Sunday, 19 October 2014

"One footlight at a time": The MCG Dream

I'm flying back from Melbourne and am feeding my urge to blog about this weekend as I type this into my iPhone 'Notes' app, to publish later on.

The clouds are turning pink, my legs are aching, my eyes have that sparkly post-run glisten, and I have a medal draped around my neck. It's been an incredible weekend and it's hard to know where to start.  (When do I never know when to start?)

A year ago, when I had itchy feet at work one day, I decided that I would do the half marathon at the Melbourne Marathon Festival 2014. I booked my flights to lock the goal in.

Coincidentally, 12WBT announced that their Spring Festival was going to be on the same weekend! Can anyone say "perfect"? You know me, Miss Finale/Festival Addict, I would have gone to the festival wherever, but fitting it into my already planned Melbourne trip was extremely convenient. :)

So this is the weekend that I'm currently on my way back from.

Now something a little personal, before we get to the festival / marathon weekend.  I wasn't sure if I'd blog about this.  This is one of my most personal and raw posts, ever.  But a couple of people have been open about sharing week (thank you Michelle Bridges and Tanja), and it gave me confidence that I could do the same.  Maybe my being open can help someone else feel less alone.  And even though I keep my blog private from my 'normal' life, maybe one of my friends might stumble across this one day, and understand why I haven't been on top of my game for the past two years.

I've mentioned a few times on my blog about my life a couple of years ago. I've mentioned my health, and 'a few things happening', and how I've struggled a bit.

I've written about bits and pieces on here, and mentioned things briefly to a few friends, but I have never told anyone in depth, just what has gone on.

In saying that, to explain everything would truly become a short story rather than a blog post, so I will summarise, but with the aim of being more open than I have been in the past.

(This actually does all connect to this weekend!)

At the start of 2012, I was doing ok. Life wasn't exactly a princess fairytale, but I was cool. I had as many ups and downs as the next person. We were all good.

Overnight, one night in January, I found myself lying in a hospital bed, frozen, too terrified to move, as I wasn't sure if any slight movement, could mean I could possibly die. I didn't understand what was going on, and particularly for someone who had always struggled with my mortality, I was completely petrified.

The health thing was something that was just presented to me, and I had to deal with it whether I liked it or not.  I got into a routine and managed ok. Getting a blood test as part of my daily commute to work became part of my current norm. I'd get a text every couple of days telling me what medication to take, and every few weeks, I inevitably ended up back in hospital with ongoing symptoms that needed to be checked. Emails to my family at 3am as not to wake them, and to my boss to let them know I wouldn't be at work that day, became a regular thing. This was how things were going to be, for a while.

It wasn't easy, but I coped. Some things were easier to deal with than others. Often at night I'd lie in bed with symptoms, and wonder if I'd be ok. There was no more being scared of my mortality, I suddenly was forced to face it.

I found solace in having brief chats with several people I knew of, who had my condition. When a couple of these people died, the terror would start back.

I muddled through.

But then a string of things just started to happen. Pretty stressful things. Things started to get overwhelming. I thought I was coping with the health thing, but I soon realised I was not. It wasn't obvious to me at the start, but every ounce of my energy was being sanctioned to cope with what was going on.

The overwhelming feelings grew bigger and bigger to the point I started having what I nicknamed 'stress attacks'. I'd run to the bathroom, hot all over, and physically spin, while holding the toilet cubicle walls to keep me upright. It took all within me to deal with everything. The stress I had became so great that it started affecting me physically. When someone became violent in front of me, I developed chest pains simply from stress. I became so constantly overwhelmed that I felt paralysed. Normal, everyday things became too much. I didn't know what to do - I was just coping as best I could.

And of course, I didn't tell anyone.

When I say 'normal, every day things', what does that conjure up for you? Think of what that means. Coz yeah, I did none of that. I don't mean events. I still went to work, did my theatre, caught up with family and friends, went places, did things. None of that changed. But everything else just seemed to stop. I didn't open my mail. I didn't reply to messages: texts, emails, all of the social media, all of it. Everything started to pile up. The more things piled up, the more they got too much, the more I felt overwhelmed, the more paralysed I would get, and the more I couldn't manage normal activities that I used to not think twice about.

Before this, I was a highly organised person. My To Do list was like a professional organisers dream. I'm a colour coder, highlighter in hand, stationary lover from way back.

All of this went out the window.

A few days ago, I developed a pain in my shoulder - it was out of the blue, and intense. (It ended up being Bursitis, but I didn't know straight away).  All I know is that it got so bad over just a few hours, that I almost passed out at work from the pain. I felt sick. I couldn't understand why just a sore shoulder was making me so unwell. One of my dear colleagues had to drive me home, and he explained that when the body's in pain, it will do whatever it needs, to repair itself. It will take things from the rest of your body to fight and repair, which is why you can often feel depleted and drained. Now I was pretty out of it, but I remember thinking "that is it."  That's what happened. Like simple Bursitis in my shoulder this week, that's just like I needed every shroud of everything I had within me two years ago, to cope with what was going on.  I had nothing left.

More stuff happened, personal stuff, more health stuff, work stuff.  The more stuff that happened, the more I struggled to cope, and the less I kept on top of the things we all usually do without thinking, to keep ourselves on track.

Things got more and more out of hand.  Little things grew into big things, and things snowballed out of control.  I don't have a partner to pay my bills and keep the household going when one of us gets sick.  It's all up to me.  So when I was out of action, so was everything else.

Things can only go unanswered for a while, before things start to happen.  Or stop.

One of my lowest points was one night, I was talking to my lovely friend Anna on the phone, on my way home.  I'd picked up a pizza to help numb the pain.  My basement has no phone reception, so as I approached my house, I told her I'd call her back when I got upstairs.

When I walked inside the house, my lights didn't turn on.  My electricity had been disconnected.  I sat in darkness, with my pizza, which I suddenly had no appetite for, and lit a candle so that I could see.  Everything had already fallen apart, but it felt like this moment was my total rock bottom.  But it's only at rock bottom, that you find your true guts and strength.  And I remember sitting, feeling my absolute worst, feeling worthless, but staring into the bright flame of the candle, thinking that somehow, I would make it through.  In the midst of despair, the flame of that candle somehow symbolised that I still had something left inside of me, and I promised myself, at that very moment, hunched over my turning-cold-pizza lit up by a single flame, that I would never give up.

I never did call Anna back that night.

Things continued on in this light.  I would try to get myself back on track and refresh my beloved To Do list, but I was just too overwhelmed.  The stress attacks continued, the feeling of being paralysed got worse and I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  I was desperate to get my life back on track but I didn't know where to start to fix things.  This all began in January, and it was now October.  I had kept nothing up to date in 9 months.

Someone gave me the expression of "one footlight at a time."  If my ridiculous pile of paperwork was too big to tackle, that was ok.  Just break it down into even tinier than baby steps.  Maybe the first thing I could do was to just touch my paperwork.  That was it.  Just touch.  I didn't have to open any mail, read any letters..... just touch it.  Put it into a pile.  That was enough for one night.  That's how bad I had gotten.

One footlight at a time was a great concept that I have never forgotten.  But even touching my paperwork was too big to do.  That task alone, took me a couple of months.  Every time I thought I could see myself making a little headway, I'd just get too overwhelmed.  I'd start to see a glimmer of hope that I could turn things around but then I'd crash down again.  Things were still happening.  Emergency hospital visits became too regular to cope with: 20-30 visits in one year was just too much for me to handle on my own, and I'd cry silently in the early hours of the morning, shivering on the cold hospital wards, so alone and scared.

I may be making myself sound like a basket case.  But at the same time, I was handling
myself ok.  I somehow managed to stay afloat.  Outwardly, I didn't look too bad.  I worked, traveled, performed, attended everything that I usually would.  This was (coincidentally) the time I joined 12WBT and began losing weight.  I did that at the same time as all of this.  Somehow, amidst the chaos, I managed to lose 50kg and gain fitness.

I did pretty well, considering.  I just didn't manage to keep up with correspondence and organisation.  No longer was I a highly organised, in control, normal adult.  Instead, while I managed to maintain a normal life on the outside, I had long ago lost being in control of everything that makes your life tick over, in this day and age.

I did nothing.  I never (rarely) replied to texts.  Or emails.  Or Facebook notifications.  Or Facebook messages.  Or LinkedIn messages.  Or Instagram comments.  Or Instagram Direct Messages.  Or KIK messages.  Or YouTube, FitBit, MyFitnessPal, 12WBT, WeChat, my blog, Twitter, Snapchat, get the picture.  And it wasn't just social media overload, if anything that was the smallest part.  It was anything.  I didn't ring people back.  I sometimes didn't even answer the phone!  I didn't open mail.  I didn't keep on top of organise-y things I had to do.  I didn't make appointments.  I let my insurance lapse.  I didn't wish friends a Happy Birthday.  I bought presents too late.  I didn't write down appointments.  I missed out on business deals.  My schedulers dream, synced colour coded calendar became lost by the wayside.  I became a scatterbrain, forgot things and was late to things.

My best friend from high-school asked me to film her mums 50th birthday party.  I did - but to get the video off my camera and to her was a whole other story.  Every time I'd see them, they'd ask if I'd had a chance to do it.  I felt terrible.  Usually I would be right onto this, and get it done the next day.  Now, everything made me feel paralysed.  I apologised and wrote down a reminder for myself.  I don't know why I wrote it down though, because I wasn't checking and keeping on top of my notes either.  I had notes and emails and scribbles to myself everywhere. 

I scraped by, but became forgetful, not myself, disorganised, and my word of the year, 'slack'.  Each time I apologised to someone for not getting back to them, I said that I was 'slack'.  I hate that word now.

I wasn't slack at all.

The truth was, I'd messed up my whole life and I didn't know where to start to fix it.

I sadly lost a few friends who were hurt that I didn't stay in touch as much as I'd used to.  I wish they had known that I hated my ways more than they did.  But how could I explain all of this?  Especially when I wasn't even communicating....

When things get so messy, and you lose so much control, it seems an impossible task to get yourself out of the hole.  This continued ...and continued.  I tried to pull myself out so many times, remembering the "one footlight at a time" analogy.  But PTSD is pretty horrific, and I would get too overwhelmed.

More than two years after that first hospital visit, I had somehow managed to gain the strength to believe that I could get things back on track.  That was the first step.

Actually putting it into place was a whole other thing.

Where do you start, when you have 2 years of disorganisation to fix?

Around this time, some of my friends began doing the "100 Days of Happiness" challenge.  Each day they challenged themselves to take a photo of something that made them happy. 

I had an idea.  What if I challenged myself to get everything back on track, in 100 days?  "100 Days of Organisation"?
Two years of filing

I brainstormed everything I had to do.  Everything I had skipped out on.  There were about 40 things.  Some were more important than others.  But each was important to me.  I knew, that if I could get each of the things on this list up to date, then I would be back on track, and back to my organised, and if anything, normal adult self.

I got excited and wrote up a plan on what to do each day.  I estimated how many days each task would take to get back on track, and scheduled it all out.  The first few days were great.  All I had to do was focus on one thing.  Yes, I had 39 other things to get through, but on this day, in my spare time, all I had to do was to focus on this one task.  The other things would come, in time.

It started to work.

After two years, I was finally starting to make headway.

It was like the first step of a million mile journey, but it was headway.

I think the first attempt went well for 3 days.

Then I fell over.  I skipped a couple of days when things got busy and my scheduling fell out of whack.

I redid my plan.

Attempt #2!  I think I got one thing done.

But it was still progress!

I rescheduled, again.

You get the picture.

It's not like I had to do a task and then it was over - I had to then keep it up to date, maintain it ongoing.  These tasks weren't huge things in themselves - but when you're playing catch up, 2 years worth is a lot. 

I rescheduled and kept trying, falling down often, but slowly working my way through each task.  Often as I'd start a task, I'd have a glimmer of feeling overwhelmed.  It was inevitable - two years of paperwork and such would make anyone anxious!  I'd avoided everything for 2 years, and now I was facing it.

A few months of doing this, and I was making progress, but not quickly.  I was getting a bit over it.  Life is so busy, it's hard to keep up with day to day tasks, let alone squeeze in the last 2 years.  Everything was draining me.  I finally felt strong enough to do the work and get back on track, but I just wanted to be at that point of being up to date with everything, and stop it dragging out, and stop the continual rescheduling.  I'd been gentle on myself up till now - I barely coped for a while, and then I slowly regained my strength.  But now it was time to get strict.

I decided to give myself a deadline.

For some reason, I thought of the Melbourne weekend.  What if - by the Spring Festival, and the Melbourne Half Marathon, I was up to date.  I knew the Melbourne Marathon races finished in the MCG.  My workmate Dean and running hero Aedita had told me how amazing it was, to run into the stadium after completing your event.  They made it sound like you'd feel pretty damn awesome.  Doing a run and finishing in there, with people cheering.  I'm not a sports fanatic - I've never watched a game on TV full stop, let alone one in the MCG.  It wasn't about the sport, it was just about how cool it would feel.  It's not too often you'd get the chance to run onto the field in there.  Having a symbolic end was a bit unnecessary, but it excited me, so I ran with it.

This was it.  I decided to make this happen.  I would use my entry into the MCG stadium as my end point to all this stuff that had dragged on for so long.  It's a bit strange to plan a definitive end to something like this, I know.  PTSD and other stuff doesn't usually have an 'end date' or 'cure date'.  But I just wanted a deadline to have everything on my list up to date -
so I decided to include the associated feelings with it.  Stop it from carrying on any further.  Get out of the grips of it.  Maybe this could work.  I'm the one in the control, if I say it ends, then it ends.  Anything was worth a try.

I nicknamed it the 'MCG Dream'.  I didn't tell anybody, hell, I hadn't even told anybody about the last 2 years.  This was all for me.  I started visualising myself crossing that finish line, in the MCG.  Knowing that not only would I be crossing the finish line of my first interstate half marathon, but I'd be crossing the finish line of the past 2 years of pain - because I said so.  Taking the control back.

Soon after planning my special little goal, Deano mentioned that this year, runners wouldn't actually finish inside the MCG - instead, they'd finish alongside it.



Usually I wouldn't care - sports, stadiums etc. mean nothing to me.  But this was different!  This whole thing was based around running into it!  I had even nicknamed it the 'MCG Dream'!  This change was completely inconvenient and misaligned with my personal goals. ;)
Jac James sent me this for GCAM - it was relevant again

I knew though, that it didn't matter whether there was a stadium lined with cheering people, or a tiny metal sign in a dead end street that said "Finish".  The point was in the journey to get to that finish line.

I had a couple of months to do this in - I had to work hard. But, as always, I stuffed it up.

I tried and failed about 10 times all up.

It then got to 5 weeks out, and I knew that I had to get serious.  This MCG Dream thing had me totally inspired - I didn't want to waste this motivation!  I decided to put myself into lockdown for 5 weeks.  If I wanted to cram the majority of 2 years of stuff into 5 weeks, I had to make some sacrifices with time.  For the 5 weeks, I decided to try to say no to anything I could, outside of work and normal, or major commitments.

I am really bad at lockdown.

So many things were important!  A family birthday.  This friend in town for 2 nights only.  Tickets booked to something.  This friend I've been trying to catch up with for months.  Another friend in town for a few days.  This friend really needs me.  A work function.  Work travel.  Personal travel.  A run I'd paid for.  Another crisis.
I didn't get to file everything by the 10th, but I sorted it into piles

I did my best - and outside all of the above, plus some, I said no to as much as I could, locked myself in my room and got to work.  Head down, bum up.

I was so completely focused - especially in the last week, I started getting up a couple of hours early each day, as well as limiting my already limited sleep, to meet this deadline.

Thursday 9th October night came...I was flying out early on Friday 10th morning.  I had been
going at a million miles an hour, working up to this night.  I hadn't slept in or watched TV or relaxed in 5 weeks.  I wanted to fix this so much.  I still had to do my filing.  And a myriad of other things.  I hadn't packed.  I was tearful and uncharacteristically snapped at my mum on the phone when she asked if I was going to bed soon.

'Countdown Reached'
And then, at exactly midnight, I relaxed.  I'd had a Countdown app on my phone that had been counting down the days until this weekend.  At midnight, I got a reminder on my phone that said "Countdown reached".  In an instant, those descriptive words relaxed me and made me realise just how much I had done.  No, I didn't get every single thing up to date by the time I flew out.  But I did my best, worked hard, and finished about 30 of the 40 things.  And I'd made headway in the 10 unfinished things.  Ok, so I had 200 emails left to sort through.  I had started with over 3000.  Things like that.  I was absolute light years ahead of where I had been for two years.  I was ok.  It was a "Reach for the moon, and if you don't get there, you'll fall amongst the stars" type scenario.  I didn't do it all, but I was definitely at a point where I could feel like I had it all under control, and I was confident that I could handle a "Stage B" of said tasks, after the weekend, and from now on go back to normal.

I ran around and packed my Melbourne bound suitcase, ready for the Spring Festival, and my most significant run to date.

Part 2 to this story, coming very soon! xo

Smudged mascara, exhausted selfie, after doing all that I could before I flew out
The countdown app I used


  1. U sound like an amazing lady with so much strength and motivation. U make me feel like i can achieve wateva i want. U need to be proud of urself and regardless of all of the obstacles u were able to achieve enough to get u back to where u need to b in order to feel strong.