Do you ever feel like you’re trapped in the worst version of yourself?
Normally, you’re a confident person. Normally, you’re capable. Normally, you’re driven, decisive, and focused. You know where you want to go and how to get there. But then something happens—you may not even know what it is or when it occurred—and you realize your actions no longer reflect who you truly are. Your MO is nowhere to be found. You begin to doubt yourself. You begin to question your ability. What in the world is wrong with me? you wonder. I’m better than this. It’s like you’re stuck on some awful level of a video game, and you can’t find the secret passage to save your lives. (Lives. Get it? ‘Cuz it’s a video game?)
Yes, you’re trapped in the worst version of yourself. And people are starting to notice.
I was at mile ten of a sixteen-mile long run when my gastrointestinal system revolted. We’re talking a DEFCON 1 bathroom crisis. Now, I consider myself a relatively experienced runner. I’m not the fastest or the most talented, but I have some miles under my belt. When issues arise, I deal with them.
Okay, stay calm, I told myself as the crisis escalated. Slow down. Keep breathing. Just find a bathroom.
My stomach cramped again, and I bent over in pain. Stay calm. I slowed to a walk. Forget the bathroom. I reasoned. Find a tree. Or a big rock. Or a giant dog. There’s no shame in an emergency situation. This happens to every runner at some point…
I continued to lurch down the sidewalk, looking for something—anything—that would suffice as an impromptu restroom facility. At that point, I wasn’t going to be picky. Unfortunately, I was running through a particularly well-groomed part of town. I was flanked on one side by stately homes and on the other by a busy thoroughfare (at rush hour). The only trees were plunked in manicured lawns, and as far as bushes went, unless I wanted to assume the position of Cupid and relieve myself behind a topiary, I was out of luck. My stomach lurched again. Things were going to get ugly.
I was about to hurl myself into oncoming traffic (the only reasonable thing to do at that point), when I stumbled across a long driveway leading to an old-home-turned-commercial-building. I didn’t know exactly what the building was (in my extreme distress I failed to read the sign along the road), but I remember the word “Home” and a vague impression that it had a medical leaning. At any rate, there were undoubtedly employees, and where there are employees, there are employee bathrooms.
I burst through the sliding glass doors only to be confronted with a reception desk manned by four women in scrubs. The four women looked at me disapprovingly and with no small amount of suspicion. I stood there, sweaty and disgusting, still bent in half from stomach convulsions.
“Can we help you?” one of them asked.
“Uh, yeah… uh [groan]… do you have a bathroom I can use?”
One of the women, whom I assumed to be the head nurse by nature of her imperial grimace, gave me a displeased once-over before disappearing into a room behind the desk. She finally returned holding a key. There was a giant tambourine attached to it.
“Here. The bathroom is the door right there. You have to leave the key in the lock for the door to stay locked.”
“Thank you!” I gasped. I was in no condition to harbor any scruples regarding the instrumental nature of the bathroom key, and I gladly jingled and jangled my way to the bathroom, like an intestinally-compromised Santa Claus.
I soon felt much better, and life once more was good. I reached for the door handle and pulled on the tambourine key. It didn’t move. I pulled again, wiggling the key back and forth to unlock the door. Nothing. I was stuck.
C’mon… please! C’mon…
The tambourine-key banged against the door with exasperating telltale commotion. I pictured all of the nurses—the ominous head nurse in particular—at the desk across the hall, mocking my incompetency with every incriminating clang of the metal symbols. But no matter how hard I tried to dislodge the key, I couldn’t. The harder I tried to unlock the door, the louder the tambourine-key clanged. I even leaned against the tambourine, trying to keep the tiny symbols from crashing together as I wiggled the key. It didn’t work. Instead, I simply added the inharmonious clamor of the door slamming against its wooden frame. It was a symphony of futility.
C’mon. You’re smarter than the tambourine-key. You can do this. You can unlock some stupid door.
But, no. I was going to die in the bathroom. I was going to die in the tambourine-key bathroom.
Finally, after several minutes of commotion, I somehow ripped the key from the lock and exploded through the door with a tambourine ovation. The hall was still and quiet (that is, once the symbols stopped resonating). The nurses stared at me. I stared back. Smoothing my ponytail and acting as if everything had gone just as I had hoped it would, I walked to the reception desk and handed the key back to the head nurse.
“Thank you so much, “ I smiled as I walked through the sliding glass doors, knowing my competency would forever be questioned by the four nurses who had witnessed the little episode.
We all want to be perceived as capable. We all want to be perceived as competent. But every now and then, someone throws a tambourine-key in the lock, and we find ourselves doubting our ability. And most of the time, it’s some form of anxiety or worry that causes the commotion.
You know those Snickers commercials that show a person acting like a random celebrity (generally less appealing for the given situation), such as Betty White on a football field or Roseanne Barr on a construction site? The person is completely unrecognizable until he or she is given a Snickers bar to eat. Then the person returns to normal, and the commercial ends with the tagline, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” There’s something to be said for that theory. Our lives aren’t compartmentalized. Our emotions aren’t neat and organized. Our uncertainty or doubt or lack of confidence in one area will inevitably lead to strain in other areas as well. Maybe not to the same degree and maybe not in the same way, but whether it manifests itself in indecision or fatigue, disquiet always issues side effects.
The problem is, if we don’t deal with the source of the anxiety, the side effects linger until how we handle ourselves is a misrepresentation of who we really are.
I hate when I fall into the worst version of myself. I can always tell when it’s happening, too, because I start to give more weight to fear and worry. I start expressing anxiety when I would normally voice encouragement. I start to question my decisions. And try as I might to hold it together, I can’t keep the tambourine from banging against the door. All sorts of clamor and discord occur because one area just isn’t right.
The commotion from the tambourine-key had nothing to do with the tambourine. Even if I had managed to silence all of the symbols, the lock still would have been broken. I still would have been stuck in the bathroom. Only in addressing the source of the problem would the confusion and ruckus stop.
Because life is full of tambourine-keys. The trick is knowing how to fix the lock.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.