This is the fifth installment of a yearlong training journey towards my first full Ironman triathlon. To start at the beginning, click here.
I knew it was bad when it got to me in the pool.
(If you were hoping for a simple training update with no real life stress, you should probably skip this post)
Training and Real Life Collide
The stress of life and everything that wasn’t Ironman got to me. I mean, really got to me. December was packed with the usual obligations of Christmas shopping and holiday parties to plan or attend, but this year there was much more on my plate. Studying for my clinical licensure test filled my free time. Someone close to me had been the victim of a horrible crime I could do nothing to stop. My daughter, though really loving her new baby brother, was distraught that her mom could not pick her up or carry her because she was healing from her C-section still. Our family unit was trying to find homeostasis again.
So like in times past and periods of high stress, PTSD came roaring back. The nightmares crept into my sleep. Intrusive thoughts and memories popped into my mind. I felt irritable and distant from everybody. The feeling that at any moment something bad was about to happen kept nagging me. And the terrifying feeling that I was having a heart attack- a hallmark symptom of panic attacks- came without warning. So when that happened in the pool during my morning swim one day I knew it was time to do something about it. I knew this was not something I could power through. Here I was with a beautiful newborn baby boy and I was struggling to experience that loving feeling when holding him.
The realization I could not appreciate my son or all the other things in my life I should be grateful for (a beautiful, supportive wife who is an excellent mother, a house in a safe neighborhood, a meaningful job working with veterans that paid a living wage, good coworkers, caring friends and family, great health) sent me downward into depression. The suicidal thoughts made a return, whispering in my ear. For those who are not familiar with it, the symptoms of PTSD can and will arise at the MOST inopportune time. Just when you think things aren’t stressful enough….SURPRISE! Here’s a whole bunch of war residue to deal with.
So I made a doctor’s appointment and told her what was going on. Physically, I was healthy and she found nothing wrong with me after taking my vitals. My doctor asked if I had tried medication before. I had been on meds, and at this point was willing to give it another try. Like many others, the idea of taking medication felt like defeat. Was I just not good enough to hack it on my own? But knowing my baby boy and sweet young daughter needed a fully-functional dad helped me swallow my pride. I mean, if I was already eating a clean and healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting 8 hours of sleep, and regularly practicing yoga and meditation, had completed a list of trauma therapies, what more could I possibly do on my own? So I started taking the medication.
And I started feeling much better.
Back on Track
Within a week I could hold my son in my arms and feel the love I knew I had for him. I could swim without a panic attack. I no longer felt irritable around people and once again enjoyed my work.
If you’ve read this far you might be wondering if this an invitation to a massive pity party. I assure you it is not. But to exclude this from a chronicle of my journey towards my first full Ironman would be leaving out a major part of the story. So maybe this is an attempt to normalize the experience some vets have with PTSD.
What it came down to for me was a choice: Did I continue with an unworkable plan or decide to try something new that might improve the situation? I chose the latter and it worked.
So by Christmas, despite a few days with the flu, I was back to a full training load of swimming, cycling, and running. My MAF test did not show any improvement, which was most likely due to the aforementioned life stress my body was handling. Such is life. Despite the lack of progress on my running tests, the relief of feeling better and improving my mental state made December a huge win.
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