Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Get By with a Little Help from my Friends

When I wrote my last blog, "Only a Broken Spirit" on Tuesday, I was on a flight from Las Vegas to Chicago, the first leg of my return trip to Rwanda.  If any of you have read it you know it was raw and from my heart.  When I pressed send the plane was landing in Chicago and I wouldn't have internet again until almost 24 hours later after two more 9 hour flights and a 2+ hour drive to Musanze from the airport in Kigali.  

I didn't know what to expect.  Sometimes the raw truth is just a little too raw for most people.  It's not pretty.  It's vulnerable and messy.  The internet is a scary place. Perhaps that is why I wrote it and sent it knowing it would just have to be "out" there for 24 hours.  Generally one to two hundred people read any particular blog.  It's mostly for friends and family.  When I got back to my house in Rwanda I was shocked.  So many people had sent messages, love and support via Facebook, email and the blog.  I was completely blown away.  I am an introvert.  I know...shocking for someone who keeps a blog and works in marketing.  I swear, I really am.  I threw one of my lowest points out into my world and all that came back was love, care and concern.  Some of the love, care and concern from people I haven't spoken with in years but who told me they follow my journey.

Thank all who commented and messaged me.  Sometimes, in our darkest moments, we forget how many people do care as we tend to focus on all the people who don't.  

On Cinco de Mayo I was out with a bunch of my cycling friends in Vegas.  I had a moment (before two margaritas) when I was laughing hysterically and suddenly realizing how much fun I was having.  I had lost the art of just having some simple fun with friends.  Those moments have gotten fewer and farther between in Rwanda as my friends here are very much like me, workaholic do gooders who forget to do for themselves.  After seven years of leaving Las Vegas there are times, on my bike or with my cycling friends, that I feel like I've never left.  That's a good thing.

Cinco de Mayo with Gina & Ami and many more

I am a strong believer in a higher power, for me that's the Baby Jesus.  I need prayers.  I need to know I'm not alone and I have people in my corner even 10,000 miles away.  I know that now.

I promise to work more on taking care of myself so I can better care for the ones I love here so far away from the world I'm from.  I promise to take more trips and laugh more and remember why I fell in love with what I do.  I still expect it to evolve, it's time, but it will be the next adventure.

Paris a few years back for the Tour de France total goofy funness that week!

The Tour of Rwanda 2014...the first year we won.  

2015 we won again and it was truly one of the worst weeks of my life filled with stress, anxiety, sadness, anticipation and then finally little acknowledgment for all the work we had done.  I need to get back to that woman laughing on the car in November 2014.  

Seeing all the messages I received I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I'm not in this alone.  Thank you to all of you who made me believe again that what I do least to the friends and family who love me.  #teamisteam

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Only a Broken Spirit

A couple of days ago I posted a photo of myself sporting my 24-hour Holter.  A Holter is essentially a 24-hour (sometimes longer) EKG, which monitors your heart rhythms.  The goal is to see if there are any abnormalities throughout a normal day, as sometimes when you have an EKG in a hospital or doctor’s office, everything may appear fine in that moment.

Why was I wearing one?  Good question.

Several months ago, actually near the end of last year, I began having heart palpitations.  I told myself, “You’re just having a panic attack, stay calm.”  However, after ever increasing regularity it felt like it was something more.  I am familiar with panic attacks.  My first one came decades ago while driving with me pulling over on the side of the highway to wait it out.  The next one happened while I was still in my late 20’s.  I owned several Subway franchises and worked constantly.  It never seemed to end.  One morning I was short of breath and couldn’t raise my arm above my head.  I drove myself to the Emergency Room.  After x-rays and tests the doctor came in, patted me on the back and said, “You just need to relax and take a vacation.”

“Yeah….let me get right on that.”

And here I am again, 20 years later.  

My sister is a doctor and we have talked about my symptoms in depth.  I have no history of heart disease in my family.  I work out and I’m not overweight.  My blood pressure is normal and to all outward appearances I am the poster woman of good health.  

The month before I left Rwanda the heart palpitations, tingling hands and fingers, dizziness and my feeling of “oh shit, I’m going to die in Rwanda” continued.  Maybe there was something more going on?

I arrived back in the US on a Thursday and met with an internal medicine doctor on Monday.  Another EKG, another normal, however, she referred me to a cardiologist.  

On May 2nd I saw a cardiologist.  As cardiologists go he was a hoot!  Pakistani man, probably in his late 60’s/early 70’s who couldn’t seem to wrap his head around why I was living in Rwanda and how I could still be living there after 7 years.  He just kept shaking his head and asking why?

I asked him, “Where are you from?”


“Well there you go, you know what living in a third world country is like!” I laughed.

“That’s why I live in the US.”


He scheduled me for a stress test, an Echocardiogram and a 24 Hour Holter and fast tracked it all to make sure I could get everything done before I left.  The whole time he was working with the nurse to schedule it he kept laughing and telling everyone who was within earshot what I was doing in Rwanda.  

On Friday this past week I arrived at the Heart Center of Nevada for all my tests.  I had not had any anxiety, panic attacks or heart palpitations since leaving Rwanda.  I was beginning to feel like all of this was major overkill.  My sister simply reminded me it was best to get a clean bill of heart health so the next time I have a panic attack I could legitimately remind myself it wasn’t my heart but rather my brain which was having issues.

Last night I spoke with the nurse and she told me everything about my heart is fine and healthy.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  As I was about to hang up she told me, “Safe travels and please take care of yourself.”  Apparently everyone at Heart Center of Nevada seems to know my story.

Today I’m on the plane back.

Why all this anxiety?  

I read a quote the other day by Charles Bukowski, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”

I love what I do but I really do not want to die for it.  The sad thing is, things have changed for me.  After the November walkout the week prior to the Tour of Rwanda last year I haven’t been the same.  I do not trust most of the riders.  When you pour your heart and soul into making someone’s life better and they turn around after seven years and give you a gigantic FU one begins to question the work and the commitment.  Because mentally I haven’t dealt with the fallout from that event, my body has begun forcing me to.

Some day I will tell the whole story of those four days and the 2015 Tour of Rwanda but not now.  It felt like my therapist was about to cry when I told her everything.  I guess I didn’t realize how much those days had changed me.  She was the only one who gave me permission to be angry, sad and hurt.  It was real.  It did happen.  It had a consequence.  It felt like it literally broke my heart.  As it turns out, my heart is healthy but my spirit is not.

Logically I understand the issues I face with the riders.  They have had very little education.  They come from incredibly poor backgrounds and they are survivalists.  Survivalists survive by any means possible including biting the hand that feeds them.  It does not make it any easier.  A couple of days ago I received an email from our coach.  He is hearing rumblings again of discontent.  

I cannot do this anymore.  I have no patience for empathy.  I surely don’t have the heart for it.  So, how will I deal?  Next.

You don’t want this opportunity?  Next.  

There are probably 3 million young men and women in this country who do.  Next.  No emotion.  No attachment.  You make the choice.  I am finished with feeling stressed and anxious.  I am taking back MY life and my sanity.

Things are changing. I told my friend I was riding with the other day that I feel it.  I love Africa and I love the world of cycling.  I love seeing how far we can take these young men and women. I hope to still work in this industry doing what I love. I do not know what the next chapter holds but I do know I’m open to it.  I will consider other options.  

I will be open to life after Team Rwanda because I will not let it kill me.