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Saturday, January 20, 2018

My left knee is actively plotting my death

Why am I writing again?

Several years ago when I began this blog, it seemed like a cool thing to do.  I think at the time I thought I could document each adventure I went on to be able to reflect on later. 

The problem is, people change.  People grow.  And with a person who lives with bipolar disorder, sometimes one blog post reflects a extreme mindset vs. the actual person I am.  Anyway, as time went by, I would occasionally re-read something from the past and realize that not only had my writing style evolved, but I read things I didn't like.  Sometimes I would read a post and while there were some things I read that seemed like the real me, some of it seemed self-absorbed.  The short story here is I didn't like the person I was at times.  Sometimes I wouldn't even recognize the person that wrote these posts.  I began to realize I didn't even like that person.  That person was me.

As one reads things they themselves wrote and have negative thoughts, they tend to stop writing.  I began to think, maybe if I just let my blog die, I don't have to face this person I had become.

Well, life doesn't really work that way. 

So here I am, writing again, late at night in January 2018, now determined to write and hike (more on that later) myself to a person I like.  This can only start with me owning the person I am now.  I still believe I am a kind-hearted, passionate person with good intentions.  But sometimes my actions speak louder than my words.  Often these actions that make me appear to be a person I don't like are just rooted in fears I have had for a long time. 

It's time for me to face these fears.  It's time for a new beginning.  I think this is why I chase sunrises in the wilderness so often, they often represent new beginnings for me and are an escape from the darkness.

Sunrise from South Boulder Peak in Boulder, CO

Solitude is ok, isolation sucks... a lot.

Without going into details, much has changed in my life in the past few years.  To me, the summary reads like probably many middle aged people, just slightly worse because of my mental health struggles and some unique circumstances in my life. 

The reality is many probably look at my life enviously, and I get it.  I am not dying of cancer.  I am mostly healthy.  I have a decent job.  All good things. 

Everyone has darkness that lurks in their lives.  Mine is usually rooted in depression, manic episodes, loneliness, isolation, racing thoughts, social anxiety, and restlessness.

Let's just fast forward to the summer of 2017.  I was very depressed and spiraling downwards.  Many relationships in my life had taken a turn for the worse all in the past year or so.  Even though failed relationships is a common theme in my life, I was desperate for someone to connect with. 

My entire life has been one of not letting people in and if I did let them get close, if things started to go bad, I would be the first one to push them away and FAST.  As I got older, I had built so many walls around me and pushed away so many people that I found myself lonely a lot.

This wasn't too bad of a problem in the past eight years or so, because I always had my wife to turn to.  She had never seemed to let me push her away.  However, it hadn't been clear to me until recently, but my behavior had taken a silent toll on our relationship too.  But add in some health problems for my wife and our relationship has seen challenges for a couple years now also. 

In 2008, my wife rode a horse to our tiny wedding in a forest in western Pennsylvania.

In 2013 there was my best friend Billy, who was like family to me.  He cut off all communication with me early in 2013.   It was a result of the incident that left me with my horrific ankle injury that I still suffer the effects of today. 

Basically the night of the incident I lashed out at him in a very cruel manner which I justified to myself at the time was because of the pain I was in. This broken leg, dislocated ankle and three completely torn ligaments happened in a fight between us in a poker game.  I learned that sometimes words can leave scars that heal slower than shattered bones and torn ligaments. 

Billy and I in Vegas during the World Series of Poker in 2006.
In late 2013 my brother Chris, with whom I was close to for most of my life, basically showed me that I didn't mean much to him.  In a series of actions, I was basically told that I was a burden to him without those words being said.  Ultimately I think we had just grown apart over the years and now I was nothing more to him than a guy that could pay for World Series tickets at Fenway. 

My brother (right) and I at game six of the 2013 World Series

In 2015, I left a job I had been at for four years and suddenly all the friends you had from work seem to disappear.  To them I suddenly don't exist.  These are guys I went to lunch with every single week for several years.  Add in the "hey now I work from home full-time" thing and isolation sets in.

In 2016, I made some close friends during a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail.  But thru-hiking friends are odd.  You are so tight and close with these people while on the trail.  You almost depend on each other.  You are family.  Then you finish the trail and everyone scatters across the country and loses touch eventually.

Just a few members of my trail family from the CT.

Into late 2016, after developing a connection with another friend Mark, that friendship just up and vanished into thin air over some common friend drama I still don't understand to this day.  Mark and I were close too, we must've summited a few dozen peaks in Colorado together. 

Mark and I kicking it with a couple PBRs after a grueling day hike of Capitol Peak in September 2015

Fast forward to spring of 2017 and my last remaining close friend decides she's going to distance herself from me, partially for understandable reasons since she was undergoing her own life rebuilding, but partially for reasons I still don't fully understand.  I guess the reasons are probably rooted in something I did or said.  After all, I am the common denominator in all my failed relationships.  I still miss her a lot.  We shared some truly memorable adventures too.

Celebrating on the summit of Cathedral Peak in the Elk Range in April 2017

Lastly, my reason for living for so many years, my daughter, moved 1500 miles away to college.  While I am excited for her, it still hurts.  I miss her every day.  She's also clearly at the point in life where all people were at her age, where her independence means more to her than carrying on a conversation or sharing time with Dad. 

My daughter and I on Huron Peak in October 2011

Oddly enough, my closest friend right now is my own Dad.  He also happens to be the best person I know and he's the best partner I've ever had in a game of spades too.  It's a damn shame he lives 1000 miles away. 

My Dad and I at camp during a thru hike of the West Rim Trail in Pennsylvania in 2017

So here I am, lonely, mostly friendless.  Don't get me wrong, I have a few friends that I talk to irregularly.  These are friends that you talk somewhat infrequently, guys you golf with a couple times a year, or people you have a beer with occasionally, ones you hike with once every few months, or ones you run into in the poker room every once in a while.  I truly appreciate every one of these people, but those friendships don't have the closeness or camaraderie that I long for.  And I am fairly certain the lack of this closeness is my own fault.  I get it now, I don't think I have been a person that I'd want to be close friends with either. 

Take this two-on-a-ten scale feeling of self-worth, add in a healthy dose of mood swings (thanks bipolar disorder!), and I am just completely at my wits end.  I am frustrated with the person I have become.  I am frustrated with where my life is.  I am frustrated with my inability to make or maintain healthy relationships and wonder all the time.  Is it all me?  Do others have this same problem?

Questions I ask myself:  Hike 2660 miles or suicide?

I want to make myself a person that I am proud of, so I decided some time away from my life would be a good idea.  Time in nature helps clear my head and I thought hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 sounded like a good idea.  At this point, the idea of starting a hike of the PCT in three months is all that is keeping me going.  It's all that is keeping me alive to be honest.  And go ahead and think I am being overly dramatic or something, but this is just pure honesty talking at this point.

I feel like I need to hike the PCT and if I fail or have to bail off the trail early due to injury or something; that it's almost a death sentence for me.  I just know the hopelessness that awaits me if I have to come back home to Colorado with my tail between my legs not having the time to re-invent myself or make any personal progress.  I understand that even if I hike 2660 miles, there may be no epiphany moment.  There's a chance that there may not be any substantial personal growth.  It's a possibility, I know that, but like I said above, I feel like I am running low on other options.


Umm..  ok but how is your left knee trying to kill you?

I began training in November 2017 and this started with me quitting smoking cigarettes which I picked up for some stupid reason in June 2017 as a way to cope with stress.  Word of advice... don't smoke cigarettes, it's just stupidity at it's finest.

In December my training began to get more real.  A couple hikes a week, cycling again, etc.  Soon I started to feel tightness in my left knee and some dull pain behind my kneecap.  I can hear grinding and crunching cartilage when I extend my leg.  These are all familiar to me.  These are all the same symptoms I had with my right knee before a surgery several years ago.  It also took a couple cortisone shots for good measure before my right knee started working normally again. 

Well, I don't have time to have surgery and recover before the PCT.  So, I am just doing all the physical therapy things I know to strengthen the muscles that support the knee and icing it after long hikes, etc.

The reality is, I may end up limping my way up the PCT to Canada or maybe hobbling with crutches.  I just hope it doesn't get so bad that it forces me off trail because I think I know the ugly future that awaits me if that happens. 

Parting words... f%*k social media.

If you are lonely and reading this I empathize with you.  I really do.  I don't have a magical answer on how to counter that feeling otherwise I would've done it myself.  I can tell you that for a month I deactivated my Facebook account and disconnected completely from social media.  I found myself happier, albeit slightly.  I made the mistake of re-activating my account only to find these dark feelings come back, so now it's gone again.

Lastly, if you are one of the fortunate folks who have someone who you share that closeness with, whether it's a friend, a partner, a parent, a sibling or anyone.  Cherish what you have.  Give that plant water, give it sunlight, and do whatever it takes to keep it alive. 

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