Wednesday, July 23, 2008

heartache and pain

"because there's always been heartache and pain"
--savage garden, crash and burn

in my life, i've come to learn that pain comes in many forms. none of it good, but some far worse than others. and a few--a very specific, very special few--that lie beyond any level of conceivable suffering.

and i don't mean what most may think.

physical pain, i've come to know, is the least of worries. physical pain, for the most part, is temporary. it doesn't last. it hurts, yes, but the hurting goes away. bones break, muscles strain, ligaments rip, tendons tear, cartilage ruptures, skin shreds. but for the most part, short of lethal force, and given enough time and care, we ultimately recover and become whole again. and the scars, if there are any, heal and fade in time and go away to be lost in the recesses of our memory. forgotten and left behind.

more than this, physical pain can be managed. it can be contained. even eased or eliminated completely. so much so that you don't know there is even any damage anywhere, and go on living your life as you did before.

mental pain, however, is a different story. this i have come to dread the most. because it's never temporary. it lasts. it doesn't go away. sorrow, anguish, depression, despair. heartache and pain. emotional and spiritual. all of it suffering. enough that you never recover or become whole. so much that the scars never really heal, and never fade in time and never go away, but instead thrive in the forefronts of our memory...and are remembered, to become burdens forever borne.

it can't be managed. or contained. or eased or eliminated. as much as we try or wish or pray it could. sometimes it actually grows. festers. propagates. so much so that it goes beyond you to affect others around you. it can be draining. overwhelming. paralyzing. to the point that it takes your life from you forever.

but isn't one related to the other? aren't physical and mental pain on some level just the same?

sure. of course. all the time.

that's part of the reason so many people do Ironman. because they seek to reach the limits of the physical so that they can find the origins of the mental, and in so doing come to know where physical pain ends and mental pain begins, and thereby come to understand the causes of their own suffering. it's part of what it takes to earn the title of Ironman.

it happens to everyone. even me. especially me. even when i don't want it to.

in my time in sports, particularly once i began on the journey to becoming an endurance athlete, i've come to know the extent of emotional and spiritual pain, and just how great an impact they can have.

even when i didn't know it. or denied it. or hid it.

you see, mental pain--sorrow, anguish, depression, despair--they take your race away from you. they make you half the person you were before, and far less than the person you were meant to be. they make mounds into mountains, risers into cliffs, cracks into chasms, the smallest of obstacles into the most insurmountable of challenges. they take you down and rip you apart and throw you over into a darkness deeper than any beyond imagination.

they are unendurable.

because they take your spirit. your will to live.

because they break you.

broken. beaten. cracked. consumed. destroyed. blown up. hammered. an empty shell. in sports it goes by many names, but they all refer to the same thing.

every athlete knows exactly what i'm talking about.

there was the story this past year of an Australian track & field athlete who announced his withdrawal from running, and his departure from the Australian Olympic team, because of a broken heart. he could no longer motivate himself to run, or even train. he needed time, he said, because his sorrow was to great to bear.

some people may snicker. some people say that winners always find a way to rise above such things.

but i felt for him. some pain is so great that it will exhibit itself no matter what you do.

because i've been there. i've had to race with a broken heart, and during an Ironman no less, where i found the distance pushed me so far beyond the physical that i could no longer hide from my feelings, and was forced to confront my emotions, which came so deep and so strong that they literally froze my body so that i could not move. it took everything to just. take. a. step. forward.

and the process of excising that pain was a torment marked by miles of bloody footsteps and wind-swept despair and rain-soaked tears in a storm as great as my own suffering. just to be spent of my emotions. all of it purged and left on dirt and concrete and asphalt and pavement. leaving scars that i know will never heal. because they're the kind that never do.

physical burdens can be let go. they can be dropped. once they're gone, they're gone. you no longer have to carry them--in a race or in life.

mental burdens, however, are so much harder. because we ignore them, deny them, hide them. meaning even when we think they're gone, they're still there. meaning you carry them. all of them. in a race. in life.

and as much as they are a burden on your race, imagine how much a burden they are to your life.

heartache and pain? heartache is pain. the worst kind of all.

which is why it gets me when people say they're afraid to do Ironman because it might hurt. you have to earn the title of Ironman. and until you do you can't ever really understand what that means. all i can do is just look at them, and think:

you. have. no. idea.

1 comment:

Kit Kat said...

Great Blog! Took a lot of it to heart as I race for progression in HIMs. Looking forward to the pain of IM next year. Thanks for sharing or viewpoint.