The Trick and the Steps

CW mental health issues (depression / anxiety)

Tonight, after I fed, I tricked myself.

Sometimes, I have to do this.

The world outside is… Difficult right now. And my interior world is not easy either. Which, in a time when people are suffering, it seems, so much, my internal struggle feels paltry and foolish.

And yet, I am stuck with the toddler that is my self, the irresponsible collection of impulses which demands: SUGAR! STAY IN BED ALL DAY! MINDLESS BINGEWATCHING THINGS! Escapism runs rampant. And my overlord voice, the punishing voice, says: YOU ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH. And, when the conflict between whatever vestige of self-preservation and the child-impulse-being and the way-too-extreme-punshing being reaches a head, I despair. It seems impossible, sometimes.

Outside of my head, the world is impossible as well. And I question what I’m doing. Does mushing matter when there are kids who need help, people who are starving to death; when societal systems grind and grind at populations, when there is injustice? And here am I, with a group of dogs. It feels very selfish, at those times.

Shawn amazes me, and inspires me. At least they, every day, do work towards a greater good. Helping kids, being there for young people who have need. (They, like most of my favorite people, it turns out, are a social worker.)

So why does what I’m doing matter? I ask myself this every day. I’m not sure that it does, on a worldly scale. Yet, I now have fourteen friends who depend on me. My little family.

I don’t have a good answer for this. What I know is that I am obligated, because of my very vast privilege and luck in having these dogs, in being able to mush– I am obligated to give back. I cannot do what I long to do, namely to isolate and escape. I would hole up in this cabin in the woods and never come out. Never speak, even. It’s my deepest, strangest desire.

So what can I do and what am I doing?

Though there is so much in the world that needs help, needs addressing, I’ve chosen to focus the efforts of ATAO specifically on mental health; on creating awareness about it, on showing that it’s real and also to give people some kind of shine of hope that you can do things like run Iditarod even if you do struggle with mental health. Because… Please see above. (If that’s vague, I’m trying to say, I struggle with depression and anxiety and god knows what else. Yay!)

There are some things coming up / in the works regarding that. Me just saying, You Can Do It while I go off and do it is copping out on that work. People have approached me after I write about this subject, and have let me know that they too deal with depression or anxiety, or that they have struggled with mental health in any of its other myriad forms, or that a family member has. I am glad that I can at least bring some conversation about this to the fore. There is such a stigma about it all. We’re so good, in our cozy little society, at hiding the realities of our pain behind our smiling masks.

But, concrete (beginning) things to do: 1. I am gathering some resources to show here at ATAO for folks who are going through mental health issues or who have friends and family who are. 2. I am really really excited to be working with the Fairbanks Wellness Coalition. They are doing a lot in the Fairbanks community to promote wellness, particularly around mental health.

The Fairbanks Wellness Coalition (FWC) was created in 2014.  Our purpose is to foster wellness through primary prevention and advocacy, and our vision is a community where all generations experience wellness in mind, body and spirit. To obtain wellness in mind, body and spirit, we believe it’s important to strive to fulfill all eight dimensions of wellness.  We use them to guide our work.  These dimensions are intertwined and include (1) emotional (2) financial (3) social (4) spiritual (5) occupational (6) physical (7) intellectual and (8) environmental.

FWC offers classes in how to listen, recognize, and refer towards help folks who may be struggling with depression or suicidal ideation, thoughts, or plans. I am going to take the class to learn about these skills. Although I have past experience on one end of this, I don’t actually know enough (or much at all) about how to help others around me who are struggling. To me, this is an important and responsible step to take in my own community. Hopefully it will allow me to further give back to that community once I have more resources under my belt. I’ll update more about work with FWC. I am really grateful they exist here. I am also learning about other ways I can contribute to the community here through the coalition. I’ll be doing some volunteer work with FWC and hopefully more organizations down the line.

When things get overwhelming, the only thing you can do is take a step.

I have to remind myself of this on the daily. I remember it in terms of a dog race. Somehow, dog races seem so much more manageable than life. Perhaps because in a dog race, things are concentrated and ultimate. If you give up, you will be sitting on a frozen river in -60. The stakes are very high. So, you just do what you have to do. And what you have to do, is just do the next step. Put on the next bootie. Paddle the next mile. Feed the next dog.

Over and over I have to remind myself to apply that to life. To the world. I cannot fix all the things that feel horribly off. But I can do one thing. Be kind in one way. Try to help a little. And also, try to take care of the screaming disaster child that is my internal self.

So here is where I tricked myself.

I will come clean. I am not doing awesome at pushing myself to run. I was doing well for a bit, but our trip to Homer threw me off. As I get older, I am more and more dependent on routine– or maybe I’m just more willing to recognize my dependence– and any break in that routine is seismic. I have to re-callibrate. I was telling myself, the other day, I need to practice being like a snail. Keeping my home, my routine, on my back, carrying it with me. Maintaining the routine despite a change in location.

Regardless, I’ve been in a slump since I got back from that trip. Last night, after feeding, without thinking too much, I turned on my MapMyRun app and pushed go and took off running.

The trick was that I was dressed for feeding, which means Carhartts and a hoodie and hat. I was wearing running shoes– very old ones I have repurposed as yard shoes. They don’t even have laces. I didn’t care. I just went. Not far. Just two miles. Running down the road in Carhartts. I probably looked really odd out there. But I did it. I took the step. And then, because I was a sweaty hot mess, I also took a shower. Sometimes self care tricks are the best tricks. Sometimes they are the only trick I have in my bag.

So this post is about how the world is tough, and my insides are tough, and we keep going anyway. Because we have to. Just like a dog race. It probably doesn’t seem as dire. Sitting down, quitting. Tuning out. But I think, in a way, you are as sure to die flipping channel after channel, cutting off your care (for the world or yourself), as you are if you sat on the trail in the sub zero temps.

So we won’t quit. Even when it’s hard, even when we have to kind of trick ourselves to do it. We’ll help each other. We’ll help ourselves. We’ll take the step.

It’s all we can do.


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