Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Demons of January

There's something about January (and most of this dreary middle winter, honestly) that gets to me. I don't really know what it is, but I've just always been a lot more prone to funks and emotional setbacks this time of year than any other. I used to think, growing up in New England, that it was seasonal affective disorder: the low light and grey weather merely turning up the volume on my already fairly difficult-to-manage clinical depression. On my year off (in relatively balmy South Carolina) and since moving to California, however, I've still not been able to escape the demons of January even with the help of warm weather and blue skies.

On my year off, my winter depression, coupled with some already low confidence stemming from a bad late summer and autumn (and chronic pain that would turn out later to be an undiagnosed neck fracture), made me hit my lowest low and not only endanger myself personally but also seriously consider giving up riding forever. Last year at Stanford, I enjoyed riding Dually but did so in an extremely recreational way; I remember vividly wondering if I would ever feel like competing again (whereas normally I CANNOT WAIT to get out on my next cross country course!). And this year... well, the demons of January are back.

I just hate myself at times like this. Whenever anything goes wrong, I feel myself start to go to pieces and this little rational voice in my brain is thinking to itself, "Oh God, there she goes again..." but there's nothing that rational voice can do to make things better and instead I weep, I tremble, I gnash my teeth, I sob. My peers and instructors, meanwhile, back away in fear and write me off as spoiled, short-tempered, and unwilling to try; I can't really blame them for doing so (who would want to teach someone that melts down at the drop of a hat? I know I wouldn't) but it just makes my hate myself even more when it happens.

I've gone to pieces in my last two lessons, one over fences and the other on the flat. The things I am struggling with are the same things I've always struggled with, which makes it doubly frustrating: I can't recall how many times I've been told to stay tall with my upper body and get the horse bending around my inside leg in the jumping, and how many countless times I've been brought into the middle of the ring to discuss the mechanics of the seat at the sitting trot: how the hip angles should be open, the shoulders back, the hands forward and carrying, and the core strong. And still I can't seem to do any of those things. It makes me want to scream in frustration when I ask my body, over and over again, to do what my mind knows is right, and to get absolutely nothing in response. It's the kind of situation where, I think, if I weren't in such a funk, I could mostly just shrug it off and keep doggedly trying to get a little bit better every time out, but at the moment every failure seems cataclysmic.

I feel so bad for Gina in all of this, because of course she has no idea why I'm reacting this way: she's only known me for just over a year, and I took no lessons from her last January, so she could never know about the extreme Negative Nancy-ism that comes over me this time of year. I've also never been a good dressage rider, especially by her very high standards, so I don't blame her for thinking that I may honestly have never learned the basic mechanics of the seat before (how, in fact, I have literally been working on this exact same issue, with the exact same exercises we did today, for eight years now).

Ugh. Anyway. To try to combat all the negative feelings I've been getting at the barn recently, I've been making a very concentrated effort to do other things that make me happy. I've cooked dinner the last two nights in a row (one night pasta with homemade red sauce and "Tom Toast," homemade garlic bread made on hamburger buns; the next homemade mac 'n' cheese), which is something that I seriously enjoy, and so have gotten to go to the grocery store both days as well (a total personal treat... there's something about wandering those aisles of goodies that puts my heart at ease). I curled up and read a book one afternoon (and have read the entirety of Cake Wrecks in two days) and, in a big treat, went to Hearst Castle today. It was awesome!!

Hearst castle, looking much sunnier than the way I saw it!
(Source: blog/)

For those of you who haven't heard of Hearst Castle, it is the obscenely large mansion (and inspiration for Xanadu in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane) belonging to early 20th Century newspaper magnate William Hearst. At one point his estate totaled over 300 square MILES of land, including over 50 miles of coastline in the dazzlingly beautiful central coast. Today his house and the remaining 80,000 acres of the surrounding land have been converted into a state park; the grounds are used as a working cattle ranch and the house is open for tours.

I went in with pretty high expectations and was still blown away. I was nowhere near prepared for the quality and depth of Hearst's collections, from a faux-temple recreated from authentic Roman spoglia to the lusciously luminous real carrera marble statues that he had had carved new specifically for his home. I went on the most basic tour of the house and left still eager to see more - fortunately there are 4 other tours that do just that. I will have to be planning a return visit soon!

The drive to and from Hearst Castle was also probably one of the best I've ever had in California. The skies had cleared enough for the sunset to shaft mistily across waves that crashed on rugged black rocks in plumes of purple and white. Further home on 46, hills were so lush, green, and endless that they reminded me achingly of the scene at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where they see the land beyond of the end of the world and it is a mountain that extends, impossibly green and lush, infinitely upwards and beyond. Unfortunately I don't currently have a camera, so I was furiously taking pictures with my mind the entire way home.


Abby said...

Hi Katherine! I love your blog and have been following for some time now. I have a similar problem with my upper body (In fact, I recently had my mom video a dressage lesson and was APPALLED with my posture, even though I FELT like I was almost leaning back!). It can be so frustrating, especially when you're trying so hard to focus on it. All I can say is it's a problem we all have to keep working on-- I see plenty of upper level riders looking less than stellar in warm-up all the time. Visuals do help me some-- maybe you could have a friend video your next lesson and watching yourself will unveil some magical key to it all :) I agree that january can seem pretty bleak when you're not suddenly confronted by the hustle and bustle of school & eventing season -- but january is almost over, and opening dates are already here! Until then, keep at it. You've got some lovely horses and an exciting spring season ahead, and I can't wait to follow along with your adventures!

Katherine Erickson said...

Thanks so much! You're too sweet. And yes, the first entries are going in the mail in just a few days - definitely something to be excited for!!

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