“And I still find it so hard
To say what I need to say
But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me
Just how I should feel today” From Blue Monday (New Order)
Did you know that this past Monday, the third Monday in January is known as “the most depressing day of the year?” It’s known as “Blue Monday”. I’m not in any way mocking the debilitation and pain associated with depression or the state of the world at this time, but the concept of “Blue Monday” made me giggle a bit. Several years ago, some dude named Cliff Arnall, as a joke posted that he had calculated the third Monday of January to be the most depressing day of the year based on his formula:
[W + (D-d)] x TQ
M x Na
Where W = the crappy weather factor, D – d = realization of debt from the holidays, T is the amount of time where the glow and “goodwill toward men” attitude of the holidays have faded into oblivion, Q= the time since giving up on New Year’s resolutions, M = motivation levels and Na = the feeling of a need to take action. Obviously, the equation makes absolutely no sense mathematically, but it certainly hits all the raw nerves that this time of year can bring. I’d like to add an extra variable to make this equation more apropos to this year. That variable would be “c” or the covid factor which has multiplied our misery a million-fold. We. have. had. it.
And while we’ve had it, we know the finish line is still somewhere in the distance. We’ve hit the wall. I’ve talked about this before in other posts, but I think we need to hear it again especially now. If you are an endurance athlete, you’re nodding your head knowing exactly what I’m talking about. There is a phenomenon that happens maybe the last 500 yards of a long swim (“ugh my arms are going to fall off and damn I still have the bike and run to do”) or maybe at mile 70 of the bike (yay only 42 more miles and a marathon to do). Or at about mile 18 of a 26.2 mile marathon. You’re almost 2/3 of the way through but still have 8.2 miles to go. Physiologically, your body has nearly crashed. Even carb loading a few days in advance couldn’t prevent the depletion of glycogen levels (fuel) that your muscles and other organs need to respond to the demands put on the body at that point. It feels like, well, like it would feel to run smack into a brick wall. Or as if you’re running with concrete slabs attached to your body. And then your mind starts messing with you. Some of the thoughts that run through your mind might be, “I can’t run another step,” or “I can’t feel my lower extremities,” or “I can’t believe I have another EIGHT miles to go!” It can be a very dark place. A place where our demons live, and in moments like this, thrive. In order to smack down those demons, we have to first face them head on.
In the book, Radical Acceptance, by author, Tara Brach, there is a very moving passage about a well-known and respected speaker who gave frequent talks on the topic of mindful meditation. Sadly, he began to experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s Dementia, but was still able to lecture. One day however, much to his horror, he walked out onto the stage, looked into a sea of people and forgot why he was there. Can you even imagine what that would be like?? He could have retreated to a dark place. However, this was no ordinary person, and although his initial feeling was that of panic, because of his life-long practice of mindfulness, he began to name aloud what he was feeling in the moment—panic, dread, horror, disorientation, don’t know why I’m here, etc. He did this for several minutes until he was able to calm himself, and as he felt calmer, he remembered his purpose. Relieved, he apologized to the audience for his lapse in memory. But the audience was not irritated; instead they were riveted and moved by this real-life display of the power of mindfulness… recognizing and naming feelings, allowing and sitting with one’s inner experience, and tolerating the discomfort of the moment. I know I’ve said this probably a million times before…very simple to understand, incredibly difficult to execute.
If you want to survive when you hit the wall, you can only look at your inner experience in the moment, in other words, what is right in front of you. There have been times I have told myself, just focus on making it to the next telephone pole or buoy. Ok, now just make it to the fire hydrant. And now just to the next aid station. So on and so forth. Towards the end of a race you have such an adrenalin rush from the crowd that you sometimes fly (and sometimes crawl) to the finish line.
How I wish I was talking about something as light-hearted as sports. And how I wish that there was a predictable finish line for all of us right now with covid. The cruelty of getting to mile 26.2 only to be told you have maybe another 5 miles to go. Then at mile 31.2, another 4 to go. Except hundreds of thousands of people will never make it to the finish line-at this writing, just over 400,000 Americans are dead. I know you’ve heard this from me so many times (that you may want to slug me), but all I can do is continue to remind people: all we can do is control what we can control. At mile 18 we know we have to gag down yet another nasty energy gel, or drink flat coke, or hydrate even though you can feel the liquid swishing in your belly with every step. If you don’t, you won’t see the finish line. So please, wear a mask, social distance, and stay connected to people. Yeah, I know virtual is not the same. We’ll get to the finish line of this horrific period hopefully soon. How you choose to exist though is up to you. You can get stuck in the hamster wheel of “what ifs”or you can sit with this dark mucky feeling, yet at the same time move forward one small step at a time. And when you look over your shoulder, know you have the power to smack down that demon.