Last Monday when I opened up my weekly schedule on Training Peaks something unusual happened. I cried. As my coach would attest, I typically get really excited when he posts my schedule because it gives me something to strive for and look forward to each week. That sense of structure and challenge usually gives me a quick rush of adrenaline and feeling of joy. But this time, it felt different. I felt different. I looked at my schedule, knowing I was already going to miss my swim workout on Monday, and felt as though I had already failed before the week even started. For the first time ever, I truly questioned whether I could continue doing this or if I even wanted to.
I have been questioning myself a lot lately. What I am doing? Why I am training? My typical “I can do anything” mentality has been challenged with exhaustion, confusion, and doubt. As an outsider looking in, it might look like I have it all together. I use my social media outlets, primarily Instagram and my blog, to highlight moments of my life and training that are beautiful and positive, but beneath the surface there has been a lot more going on. For the last 18 months I have tried to hold it all together, juggle my responsibilities, and still be the energetic person I once was. But lately, I find myself walking on a thin thread, feeling more lethargic, fragile, and frustrated. I feel I have reached a limit and that something in my life needs to change. Does this mean I should put aside training for the time being? I don’t know. The irrational side of me wants to. Then again, I would lose a big chunk of my happiness without it. I’d lose a big piece of me.
To be real and honest, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since becoming a mom, learning how to set aside my needs and priorities for the care and protection of another human being. Don’t get me wrong, I would do absolutely anything for my son and I try to provide him as much love and support as possible, but with this comes struggle as well. I struggle with not having enough time in the day, not knowing what to prioritize at any given moment, how to juggle multiple roles without feeling as though the balls are all going to come crashing down at once, and how to do it all and feel as though I’m not failing. I am at a point in my life where I will outwardly admit that I don’t want to be a stay at home mom anymore. I don’t want the three biggest roles in my life (mom, instructor, and athlete) to co-exist under the same roof.
I know that as a mom I am doing something huge for Axel’s life, but I never feel a sense of accomplishment. Not like I do when I am teaching a class full of college students or crossing the finish line at a race that required months of training. At the end of each day, I look around feeling as though I endured another day of diaper changes, tantrums, pots and pans clanging, meal prep and destruction (because he only wants to eat berries anyway), and cleaning up mess after mess. And with these feelings comes guilt. Shouldn’t I want to be a stay at home mom? Shouldn’t I be happy that I am the one who gets to see every milestone and be there as he is learning knew things each day? What the heck is wrong with me? Don’t get me wrong, I love my son more than anything and find so much joy in being his mom, but that doesn’t mean the day-to-day is not hard.
Lately I have felt very disconnected from training – my family – friends – work – and life in general, as though I am trying to just get through the motions and not fall apart. I’ve constantly got “all the things” running through my mind, a huge to-do list so to say, which makes it difficult to be in the moment and feel as though I’m succeeding at any one thing. There are times when I’m training but thinking about work, working but thinking about Axel, taking care of Axel but feeling alone and wishing I were with friends. It’s a constant cycle that I can’t seem to shake. And I’m smart enough to know that this is not okay.
The past few months have been particularly hard. The winter cold and snow has given me a big dose of cabin fever (mixed with some SAD) and it’s been hard being cooped up indoors with a toddler. As a stay at home mom and work at home mom, my home is pretty much my domain. Before having Axel, I could easily leave the house whenever I wanted to get interaction with the outside world by working at a coffee shop or meeting up with a friend for lunch, but now it’s not so easy. Everything I do is very structured around Axel and involves a lot of planning to some degree, which can be restricting. While working from home has its perks (I can stay at home and take care of my son – and ultimately, have a more flexible schedule) it can also be very isolating. My days have also become more monotonous → Wake up. Cram in work before Justin goes to work. Watch Axel. Train. Watch Axel and the clock tick until Justin gets home from work. Crash. Day after day.
I tend to be quite the introvert, though I do love social gatherings from time to time and love connecting with other athletes while training. Being an introverted mom is difficult for a number of reasons. I’m shy. I’m not that good at reaching out to people. It takes me a while to open up. And I require down time and time alone to function and thrive. I need it. This is the way my brain is wired. Training for an Ironman (or any event for that matter) fulfills my introverted needs. I know some people would not define going out on an 8-mile run or 50-mile bike ride as “down time,” but I do. It’s my time to rejuvenate and have some quiet moments to myself. Even if I am running or riding side by side with another athlete, I am still able to refuel and gain energy from the time away.
But it also means time away from my husband and son. I would love to be there every step of the way in Axel’s journey through life, but that is not realistic. Honestly, I think I would lose myself completely if I didn’t take some time for me each day and week. Of course I love my family and always look forward to coming home to them, but I feel that way because I get to spend some time away to refill the Kristen tank. My tank has a tendency to empty out pretty quickly. After three or four hours of constant attention and play with Axel, I feel exhausted. At first I was ashamed to admit this. It wasn’t logical that I could run 18 miles or bike 100 and feel great, but feel completely drained and irritable after a few hours of caring for Axel. How is it possible that I can extend myself physically to the limits and feel great, but feel completely depleted looking after a baby/toddler? Sounds pretty crazy huh?
As a psychologist, I believe it is important for every mother and father to assess their personalities, needs, and struggles as they enter into parenthood. I knew the first few years were going to be hard for me, but I could never have imagined the rollercoaster of emotions I would experience day to day, from feelings of joy, to feelings of guilt, to feelings of doubt and emptiness. And more than anything, loneliness. The loneliness has been really hard. And honestly, no one would really ever know how lonely I feel. I’ve wanted to share with friends. I’ve wanted to open up to my coach. Heck, I would even love to vent to my department chair at work. But instead, I just clam up and put on my “everything is okay” face. I’m not good about opening up about problems because I know everyone else is dealing with their own problems as well. Plus, I’m not really sure what to say. It’s hard to put what I’m feeling into words – relatable words. The thing is, you can feel lonely and depressed and still go about your day in a fairly normal manner. Just because people can’t physically see these emotions, doesn’t mean they are not there.
Through the transformation of becoming a mom, I haven’t been able to accept weakness or struggle. I want to feel as though I can get through it – buck up, as my dad would say – and just accept it as another passing phase of life. Plus, I don’t have time to worry about myself. I am busy taking care of my son. I am worried more about my classes and students who pay a lot of money to get a good education from an instructor who is at the top of her game. I don’t want to rob people of these experiences due to my own personal issues.
And of course, I’ve been training a lot this past year. A LOT. More than I ever have. And while it has brought me joy and made me feel like “myself” again, it only paints a picture of those moments where I am in my element. Where I am truly ME. While training can bring out the best in me, those moments when I feel most alive, it masks the hardships and loneliness I experience when I’m not riding my bike or frolicking around in my running shoes.
This past year I used Ironman training to fill a void – and it worked. It made me happy, at least during those moments away when I was able to converse with other adults or have some quiet time to myself. But it only partially disguised the emotions and loneliness that stirred inside me. Because after finishing a training ride, run, or swim, the high would be over and I would have no choice but to immediately jump back into one of my other roles.
I train and compete because it makes me happy. It is fulfilling and gives me a sense of self outside of work and being a mom. But lately, even training has been hard. And it’s never been hard for me before. There are days when I wake up exhausted, and have no choice but to take on my roles as mom and instructor. Adding “athlete” to the equation just seems to further complicate an already messy situation. I want running and triathlon to be a big part of my life – but I also do not want to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. I’m afraid that until something changes, I won’t be able to escape this new norm. As everyone reminds me, things will change and it WILL get easier. And that’s great to hear. But until they do, I will seemingly find myself in a constant tug-o-war between the thrills of motherhood and the hardships of wanting to balance work, training, and being a mom.
I’m not sure what triggered me to open up and talk about this on the blog. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the reasons I haven’t been sharing my voice in this space lately. Or maybe this is an opportunity to be vulnerable and real about the many struggles I continue to face on a personal and emotional level. To acknowledge that this is NOT easy. One of the goals of this post is to admit that I am in a stage of transition, finally coming to terms that my life will never be what it was and I need to take some time to redefine the life that lies ahead. This will require taking some time to really evaluate the things that matter, the things I value most, and the things that bring joy and vitality to my life. Motherhood has given me a new purpose in life, but that doesn’t mean it has to strip me of dreams and aspirations.
I want to be Axel’s mom. I want to excel in the career I worked so hard to attain. I want to be a competitive age group athlete. Hopefully with time and by sharing a very personal side of my life with others, a door will open and I will gain some insight into what path is right for me.
Thank you for reading. It took a lot for me to share this post, as I usually try to focus more on the positives and have a hard time opening up about the less “glamorous” side of life. To anyone out there who is struggling, no matter the circumstances, just know you are not alone.
Have you ever reached a wall or time in your life when you were spreading yourself thin? How did you overcome these struggles?