The need to not be needed
|March 2, 2021||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
It’s been eight years since I’ve ridden across the start line of a 100 mile endurance race.
When Tevis 2013 ended at 85 miles, I never imagined it would be more than a year or two before I visited Fransico’s in the middle of the night again. I loved the trail, the sport, and had some talented horses. Farley could go again and MerryLegs was right behind her.
But then the years passed and not only did I not do Tevis, I wasn’t even really riding any more.
Endurance didn’t completely end for me that summer of 2013. I rode some 50 milers as late as 2016, but then….nothing.
It took me a while to be completely honest with myself, but I’m ready to come out and say it. I have zero interest in riding AERC endurance right now.
I want to want it.
But that’s about as close as I’m getting nowadays.
Since kids, career, and marriage all happened after 2013, it would be easy to settle on these as the reasons and start the tired old conversation about time, priorities, and “stages of life.”
It’s 100% none of those things.
I have the time, the ambition, and the money to devote to something as utterly useless as a 100 mile trail event. Let’s get real. I freaking run 100’s and have attempted at least six of those since 2016 (I’m at least 2 glasses of wine into this post. Don’t ask me to do math or truthful recollection at this point).
Also, I’m less broke than I’ve ever been in my life.
Also, I technically work less hours per week than I ever have before.
I pay for others to take care of my child during regular business hours even when I’m *gasp* not at work.
So why does the idea of riding a 100 miler make me want to crawl into bed and never leave, but I’m totally down for running one?
When you run a 100 the only thing you have to think about is yourself.
How am *I* feeling?
Do *I* want to change the pace?
What do *I* want to do for the next 29 hours and how do *I* want to do it?
It’s so much more complicated with the horse.
How is the horse feeling? What does the horse need? How is the horse going to feel about whatever is ahead of us on the trail? Am I going to have to be the adult in this situation and tell her she can’t run with her friend’s. Is she going to sulk during the afternoon? Can I take my hands off the reins to grab a quick snack? Was that a lame step? How about that one? Is the saddle OK? Is that one spot that sometimes rubs rubbing? Let’s double check that tack one more time.
I love riding. I love my horses. My horses are not high maintenance.
They still require me to step outside of myself and be self-less. They require me to rein (heh heh heh) in my own emotions and feelings for the sake of theirs.
Why would this matter so much?
This brain wasn’t cut out to be married, with a child, and in a career where my job is caring for others and depends on interacting with others (I love surgery but it’s not something you do in a bubble!).
I don’t know exactly what this brain was designed for, but as close as I can tell, it probably involves being outside and alone for significant portions of time.
Here’s the thing. I can do the married with child thing if I choose my medicine niche carefully to minimize sensory overload and too much social interactions. But the trade off is my recreational time cannot also be spent being responsible for someone else.
I want to pause here because I’m aware that for someone whose brain is wired a little differently than mine, this about where you are probably saying “get over yourself you selfish little twit! Other people are life! Family is important! Welcome to being an adult and especially a parent! Suck it up buttercup!
Words like “selfish,” “inconsiderate,” and “fragile snowflake” come to mind.
But here’s the truth.
It’s over simplifying it to merely call myself introvert. Sometimes I do point this out because everyone *knows* about introverts and extroverts and even if you think introverts are weirdo aliens, you’ve heard of the concept that some people need to be “alone” to recharge.
But you, my Dear Reader, aren’t fooled. I can see it in your eyes and the way you are tilting your head. “Alone yes, but 5 hours by yourself on the trail with the wild animals, preferably in the middle of the night, ‘alone’? That sounds kind of extreme. You don’t seem like *that* much of an introvert.”
Ok ok ok you are right.
I have this constant low-level anxiety when I’m around other humans because 36 years into this life, I still can’t figure out how I’m supposed arranging the parts of my face to resemble the appropriate responses to a script that everyone else apparently has been reading since birth, except me.
I can’t remember your name because I’m too busy trying to not laugh at the wrong time and anticipate the correct response and match my body language to the words that probably need to come out of my mouth in response whatever you are saying.
On top of all this, I am an empath. In some cruel irony, not only do I feel too little most of the time (OK, someone DIED, arrange my eyebrows in sad configuration with a sympathetic head tilt), I sense and feel too much from others AT THE SAME TIME. So now I’m taking deep breaths and maybe not looking you in the eye because every time I do I feel like I’m being suffocated because of all the undercurrents and feelings radiating off the people and animals around me that may or may not be consistent to what they are SAYING. (You know that pit of fear you get in your stomach when you are dealing with a shut down horse that looks so very calm and you know that it’s a ticking time bomb that could go off at any time? That’s what it feels like for me to deal with people that aren’t consistent with their words and their behavior).
Now let’s add in a life-time of sensory overload issues, especially when it comes to noise and touching. Recorded music playing in the background? Large amounts of background noise? Startling sudden noises? Too much talking where I can’t see people’s faces? Too much touching? Maybe my clothes don’t feel exactly right.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’m actually an extrovert with special sauce.
I crave and need social interaction, but it also feels like drowning. Afterwards I feel like every nerve is exposed and raw and the only way to fix it is alcohol or falling off the radar for a while. As risky as some of my trail adventures can be, I know better than to medicate with alcohol, so off I go into the woods.
I’m not unique. There’s plenty of people who struggle with the same things I do. For those of you reading this – I see you and I get it. Know your brain, respect your brain, and find your coping mechanisms that makes life magical.
The last thing I want to do is spend another 20 hours of my free time caring for another creature’s needs in detail for “fun” after I’ve existed in my current life configuration
For my mind to stay sane and not turn into a bitter, angry socially-unacceptable lunatic I need my alone time.
Without touching anyone, without the fear of someone touching me, and without having to think of someone else’s needs.
I want to escape to the wilderness and be utterly selfish. I want to sit on a rock and cry if I want to. Drop back and run by myself when I want to. Spend 3 minutes or 30 minutes in an aid station if I want to. Completely zone out and forget about everything except the day dreams in my head if I want to for a couple of hours.
I can’t do that when I’m riding a 100, caring for and being responsible for another creature’s needs. I can do that when I run one.
During a race I can choose to help my fellow runners around me when needed and be a social creature….but often, even if not by choice, there are long hours of running and contemplation on your own during ultras. The longer the ultra, the more time you spend on your own.
To be perfectly honest a 200 mile race sounds really appealing.
So with this is mind, when do I start riding 100s again?
I don’t know.
But it probably won’t be until there is a job or household change.
Riding 100’s has been my “why”for horses since I was 19 years old. The question is, what does my horse life look like now that that it isn’t?
I don’t know.
But understanding the problem is often the first step in the right direction.
Mel! This is an excellent post. Heck yes, running in the wilds without another living being’s welfare in your immediate hands is the ultimate freedom, I call it putting on your own oxygen mask first. If your well-being is solid and addressed, you’re an asset to society. Just my personal approach. I enjoy reading about your distance adventures, running and otherwise. Keep up the brave reflections and musings!
Mel, I’ve been trying to comment on your last 5 posts or so because they have all resonated with me so much (especially your ER stories!) But this one REALLY hit the nail on the head for me. I have the same problems as you as an empath, and it took me 35 years walking on this earth to figure that half of my issues with people were rooted in my feeling way too much from them.
“ You know that pit of fear you get in your stomach when you are dealing with a shut down horse that looks so very calm and you know that it’s a ticking time bomb that could go off at any time? That’s what it feels like for me to deal with people that aren’t consistent with their words and their behavior.” <- THIS. YES!!!!
I took up competitive strength sports for precisely the same reason you run ultras: all I have to focus on is myself. It is so EASY after having to worry about TWO horses and another human (my husband) on the endurance trail.
Currently figuring out what horses without endurance looks like for me now as well.
I love all of your writing. There are so many parallels between your life and mine: your posts often put into words things that I’ve been thinking but haven’t been able to express. Thank you. ❤️
Tha m you. That is why I write – because I KNOW there are other people like you reading that feel the same way and need the validation of hearing that someone else is also traveling that same road. For whatever reason, I can do that right now so I do. Always good to hear from you and I love your pics and vids on Instagram.
Totally get it. Though I am NOT good at caring for others, as I am not an empathetic person (I try, but…). Caring for my horse is the one thing I don’t seem to mind. That being said, this last year of no competitions has been great. I’ve been having more fun on the trail with the horse than ever (most days, there are moments!), I don’t think about going back to competition. I am glad you have found what works for you, and one day I’ll see you on the trails, with or without a horse!
That’s what I’ve settled on I think for the upcoming year. Just ride without any thought towards any sort of competition. I could see myself doing WDRA rides in the future but I really just wanna see where a summer of riding just for the sake of riding takes me.
Been reading your blog for years, as I got back into horses after a 20 year hiatus and re-trained myself to become a therapist. My life choices are ruled by my own ADHD + ? brain, and I spend hours a day discussing neurodiversity and self acceptance with people from 13-65 years old. Your blog posts on how things work for you make me want cheer and shout “THIS, people – you just have to figure out what works for YOU.” So, thanks for your insights 🙌. Deeply appreciate- personally and professionally.
Wow! Thank you!
I found this post very moving and intimate. While I am sorry not to get to read about your horses and conditioning, I hope you are finding joy with them in other ways. For myself, I am enjoying more arena work and focusing on becoming the best rider I can be. Awesome that you have figured out how to take care of yourself so you can take care of others in your life. Happy trails!
Thank you so much for this post (and all of your other posts). This one resonated with me sooooo much! I have so much guilt for what I’m NOT doing with the horses in my life and your post made me realize why. I’m still working through how to fix it, but at least now I know I’m not alone in this whole thing. Often reading your posts is like looking into a mirror — you so eloquently put into words all of those feelings that my brain can’t find a way to process into an understandable format. I appreciate every word you write. Thank you.
Nodding my head, and nodding again.
I am out of competition for different reasons, but still, I’m out. If everything changed, and I suddenly had a trustworthy athletic, 7 year old equine partner (basically, the Dragon’s clone), I kind think I might still be out of competition. In theory, I quit because Fee doesn’t want to play the game any more, and that’s fair. In reality, the sport got super-people-y there at the end (2016ish), and the last thing I needed then (or now) is intense people stuff.
So, you and I will still have horses, but there are other things to do with horses. I’ve discovered long-distance riding, as in: take 3 weeks and ride my horse most of the way across the state. I’ve signed up for that again–although it happens as a group event, I’m not obligated to do much interacting unless I want to do it. Also, it’s a much easier pace, which makes my Dragon much happier. What will you discover? I’ll be reading to find out, because you often have really cool adventures.