Over the last few weeks, our lives have been dictated by the idea of movement. We have moved to a new house. We are traveling, moving physically thousands of miles from home. I am taking a major leap forward toward my Iditarod goals as I begin the training season for our yearling year, and make a push to run the Copper Basin. And, all summer I have been struggling with the idea of movement– particularly running– vs the sucking mud of depression.
Moving is always stressful. Dogs can tell you that. You see them get more and more anxious as you pack your things. Our house dogs were very good. In fact all the dogs were good. I think sled dogs are more adaptable, more accepting of the Whatever Happens Next thing. As long as their little pack is together. The team adjusted to their new settings with movement, with running that spread as wide as our new five acres. They accepted the new house with joy, much as we did. A good and auspicious start. Jesse, meanwhile– Who knows what kind of fugue he lives in, he was happy enough once he got dinner, and that was that. And Bonnie and Hooch spread their own wings across our new open lawns and fields, and made sure to tell the team who was in charge.
So maybe only I could tell you that moving is stressful. The weekend we migrated everything I had settled and created in my first dog yard seemed insurmountable. I was lucky, incredibly lucky, to have my dad, and Judy Currier, and Shawn there to help. I could not have moved that or rehabbed the yard by myself. My vision of having a kennel has always been a solitary vision: me, alone in the woods with my dogs. As I go, I understand better and better that it’s not feasible to be solo that way. I have to accept the help of my friends and neighbors. The ATAO team is truly bigger than me and the dogs.
We moved the yard; we moved boxes; we cleaned. We landed in our new house (our new house!!!) in disarray and excitement. In the looming future was our trip south for Shawn’s sister’s wedding. It’s strange to move into a huge and beautiful new space and then leave almost immediately.
This summer I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist. I started up on meds. We tried prozac this spring, which wasn’t a good fit for me; now I’m on something formulated for ADHD. I have been *sort of* diagnosed with ADHD. I took a (very expensive) test, which was basically inconclusive. Like signs of ADHD but not extreme enough to fall in the norm of ADHD… Brain science ????????? But both my psychiatrist and the new therapist I was seeing keep agreeing with themselves more and more that I am ADHD. Anyway. The point of all of that is that the new house, to me, is like this thing that neatly spoons with my ADHD– or whatever I have. It’s like a puzzle piece that fits against my own jagged-edged weirdness. In this new house, everywhere I walk there is a PROJECT. My brain loves this. I can go to the bathroom, see something needs to be hung up there, go get a hammer, see a broken table leg on the way over, decide to go get the replacement for that, remember I want to build a kitchen island, decide that the time is now (nevermind that the time definitely should not be now), go out to find a good piece of birch to work with, take the dogs with me, go on a walk, remember I want to build a treehouse, go look for a treehouse location, find an old piece of machinery, decide that it could become a cool piece of furniture, go get a rope to move it, when I go get the rope, run into the hammer I needed, remember I need to fix that thing in the bathroom–
I know this sounds like madness, and maybe it is, but to me– even just running through this now– it is joy and fitting and home. Oddly, I do manage to get things done. When I focus I hyper focus. That’s how and why we redid a floor in the week between moving and leaving for this trip. And now, typing this, listening to my favorite soundtrack by James Horner, I feel that sense of home. Home is where all of the projects are. So this new house, this home, is movement itself. It’s space to move. Not just for the dogs to stretch out full length, running fast and full of joy, but also movement in that there is a ballet of mechanisms that go together to make the house work. We need to get wood for the stove, we need to set up food storage for the dogs, we need to get straw for the dogs, we need to get cream for the coffee. All of it has to go together on time, in concert. Maybe it could be stressful; but when it works it’s beautiful. It feels meaningful. It feels like home.
And in that movement, too, there is stillness. Groundedness. Home. That is exactly how mushing is. A flurry of necessary activities to get you to the moment of utter stillness, which is riding runners along snow, moving, traveling, but being in sync with the world above and below you.
Our movements, to travel, are a different kind of movement. A lateral movement. Still very important. Important to the people who support and uphold us. It cannot just be a one way street, though very often the incredible amount of support we receive feels impossible to return.
I am always boggled that we can travel three thousand miles in less than a day. Yes, we complained that our trip, with its layovers, took us almost 24 hours. But not long ago at all, such a feat would be unthinkable. We defy physics to return to family and friends, to be able to embrace each other in person. We are privileged beyond measure to do this.
The movement of all of this is both wondrous and overwhelming. Shawn’s sister is married: it’s a heart warming, beautiful event. It is joyous and full of people. The movement to get here is full of people. For me, in my new hermitage, where I leave Two Rivers (or even the house / dog yard) as little as possible, the Fairbanks airport feels overwhelming. The Seattle airport isn’t even conceivable. How can there be so many people? We are lucky to stay with Shawn’s family (and I got to stay with my family, earlier), where there is room and ease and laughter. I see my little cousins (my own cousin’s kids) whose smiles are as unbridled as the joyful running of my own dogs. But around us is movement, movement, a hundred thousand lives coming together and apart over and over, brushing past each other with all their weight and background and life. It’s so much to take in. It’s all a project– just understanding, hearing, imagining, empathizing with each story, each person. It’s too many projects for me to handle.
Now, after the travel, after the ceremony, we have a day of pausing. Where I focus down on work, and begin to realize how much I miss the dogs. Where I itchingly start counting days– How long til I’m sitting on that four wheeler? (It’s funny to count down to that. That’s the least glamorous, most annoying part of mushing– But I’m so excited for it I’m almost bouncing.)
The movement towards our first big step is equal parts terrifying and exciting. It is a movement I am both familiar with– in that I have trained teams over and over– and utterly new to– in that this is my first time training this team, this new pack of which I am part. To which I am beholden and bound to. I have done this before, but I’m brand new again with these friends, just as each of them is new to it, even the couple who have done this before. Our movement onward is a movement of teamwork and togetherness. We are lucky to be traveling this trail as one.
The final part of movement I’ve been musing on is running. That train of thought is a longer one, one I’ve started to write about and failed at, a few times.
I had big plans, hopes, dreams for running (as in, on my own two feet) this summer. And what happened was, I ran into a lot of walls about it. Depression manifests in odd ways. Maybe you contain– supersede– depression in some places in your life, but it leaks out in others. At least that’s how it works for me. This year, I have been able to keep depression at bay in certain facets. I of course feed and train and care for the dogs. This is an imperative, a non-negotiable. So depression doesn’t get to sit and pipe in for a lot of time during my day. But where a few years ago, I was able to push that voice of unreason aside in order to get my own feet on the ground, now that I’ve kicked it out of so much of my life, it settled back into my running shoes and took up residence. I have run so very little this year, and it’s been horrible. Because running– while not necessarily directly pleasant in my world– is very very good for me. I always feel so much better afterwards.
I think I trapped myself and my depression all together with running this year by wrapping us all up in a neat bow of expectation. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do it, and to do a lot of it. I tied the pressure up with the knowledge that I ran a lot two years ago. That I accomplished goals. So I told myself, in my least forgiving voice, that I ought to accomplish those same goals again. I gave no leniency or room for error or for failure. And my body and my brain, and our good buddy depression, said– Nope. No way. Screw this tiny closing-in prison you are creating. Why would I run? It’s zero fun.
I guess I didn’t do a great job with myself the way I try to do with the dogs. Where running is pure joy and positive. Where yeah, of course there is structure, but it’s always constructive, not destructive. No, for me it was either success or failure, and mostly failure. I just beat myself up because Today I Didn’t Run, and then the next day– Why would I even approach the idea? I killed the joy in it. There was no joy left and it just became a cycle of negativity.
So a couple weeks ago, I made a decision that was almost as tough by itself as the whole cycle of angry talking to myself and letting my angry self down. I decided not to run any more. I decided not to even try to exercise any more.
I made that choice because it was imminently clear that I had entered into a really poor and vicious cycle about all of it. A lot of that is related to my body and my weight, particularly. I have the talent of losing and gaining a pretty impressive amount of weight, depending on my activities. I’m on the gained side of things right now, and I’m not good about loving myself as I am. So I lever the hatred against my self and try to force my way into a boot camp that never works. The funny thing is, I’ve never in my life gotten into a healthy physical place (for me) by forcing my way into it. Generally I get there by forgetting about any of it, and focusing on a task, like mushing. When running worked for me, it was because I said screw trying to be something specific, and ran for the moment of running itself. I have lost sight of that now, so I’m giving myself a get out of jail free card. I need it. I am very talented at putting myself in my own prison. A prison of expectation and Supposed To’s.
I can’t say I’m happy about choosing to stop running right now. As we travel, and as I am not doing very much physically at all since I am not feeding dogs or working with dogs, I can tell my body is uncomfortable and unhappy. I am my happiest and most in sync self when I am working physically hard. I love my job; it’s the best job I’ve ever had and I’m sticking with it come hell or high water. But it’s not a physical job, and for me that’s a big first. My body is very very happy– like the dogs– to be used, to be working 8 or 10 or 20 hours a day. I sleep best, feel best then. Movement.
As an adult, I have to figure out how to incorporate that movement into a job where I sit. I had a fitbit, and that helped me remember to walk and move every hour. And concentrated exercise is key. When I was boxing at Mark’s Boxing Gym, I was able to attain the level of activity that was best for my body, even while I spent most of my day not moving.
The dogs keep me active, of course; and as our training increases, the demands on my body will increase. Which is good.
For now, though, in my hiatus from running, I am uncomfortable and unhappy. And, I can also tell that I am not quite yet ready to run without screaming at myself, internally, about what I should be doing. I am letting go of running– and exercising, even– until it is something I want to do, something I just go out and feel. I am not sure if this is the right way to go about this, but it’s what I’m trying. Trying to give myself some grace in where I’m at. Because trying to force my way into that healthy movement I need wasn’t working. So I’m trying to achieve that movement in the most backwards of fashions: by simply being still. Perhaps it’s a silly way to go. We will see. With so much movement around me, in our lives and our travels and our goals, it feels necessary to take a simple breath and stop moving at all. Stop walking around the mental house of my brain trying to fix everything, stop trying to absorb all of the stories and perspectives from every angle that seem to batter at me. Even stop trying to push and push forward, as though that is the only way through.
Instead, even if it is only in my head and my body, I will be quiet for a moment, and let all of this movement go by. Neither good nor bad, just as it is. Sometimes, maybe, this is the only way onward.