Fatigue, Pain, Doubt and Recollections


It’s almost 1:30 in the afternoon on a blustery April Saturday. The sun appears to be attempting to break through a thin cloud layer, and the standing water that pooled and formed mini-lakes on the pavement this morning has evaporated. Siri is playing Adele on Tiernan’s Home Pod and I’m feeling a bit melancholic as I sit on the couch to kill 30 minutes, with my Boston Terrier Clarence. He is under a blanket wearing a tube cone around his neck. I was at the vet for over an hour, in an urgent care squeeze-in appointment Thursday evening after work, spending $273 on eye complications due to allergies. I have to chase him around with three different types of eye drops to be administered three times a day now for two weeks, until his follow-up appointment. I hope I can still make it to work on time given this additional time consuming chore! Right now, I am allowing myself this time in the bummer tent to reflect, before I put on a smile, and hopefully a dry swimming suit, and head to Hagg Lake for a swim with an unexpected friend, who just this morning told me I was going, when I had it in my head that this would be a no swim weekend.

I didn’t just wake up dispirited today. I’m pretty sure I’m experiencing a new flare this week (yesterday and today) or maybe the last flare never entirely went away despite the pain being barely present for almost a week. What type of flare? This is still to be determined. I see the rheumatologist this coming Friday. Tiernan stepped up to the plate to support me last night and got me out of the house and a crummy mood, by telling me to take him to the Mason Jennings concert at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Mason Jennings was my favorite singer through graduate school. He frequently played on our “old” cd player in our apartment in Bellingham and on our drives around Washington State.

Pain Observations:

Last week on my spring break, my joints felt ok for the most part. There were some mobility restraints with my wrists and ankles at times, but the only moderate to severe pain I experienced was from driving  (my right ankle and knee) through the Portland to Seattle and back I-5 traffic. I did notice my middle finger knuckles were red and swollen in the mornings on both hands, but any sensation was mild to none. I think not having the typing demands of work and the frequent cold water swims lessoned the pains, where the warmer lap pool water may have been an aggravator. I swam four times out doors while on break. Twice in the Puget Sound on the getaway to Seattle. Thursday for an hour and fifteen minutes next to Andrew Malanik’s boat (He is the president of Northwest Open Water Swimming Association, and accomplished open water swimmer. He’s the only swimmer to have swam around Bainbridge Island. I hope to be second as of May 26, 2019!), and Friday along Alki Beach in west Seattle. The temperature hovered between 47-48 degrees and the sun was out both days. These swims were validating after the 38-39 degree pins and needles swims in the Columbia River in February and March.

This past week (post spring break), I swam in Hagg Lake three times after work. Monday and Wednesday with a kayaker for 70-90 minutes each, and Tuesday along the shore, by myself, for 35 mins. Today’s swim will be open water swim number four this week. The temperature has been hovering between 51 and 55 degrees. Ideal training temp as it is similar to the expected North Channel temperature.  The water was warmest on Tuesday and cooled down three degrees by Wednesday. Maybe it was because I didn’t swim Thursday and subsequently didn’t experience the euphoria that swimming in cold water elicits, but Friday (yesterday), I was miserable and in significant pain most of the day. I got home at 5:30 from an acupuncture appointment, and immediately threw myself onto the couch. I had a low-grade fever, was flushed, my joints ached, and I had a real desire to quit everything and never get off the sofa again.


Tiernan actually noticed (surprising for a 15-year-old boy with a smart phone) and became concerned with my appearance and behavior. He pestered me and convinced me to take him to the show. I missed a Mason Jennings’ show in Portland once before, for a dress rehearsal of a musical I was performing in, and I was bummed until we saw him the next time he came back, over two years later. Last night’s show was amazing, and I loved watching his hands glide across the grand piano keys when he took breaks from the guitar. I would have regretted not going to the show, despite feeling crummy the entire time, so thank you Tiernan. You mean the world to me, which I know you know. Unfortunately the calmness and assuredness I felt last night had dissipated by this morning. Doubt has crept back in, and now I have found myself here cuddling on the couch, with Clarence as we listen to Adele.


I frequently tell Tiernan and the students I work with that they can do anything and be anyone that they want to, if they put in the time and the effort. Tiernan wanted to be Michael Phelps and Barrack Obama both when he was four, but today he has no desire to put forth the effort. My swimming career has struggled multiple times previously because of this necessary time and effort.

My mom signed me up for the Bellingham, YMCA swimming team when I was five-years-old. The team swam in a four-lane, 20 yard pool in the basement of the former Hotel Henry building (which continues to be the YMCA facility today). I remember the team working out in lanes 2-4 and feeling all their eyes bore into me, when they were on a break between sets, while I walked barefoot from the shallow end to the deep end on the white concrete toward my parents as they visited with the coach, who had just observed me swim a length of each stroke. I became the team’s youngest swimmer and quickly began winning trophies, medals, and ribbons at the age group swimming meets that my parents took me to most every weekend. These meets were not only in neighboring towns and cities like Lynden, WA and Everett WA, but also further places like Spokane, WA and Edmonton, Alberta (I flew there with my team mates). In addition to these 2-3 day weekend meets (as I grew older, relays often started on Friday nights), and long weekend road trips, I was swimming twice a day before and after school by middle school.

In seventh grade, I was physically assaulted in the school hallways by a peer, who probably is very similar to some of the middle school students I work with today. He transferred schools and I experienced recurring illnesses. I had been sick with pneumonia a few times over the years beginning in third grade, but this was different. It was initially a recurrent strep throat, but later my doctor labeled it as Mono. I quit swimming by spring trimester of my seventh grade year (unknowingly giving up my dream of being the next Janet Evans), and didn’t resume until the high school season of my freshman year of high school. I swam all four years in high school (only high school season, I never went back to club), and then started swimming for Whitman College my first year there. A few weeks into the season, I became really sick again. I was away from home for the first time, lifeguarding at the college pool, teaching literacy to second graders at a local elementary school through the America Reads Program, and carried a full credit load of classes. The doctors at the student health center diagnosed with me Mono too. I stopped swimming and remember recovering relatively quickly. The following fall before swimming season even started, I again got really sick. This time missing weeks of classes. I was diagnosed with Mono for a third time. This time, a reduction of my extra curricular activities wasn’t a quick fix like it was the year before, and I ended up with a secondary issue (erythema nodosum), which took even more time to resolve. By the time my parents came to parent weekend in October, I was 15 pounds lighter than I had been when I left home at the end of August and still fatiguing easily. I think taking a time-out last night to listen to music from my past from a singer, singing about his darkness, stirred up these memories, allowing doubt to creep in at a time when I’m no where near feeling my best and strongest. I’m fearful now of history repeating itself.  At least I still have good friends that don’t give me wiggle room, by texting me out of the blue to say, “We’re bringing the kayak. See you at 2:30.”

This upcoming swim will be a cappuccino, tea, and chocolate swim as that is all I’ve had to eat today. I walked through heavy rain to the French bakery down the street from my Barre3 class this morning to get gluten free macaroons for my book club meet-up tonight, and I also got myself a gluten free mini-mousse to go with my cappuccino since I was already there. I’m still struggling with pre and during swim nutrition. I feel best on an empty stomach so anything besides coffee makes my swims feel harder. I don’t want to feel my lunch weighing me down while I’m out there, so best to wait until I finish. All right, I’m going to try to record how my stomach feels during this swim, and here I go to see if this will be the first time I put on a dry suit this week!



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