Something Wild.

Something Wild. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

Something Wild is actually a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately. The lyrics inspire me, the melody awakens me, and the song makes me realize how much I’ve grown. Training for my 57 mile run is changing me. The long training runs give me time to look at myself in retrospect, to look at the broken path I’ve run down, and realize how I built the road before me with those pieces.

You had your maps drawn
You had other plans to hang your hopes on
Every road they let you down felt so wrong
So you found another way

Running helps define who I am and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

My running career has been anything but simple. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. A hike with so many peaks and valleys I’ve lost count of the times I’ve stood triumphantly at the summit and felt lost in the low depressions, surrounded by seemingly unclimbable hills and towering pines. But still I run, blindly following where my feet guide me next.

Running brings peace and calmness to my life. When I’ve struggled in my personal life and/or professional life, running is what helped me disconnect from the madness. There are times where I felt so lost, I wasn’t sure if the path I was traveling down was the right one. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes the road cracked and crumbled beneath my feet. Sometimes I came to a dead end and couldn’t imagine turning around and going back down the twisted way I’d already stumbled through. But in these times I could always clear my mind with a run through the woods. And when I was injured, I visualized myself being back out there – breathing in and out, a methodical rhythm, one foot softly landing before the other across a leaf-strewn path.

And I found another way.

You’ve got a big heart
The way you see the world
It got you this far
You might have some bruises
And a few scars
But you know you’re gonna be okay

For as long as I can remember, I cared most about everyone but myself. Whether it was a boy, friend, family or boss, I was terrified of disappointing anyone in my life. I always put myself last in hopes it would mean I would never lose those people in my life. It worked for a little awhile, until the stress and anxiety caused me to disintegrate. Other than family, I lost those people anyways. It wasn’t until recently, as I was struggling to find my diagnosis with lyme, did I learn it’s okay to put myself first and take care of the pain I felt.

I do have many bruises and scars, and it’s okay. I used to be embarrassed of who I used to be and the things I did. By no means am I proud of myself in some of those instances, but I no longer feel the urgency to keep the “old me” locked away and secret, in fear of being judged. I don’t care if you judge me or see me in a different light. I don’t care if you know I struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder – I’ll put it out there bluntly for you because those things don’t define who I am anymore. They never did (as much as I thought so in the moment). It took me a really long time to realize this, and even though it’s been many years, I don’t think I could understand until I was truly okay.

And even though you’re scared
You’re stronger than you know

I’m not ashamed of the old me. The old me is one of the strongest people I know.

And I’ve only gotten stronger.

If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding
Caught in all, the stars are hiding
That’s when something wild calls you home, home
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen
Chase the sky into the ocean
That’s when something wild calls you home, home

Nature heals. And running allows me to experience the world in such unique fashion. There is an orchestral interlude during Something Wild where the violinist plays a folksy melody reminding me specifically of running through Ireland’s green countryside with my dad and Erin. We headed out early in the morning from our rental cottage near the sea, the salty air filling our lungs and hearts. The narrow roads were lined with large archaic-looking stones, and we hopped through them, onto a strait through the receded bay where herds of sheep grazed lazily, thinking nothing of the rising tide to come later. I don’t remember the conversations had (and it’s possible we ran mostly in silence, taking in the beautiful landscape around us) but I do remember the green, the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, and the languished squawks of seabirds above. I remember this lightness in my chest and calmness in my mind as we ran in a line toward the sea, and the sun rose higher above us. There was no other place we were supposed to be in that moment, experiencing the freedom and beauty of Ireland before most people were even awake.

On this same trip, I can also remember sitting in a small pub late at night with my family, as my parents sipped Guinness and we listened to a band playing traditional Irish jigs and reels. As we sat in the dim pub, my parents tapping their feet to the fast beat, I sat hunched over my notebook writing endlessly. Back then, I was in my early teens, I used to carry paper with my everywhere so I could write my stories whenever I had a chance. The music inspired me, and even though I never looked up from my paper, I felt as if I was experiencing that pub and music in the best way possible. At one point, the lead musician came over to my parents and commented he had been watching me the whole time during the set and noticed I hadn’t stopped writing once. My parents said, “she’s a writer,” and my heart swelled with pride. As I scribbled out my story the rest of the night, I thought of myself as a real writer, and imagined myself doing it as a profession.

These moments of clarity are living. These are the memories I hold nearest to my heart, and running has given many to me.

Lately, I am tired of feeling trapped, spinning in the same circle as I try to find the right balance between my responsibilities. For a long time, I forgot I am a writer, even though my younger self was so sure. I lost my writing after college to a high demand job, and then my brain fog from lyme took my vocabulary. And as it’s slowly coming back, I know I AM still a storyteller.

When I left my job in communications just about two years ago, I left for several reasons. I was sick, I was unhappy, and I wanted to bring back meaning to my life, which otherwise felt stale. I wanted to rediscover myself and see if it was possible for me to take part in my life again, instead of standing by and watching it whirl by in front of me. And while it was hard to let go of who I thought I was, it ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Being a disappointment to family and friends has always been one of my greatest fears, but when I finally stood up to my fear and left the job to focus on finding what truly made me happy, I became an even better person. I learned it doesn’t matter what you think others think of you and the choices you make in your life, because ultimately it’s your life. And your happiness matters most. You don’t have to have a corporate job to be successful and respected by others. And I didn’t learn this until I let go of the standard we’re taught that without a corporate/professional job after college we are not successful.

There is not just one equation for success.

I believe happiness is the ultimate success.

Sometimes the past can
Make the ground beneath you feel like a quicksand
You don’t have to worry
You reach for my hand
Yeah I know you’re gonna be okay
You’re gonna be okay

When I envision myself running 57 miles I don’t think about being sick or past injuries I struggled through. No matter the injury or sickness I was dealing with, I always planned to get back to running. I was always hopeful and believed in my ability to get back to the roads and trails where I could be myself.

When I stress fractured my hip my senior year of high school it nearly broke me, but I persevered and ran a personal best in the 5k once healed. After my knee injury and surgery in college, a surgeon told me I should never run again, and certainly not long distance. But I believed in myself. And after I taught myself how to walk again, I taught myself how to run again. And I started slow and the process was painful and challenging, but it was all worth it when two years later I ran my first marathon. Giving up is something foreign to me. Don’t ever let someone else tell you what you can and cannot do.

I don’t let my past injuries and challenges in life define how I look at the future. 57 miles is the biggest challenge I’ve ever embarked on, and even though I have a past riddled with injuries it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. After being a competitive long distance runner for 18 years, I know my mind needs to be stronger than my body. And I’ve never been surer my positive mentality will carry me through. I couldn’t run for three weeks before my 50k this past April, but once I got out there on the trails I fell into the same mentality I always have during runs: a blank tranquility only focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again.

So, I guess what the song helped me realize is it’s okay to take a different path than the one you always expected yourself to go down. It’s okay to have a complex past, to see yourself in different stages of life as different people who finally grew into the wonderful person you are today. Having the urge to be free from every day routines is natural. I know every once and awhile I need to immerse myself in nature, set myself loose into the wild.

Because the wild is home to me.

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Visiting the Past.

Slowly, the small room comes into focus. I rub my eyes and roll over on the small cot of a bed, which I’ve been tossing and turning on all night.  My husband lays next to me, crammed up against the wall and I shake my head wondering how we used to share a twin bed comfortably like this back in college. In my rush to book housing for Bucknell Reunion, I forgot to book a double room for myself and Dave, and now we were paying the price. My phone vibrates loudly against the wooden desk and the room is so small I’m able to reach my arm across the floor and grab my phone while staying sprawled in bed. There’s a slight ache in my head and my throat feels incredibly dry.  It’s an odd familiarity, this situation – the feeling as if I have done this same act plenty of times before. That’s when I realize it – I’m hungover.

The text messages are from Erin.  Are we riding or what? I’ve been on the trainer since 6 AM. 

The last thing I trust myself doing is navigating my little road bike on the rainy roads outside but I enthusiastically reply yes! anyways. After all, we’re at Bucknell. And riding the old country roads we used to race down five years ago is so enticing I can’t pass the opportunity up. It takes about 25 minutes for me to pull myself together. Before I know it, Erin and I are standing in the narrow hallway outside my dorm room with our bikes, getting ready to head out for our ride. The hall even smells like my time at college.

“How’d you sleep?” I ask.

“Like shit,” Erin replies, “If we ever come back for Reunion weekend again, we are NOT staying in the dorms.”

I nod my head in agreement and try to get myself to focus on anything other than my headache. Because of lyme treatment, it’s been close to eight months since I’ve come anywhere near to being tipsy, let alone drunk.

“I’m not feeling the greatest so I don’t know how this ride is going to go,” I admit to Erin, “I’m definitely hungover. Or still drunk. I don’t know.”

“Ah. Bucknell,” is all Erin says in response, a smile on her face as she begins wheeling her bike toward the door.  It’s a simple reply, but it’s perfect. There are no other words and it is the perfect explanation.

It’s a chilly, wet morning but the rain has stopped. I shiver for the first ten minutes of the ride until we cross the Susquehanna river and begin hauling hard down the road. Everything clicks. I feel like I have been thrown back into time as we pass farm after farm on our left and catch glimpses of the susquehanna through the heavy tree-line on the right. Water from Erin’s back wheel sprays up into my face and I try not to panic about riding on wet roads when I can’t even remember the last time I took my bike out at home on a dry road, NOT hungover. But as we turn off the main road and disappear along the small country roads, I find myself unable to stop smiling. I feel at home. Free and happy.

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We begin climbing. Erin easily leaves me behind on the hill as I huff and puff, switching through my gears and hopping out of the saddle – trying anything to get myself to the top.   I’m reminded how badly out of cycling shape I am, especially compared to my days at Bucknell when I used to be the one to leave Erin behind. But when I get to the top, Erin and I both stop and look out quietly at the valley before us. Fog sweeps through the farmland and the rolling hills of the Appalachian range surround us. My heart swells. This is where I fell in love with cycling as a student. And I find it happening all over again.

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Going back to Bucknell was a lot like going back in time. While there are definitely changes to campus, most of it looks the same to when I was a student, and upon arrival, Erin and I fell into a similar routine as one we would have had as seniors. After checking in, we threw our belongings into our dorm rooms and immediately headed out for a run. We ran down the quiet roads we used to run every day at school, whether for xc practice or for our own solace. I had forgotten about how peaceful the roads are, how hilly they are, and how satisfying it felt to leave the busy city-life behind. Ten miles later, when Erin and I were sated from re-exploring our old stomping grounds, we showered, got dressed up and headed out for a drink. Just like we would have five years ago.

I have so many amazing memories from my time at Bucknell. My life changed there and what I learned helped shape the person I am today. I met my husband. I met some of the best friends I have in my life today, and I learned how to have a voice for myself. But most importantly, I learned how to love myself. When I first got to Bucknell in August 2008, I was not a healthy person and I wasn’t living life. But after being at school for a few months, I wanted to make a change. Bucknell and some of the people I met helped me see how beautiful life is, and helped me want to be a part of it again. And for that, I am forever grateful.

And while I have these great memories from Bucknell and had a wonderful transformation, not everything was perfect. So, as Erin and I stood on the Sojka Lawn at our welcome back reception, we were acutely aware of how alone we were. Many familiar faces floated past as we huddled next together sipping our drinks, but no one from all our small network was present. Most of Erin’s friends were in the geology department and couldn’t make it back. Most of my friends were on the cross country team or Dave’s year, and also couldn’t make it back. Fraternity and sorority life at Bucknell is enormous, and we watched as these brothers and sisters congregated together in the same exact groups I used to see mill around campus. Erin and I never joined a sorority. For a moment, I realized what it felt like to be on the outside again.

It wasn’t until the next day after Erin and I finished our fateful bike ride did we catch up with some friends. Erin and I walked around campus to see the new buildings and I revisited the track I plan to finish my 57 mile run on in November. There was a lot of, “remember this…” and “remember that…” as familiar sights evoked vibrant and often funny memories at school. There were also a lot of, “I miss this.”

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Toward the end of my senior year, I couldn’t wait to graduate and get into the “real world.” I wanted to leave because after Dave graduated, I felt isolated from the cross country and track team, and struggled to make any other friends. Standing on campus during reunion weekend, I realized I had no idea how good we had it, and how I should have cherished every second there.

Dave, Erin and I watched the sunset on the quad that evening, sipping wine as the blue sky melted into hues of yellow and pink along the mountain range. I didn’t want to leave the next day. I felt safe. Happy. How had it been five years already? We spent the rest of the night dancing and drinking like we were students again.

The next day Erin and I woke up early, loaded the bikes onto the back of my car, and headed back to DC. As we drove through campus one final time, I felt sad to be leaving. There were so many times as a student I hopped into my car and blew through campus, leaving it behind like it was nothing. But only now that I’ve graduated and been in this real world for five years, do I realize how naive I was during these times. Waiting to turn onto Route 15, I took a final glance at Rooke Chapel in the rearview mirror. It’d be months before I heard those bells ring again. But it was okay, because I at least knew I’d be back.

All in all, I’m happy I went back for reunion weekend. I’ve been in a funk lately, but being back at Bucknell helped me work through a lot of questions floating around my mind lately. I’m gaining motivation for my run again and inspiration for my writing. It’s baby steps. Sometimes, it’s nice to revisit the past so you can remember what made you the way you are today, and help you realize the only way to stay strong is to keep fighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing my 57 mile dream

This week I finally took some steps toward making my 57 mile charity run from Penn State to Bucknell REAL.  I created my charity page!  For whatever reason, I was so nervous about creating it and pushing it out to my family and friends, but I think my anxieties over it shows just how important it is to me.  Lyme has been kicking my ass these past few days, so it feels good fighting back.

If you’d like to check out my charity page, you can find it HERE.  I’ve set a $5,000 goal, but I’ve also never done this before, and I’d like to dream bigger and raise more money.  But we’ll see how it goes! There’s still plenty of time – 9 months of training here I come.

If you want to read more about my story and why I decided to do this charity run (and why Penn State to Bucknell??) you can check out my page HERE.  I go a little bit more into my background with Lyme and why I’ve chosen this particular run.

That’s it for now…just wanted to send out this quick update since I feel like I’ve been so busy over the past few days getting everything ready.  If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me through the contact page.  I’ll also have a “real” blog post coming soon.  I’m hoping by Friday so look out for it :).

And as always – thank you for your support.  It means so much to me, I can’t even explain. I’m not very good at showing my emotions, but I received my first few donations yesterday and I actually teared up.  This run is extremely important to me and I am extremely determined to get to that Penn State track come November.

Finding the Meaning Again

Lately, I’ve been searching for some meaning in life.  The past few weeks I felt constant aching – my heart, bones and mind – it didn’t matter.  There was a feeling of profound sadness I’m not sure why presented itself.  Lyme aside, I have nothing to be sad about.  Yet I felt it consuming me; ravenous, relentless.

All my life, I’ve always been at least a little sad.  Starting long before high school, the world began to look much different to me than it did to my naive child-self.  I was acutely aware of family struggles and whenever life was overwhelming my friends.  And all I ever wanted to do was help.  Draining every ounce of my emotions, it did not matter if I gave them to everyone else.  It did not matter if I was empty.  It only mattered if I could make someone smile or stop the hurt within them.

Last week, as I was driving down 110 to get blood work done, I saw a beautiful sunrise.  I haven’t seen the sunrise in some time now because all it seems I do anymore is sleep, but I watched as the purple sky in front of me came to life, and I felt a flicker of hope.  The rising sun reflected off the glass windows on the tallest office building in Rosslyn and the whole city seemed sparkling.  The orange glass looked like it was on fire, and when I glanced in my rear view mirror the sky was so bright it hurt my eyes.

After what seemed to be such a bleak few weeks, I smiled.  I was reminded there is beauty in this world, the fullness I seek.  I just need to know where to look.

This week I’ve decided to stop moping around and get back to LIVING.  Fresh off a recovery run week, I’m ready to train hard and get back to a healthier lifestyle.  Everything has suffered these past three weeks: my health, my diet, and my relationships.  But it’s 2017 now (yikes!).  There’s no time for messing around anymore.

While I’ve been gluten-free ever since being diagnosed with Lyme disease I’ve had my fair share of slip-ups these past few weeks.  Some were deliberate while others were complete accident, like the time for whatever reason I assumed vegan mac and cheese would also be gluten-free!  I’ll say all in all I probably slipped up three times total, but each time certainly did not help my health.  In my sadness, plant-based eating fell to the wayside, which is REALLY unfortunate because I felt my best without meant and most dairy.

But I’m back at it.

Sometimes, the sadness feels cyclical.  It’s no secret I’ve struggled with depression in the past.  So I monitor it.  I’ve always believed it is okay to feel, to be sad sometimes.  Often, I appreciate happiness the most when I know the deeper emotions I’ve felt before.

So with that being said, the past few days have been going much better for me.  I am following a near-vegan diet (I eat eggs occasionally) and I already have more energy and clear-headedness.  It is not easy, but I have been saving a bunch of recipes online to try some time in the future (not to mention – my cousin Natalie’s amazing vegan blog – https://rootedwithlife.blog).

As for training – it’s going.  My mileage is still relatively low but I hope to change that soon.  This week I am focusing on some speed work and some semi-long runs but I honestly play every day by ear.  I’ve started a few new medicines I’m increasing slowly but they’re wreaking havoc on my stomach.  There is only so much I can do.

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The troublemakers.

What I’ve also been thinking about lately is the purpose of this blog.  While I like using it as a spot to only write when I feel inspired, I feel it needs a greater purpose, especially with my 57 mile charity run coming up in November.  So if I can manage I think I’ll post a training update at the end of each week to track my journey toward the 57 miles from Penn  State to Bucknell in November.  I don’t know if I’ll push the content out on FaceBook each week so if you are interested in getting updates on my running, make sure to follow my blog.  I’ll still post my regular writing-sort blogs, but since I’m so inconsistent I feel a weekly update will be nice, especially for those interested in my ultra running journey.

So that’s it for now.  I’ll be going off my antibiotics soon and I am SUPER PUMPED about it.  I’m going to really focus on trying to get a quality week of training in even though I’ve been battling a little bit of mysterious foot pain.  It may be cuboid syndrome (I’ve dealt with it before) but we will see.  I’m headed up to New Jersey for a few days Thursday night so I plan on seeing my physical therapist I used to. go to from high school to my days as a collegiate athlete.  She’s seen everything from me, and helped me overcome so much back then, so I’m just excited to see her in general.

Hopefully I’ll have a post about it later this week.  Check back soon!

 

© Allison Donaghy 2017 All Rights Reserved

“You Went to Bucknell?”

You graduated from Bucknell?  

I stare at the woman sitting across from me and smile at her even as I detect the hint of disbelief in her voice.

Yep, I reply simply, challenging her to ask exactly what I know she’s thinking.  The woman is with her husband and they look my parents’ age.  When they walk out of the store twenty minutes later, shoes in hand, I hear the woman say quite blatantly to her husband: graduated from Bucknell…I wonder why she’s here?  Her husband replies, maybe it’s just part-time.

I’m still smiling at the door even though they’re gone and before I can let their little conversation sink in and affect me, I brush it off.  Part of me wants to chase after them down the street yelling and justifying myself: wait! I’m a freelance writer too!  And I’m working on a novel!

But this is not the first time I’ve had this conversation and it won’t be the last.

It is no secret to me older generations view my last year’s career move as a step backward as opposed to one forward.  When I worked at the nonprofit doing communications, people told me I was so lucky to have found the job and I would have it made for the rest of my career.  People told me to stick with the job even if I didn’t like it because of the security: health benefits, salary, and resume-building experience.

People spoke to me with respect.

When I chatted with colleagues at meetings and conventions, we had the same conversation as above but it always went a little differently.  Oh, you went to Bucknell?  There was a hint of excitement in their voice and they’re smiling.  I’d tell them I graduated in 2012, grinning from ear to ear.  They’d exclaim: well now it all makes sense – that’s why you’re so smart!  I’d laugh, trying to shake off the compliment.

But what they didn’t see was the sadness.  The depression I struggled with every day and the fatigue I felt in every inch of my body.  They didn’t see me push everything other than work out of my life – running, writing, friends, travel – desperately trying to prove myself to the older generations I worked with I could be successful. Other than my partner, I had no friends and I was stuck in a miserable cycle of work, eat, sleep.  I had no balance in my life and no one but myself saw my health deteriorating.  But I didn’t make any changes because everyone put such high value into the security of a corporate job.

Don’t get me wrong – my time working at the nonprofit was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I learned from my bosses how to be a more efficient writer, how to manage stress and deadlines, and most importantly, how to be a leader.  They coached me and put me in positions of decision-making and importance, showing me my voice and opinion mattered.  Leaving the position was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. But ultimately I knew I needed to be a leader in my own life and find happiness before I let everything mattering to me crumple at my feet.

It has been almost a year since I stood up to all the doubts swirling in my head and gave my two-week notice.  Since then I feel like I’ve grown immensely.  Stress and sadness don’t rule my life anymore and this year I’ve made more time for friends, family and myself than I have in years.  I traveled to Colorado and hiked the beautiful Rockies with my twin.  I flew to Oregon with some of my best friends and stood at the ocean’s edge watching the waves crash turbulently against the rocky cliffs.  These are vacations I would have never taken in the past because of my fear of missing work and failing.  I’ve written and ran more in this year than I probably have in the previous three years combined.  I feel like myself.

And I get it.  There will be many more people who stare at me in disbelief, like the couple at the beginning of this post, for my career change decision.  But I like my job at the running store and being in an atmosphere I’ve been saturated in all my life.  I love freelance writing and the amazing company I’m working with right now.  I was never cut out to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day, no matter the pay or if that’s what people think I should be doing because I graduated from a prestigious school like Bucknell.

For awhile, I lived my life for everyone except myself.  No more.  I’m going to experience life and chase my dreams no matter how far they get ahead of me because I believe I can catch them if I work hard enough.  For too long I believed my diploma defined what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life, whether I was happy or not.

 

I’m not going to say I used to feel proud of my undergraduate degree because I am still immensely proud of my diploma from Bucknell.  No, I’m not working a corporate job anymore but I also am not going to feel the need to justify this any longer.  Because at least I’m happy, and I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone take it away from me.

 

© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved