In My Own Skin
Even after lining up for 5 Ironman races, I would have to wrestle with that voice that would tell me to stay in the safe and secure and that I wasn’t enough.
Funny how for those 5 races, the safe and secure was defined by my weekly training millage, and that I could somehow out run my dragons and demons. A successful Ironman race (3.8km swim / 180km bike / 42.2 km run) involves a lot of planning, training, execution of a race strategy, and let’s not forget the will to not quit. It’s the consistent ticking of the daily training boxes, that ensures success. That’s what the true meaning of running an Ironman is for me – the ability to have perseverance with myself and to a larger extent with life.
But despite being very proud of my Ironman achievements, there were some dark shadows pulling my puppet strings. I was happy to label myself as an Ironman and it relieved some of my guilt for the shame of my past. I was the Ironman and no longer the ex-coke head who found a new allure of razor blade instead of chopping the perfect line. I used this guilt and shame to train harder and log more and more training hours – but it still never alleviated my sense of shame.. No matter how many finisher’s shirts I had in my closet, it never gave me that sense of validation that I was craving, once again being controlled by my puppet master – a lack of love and acceptance for myself. I still hadn’t discovered my Why?
When Steve first approached me about helping him get ready for IM Wisconsin, it caused a massive bleep on my EKG. I am truly honoured and grateful, but before we even started mapping out his path to the finishers line I asked him one simple question …… Why?
In My Own Skin
by Steven Macdonald
There are moments in our lives that make us sit down and actual ask the questions of “Why?”. Why do we act, behave, think, feel a certain way? Why do we do things in our lives? It is in these moments where self-discovery, acceptance, and self-love can emerge. Is this easy? No. Is this comfortable? No. Will it create some dissonance in our own beliefs and self-views? Absolutely.
Do we sometimes need a nudge from a trusted friend, a stranger passing by…. This is not something that happens overnight, it is a journey we all go through in our own lives and it is different for everyone. Everyone goes through it in their own way. Everyone has their own struggles, successes, setbacks, and eventual point in which we achieve that moment where truly feel comfortable in our own skin. For me, that feeling of truly being comfortable in my own skin has alluded me ever since I can remember. Have I arrived at that moment in my life where I do, yes….has it taken a long time….goodness yes.
As a late teenager, early/mid 20 something, and well into my early 30’s (I am 36 now), I struggled with deep bouts of depression, a severe lack of self-esteem and low self-confidence. Sure I had a great life in high school; great friends, captain of the high school hockey team, valedictorian, talking to colleges about playing hockey, getting ready to move onto to playing junior hockey, a great family with four awesome siblings and parents who I love dearly. Followed by university where I had a great experience ending with a Masters degree in coaching education while working in the Sport Psychology field with amazing personal and professional experiences helping others on their path to personal and athletic success. But I always seemed to be uncomfortable in my own skin. I never gave myself permission to be happy in my successes in life…Nelson Mandela’s famous quote hits close to home for me; “…It is our light not our darkness, that most frightens us…”
I was always searching for something, always looking for a place to belong. Pursuing the next degree, team assignment, coaching position, athletic endeavour — all the time thinking, “Is this where I am supposed to belong? If I do this, more people will like me, more people will approve and accept me…” So I kept moving from place to place. Starting one thing for 4-5 months, but then moving back home each time. During the time from my grade 12 year to my late 20’s, there were periods of time where I would go into some deep depressions. I was still able to function out in the world (I got really good at hiding it), but social events, even family get togethers became too overwhelming for me, I had to leave. I became more introverted – more isolated, more withdrawn. My darkest moments regularly produced thoughts of suicide, peaking one night with me in the Mental Health ward at a local hospital after I had to ask one of my colleagues at the time to drive to me to the ER because I was scared of myself. This night in particular is one that I still remember vividly; walking down the side of the road late at night, and as a bus was coming towards me (I can still see the headlights coming towards me as I walked on top of the curb – just like I used to when I was young walking to and from elementary school) I was thinking all I had to do was step off and all my thoughts would go away, my mind would stop racing, I could finally just stop thinking….Would anyone know or care that I am gone? Would anyone actually miss me?…I could just finally stop, stop searching…
I never found what I was looking for…but did I ever really know what I was looking for? When I was finally able to stop looking outside of myself, looking to others for validation and acceptance; When I was able to stop looking for someone else to tell me that I am good, that I belong, that I was worthy of their friendship or presence; that is when I first started to feel more comfortable in my own skin. Sure there were times dispersed throughout my life up until my late 20’s, where I thought I had it all figured out, that I was the master of me, I had everything under control and whatever problems I had were gone…well news flash there were never truly gone. They were just masked by the current state I was in and acceptance that I had sought out from those around me at the time. Whether it was a girlfriend, boss, colleague, my athletes, or coaches – I was feeling as though I had it all figured out, because they were feeding me the acceptance that I craved…but once that meal was gone, I fell right back into my lows and struggled even more to pull myself out.
I felt like I was starting all over again. I became more despair in my thoughts and views of where my life was going. I would startle myself awake some nights dreaming of different ways I would commit suicide. To look back at it now, I believe that I did not fully comprehend and accept my own predicament until early 2014, just under 3 years ago. It was then that I remember I first began to feel comfortable in my own skin. The funny thing is; this is a time in my life when I had no job, no girlfriend, no team I played on, no athletes that relied on me, no deadlines or papers to write, no presentations to prepare, no pursuit in academia. I just had my family, my dogs, my family cabin, my own time, my fishing rod, my bike and shoes, and myself…yet it was one of the periods of my life where I felt as though I was finally not searching for anything (other than an actual paying job). It was just me and time. I immersed myself in daily joys and being completely connected to whatever I was doing at the time. My only focus was waking in the morning, deciding what I wanted to do that day…what was going to make me feel the way I wanted to feel, and allow me to go to sleep at night being completely satisfied that I achieved that feeling. That was my sole purpose.
Achieving how I wanted to feel each day. Sure there were times when I struggled, where I still stumbled back into depressive thoughts and lows, where the memory of my toes on the edge of the curb with the bus lights glaring was all too vivid. Do I still get those times to this day?…absolutely. But since that spring and summer of 2014, my awareness of myself, who I am, and the acceptance who I am as a person is strong and vibrant in my everyday life co-existing with all of my thoughts, my darkness of depression and thoughts of suicide; why, well because that is a part of me, no one else is responsible for those thoughts, but me. My predicament is myself. As I continue to learn to accept myself for me despite any achievements or shortfalls I may have, I continue to strengthen my love for myself and my own skin. I will continue to stumble, I will continue to look within myself for the belonging – but the answer to it all is within me…by re-connecting with who I am and my love for myself and love in the moments that make me feel how I want to feel each and everyday, that is my search now. There will continue to be moments in my life that will make me look deeper into myself and why I do things. These can happen on the smallest of scales such as taking a moment to self-reflect during a morning walk with my dog as the sun comes up or in more compelling events, both of despair and elation.
For me the latest moment was when I clicked the final button to sign up for Ironman Wisconsin, set to take place next September. After the initial adrenaline rush of signing up passes by – the seeds of doubt started to creep in and a whole host of other questions…. “What did I just do?” What the hell did I get myself into? Am I committed enough? Do I have the discipline to train for an entire year? Can I really push through the pain? Do I REALLY want to do this? Am I doing this because of someone else or for me? Why the heck would I want to put myself through this? How much water am I going to inhale during the swim? Will I be able to avoid getting kicked in the face during the swim? Can I really do this? Why the heck am I really doing this?
When Darren first asked me the big age ol’ question of “Why?”…my first thought was well….”Why the hell not?”…this of course is the answer I know I should say, but as I took time to sit and fully reflect on why I want to do an Ironman, I must admit – I think back to my own Insecurities, need for acceptance, need to know what other people think of me. Maybe if I finish an Ironman, I will be part of something whereby more people will accept me and I will feel better about myself because I finished, like finishing an Ironman would bring an end to what I am searching for. Those elements to “Why” do bear their ugly heads still, but by reconnecting with myself and looking into how I want to feel each day, I am able to re-center myself into my true WHY. I do like the sense of accomplishment, feeling of pushing myself through limits I previously thought were impossible. Through my own self-discovery I know that I take joy in the process, knowing that I am able to commit to something, I enjoy the feeling of bettering myself through exercise; a hard bike, a hard swim, the satisfaction I have after those moments is something that I relish and thrive on, it brings me back to the spring and summer of 2014 when it was just me and myself…so my “Why an Ironman” is as complex as fulfilling my daily focus each and everyday, but it is also as simple as “Why not…”
“If you know neither yourself nor your enemy you will always endanger yourself” – The Art of War
Do you think you are the only one with that voice that screams you are not enough? We want you to join us in Steve’s incredible Iron Journey. Steve will be updating us on his “discomforts ” and how he his getting very intimate with his vulnerability. It takes an enormous amount of courage and strength to expose his raw nakedness and authenticity, and for that I have an enormous amount of respect. Being fit isn’t about the selfie in the gym; being fit is being useful!