Fall training is always hard. Getting back into a routine, discovering what equipment didn't survive the summer and needs repairs, steeling yourself mentally to go DO THE THING that you enjoy even though it's really hard.
I have been mushing for about 5 years but this is only my second season training 3-4x a week with a goal in mind. (Third season if you count the winter at Streeper Kennels, but I was at the mercy of Ed's schedule there.) It is tough. It is really, really tough. As the weather cooled down, I actually started sinking deeper into my depression, remembering how miserable getting up and training was last season and dreading the idea of doing it now that it was getting cold. Not remembering the good things that happened on the trail (aka MUSHING!) and only focusing on the bad.
That dread. It plagued me. Every morning on my mushing schedule was nearly impossible to get out of bed. I didn't want to be cold. I didn't want to do the hard thing. The idea of having to load the 90lb fritz rig and all the dogs and all the equipment was so overwhelming that it drowned out my love of mushing, and for a scary moment there, I didn't want to be a musher at all.
I talked to my therapist constantly about this. About how loading up, unloading, then doing it again when I got home didn't take that long. The drive to the trail was only 40 minutes, which in the grand scheme of my day, is not that long. I had already removed as many steps as possible to make getting out the door as easy as I could. I could tell myself these facts logically but my brain would blow these steps up so large that they seemed insurmountable. She told me two things that have stuck with me:
First, this is the anniversary of my trauma. When this began in early October, it was the same time I left home and began my job at Streeper Kennels. I didn't even realize it was the anniversary but it totally made sense. It was like a fog that was weighing me down. Once I was aware of it, I could deal with it and separate my PTSD thoughts from what are logical and normal thoughts. It was still difficult to continue, but it gave me hope that this wasn't me - it was my PTSD.
Second, she brought up a point: "Have you ever asked yourself if mushing just isn't for you?" And I know it wasn't her intention - it was an important thought ti ask myself - but it sent me into a depressive spiral that involved lots of talking and crying with friends. But it also lit a resolute fire within me. That I would fight for this thing I love. No matter how hard it is or how hard my PTSD fights back. That fire cemented my stubborn feelings about "Of course mushing is for me." And you know what? Somehow, getting up in the mornings to go mushing wasn't as hard and I began to dread less and less. I would feel dread at the intense cold and hard work that comes with lots of snowfall when I saw photos of friends and mushing idols posting photos of their snowfall and transitioning to sleds, but when snow fell here in Ohio, I felt this little bubble of excitement. I still struggle with the cold and dread and PTSD feelings daily. But I feel like I have reclaimed some part of my identity.
We have continued to have stumbling blocks - brakes misbehaving, adjusting to a new lighter rig that I haven't used before, and Radar seeming to struggle to keep up towards the end of runs. (Dog injuries are a whole other can of depression/anxiety worms, where I worry I'm doing something wrong and I just don't know what it is.) But we put one foot in front of the other and keep going.
I started playing The Red Lantern, a video game that I wanted to play since it was announced over a year ago, when it released in mid October. It is about a woman's journey to find herself through mushing and the Alaskan wilderness. It came right when I needed it most and mirrored what I had been going though to an eerie degree.
I've never cried this much playing a game. When I first saw the bit of dialogue in the video, it punched me so hard in the chest that I couldn't breathe. This anonymous woman's struggles to find herself, no matter the cold and the hard and the fear, resonated with me deeply and helped me find myself, too. Depression and anxiety still plague my mushing, from worrying I am doing things wrong to imagining myself losing the team to dreading to get out of bed to worrying a dog is injured somehow and unsure about it. But we will mush on.