Saturday, October 29, 2022

Losing my religion

The summit of Blue Sky (Mount Evans) on Oct. 15 — honestly my only October activity that I could label an "adventure," and it was a pretty mild one.

"Whereas positive self-help encourages you to create ambitious goals, to reach for the stars, to "follow your dreams"— *vomits*— negative self-help reminds you that your fucking dreams are probably narcissistic delusions (or just burrito cravings) and you should probably just shut the fuck up and get to work on something meaningful."
— Mark Manson 

I have been in such a funk this month. A few days ago, I decided to embrace the superstition that it’s an October thing, a cursed month, and the light will start to return when November arrives. I realize this is objectively far from true — the end of DST and 4:30 p.m sunsets and all. Also, election season is an awful time of the year. I turned in my ballot yesterday but beyond that, I can’t even think about it without becoming upset. Still, I needed something to anticipate. “Soon it will be Nov. 1, and the clouds will begin to lift, and then … what?” 

Fall was particularly gorgeous this year, hanging on for weeks. So why was I so ... meh?

I don’t have a race on my calendar. That’s a first for me since I stumbled into this hobby 17 years ago. Even when everything fell apart in 2020, I clung to homemade challenges and virtual racing. I organized a 160-mile Winter Solstice challenge with a women’s group on Facebook and a 200K “Fat Pursuit” fat bike ride in Leadville with friends. 2020-2021 hardly counted as a break from racing. Still, even when I was aggressively powering through the setbacks posed by the pandemic, I could feel my spiritual tides shifting. The turning point really happened earlier, during the 2020 Iditarod, when I had a “big dream” crushed and gained a more clear-eyed view of the complex issues that would prevent me from ever surmounting that challenge. 

After my dad died in 2021, I tried to power through two different endurance events. Both raised the even more devastating question of “what purpose did this ever serve?” I was in such deep emotional pain during the 2021 Utah Mixed Epic and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m worse off for having tried it than not. I went back to the 2022 Iditarod with my fat bike and a plan to simply “joy ride” the short route but … I was miserable. The experience had its moments, but none of the soaring joys I’d come to depend on during these adventures. I suppose the best way I can succinctly describe my current feelings about endurance racing is that the suffering used to mean something, but now it doesn’t. This is its own loss, its own source of grief. 

 Earlier this week, the ITI organization released the list of participants for the 2023 race. Beat is on this list, of course. Most of the names are familiar. Many of the same people return year after year. In the past, when asked about why this is, I’d reply along the lines of, “Every race offers a unique and intense experience that’s worth the sacrifices.” But this week, going over the list, I thought, “Those poor souls. They’re still trapped.” I immediately laughed at myself for having this thought because it made the Iditarod sound like some kind of cult that I'd escaped. But then a more sober realization struck … maybe that is the way I’m thinking about this now. 

I knocked out several fast runs around the Walker Ranch loop this month. Normally I'd be more excited about that.

Racing provided meaningful structure in my life. It was a destination, an exciting future, something to push me out the door in the wind and rain. Training for races created colorful threads that I could weave into the mundanity of everyday routine. I never believed I needed the anticipation of a goal to boost these micro-adventures. But then October — typically the start of my winter season — rolled around, and my interest in adventure fell off a cliff. I had a lot going on this month, with a long build of biweekly immunotherapy shots to treat my worsening asthma, car issues, physical therapy appointments, and a remote copy editing job that pins me to tight deadlines four days a week. Still, I had time to get out, the weather has been good, and the air quality has been superb. Even my fitness has been above average. Usually when I’m in a “slump,” it’s because I’m struggling physically. But I’ve been running well, setting PRs on routes I’ve frequented for nearly seven years, and improving my downhill technique. And yet … I’m just not feeling it. It feels like I’m running on autopilot, going through the motions. I feel little emotion about the beauty around me and little interest in my successes. I feel “meh,” which is alarming and unlike me, in every aspect of myself I’ve come to understand. So who am I? What am I even doing? 

 Another issue with October is that I’ve been deeply frustrated about my health. A physical on Sept. 23 revealed alarmingly high cholesterol (honestly, it’s alarming) and mildly high TSH, both indicators of hypothyroidism. The mildly high TSH is key; I don’t meet the clinical standard for treatment. (For those who are familiar with thyroid stuff and who are curious, my TSH is 5.25 uIU/mL; the clinical range is considered 0.4-4.5. There’s a lot of good evidence that most people, especially those of us with autoimmune thyroid disease, feel best below 2.5, but doctors typically don’t recommend treatment until TSH is over 10.) My primary care doctor recommended a wait-and-see approach, which is perfectly reasonable. But in the meantime, I’ve got this cholesterol issue that I must try to address with diet, meaning I had to give up ice cream and chocolate and other comfort foods that admittedly help boost me out of the depths. I’ve been on a diet for a month and this does not bring me joy. My mental health, meanwhile, is precariously perched on a terrible tightrope. I’ve experienced some debilitating lows, often at strange times — like while I’m running outdoors. Other times bring awful anxiety spikes, where I’m extremely on edge and even trembling, again at strange times — like while sitting in the waiting room at my allergy clinic. 

Running on Green Mountain earlier this week. I had been crying just seconds earlier but wasn't trying to depict a strangely volatile emotional state. I wanted my usual Strava selfie with the marginal dusting of the season's first snow. There's a lot to unpack about all of that ...

 I’m just not loving life right now, and there doesn't seem to be an obvious solution. Friends have recommended seeking medication for anxiety/depression, but I have a lot of concerns about this route. I can’t shake the thought that treating my thyroid health — before it again becomes a dangerous problem like it did in 2017 — might be a better place to start. After all, I had significant cognitive symptoms when I was hyperthyroid. On Friday, I paid out of pocket for further testing and learned that while my TPOAb (the antibodies typically present in Hashimoto’s Disease) are very high, my thyroid hormones fall in the normal range. My thyroid is stressed but it’s doing its job, which is probably why I’m not experiencing more obvious symptoms — such as a decline in fitness. So I have to concede — the wait-and-see approach makes the most sense. But I’d rather wait and see about my thyroid before I head down the SSRI road, which may mean straddling this mental health tightrope for the foreseeable future. 

Phew, I did not mean to take this tangent, but it feels good to write it all out. Another mental-health strategy I’ve been pondering is going back to therapy, which is obviously the first step on the SSRI road. I’ve not given therapy a lot of effort but had an extremely mixed experience with a therapist that I started seeing via Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. She showed me useful coping mechanisms and helped me sort through my fears in 2020. But things were starting to fall apart even before my father died, and her stunning lack of empathy in the aftermath was traumatizing. I recognize that finding the right therapist is its own battle, but it’s just so daunting. I don’t want to endure more trauma while trying to “fix” my mental health. Face-to-face interaction, in general, is already so difficult and stressful for me (yes, even on Zoom.) If I’m going to invest the high amount of energy required for talk therapy, I want real solutions. I do not need someone to tell me to kind to myself or remind me to practice self-care. I need someone who can guide me in the pursuit of truth and living a purposeful life in a broken civilization on a dying planet. I suppose what I really need is philosophy … or religion. 

We finally got some real snow on Thursday. It was short-lived and I knew it would be, but I was still surprised to not be more stoked that snow season has arrived. 

The recent shake-up on Twitter has bummed me out. My first thought about everyone leaving now that Elon is at the helm is, “Oh no, my ex-Mo friends.” I have, weirdly, recently latched onto a community of former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion I left in my late teens. Most of my family members are still active in this religion. I have a desire to better understand them, and a few rather innocuous search terms are likely how these algorithms landed on my feed. Still, it’s been helpful to read about the experiences of people who are processing the loss of deeply-held faith. I’ve wondered if this is because I feel a similar loss in endurance racing … a soaring form of worship in its own right. My community and many of my relationships are tied up in outdoor adventure. The Twitter ex-Mos — who are helping me process the religious issues I never did when I was 19 years old — are also offering outside perspective into what might come next, if the spiritual fire does indeed go out. 

 When I think about a purposeful life, I envision some idyllic version of Mary Oliver — taking my messy and discontented self for daily walks in the woods to commune with nature and emerge with beautiful poetry that I send out into the world so others can feel less alone as we all walk into a messy and frightening future. However, I am not nearly the artist that Mary Oliver was, and I’m not so enlightened that I can be content with walks in the woods. I still need novelty and excitement, ego-driven “achievements” and lazy comforts. I couldn’t even give up ice cream without being grumpy about it; it’s unlikely I’ll ever shed my extensive vices. 

 Still, putting my energy toward something — anything — that feels meaningful in a positive way is a necessary pursuit. I don’t know exactly what this thing is, or if it even needs to be tangible … maybe striving to be a good person is enough. Maybe love is enough. Maybe going into the woods, mostly alone but sometimes with someone who I love very much, in the backyard of this place I am extremely lucky to live … is enough. The universe is infinite and indifferent and I’ll never understand even an infinitesimal fraction of the truth in a lifetime of searching — but I understand that beauty and light go on. Maybe that’s enough. 

 Longevity might not be on my side — objectively, the odds aren't in my favor. Every day is a gift. If there’s one positive self-help platitude I can embrace, it’s making every day count.


  1. My wife and I each have a therapist we really like:
    Aaron Galloway, (mine)

    Johanna Lindau, (my wife’s)

    They’re in Boulder and each will do either in-person and video sessions (I’ve never been to Aaron’s office).

  2. Wow. Nothing like a good "dump" to start turning "things" around. At least it works for me...sometimes. I blame Social Media for dividing us (the world, for that matter) into oppositional extremes at war (literally) with each other. A documentary with a group of Digital figureheads (from google etc.) predicted that social media sights are going to reduce us (USA) to another civil war. It sometimes makes it difficult to put on a happy face and go hop scotching out the door. It helps me to return to immerse myself in nature. It's truly the only positive constant, and it is the source of my "religion" in this Post-Race life I now find myself in @ 72 years of of today. If there is any truth to the old adage that "talking it out" helps, this post might help you feel better. At least know there is a huge audience who is pulling for you to find that "missing piece."
    Box Canyon Mark in Lovely Ouray...about to head south as I don't deal with cold winters, snow, shorter daylight hours and being relegated to heavy clothes and snowshoes as my only options to chase away the yearly inner demons.

  3. Have you had your hormones checked? Also I'd highly recommend a 12 step group even one online if you prefer. Going this alone is not healthy. Hang in there.

  4. Jill my admired friend, I feel enormous sympathy for you. I lack any meaningful comments, such as advice. On the slim chance you do not know, I personally love you for who you are. Many people admire you. It is probably a moot offer, since I cannot think of a single thing to offer, but will do so if you need.
    Rich Runser, Chugiak, AK

  5. You don't need a therapist. You need to be born again by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. He can change EVERYTHING!! He can set you FREE from the cares of this world and even from that decaying body of flesh. He offers more than you could ever imagine. I am a walking talking testimony!

    You like adventures??? Well if you would like to here of the amazing journey that Jesus has taken me on for the last 6 years just email me @ I went from being completely agnostic and in the darkest moment of my life to having a supernatural encounter with The Creator of ALL things. My life has not been the same since! NOTHING is by chance!


Feedback is always appreciated!