A Reserve of Power: Pacing Myself for the Second Half of the Marathon

TW: sexual abuse, child abuse, PTSD, death

“Mountaineers, however, always find themselves a reserve of power after great exhaustion. It is a kind of second life, available only in emergencies like this; and, having proved its existence, I had no great fear that either of us would fail.” John Muir

I’m telling myself it’s the election. I’m telling myself it’s sleep-depravation. I’m telling myself, please, please, that the trauma won’t all come crashing back. I’m telling myself that the progress I made this summer at The Refuge won’t be undone. I’m telling myself I’m strong. I’m not going to regress. I cannot afford to regress.

This started Friday night. I had memories about my ex sexually abusing me.

That night I had nightmares about my mom beating me.

The next day, it was the professor who raped me, sober, on a date—that will be eight years ago this coming December 5th. I dread December 5th.

That same day, Saturday, was Halloween. I shouldn’t have gone out. I had forgotten that Halloween is probably the hardest day of the year for me. My friend and I went to phenomenal outdoor dining in Midtown Manhattan, sharing mussel shooters, kale and goat cheese and pomegranate salad, and lobster curry with just a touch of heat. Blueberry mint mocktails. Then we left the restaurant and immediately passed, amid girls in stilettos and tiny cocktail dresses (and masks of course), a life-sized decorative fake skeleton. Why the fuck do people find that festive; who ever thought that was a good idea?

I am a child of just eight years. I am standing before a massive, gaping, steel crematorium. My sister, a head taller than me, is at my left hand. Our stepfather: above us, six feet tall. And stretched out on a platform before me and my sister, beneath him, but nearly eye-level to me, is a burnt body—crumbling white and black bones, a woman, her remains not yet ground down. I will never forget her face—but God, I wish I could.

A mortuary is not a good place to raise children.

I can’t let the memories make me sick again.

I can’t let the election make me sick, either.

And I can’t let myself burn out again.

I met with my psychiatrist today for the first time since my brief drinking lapse in mid-September. I needed him today. You see, From September 16th to December 5th are a series of trauma anniversaries for me.

After we met, about half an hour of flashbacks later, I was straight for my prescription anxiety meds that I am careful not to abuse. I’d been squeezing my eyes closed, covering my face with my palms, and repeating aloud to myself, It doesn’t matter doesn’t matter doesn’t matter. It’s in the past in the past in the past. Doesn’t matter doesn’t matter…

I tried to lie down, having stayed up late last night even though I had promised myself not to turn on the news until today. But lying down—that has never been a safe position for me. I feel vulnerable, helpless. I feel it’s happening all over again, right now. My wrists held down, my body thrown around. Degradation. Shame. And pain: above all, pain.

My psychiatrist and I talked about a lot today. I prepared a list in advance.

I just received a promotion at work. I learned of the possibility three weeks ago; and yesterday it became official. I’m excited. I’m looking forward. I’d throw myself a sober party, were we not in the throws of a heartbreaking pandemic. But also, I’m worried. I cannot afford to burn out again.

Like John Muir found, I need to summon a reserve of strength, not only to power through the next week before my big presentation at work, but also to survive the anniversaries coming one right after another. Two down, plus Halloween; and the next, this Saturday. I cannot afford to let the memories break me anymore. I need to smash this presentation; everyone important will be there. But I am not ready.

I’ve found it difficult to focus. I’m not listening to my dietitian. I’m worried about my weight. I’m smoking a lot and drinking Monsters. I know I shouldn’t do these things. But my feelings are overwhelming. My to-do list is mountainous. I’m under a lot of pressure—some of it external, but most of it I’ve put upon myself. And I feel headed straight toward burnout.

My psychiatrist reminded me of this pattern: I get a promotion, I do great, then I burn out and crash. He encouraged me to say “no” at work. Then he reminded me of my running.

I’m a marathon runner, although I’ve not had a race in a few years due to injury after injury. He asked about my pace. I wasn’t sure where he was going.

“9:35 was my best half marathon pace, but,” (now I’m sheepish and embarrassed), “a full I’m more like 11:35. Maybe 12. More like 12.”

He reflected to me that I can’t run a full marathon at a half marathon pace. He encouraged me to pace myself, to slow down. I’m running a marathon here. Life is a marathon, not a half. I must reserve my energy, or my legs will break down.

I had come asking for relief from trauma, and his suggestion was to slow down. Slow down.

It’s hard guidance to follow. But he’s right, like he always is. Just get through the next week, I’m telling myself. In one week my presentation will be over, and then I can breathe, regroup.

Through this next week, I will rely upon that great reserve of power that John Muir found found on that mountain amid a storm. Then, I will slow my pace.

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