Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sun'll Come Out...

Well, a couple days ago I posted a bunch of pretty Spain pictures showing the sun and the ocean and the palm trees. Perhaps I cursed things, because shortly thereafter, it started raining. And with the exception of a couple hours here and there, it didn't stop for three days.

I'm a bit surprised by how much my attitude and outlook changes with the weather. Sunday, it was sunny, I was happy to be in Spain, I was optimistic and energetic and floored by the natural beauty around me. I couldn't wait to explore the Spanish countryside and smell the roses (or the orange trees, whatever). Then I went to Gibraltar and saw the monkeys (sorry... they are technically apes) and that made me even more happy. Apes'll do that.

Then, it started raining and just kept raining and suddenly, there it was again.... the negativity and anxiety that I felt at times in London. The late night insomnia, wondering if I've done irreparable harm to my career, the worries about money and what I'm going to do when I get back to the States, the constant need to figure things out right now, even the fear that I'm not doing this trip right (yes, it sounds silly, but you can only hear so many times that this is the "experience of a life time" before wondering seriously if you're doing yourself a disservice by not doing "more" with it).

The upside of rain

From the beginning, I've had a romantic view of my trip, kind of looked at it as a long vacation. I thought once I got away from my job, the stress of every day life, and went somewhere new and exciting, well.... every day would just be better than the last. I'd be happy all the time.

Not so much. Yes, I'm traveling and away from home. But this isn't so much a "vacation" as it is a new way of living life. And life always has its highs and lows. What I'm figuring out is, when you live in a constant state of being just slightly (or maybe largely) outside the comfort zone, the highs and lows are more extreme.

So when the rain came in, my attitude changed for the worst. I kept forcing myself to drive to other parts of Andalucia, to see new things, but to be honest, I wasn't into it. One day, I drove two hours (in the rain) each way to Granada to see Alhambra, an old Islamic castle with a Spanish twist. It was pretty, the architecture was cool, the views of Granada in the distance were breathtaking, but I was more than a little annoyed by all the tour groups, hustled my way through the attractions, snapped a picture here or there but didn't really care, and got back in my car and drove home as quickly as I could. Another day, I set out to see Ronda, a small town up in the mountains. But by the time I made it there after navigating a narrow mountain road with zero visibility due to the rain and the fog, I was so frustrated and scared that I spent all of an hour in the town before making my way back down, feeling like I'd wasted my day.

And I did my workouts, but I complained. A lot. I wrote in Training Peaks that "I'd never been more miserable on a bike," after my 90 minute ride up a mountain to Istan, through the cold, pouring rain on slick, winding, mountain roads. When outdoor temperatures plummeted into the mid-50s and the rain only made my outdoor pool even colder than it already was, I whined about every one of my swim workouts. My coach was admirably patient, offering up ideas on how to avoid hypothermia ("why don't you try wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt, swim in that? Or do some pushups after every lap to warm up? Maybe try taking a hot mug of tea and have it on deck?" (I actually tried that last one and it helped)).

But I just got more and more negative, feeling more and more like I'd made a big mistake, more and more like I was not only damaging my career, I was also fighting an uphill battle in trying to accomplish anything with triathlon when my training situation is so difficult, more and more like I hated being alone. And the more frustrated I felt, the more angry I got at myself.... it's like I felt that I'm not allowed to be upset, not when my life is so "easy" right now. No job, no relationship, no responsibilities... people would kill for this life! I need to enjoy every minute, dammit!

Then, contrary to all weather predictions, the sun came back out. Suddenly, colors seemed vivid again (Spain really is very colorful). I could smell flowers, everywhere (Spain really does smell good). I got out and walked for a while, without a destination, just wandering. I saw this:

And then, wouldn't you know it, there was the happiness again. I lifted my head up and saw the sun setting and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I took off my shoes, walked into the (very cold) Mediterranean Sea, then sat on a rock for a while, watching the waves break. I gave myself a break. It's OK to have bad days, even when you're living a "dream." It's OK to still worry. Type-A habits don't die easily, and I'm not going to fault myself for being stressed about not having my life figured out. I'm not going to beat myself up for, every once in a while, standing in the middle of a beautiful Islamic palace, and kind of wishing I was just back in Ohio with my family. It's OK. This is life, and the lows are what make the highs extra special.

The view from Ronda

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