Learning to Acknowledge “all the feels” on the Trail

Monday, June 15, 2020

The 800-mile Arizona Trail Race is going to be one hell of a sleep-deprived, emotional roller coaster. I chose it as my challenge for that very reason. I’ve been using long miles roaming outside as a distraction from feeling since I was 14 or 15, and at age 35 I’m paying the price for looking away for so long. The feelings I’m working with today, of course, are magnified against the backdrop of a pandemic and civil rights crisis. The acronym RULER, designed by Mark Bracket, PhD, is my new emotional training tool for rebuilding my life and also preparing for the onslaught of feelings the AZT has in store for me.

Even recovery spins are ripe with emotional training, and yesterday, I failed miserably.

“I’m actually a pro cyclist,” I mumbled, “I’m just in an emotional crisis.” The poor runner moved out of the trail and let me pass. We were on a short descent I used to ride at least a few times a week; I’ve even had the QOM on it in the past. But I was walking the rock garden because I was so overwhelmed by my feelings I didn’t trust myself to not stuff my tire, clip a pedal, or grab my front brake. I’ve been walking my bike a lot lately, and it makes whatever I’m feeling feel about a million times worse. My goal is to use the RULER acronym to investigate my feelings instead of bottling them up until they explode, but I haven’t figured out how to ride my bike well when my mode of operation isn’t to distract, distract, distract.

I was simultaneously forcing back tears and putting one leg over the bike to start riding again when the runner caught up to me and asked to pass. As she ran by, she tried consoling me by saying it was a really difficult section of trail, and I literally had to resist throwing my bike at her. Rage, I believe, is the name of that emotion. I let her pass, knowing full well I was going to be on her heels in moments. When she moved over for me, I let the defensive pro-cyclist-in-emotional-crisis line fly out of mouth. Whoever she was, I’m sure she labeled me craziest woman she’d met on the trail that day.

My ex-boyfriend was waiting for me at the bottom of the descent. I held myself back from screaming, “remember when I used to be faster than you,” and then lit into him about how he’d made me feel bad about training, and how I wished he felt guilty for being happy and riding bikes a ton without me, all while I was wallowing in some seriously new territory of self-doubt. I knew better, when you don’t own your feelings you end up blaming them on someone else, and that was not fair or productive.

One step forward, three steps back. I wish I could re-do that recovery spin and check-in with my feelings before clipping in to the pedals.

Using the Mood Meter, also designed by Marc Bracket, I reflected on the incident after the ride and identified my initial feelings as sadness, discouragement, and loneliness. When I went to squash them, they turned to high energy emotions of anger, anxiety, and emotion—and because I didn’t take the time to understand where they were coming from, I directed them at an innocent runner and my ex-boyfriend.

This wilderness of emotions will not serve me well on the Arizona Trail, especially in a sleep-deprived state. So I will continue to practice, with my eye on the goal of progressing from scared guppy to Jedi master of feelings. I know, I have a very long way to go. If you’re interested in learning improve your ability to Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate your emotions too, here are a few resources to get check out:

These are a few of the excerpts I’m turning to regularly from Permission to Feel:

It’s possible to distract ourselves to such a degree that we avoid dealing with anything difficult—even when our lives would be improved by facing reality and doing something about it.

– Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Labeling emotions accurately increases self-awareness and helps us to communicate emotions effectively, reducing misunderstanding in social interactions.

Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

But the trigger is inside us, not out there. We have to take responsibility for our actions rather than shift the blame elsewhere. It may not have felt like a choice, but it surely was—we decide how we’ll respond to life’s provocations.”

Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Again, the necessary skills: The first step is to recognize what we’re feeling. The second step is to understand what we’ve discovered—what we’re feeling and why. The next step is to properly label our emotions, meaning not just to call ourselves “happy” or “sad” but to dig deeper and identify the nuances and intricacies of what we feel. The fourth step is to express our feelings, to ourselves first and then, when right, to others. The final step is to regulate—as we’ve said, not to suppress or ignore our emotions but to use them wisely to achieve desired goals. In the next section, we’ll take those steps one by one.

Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Technical Tip Tuesday is coming up next.

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a break from the introspective aspect of outdoor adventure to provide a technical tip for waterproofing your gear without spending money on a dry bag. The trick works great for canoeing, kayaking, and canyoneering. See you then!

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