Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How I got HERE....TODAY


I'm writing because TODAY the thing that I have been waiting for, happened. The THING that I have waited for YEARS, happened today.

It was the breakthrough to end all breakthroughs.

I got an email from Coach Liz. All it said was, "THIS happened because we are both doing our jobs."

Technically, I've wanted this since I started triathlon. But, it was only until Liz and I found each other that we started working on it.

What is IT? What happened?

Today, I saw myself becoming the athlete I always knew I could be.

Although it feels like it came out of nowhere. It was a year in the making.

A year ago, almost to the day, I started working with Liz. When I first started, the very first thing she did was tell me to take time off. I took 10 days off....doing absolutely nothing.

At the time, I thought it was weird. Later, I realized that she wanted me to start fresh, not tired, not mentally drained. She wanted a fresh athlete. An athlete who wasn't tired. An athlete who (after 10 days off) would be ready to go.

After 10 days, did we jump into crazy workouts?

NO. She put me on, what I now see as, the most basic strength workouts: 4 times a week. I was hardly swimming or cycling, but we did some running; in the form of a lot of drills.

She took my race schedule and canceled off a bunch of races that I had planned. (I told her make any changes she wanted. I needed a new approach. I promised her that whatever she said to do, I would do it.)

I could barely get through those strength workouts. I was training about 8 hours a week.

Eight hours a week? That was CRAZY, but I wasn't about to question the mastermind. I knew her athletes. I've watched her athletes go from the average back of the packers to podiums and athletes competing and WINNING world championships. Not to mention, Liz is accomplished in her own right.....but you'll never hear it from her.

As the year went on, workouts continued to evolve, getting harder, more intense.

Progress is not linear. At every race, I had a breakthrough of one kind or another. They were the breakthroughs that no one would ever know about.

I might be sugar coating this a little. This was not easy. There were times where I screamed at Liz. She was always calm, knowing that I was frustrated with myself.....not her.

There were times I'd sit on the box, needing to do 5 or 6 or even 1 more box jump, and I'd think, "Why am I doing this? I'm the same person. Maybe I just need to be happy with the athlete I am. Maybe there really isn't anything more for me."

But, I'd stand up and do the next set of jumps.

Forever, the hopeless romantic.

On race days, I'd show up thinking I could hit a certain speed or pace. I didn't. I wanted to, but I physically couldn't do it.

I didn't have the ability to do it.

Repeatedly, I asked myself  "Why am I doing this?"

Every day, I got up and did the workouts. Not even knowing what to expect. Not even knowing why I was doing the workouts. I trusted her. I didn't care why. I didn't ask why. I trusted Liz to get me where I always thought I could be.

After some time off during the off season, Liz's workouts changed. They became brutal. It was like...overnight she went from nice Coach....to....well....."We're going to fucking do this"-Coach.

When I used to question if I even had what it takes, now I started seeing changes. Almost a year later, I start seeing small changes. Of course, nothing in training matters. You can have extra sleep, eat more....all of that can affect a workout...without it truly being a jump in fitness. You just feel good and train stronger that day.

Then, I started seeing fat, just sort of melt away. I could see it in the mirror. I could feel it in my clothes.

Only 5 weeks after the start of those brutal workouts, she changes things up again. The intensity is off the charts. I can barely move on recovery days.

All of last year, I worked on my mental game. I did the physical work, but the biggest gains I had were on the mental side.

That was a good way for me to start because I needed every ounce of mental strength to get through the new workouts.

A year later, AMAZING happened.

I hit +500 watts on my intervals on the bike. I swam 1:05 100's and sub :30 on my 50's. It wasn't the times that surprised me. Oh hell, that's a lie. I was so shocked by my times and watts, I was in disbelief when my swim coach was yelling at me.....you know....the GOOD type of yelling. He was so excited.

The most amazing part of today was that I went to a place I've never gone, and I didn't back off.

I felt like anything was possible.

I sat in my car after the swim. I emailed Liz immediately. Why did I go from 1:25 100's to 1:05? How is that even possible? And after that bike? How? How? How?

We talked it through. Remember when I said that I physically incapable of hitting the paces I wanted? There may be some truth to that.

We both think that I've just started engaging those fast twitch muscles across all 3 sports. We might be born with a preference for endurance or speed, but if we don't train the way that brings out our best, we can't call upon it when we need it.

The best part is how hard I was able to push....harder than I've ever done it before. It hurt so bad, but I didn't back down. The thought NEVER occurred to me to back down. On the last 25m of my swims, I didn't slow down. I saw the swimmers next to me, and I was NOT going to let them beat me to the wall.

A year in the making. A YEAR of working on my mental strategy. A YEAR of trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

There was nothing ever wrong with me.

I had never been able to find my own power. I guess, today for the first time I really understood what people mean when they say "dig deep".  It's like a beast laying dormant, just waiting, patiently.

The beast has just been released.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Perspectives


This post is more of a rambling thought process than anything. I've done a lot of testing, and it really hit me how important our perceptions of difficulty are.

If we think something will be hard, it most definitely WILL be hard.

This past weekend, I had a bike threshold test.

The week before, I had a 5k.

The week before that, I had a swim TT of 20 x 100's.

Officially, all my testing is done (for the current training block).

I know that there are a few readers who just started running in the past year or two. I also know there are a couple of people who don't train.

I want to explain how/why we test. The rest of you can skip this section.....starting...NNNOOOWWW.


We do tests to gauge our improvement or sometimes identify where we've gone backward (which can happen for a variety of reasons that are not at all bad.) In which case, it's a new starting point. This can be because we took a year off or we had a baby or maybe we decided to focus on something new and different. In other words a slower speed or lower power output is not necessarily a bad thing.

I love the bike test. The reason I love the bike test is because it's only 20 minutes of going all out. As hard as you can go without dropping power or cadence. We get this information from a power meter we put on our bikes.

Power is relative to weight. So someone who is 105lbs will not have the same power output as someone who is 170lbs.

We want this weight to power ratio to improve. It can improve in three ways:
1.) Keeping your body weight static, and you get stronger on the bike.
2.) You lose weight, and your power remains the same.
3.) THE BONUS: You lose weight AND your power increases.

You DON'T want to lose weight AND LOSE power....that's bad bad bad. That means you've lost muscle.

For me, #3 happened. I lost 4lbs since my last test, and my power increased by 10 watts.

I love these tests because, to me, it's all a matter of perspective. I look at going all out as hard as I can for 20 minutes as significantly easier than a sprint race. In a sprint race, I'm going as hard as I can go for anywhere between 30-50 minutes (depending on how long the bike course is).

Don't get me wrong. Doing a bike test is not easy, but I have a huge advantage.

As a sprinter, I am mentally and physically READY to go hard. For many athletes, TESTS SUCK. They do a test every 8 or 12 weeks or maybe less often than that.....they go as HARD as they can every 2 or 3 months.


I'm speaking from experience. Prior to working with Coach Liz, I NEVER tested. Never did a swim TT. I ran 5ks as hard but not hard enough. Never did a bike test. The first time I had to do one, I was really nervous. I had no idea how to handle the stress and pain.

Now, I do that shit every week. Every week on the bike, I go hard. My threshold test came out at 199watts. (DON'T get me started on JUST missing 200w. I'll get it next time.) My intervals range from 225-350w. That's really really hard.  These are intervals that most athletes don't do.

Not testing. Not pushing myself like that, affected my racing and training. In training, I didn't learn how to go hard. In racing, I didn't know how to handle the stress.

Regardless of what your distance of choice is....testing gives you training zones. You don't know what hard is until you go all out. When you go all out, you get your training zones. You don't know what easy is until you have your zones. I can ALWAYS tell athletes who go too hard on easy days and at long course events....and not hard enough at sprints and olys.

For those athletes, training days and races become the same pace....or within a few minutes of each other. I was the perfect example of this. My 10K PACE was only slightly faster than my half marathon pace. A 10K pace should be significantly faster.

But I didn't know what I know now. I didn't know that I should have just plain been RUNNING HARDER....because 10ks hurt....a lot more than I realized. 10ks are the most miserable distance ever created. Then, we had this brillian idea of sticking a 10k on to the end of a 1500m (~1 mile) swim and 40k (~25 mile) bike.

I never had a starting point to gauge my progress. Imagine going year to year without having numbers to compare to where you currently are. Look. We ALL do this for fun. None of us are getting paid. Hell, some pro's aren't even getting paid. Part of the fun is seeing ourselves improve. We have to be willing to take a test to get our starting point. Then follow up with more tests down the road to see our improvements.

It takes time to learn how to manage the psychological side of maintaining that level of pain required to be a successful sprinter and to be good at testing. Mostly importantly, it requires incredible focus.

My advantage is that to me, tests seem easy compare to a sprint tri.....that's because I practice dealing with pain, on a weekly basis. I have learned to deal with the mental of side of holding on as hard as I can when my legs are burning. Pushing through when your body is screaming at you to stop.

You have to go to the edge and stay there, because it's only 20 minutes.







Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The elephant in the room

Why did I leave FB without warning? I mean, hell, I do a post and an hour later, I disappear.

I left FB because I'm immature.

Social media is part of my job, and I'm really good at it. Sadly, that means I spend WAY more time on social media than the average person.

I realized that it was taking its toll on me. I was getting too much exposure to negativity or petty arguments or angry people. It's all over the place. You only have to spend a few minutes on FB, and you'll start seeing overwhelming amounts of garbage.

It has nothing to do with YOU, the people who read my blog.

You know how FB works, right? IF a FB friend *likes* a page or comments on a page or post....even if YOU aren't friends with that person or even if you don't *like* the page....you see all those comments.

In addition to that, my company's FB page has over 46000 followers.

I am exposed to an exponential number of comments compared to the average FB user.

I'm immature because I couldn't stop reading comments. I couldn't stop seeing comments from people who carry SO much hate in their hearts. I couldn't stop reading comments from people who's arrogance is OFF THE CHARTS.

I don't believe the world is a bad place. I think people are (in general) good. I think social media is a great tool for bullies and trolls who want to remain anonymous because they don't have the balls to say the exact same thing to another person's face.

SURE....any loser can lash out at someone while they are hiding behind a keyboard.

The way FB is set up is that a person has to tie their own personal account to a business account. I've always hated that. I believe that a business account should be separate. It's like leaving work at night. I could never get away from work, and I could never get away from all the toxic/angry posts from complete strangers who were friends of friends.

And I'm immature. I couldn't look away. I knew that the only way I could disconnect myself from all that garbage was to deactivate my account.

The bad part of that is that I no longer get to see updates from people I really do like. Some of you, I have never even met, but I enjoy your posts.

I understand FB probably better than 99% of you reading this. I understand that FB needs to produce revenue. They get that revenue from promoted posts, ads, boosted posts, sharing likes, etc. Hell, it's what I'm fucking good at, at work. I GET THAT.

But I could not disconnect myself.

I certainly didn't mean it to just disappear. When I woke up that morning, I didn't know that I was going to do it. I had to set up a fake identity and tie it to the business account. I had to transfer the development admin rights, etc.

When it was done, I realized there was no reason for me to keep my account. I didn't want to make some kind of announcement. That felt wrong on many levels.

Honestly, I didn't know if I could pull it off. I know people who are addicted to social media. That wasn't me.

I just couldn't turn it off at the end of the day. It was too many inputs from sources that I wasn't interested in.  If I could JUST see my friends posts, I would be happier.   But, FB needs it's revenue, and I need a break.

I don't know how long I'll be gone. It could be 2 days or 2 weeks or 2 months. My plan is to keep up with people who write blogs and/or use strava, and anyone who wants to keep in touch via email or text message.

That's it. It's really a simple reason.

For many of you, I wished we lived closer together, so we wouldn't even need FB to keep in touch.

It kind of is what it is. Maybe over the coming weeks, I can grow up and have a healthy relationship with FB. Until then, I need to stay away.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rest, Recovery, Sleep

Roughly a month ago, I was going down the stairs, and I felt a jabbing pain in my knee. I was unable to full extend my knee or bend it.

This was 100% my fault.

I thought this incident would make a worthy post because there are probably other people like me out there.

I mentioned yesterday on FB that I've been racing for 31 years. That's 100% true with a couple of short breaks thrown in there. With my pregnancies, I was a step away from bed rest. I started running track in high school (at which I completely sucked), but it started me running and competing.

Being active for that long has it's good and bad points. The good is that I don't know life without some type of strenuous activity.

The bad:
1.) Some athletes keep trying to get back to their former glory as they age. (This isn't me. I can hardly call a 10:00 pace "former glory")
2.) (And this one is DEFINITELY me) We form bad habits with recovery and don't adapt as we get older.

First, let me tell you how I define these things from my own experience:

Rest:
REST. Exactly that. Days off from training. True rest days mean we are off our feet as much as possible. We shouldn't be running around doing errands that we can't get done the rest of the week. REST. SIT YO' ASS DOWN AND EAT A SANDWICH.

In the past, I was one of those people who tried to cram in everything on my rest days. Now that I'm older, I appreciate the day a lot more. I get about one rest day every 3 weeks. I take advantage of it. I eat. I don't cut my calories simply because I'm sitting on my butt all day. My body needs those calories in order repair the damage that I've done.

Recovery:
Recovery comes in a couple of different types. (There might even be more).
1.) Active Recovery. Recovery workouts. These are workouts that are done at a significantly lower effort. I have several of these a week. Recovery workouts can often feel more difficult than a high intensity workout. These are the days where my legs feel like lead or where I feel like I'm hobbling more than running. Coach will tell me to run no higher than zone 2 and sometimes no higher than zone 1. Because it's a recovery, my running paces can sometimes be at the 12 min pace. IT'S THAT HARD, but recovery workouts are critical.

2.) Recovery: compression socks, using a roller, using a stick using a lacrosse ball, getting massages. WHATEVER your own personal tool of torture is.

These are my personal favorites.




Back to the knee story. I have an MS in Exercise Physiology. As soon as I felt the stabbing, I thought, "F*CK". I knew it happened because I hadn't been giving any real time to recovery. Sure, I'd roll once, maybe twice a week and call it good. 

I told Coach what happened. I hung my head low and said, "I made a mistake." She said, "You need to do this every day." (That's not a direct quote, but that was the gist of the conversation). Of course, I knew she was right. 

Like many people (I'm sure....I can't be the ONLY one), recovery isn't fun. It isn't something to get excited about like running 400m repeats. There's no WHOOPING IT UP. 

But, it's the MOST important part. Without recovery, there are injuries. Without recovery, there are no PRs. Without recovery, there are no 400m repeats.

Right then, I started on my recovery workouts. I do them every single night. Mr. Tea watches tv in the evenings, and I take 30minutes and an hour. I alternate lighter recovery and heavy duty days. 

When I finish a hard workout, I go right into my compression tights. In the evenings, I start with the rumble roller. Then for REALLY intense pain, I use the lacrosse ball. The lacross ball is great for small areas (like rhomboids) and it's great for getting in there nice and deep like in the glutes. Once I have most of that worked out, I move into stretching. Doing the roller is really important before stretching because it relaxes those super tight areas. 

I committed to doing that. Really, it hasn't been the time-suck that I always used to think. Honestly, I know I need to do it, and I feel SO much better now that I AM doing it daily.

Sleep
A few years back, I read an article that said to take 10% of your weekly training volume, and that's how much sleep athletes need. I thought that was brilliant. It's a great guideline.

If you train for 10 hours a week, you need an extra 1 hour of sleep per night. (I'm not here to argue the point. I'm talking about what works for me).

Back in the day, I used to wake up to an alarm clock. This little formula was really helpful to remind me to get the sleep I need. Nowadays (with adult children), I don't use an alarm clock. If I have an early meeting or a race or some morning time commitment, I set a back up alarm. Typically, I don't need it. I wake up at the same time every morning on my own.

The other piece to this is that I used to think that I needed a lot of sleep....more than the average person. And sure, I certainly DID need more than the average coach potato., but I've never been a coach potato. Since then, I've read many articles about top world class athletes who will sleep for 10 hours a night and then also take naps. I realized that "Hey....there MUST be something to that little 10% formula."

In the evenings, I usually go to bed at the same time every night, but I don't hesitate to go to bed early when I'm tired.....like last night. I was out cold by 8:30.

For me, it's about listening to my body. If I need the sleep, I'm going to get it. Intense training needs equally restful sleep.


*****

There will be people who will say, "Of course you can do that. You don't have small kids. You don't have this. Your life is easy."

To that I say, "Don't judge a man (sorry for the sexism) until you walk a mile in his shoes."

We all have our own challenges or problems that we deal with on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.


It's a matter of how you choose to prioritize your own health.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Embrace it, love it, own it

In doing short course racing, there is a level of discomfort and pain involved. This is a different pain than is experienced with going long.

We all deal with this pain. That is....if you are truly racing. Trust me. There's a difference. I know because I did races without actually racing, for a long time.


How do you manage the pain in order to breakthrough?

I have plenty of opportunity to test out ways for me do this. I've been pushing my own limits in training this season.

One day as I was pushing through more 400m repeats on eversotired legs, the thought came to me.

EMBRACE IT, LOVE IT, OWN IT.

Embrace the pain.

Love the pain.

OWN the pain.

OWN THAT SHIT.


When training is hard, stupid hard, I think "embrace it. love it. own it."

OWN THAT SHIT.


I'm racing this weekend. Today I had 400m repeats, taper reps, if you will. Just 4 of them.

One of the areas that I have been learning to deal with is pacing. I get hung up on paces. What should my pace be? That's too fast. That's too slow. 

Thinking about running interferes with my running.

Lately, my paces haven't been matching my heart rate zones. I decided to take a different approach today. Instead of trying to hit a certain pace, (notice the use of "trying" instead of "doing"), I know that to run a 5k means to run AT or HARDER than threshold. 

I set my garmin screen to only show me heart rate. The pace will be what it will be. 

My threshold heart rate is 163. My garmin beeped at me until I was in the zone. 

These 400m intervals were at increasing effort. My last one had to HARDER than threshold. With 200m left, I glanced at my garmin. I was at 167. EMBRACE IT. LOVE IT. OWN IT.

OWN THAT SHIT.

I had no idea how fast I went. I figured I was at a 9:00 pace. I didn't know my pace, but I knew that I went hard, regardless of what my pace was. I OWNED THAT SHIT. I didn't stop. I loved it. When I felt like....like....who can describe that pain of going all out? When....I couldn't hear anything around me because my breathing was so loud, and I could feel my heart banging on chest.

I embraced it. 

I eliminated thinking about running, and I ran.


I went home to see what my pace was for a mile. What do you think it was? Was it a 9:00 pace? 9:15?

No. It was 8:00.


Embrace it. Love it. Own it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Story

Some of you know this story. Some of you know parts of this story.

I had a conversation with someone last week. It's someone who in the next year or so wants to start their own business.

I wanted to share my story.

In 2004, I left, without warning, the job I was at. I mean, I gave them notice, but I didn't have another job lined up. Mr. Tea was a stay at home dad. We didn't have money in savings. We were not living extravagantly on one income. We both believed that one person should stay at home with our kids. That meant that we gave up a lot of THINGS and instead focused on DOING activities.

I'd had it at my previous job. I left.

Mr. Tea, of course, kept asking me when I was going to look for another job. What was I going to do? We had nothing. We had no health insurance, and kids who required major allergy medication.

Yet, I couldn't go back to work. At the time, I had repeatedly told Mr. Tea that his dad needs a website for his business.

Repeatedly, I was told, "You can't sell this type of thing on the internet."

I started building the website on my own. I didn't know anything about building a retail website. I didn't know anything about the product. I knew nothing.

This first attempt was a failure. By 2005, I took the website down. I had nothing. I couldn't go back to doing what I had been doing.

All I had was desperation.

In 2006, Mr. Tea came to me. At this point, he had gotten an hourly job. We were surviving on his hourly wage. He agreed that we should look into the website again. We used a credit card and had a web developer build the site.

We launched in Aug 2006. From August to December, we did $6000 in business. For the most part, I did everything (all the behind the scenes stuff). Mr. Tea said, "This will be a nice little part time job for you."

I said, "This isn't going to be a part time job. This is going to be a $20 million dollar company."

Part desperation. Part drive.

In 2007, we did around $120,000 in business. In 2007, I registered for IM CDA for 2008. We were not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. At least money was coming in, we could pay for our goods. We couldn't really pull paychecks, but we were making ends meet.

In 2007, small businesses started feeling the oncoming recession. Although we were still growing at a small percentage, we saw the clues.

And it was terrifying.

We had a credit line with American express of $25,000. I sent them a check for $20,000, and they promptly cut our credit line to $5000.

I didn't have the credit, and I didn't have the cash. In one swoop, we lost $20,000. $20,000 for a business that was doing $120,000 in business.

I called them and asked why they did this. They told me that they were afraid we were going to declare bankruptcy.

WHY?! I asked. We've never been late. We'd been customers of AMEX for over 10 years.

The following week the same thing happened with Discover, for a much smaller amount.

The week after that, we lost our line of credit with another company.

We had just sent payments to these companies. Now, we were out the cash AND the credit.

We went from just getting by to being at a level of desperation that we'd never been in. We had vendors to pay and no way to pay for them.

We had kids medication to pay for. We had a mortgage to pay for. All the normal personal stuff plus business expenses and no way to pay for them. I had an IM race coming up. (We'd paid for the hotel and air in 2007 before our lines were cut, but now we would have no way to pay for food while we were there).

We started selling everything that wasn't nailed down: furniture, electronics, books. You named it, we sold it. I told Mr. Tea that I didn't care how late we were on anything, but that I was going to give priority to our mortgage. We had two kids, a dog, a house that is probably average size. If we left the house, anyway, we'd end up paying more in rent.

We sold everything. We had one vehicle a 1978 Bronco. I had to schedule my trips to the grocery store to try to not use gas. For 4 years, I didn't even get a haircut.

We were down to below basic survival.

I applied for financial help. We were put on the low income plan to cover our electric bill. Mr. Tea went in and applied for food stamps. Three  months later and after having toast for breakfast every day and spaghetti and ragu every night for dinner, we were approved for food stamps. Stamps doesn't cover everything. In fact, for a family of 4, it gave us more than we had, but we certainly couldn't afford to buy much meat....other than the cheapest hot dogs and bologna.

We were approved for the stamps for a certain period of time. I had reapplied but wasn't approved. To this day, I have no idea why we weren't approved for the second time, and I could never get an answer.

Meanwhile, Colorado was hit with the 2nd or 3rd worst winters ever. We had 6 blizzards in SIX straight weeks. (The snow didn't melt until June). This forced our already struggling business and cash flow into an even worst position: Merchandise couldn't GET to us, and we couldn't GET it to our customers....and it was the holiday season. Watching the news, we saw a story of Fedex and UPS trucks stuck at the airport and unable to move.....for weeks.

One day, we needed groceries. I had $50 of food stamps left. I had a purse full of coupons. I got to the register. I was going through the coupons.....when the woman behind the register saw my EBT card in my hand. She looked at me and said, "I'm sure you have all this stuff, let's just use all the coupons." I almost couldn't hold back the tears. When she subtracted all the coupons, she saved me $30. $30 was a huge amount of money.

It meant another two weeks of groceries. After that, we went back to the 10 for $10 sale of ragu and spagetti noodles. For $2, I could feed a family of four, dinner.

I got to the car. I didn't feel entitled. I cried for the kindness of a complete stranger. I didn't want to be in this situation. American Dream? FUCK the American Dream. Pull myself up by my bootstraps? FUCK it. WE wouldn't BE in this situation if it weren't for the power of financial institutions.

As a parent, anyone who has been in this situation knows, that you will always give to your kids before you do anything for yourself. Mr. Tea and I would go without dinner or breakfast or anything to make sure our kids had food. We also made the decision to not let them know what was going on at the time. We didn't want to scare them. (Later we told them. The first thing they said was, "That's why we ate so much ragu and spaghetti).

Two months later, I don't know why I did this. But, I went on to check my EBT account. IT HAD BEEN FUNDED WITH 6 MONTHS OF food stamps.

We had been denied for no reason. Now, we had money to get food again. I can't tell you the weight this lifted off my shoulders. Paying the mortgage was still tough, but we had food. We also had heat through a record breaking winter. Then our master cyclinder on the Bronco went out. The truck was worth $700. The repairs would cost $1500.

As hard as this was, I think the hardest part was going to visit family for the holidays. If we were invited someplace, we went. It meant free food. But, we had to deal with comments. These people knew nothing about us, but repeatedly we silently listened to family talk about how much MONEY WE HAD. US! The family on 4 living on every type of public assistance out there, driving a 1978 Bronco....because we had our business, everyone believed we had money coming out our pores. It got better....we listened to discussions, over and over about people on food stamps, people on welfare, taking advantage of system.

We listened in silence because we got free food. On some many occasions, our families made such hurtful comments. Yet, on even more occasions, total strangers helped us. There was the family that mysteriously paid for us to go out for dinner. We don't know who they were or why they did it....or even if they knew our situation. There was the woman at the store who took all my coupons. There was the person who paid for my cart of groceries.

The kindness of total strangers.

WE got to a point where we couldn't hold on anymore. After losing the credit lines and cash, we had no way to pay our bills. We tried. As well as I manage money. The money just wasn't there.

We went from from being able to make ends meet to having financial institutions taking everything away, being on public assistance and being a half a step from being homeless. And we were lucky because other small businesses didn't even get that far.


This is, now, 2008. Did you know me in 2008? Did you have any idea of what I was going through? Probably not because we didn't ask for help.

"Well," I said to Mr. Tea one day, "If they thought we were going to declare bankruptcy, it was a self fulfilling prophecy. It's a business decision for them. It's now a business decision for us. It no longer makes sense for us to pay these bills."

We declared bankruptcy and didn't feel bad about it for a second.

That was the day I stopped giving so many FUCKS.

Once we made that decision, life changed. When you're in a really bad financial situation, it takes a LONG time to recover. We were still negotiating how often and when to drive because of gas. WE couldn't pay for electricity. When the food stamps ended, we were able to pay for food at a much lower amount than the stamps, but we were able to pay for food.

Over time, we were able to get back to a normal food budget. Then, I didn't have to reapply for the low income heating. WE could pay for it. Then we bought a car to replace the Bronco. Then we bought a 2nd car.

More importantly, I'm thankful we went through those years because it changed me as a person, for the better, I think.

I'm free. In a way, not unlike the movie The Matrix.

To this day, I don't think about the people who put me down.  I remember the total strangers that helped me. When I buy groceries, I will secretly pay for another family's groceries. I've paid off lay-aways at Walmart. I've paid for gas for people who were stranded. I will continue to do it and continue to do it anonymously because it's not about me. It's about helping people when they might be afraid to ask for help.

Things are very different for us now. Our sons are both in college. We still don't live extravagantly. I don't think we ever will. We have always appreciated doing things together as opposed to owning things. We still have 3 rooms that have absolutely no furniture, but we're now looking at changing that. Our house, that has fallen apart over the years, is finally going to start getting repairs done.

We still have the business. We have a warehouse. We have employees. We are at the point where we can enjoy life a little bit more without the stress of figure out how to pay for food.

When we didn't have money, we were criticized. Now that we have money, we're criticized.

The one BIG lesson that I learned from 2006-2011 is about not being afraid, not being afraid.  I'm not afraid of YOUR opinion of me changing because of what I've written. I'm not afraid of big scary corporations. I'm not afraid of any of that shit anymore. You know what's scary? Having a family of 4 and being homeless. THAT's scary.  All that other shit? It's just noise to make us fall in line.

And I'm not the type to fall in line.