darkened den, refusing to leave the house which left me alone with my thoughts all day and night. It is a dangerous thing to be taking drugs that are supposed to help alleviate depression when you can read labels and research on the net and find out that results could be the complete opposite, with some side effects causing an increased risk of suicide from the depression that it was trying to cure in the first place. I have increased respect and compassion for psychiatrists who carry the burden of healing diseases that are hardly tangible, where medication is so personalized that science can only guide and not necessarily provide.

I’ve had to take care of my spirit as well, and a good number of hours are spent in the company of a Jesuit priest who patiently listens as I process my anger at God, my questions on life after death and my search for meaning and purpose now that the love of my life is dead.

I feel my hackles rise defensively when it is even insinuated that I am milking the situation for what it is worth, using it as an excuse for a break. I would rather be shackled hand and foot to my office chair rather than be on this mockery of a vacation. What kind of happy holiday would it be when shopping becomes a compulsion brought about by the need to fill a void nothing can ever satiate? What time would you have to enjoy when half the day is spent deciding what to do because thoughts paralyze you so much they render you incapable of movement for hours on end? Thoughts can be like sticky spiderwebs that keep you rooted in space while time continues to flow. How I would rather spend my hard earned money tanning on a beach with my well built husband, rather than spending my leaves and salary on professional fees and feel good pills.

Unfortunately surviving my husband’s suicide is so much more than doing nothing. It takes so much of everything inside me that it leaves little room for anything outside of me. If there was any valid excuse for self-centeredness it is this. It takes work to find one’s center after you’ve been rocked violently at the core of your being. It is like having your insides rocked by a cataclysmic earthquake so massive it is beyond the Richter scale.

There is nothing I would like more than to gain stability and recover enough of my old self to go back to doing the things expected of me. my employers deserve nothing less and I expect nothing less of myself. But time seems of the essence, especially when nothing, not even the loss of a stable, well paying job can compare to the loss of a future I was so excited for that we celebrated it with a promise in front of God and loved ones, balloons, ribbons, confetti and yards of white indian satin, in a place with a view so breathtaking that it deserved to be captured both in celluloid and digital. My marriage was meant to last a lifetime. I’ve been on leave for a total of two months give or take. Perhaps it is but fair to give me a break.

Mourning my Mornings

Featured

I’ve started to wonder why people fear the night and find comfort during the day. For the past weeks the dawn of a new day holds more terrors for me than the quiet solitude of twilight.  It had not always been so. I used to find dusk so forlorn and desolate, the slow goodbye of the sun sinking into the pallid blanket of the evening. Nowadays i find twilight restful and peaceful, the demise of the sun bringing with it the soothing comfort of anonymity, of escape. The darkness is welcome. Shadows hide a face swollen with tears shed in the stark blinding brightness of daylight and camouflage a heart wracked with guilt and doubt.

I used to love mornings. I loved waking up early to spend a few minutes staring at my sleeping husband’s face then getting up silently to prepare a breakfast that I would insist he share with me despite his protests that breakfast had never been a part of his morning rituals. I loved the smell of coffee brewing. It was a daily reminder that I had to wean Beau from his belief that 3-in-1 sachets can actually be considered a suitable replacement. I would take great care in setting our tiny table for two, obsessively insisting that we eat “proper”. There was love in a pretty looking meal, in beautifully made plates that brought out the sunny colors of food meant to jumpstart your day. I loved when he would wake up and just watch me while I puttered about, smiling a lazy smile as he wondered what all the fuss was for when he could just as easily enjoy a breakfast straight out of a cereal box.  There was comfort and reassurance in starting the day together, basking in the comfort of each others presence, sharing each others plans and knowing that the day ahead would end peacefully in each others arms come nightfall.

Our days had settled into a routine, but they were never simply habitual or mechanical. Beau had defined my mornings. He smelled of sunshine, of trees, of wind and song. Even in sleepy grumpiness he always managed to make me smile, for he was mine to keep, mine to care for, mine to spoil, to serve, to love. It was the rest of the day that to me was routine and uninteresting. Events animate and gain color only when I was back with him in the evening. It is at home, tired from the workday and from climbing,  armed with stories to tell, tales of the successes and failures of the day, that everything comes to life. He was genuinely interested in me, happy for me, angry for me, sad with me. And when he would share his day I would find calm in his joy and simplicity, in his ability to be happy with the most mundane of things.  Back then it was sleep that I wanted to delay, to do away with if only it were possible. Because when I slip into slumber, no matter that I do so cocooned in his arms, I lose consciousness of the blessing of Beau that I had in my life. Before I slept I would already look forward to the morning, when I would rise and watch him sleeping, his chest rising and falling with the cadence of peace. A peace that shattered. So suddenly. So abruptly. So incomprehensibly.

Now, mornings terrify me. I am so mortified by the coming of day that I weep in my sleep during the night, my tears saline witnesses of nightmares that I cannot remember no matter how hard I try. When I speak of panic, I mean panic. My heartbeat races like I’ve run a marathon instead of having come from a rest meant to prepare me for the day ahead. I cannot breathe and I am attacked with severe anxiety from the fluidity of the hours that lie in front of me. I feel pressured at any thought of things I have to do and I feel pressured at the thought of not knowing what to do. It is like waking up having to make a daily decision that is neither wrong nor right, left or right, here nor there. It is waking up afraid because there is nowhere to be, nowhere to go yet nowhere to stay. It feels like standing on a razor’s edge, afraid to fall yet desperately praying that someone, something would tip me over one side or the other, to tell me where I should be, where I belong, where I am organic. My chest fills full to bursting knowing that even those who love me would not really care as much where I end up. At least never as much as a husband who is half of me in spirit.  To ask me to make my own decisions on what to do and where I should be feels almost cruel. It is mocking torture. Because in my heart I knew I was meant to be making a breakfast for my life’s champion.

Even the memories of our nighttime conversations are now poisoned. When once they gave color to my otherwise mechanical day, they are now memories of signs I missed, of things I regret not having understood.  Instead of the joy and simplicity that I had seen in his smiles I now remember the days when he would come home frustrated and angry about things that were just as “simple”. I now remember his inability to see solutions and possibilities, how each problem sounded so insurmountable. They were moments, that were fleeting and seemingly insignificant. They were challenges that were Lilliputian to anyone not haunted by the ghosts that I now know plagued him. And he was a master at hiding. I realize now I was only privileged to have been let into his private world, the darkest parts of which he kept only to himself.  I wonder daily if it was something I should have caught, something that shouldn’t have escaped my notice, if it were somehow a lack of attention on my part that had disabled me from saving him from self destruction. But was it a crime for me to have seen the smiles instead of the frustrations? Was it a mistake to have seen what was whole in his simplicity instead of its brokenness when it was Beau himself who taught me to be grateful for all things given?

I mourn for my Beau. I mourn for my Beau-tiful mornings. I am angry that I am accused of choosing to dwell on my misery. I am frustrated at being asked to simply make a decision to get better.  What I would give to not have to wake up afraid to live another day. What I would give to wake up refreshed from a full night of undisturbed sleep. What I would give to find joy in delicate tableware, in matching placemats, in coffee brewed to aromatic perfection. My mornings are no longer those I have come to know. I wake up in a place cluttered with boxes of my married life just waiting to be put aside. I reach out desperately, repeatedly, for help in the mornings and know that sometimes there is no help to be found. Then I take it one minute at a time until I am embraced by the velvet ebony of night.

Dead Man Walking

Today marks 2 months from the day my life was pulled out from under me. I expected to be somewhere else by now. I feel I’ve put in the requisite effort. But I am still running on the same treadmill and I am going nowhere.

Loneliness has set in. And it is a loneliness that words fail to describe. There are people around me but I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere anymore. I feel disjointed and out of place. I’ve told others as much. I referred to it as feeling like an appendage to other people’s lives. Beau and I had a life of our own. We had each other and to me that was what I owned, my personal treasure. I’ve written about the guilt that I feel about what my presence reminds people of.  My presence prevents people from moving on with their lives, his family especially, because my holding on to them for support inadvertently pulls them down to where I am — frozen in place, frozen in time, frozen in pain. I don’t say anything new. My loss of belonging heightens my guilt at being a burden to others. Beau was the only one who vowed before God to care for me and now he has left me in the middle of nowhere, forcing others who come along to let me hitchhike on their lives.

Beau abandons me repeatedly. I do not mean only that the event of his suicide repeats itself in my mind daily but that even his memory has begun to fade from my consciousness. The image in my mind, even aided by hundreds of photos of him, does not come close to the reality of him. Others may say this is actually a good thing, that it is a sign that I am letting go. But it is not. Thinking of him, in a twisted way, allows me to escape my own pain. The first few weeks after his passing I was saved from thinking of myself by all the activity I put into understanding what happened to Beau. Now I am faced with the task of understanding myself and I’ve begun to feel that this is the real tragedy here. I am in the now. I live, if breathing and eating alone constitutes living. I have become a living, breathing nightmare.

I’ve seem to have lost all sense of hope. I’ve heard it all of course and I know them to be true; all the loving reminders to look at the glass half full rather than empty, to count my blessings, to learn from the suffering of others. I have no defense and I will not even try to explain why I am unable to do all that. My reality is simply different and my looking glass is stained. Maybe I am not even trying hard enough, after all, I am my own responsibility. Perhaps I do not even want to get better.

I’ve begun to feel cursed instead of gifted. I should be thanking God for the ability to process and analyze and understand, but my truth is that is burdens me. To know what I should do, what is right for survival, to see where I am at and why I am there, it provides little comfort. My intellect pushes me to search incessantly for answers that are not there. It drives me the way a cruel rider whips a horse to run faster. I wish I could stop but I gallop at ever increasing speed. Stubborness is the psychedelic drug that feeds the intellectual frenzy. I have been given expert advice that my writing is counter productive to my healing. But it relieves the pressure in my brain that threatens my sanity. When I write and read what I write it gives me the assurance of rationality. And in that, I see a small glimmer of hope for self preservation. I only hope I don’t manage to create a rational excuse for self destruction. Otherwise I would whip myself until I am foaming in the mouth and drop dead from pure exhaustion.

The loss of belonging has made me double in on myself and what a powerful other curse it is. I feel overly self centered and it shames me.

Even writing is so self-indulgent isn’t it? To write and expect to be read, to impose my thoughts and feelings and publish it for the world to see is such an egotistic exercise. I write on this blog to feel connected without having to actually be with people. The keyboard shields me from my shame. It also shields me from rejection. It keeps me from sending messages to individual people who may feel obliged to answer, and it shields me from the sensitivity and pain that I feel when those I do reach out to do not reply.

I feel I am not even uniquely special to my therapists. No matter that I actually pay them to pay attention to me. If I feel like others perceive me to be egregious and notoriously flagrant in my grief, to them I am nothing exceptional. I am a commonplace specimen that falls into one of many neatly labeled sterile boxes. To them I am a statistic, and nobody really cares about individual numbers. It is only taken as a whole that such numbers have significance. Alone I am insignificant.

Those of you who read this may at this point begin to judge me. You may wish to shake me to my senses and tell me to look up and smell the roses. I am my own worst critic. I fear judgment so much I sentence myself even before anyone has actually said anything. And each time I do that I know I doom myself to my own squalid prison. How ironic that I write and share making myself vulnerable to the world. It is me saying with certainty that I know you judge me and I write to defend myself. The truth is I judge myself. Judgment is a vile, maleficent thing, especially when coupled with paranoia. And what escape is there from ourselves? Aye, a question again without a palatable answer.

I do not like myself very much. I’ve always known that about myself. Even when I impudently announce it to the world, in the hopes that someone would give me a palliative from the pain of self loathing, it is hidden by the “gifts” that were given to me by some power that strangely disappears during moments when the shade of ugliness overshadows all beauty. Not that anybody really cares. The world does not revolve around me. Everything is just insecurity, and arrogance, and vanity. Oh, the list of noxious adjectives goes on. The stench of my self-pity is nauseating. It is a slick, black, sticky tar that transfers like a virus to anyone who dares to get too near. Beau washed me clean and now he has gone and I am back swimming in it.

I’ve been told to learn how to let go. I’ve told them I do not know what that means. I do not know how to do it. But this bare-faced nakedness my writing expresses, this is as raw as it gets. It is despair. It is hopelessness. It is terror. I fear.

I seem to have started walking on my own green mile. I am a dead man walking.


Alone after the home run

I thought we would have learned how to live with each other now, this alien band of brothers that have come to visit. I knew it would be an extended stay but now I fear my guests are bent on overstaying my forced welcome. I’ve tried to get to know them all, they who have come knocking at my door. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They’ve hung around for so long I swear their faces had begun to morph into one another. I can hardly tell them apart and it hardly mattered, given that they’ve all wrought the same devastation on my once peaceful spirit. I’ve engaged with them, maniacally so, trying to understand how they’ve managed to convince my husband that he had nothing to live for. As the days passed I’ve come to understand the conversation they had with Beau and where it brought him. But the longer they stay with me I am beginning to dread where I would be, if, when and how I manage to push them to leave.

I’ve let myself go because I could not let him go. I drink too much coffee, smoke too much, exercise too little. I eat nothing but indulgent poison — the most luxurious of desserts, laden with gargantuan amounts of sugar, chocolate and butter; evil disguised in swirls of happy colored icing, beautiful bronze baked goodies that promise familiar highs, only to be sunk back into an even more dismal abyss when the sugar rush disappears. I need a haircut. I’ve moved back in with the ‘rents and need to start organizing the mess of my life which I had brought with me. I am on a deadline, the time I’ve borrowed from sympathetic employers was running out too fast for comfort and I seem to be on pause. Indeed, time waits for no one and life is in an ironic rush. What does it matter that life as I knew it had changed drastically and without warning?

In the beginning I had gotten on that same train of mad, frantic activity. And everyone was there, cheering from the bleachers as I rushed to cover all the bases. And I did just that.

I tried to understand what happened. I researched, read, consulted, conversed and concluded. Beau was a victim of suicide. The end result of a long fight with major depression likely caused by a genetic predisposition. He could have possibly been bi-polar or had borderline personality disorder; complicated by the trauma of losing a father at an age when he was only beginning to learn about the relationship of “cause and effect”. Freud had discovered it, the construct of “learned helplessness” where a child, unable to process the traumatic event, learns that there are things that happen in this world that are beyond our control and therefore, when challenges come up, no matter how small, he would be powerless to fight it. He told me once before that he had watched his father burn. A child watching a cremation is a nightmarish tableau. Whether it had actually happened is of no consequence. For Beau, it was his reality. Had he agreed to seek professional help he would have discovered he was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome as well. My own therapists say it would have been a textbook diagnosis, what with the death happening the day after his birthday and the constant reminder of his father’s ashes in the family home. There were other reminders, other questions, too private to share, that had left wounds that festered. He had grown into the body of a man and yet, somewhere inside him, an 11 year old boy continued to stare into the flames.

Apparently there had been prior attempts to take his life before I had even met him, usually triggered by a relationship gone awry. He feared rejection and magnified abandonment, attaching all sense of hope to relationships that he perceived in his mind to be all that he had in his life. I had saved him twice he said, having talked him through the demise of two of his past romances. He had always threatened to end his life at the end of his relationships. I had always thought he meant I had saved him figuratively. Now I know better, too late.

Even if I had known his threats to be true, I would have thought marriage would have put an end to the suicide ideations. After all, the promise of forever keeps the threat of abandonment at bay. And for all intents and purposes, as far as I knew, we had been the giddiest kids on the marriage block. But I suppose all marriages have its own challenges, and the monster that lay dormant inside him waited for the opportunity to rear its ugly head.

I had always envied him for his freedom of spirit. I was jealous that he had built a life of simplicity doing what he loved. But even before we had gotten married he had always talked about wanting to do something else, to find his fortunes elsewhere and to keep climbing as a hobby rather than his career. It had been frustrating for him, and I knew that the conservative man that he truly was, he wanted to prove that he could provide for me somewhat. There was never any pressure on this front, at least not outwardly, and not that I was consciously aware of, although I know that sometimes circumstance itself could create them. I had tried to control the situation at any sign of insecurity, although if there were any, he was such master at keeping them from me that despite my vigilance, it was only in the last three months of his life that I recognized any discontent. I had supported him by asking him to simply pursue what he was passionate about. There was much trial and error but in the end he had still hoped against hope that he could make something out of the sport that he loved. I believe it was his failure to make this happen that was the trigger for his last and final episode.

He loved bouldering. And the competition which had been named after him was his pride and joy. He had attempted to put up the event a year into our marriage. It had pushed through but at great cost. He had taken it hard, given that I had to step in to bail him out. He declared he was done with the competition, done with climbing in general and moved on. or so I thought. A year after he announced he was going to try to put the event up again and against my better judgment, I supported him once again. This time, despite his constant assurances that the postponements and delays with sponsorship contracts were just minor snags, the event did not push through. We argued about it for a day or two and I thought that was the end of it. But apparently he had again talked to some people about taking his life out of shame and embarrassment. I thought he had gotten over that particular hill, he had decided to embark on a new challenge — to get certified as a personal trainer. But now I know this only added to the weight he carried. He had put all his hope in that basket, telling me repeatedly during those days when his frustration and stress were poisoning our marriage that it was all he had going for him. I tried to refocus his thinking and emotions into positive things, to the dreams we had created together for the future, but he was incapable of looking forward and insisted on collapsing into the past. In retrospect I know now that nothing I said would have made a difference. Unless he was given the medication he needed, he was spiraling out of control towards his own self destruction.

You would think that all of the above would absolve me of my guilt. It does not. A psychiatrist would describe him as a textbook case and any diligent researcher armed with an internet connection and a laptop would agree. The illness is what killed him. It was not anybody’s fault. He was psychologically disturbed and did not have the skills to deal with life’s challenges. Cerebrally it all makes a lot of sense. But as his wife, I look at what happened with different lenses. And what a different story my heart can see.

I remember a man excited for a future. I remember a husband narcissistically proud of a happy marriage. I remember conversations about the children we were going to raise, the trips we were going to take, the long bucket list of things we needed to do. My heart cannot accept what all the research and professional consultations have logically confirmed. I have hit a home run with all the bases loaded. But now the bleachers are empty, the game is over. Everyone has gone on to their homes and life continues on. The numbers on my blog have dwindled. The hundreds of likes and comments of support on my Facebook page have all but disappeared. Very few ask how I am anymore. And I sit in the ball park alone, enveloped in the blackness left by the shut down of the stadium lights.

They wait for me, my unwanted guests. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They took my husband away and now they await me. I am beginning to dread where I would be after all is said and done. Because as of now I am back on first base. Bleachers empty. Alone after a cerebral home run that has done nothing to heal the pain in my heart. Beau is gone. Game over.

Heartbreak Hill

It was called heartbreak hill for a reason, that stretch of road on the fringes of the university campus. For neophytes, the short steep uphill was a cardiovascular nightmare. Only pride and willpower could overcome the pounding of the heart and shortness of breath that initiate the novice runner into a route more challenging than the academic oval where most recreational runners can be found. It had been quite some time since I’ve last been here. And now that I am, my heart began to break for an entirely different reason. Heartbreak hill marks the beginning of a route my late husband Beau used to run with me. And now, a few weeks after his death, for the first time, I run the route without him.

It is the first training day of Team Beau, as we had taken to calling our motley crew. The jock that he was, his brothers and I, along with the rest of his family had committed to honor his memory by continuing his athletic pursuits. Now, it was the members of his family that flanked me.

Chey led the pack, being the most experienced and most consistent runner among us. He shared Beau’s love of the outdoors. In fact, it was through his influence that Beau found his greatest passion, rock climbing. With Beau gone I ran behind Chey now, allowing him to set the pace. I remembered it was my husband who had convinced his brother to start running. Chey reminds me the most of Beau because they really did enjoy the same things — climbing, running, boxing.  I can see my husband in his brother’s face, the same proud nose, the same lash-fringed eyes, the same rise and fall of mellow notes when they speak. Only a few weeks ago, Chey finished his first full marathon. In the agonizing last kilometers, when pushing to reach the finish line felt more torturous rather than victorious, Chey told me he remembered something Beau used to say: Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever. That buoyed him to the finish, a finish that made Beau inordinately proud. Beau had immediately sent a message to his eldest brother Mao, telling him to congratulate Chey for the accomplishment and pushing him to join next year’s race. Beau’s pain must have been unimaginable. It must have felt permanent. Otherwise, he would never have quit.

Through the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Mao, now running beside me, training for that marathon he promised Beau he would finish. Despite Beau having lived with his eldest brother before we got married, I never really got to know Mao very well before all this happened. And by his own admission, there were many things about Beau that he didn’t know either. It must be the gaps in our knowledge that bonded us now, as we ran beside each other. In the days following Beau’s death I had always felt an urge to tell Mao about our marriage, about how much we loved each other, about the truth of the days preceding his death that led his baby brother back into the family home. I yearned to help him gain some understanding, a look into his brother’s psyche to help him accept the tragedy that happened a few steps away from the threshold of his home. His eyes remain haunted. It makes me shudder to think of the images permanently etched behind them. He carries the burden of being the first in the family to see Beau’s lynched body.

I could never have survived seeing him dead on that stairwell. If one believed in God, then perhaps that was the one favor that he gave me. His family, they share my pain. I feel guilty that they had to be the ones to find him, that my husband was not with me during his last moments. There are many things I regret, many things I wish I could have done or not have done that I know will haunt me for the rest of my life. Beau had chosen to stay away from me for the past few months. He needed to figure things out for himself he said. Chey thinks he did that to save me from the pain he knew he would cause, knowing even in his subconscious, that he was no longer in control of himself. I would never know, and that, adds to the torment.

Behind me I could hear the easy banter of Bunny and Bobby, cousin and friend respectively, but brothers to Beau all the same, bound not just by blood but by a guileless love forged by time. If there was one thing the two shared with my husband, it would be the easygoing sense of humor, the carefree air that made everyone around them feel at ease. I’ve known them just long enough to know that the smiles and indulgent jokes hide their own soap opera lives and yet there they are, alive and well, running behind me while my beloved Beau had thrown in the towel before any one of us were in on the game. It left a bitter taste in the mouth. The thought that it was not even really his choice made it even more acrid. My husband was murdered, forced to take his own life by a malevolent disease that came in the dark of night.

I’ve been hanging on to them for dear life the past few weeks. I suppose its because if there was anyone in this world who shared my pain it would be them. Without children there is nothing of flesh and blood that I had left of Beau, except for his family. His only sister Rona, whom I had seen for the first time a few weeks ago when she had flown back to Manila to pay her last respects to a long missed brother, has become a daily salve. Although geographically apart, I’ve survived my morning anxiety attacks by reading her morning online messages. Love offered to me, a sister she has never really known. Love offered to a sister, whose only remaining connection with a brother is in a few bags of clothes and a grieving widow’s tears.

At times I feel overly assuming and am afraid that I might overstay my welcome. I’ve impinged on their lives, hanging over them like a black specter of death. This is the scarlet letter, the mark of Cain a widow carries. As much as I remind them of Beau, I also inadvertently, with my weeping and despair, remind them of his loss.

As I run I am acutely aware that my heart chooses this family, the same way my heart chose Beau. The future looms uncertain. I cannot even see past today. We pass over Heartbreak hill and pound our way through the route my husband used to run. I am not bound to them by law anymore. Death had released me from that. For now we are bound by tragedy, chained together by sorrow. We run together towards hope, towards love, towards a tomorrow we are forced to face because we continue to live.

They flank me as I run. Chey before me, Mao to my side, Bunny and Bob behind me. At the turnaround their wives and their kids wait for us with drinks to quench our thirst and cheers to appease parched spirits. This is the family that inherited me. And they are the shield I have around me.

I am reminded of St. Patrick’s breastplate. He declares: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

They say God sends angels to help us on our way. One only has to look with an open heart to see the magnificence of their wings.