Pain in the Gut

For weeks after Mark died, my stomach hurt. Searing pain, centered in my gut.

Then, winter turned to spring. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to California. Upon returning, I was thrust into the school umpiring season and then, it was summer and more baseball games to arbitrate.

Mary decided to embark on training to get ready for the Tri for a Cure. She returned to work. I got dumped from one of my jobs. Life continued, without Mark.

How does one normalize that which isn’t normal? Life missing a portion of your heart, a family unit in mourning, and now, it’s tourist season and everyone’s life is filled with the seasonal things we all know and love. Except it’s hard to find joy when your life is turned upside-down and you continue reeling.

Our gut is part of the nervous system, known as the “brain-gut axis.” According to an older issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter detailing the effects of stress and abdominal pain,

“our brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Stress causes disruption of the digestive process. Since Mary and I have been on stress overload continuing to deal with the details of a life sans its guiding force here during summer’s height, I guess I know why my stomach is hurting again.

Stress can cause pain in the gut.

One thing we both have attempted to do is manage our stress to some degree. We don’t always succeed, but our goal is to take care of ourselves as well as possible given the shitty hand we’ve been dealt.

Last week, during a stretch characterized by a lack of sleep, I gave up any guise of productivity on Thursday and headed out on my bike. I set an achievable goal of cranking the pedals like my life depended on it. Riding across beautiful back roads nearby, I remembered a ride that Mark and I took together years ago, when he came home for one of his visits when we were still living in Durham.

Mark had been running and was in good shape, but at that time, hadn’t done much cycling. He borrowed Mary’s bike, which was probably a bit small for him. No problem for Mark. I had to ride like a madman just to keep him in my sights. He kept urging me to ride faster. Mark was always encouraging me onward, beyond my self-imposed limits. During last week’s ride, I imagined I was chasing Mark. When I made it back home after about 90 minutes of riding, my stomach no longer hurt. I’d pushed stressful thoughts out of my head, or maybe Mark had.

Having some true-blue, tried-and-true friends has been a gift that keeps on giving for us. One of those friends met me after work Monday night. We hit tennis balls back and forth before retiring for a few beers downtown. It’s hard to hold onto the cares of the world when you’re trying to get across the court to a ball skittering down the baseline.

Later, sitting with Mary before heading off to bed and my usual habit of reading ‘til I can’t keep my eyes open, we counted ourselves lucky for those time-tested friends. We also reminded one another that we don’t owe anyone anything. We’ve given enough and still; we continue being asked to give more, taking care of the ongoing administrative details of Mark’s life, nearly seven months later.

Current events taking place in Charlottesville over the weekend were hard to hear about, especially learning about a young woman—a hopeful, committed millennial who makes me think of Mark—run down by a driver, using his car as a lethal weapon. Remember two weeks ago when I referenced the Treehugger article indicating that “cars are like guns”? Maybe better, tools of terrorism.

Do you still have doubts?

Battling Bicycles

Bicycling is one of the three elements comprising a triathlon. Usually, the bike event follows the swim, and precedes the run.

Travel by bike seems just about the right speed. You can get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time, compared to walking or running. Pedal power only seems subpar because of our addiction to high-powered gasoline engines that allow us to hurry about going nowhere. When you bike somewhere, you actually notice things on the side of the road. Plus, it’s great exercise.

This spring, I’m not doing a triathlon. It’s the first time in three years that I’m not training for a June tri. I’ve decided to ride 70 miles on June 12 instead, taking part in Bicycles Battling Cancer, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. My fundraising goal is $300, with donations supporting the American Cancer Society. I’ve reached the goal and am hoping to push it to $600, which would be double my requirement. Here is my donor page if you’d like to donate.

Spring has been packed with baseball games, and other assorted duties related to “making a living,” whatever the hell that means. I haven’t been able to bike as much as usual and certainly not as much as I like to.

Slowly, but surely, my mileage has been increasing. I rode 30 miles in the rain this morning following an early morning swim. I thought the showers would hold off and to be honest, had hoped to hit the 40-mile mark on my training ride. If you’ve ever been drenched, you know that it’s no fun. I plan to get out this weekend for a couple more rides. Once I’m at 40, I feel confident that 70 won’t be a big deal.

Bicycles love smooth, new blacktop.

Bicycles love smooth, new blacktop.

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On the Base

The closure of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) was a long, drawn-out affair.  Like most impending events that you eventually find out were inevitable, this was another one that elicited hand-wringing, predictions of doom and gloom—not to mention—certain economic devastation. Brunswick was likely to dry up and blow away without Uncle Sam and the Pentagon sending shekels, keeping it afloat—at least that’s the version the media sold us.

The perspective is always different through the lens of hindsight. Looking back also provides perspective on how news stories get spun. I find it especially enlightening when political icons are judged by history. George Mitchell, everyone’s favorite Maine Democrat (if you’re a Maine Democrat) had this to say back in 1993, when he was Senate Majority Leader, in a news brief I located from the Boston Globe. [via ProQuest]

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell said yesterday that he is optimistic Maine’s Navy bases will be spared when the Defense Department’s list of recommended bases for closure s released. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the Brunswick Naval Air Station could potentially be on the list Secretary of Defense Les Aspin will present to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. [The Boston Globe, March 6, 1993]

BNAS was on the list, and it wasn’t spared. So much for the wisdom of ole’ George, Mr. Maine Democrat.  Actually, there’s more political wrangling to this story, as Mitchell ended up leaving the Senate and as a result, Maine lost some clout in Washington. That might actually have had more to do with the closure than Mitchell being a lousy prognosticator.

When BNAS closed in 2011, it affected 2,687 active duty personnel and 583 full-time civilian personnel. That was a significant loss of jobs along with the economic ripple effect that accompanied the closure.

Fast forward four years and the former Naval Air Station is in the process of redevelopment under the care of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA). Since redevelopment began, there are more than 70 businesses occupying the former base, and according to various news sources, more than 700 new jobs have been created.

Being that the JBE wants to be your go-to source for local news, at least local in terms of drawing a 30-mile ring around the JBE compound, I was able to dig a bit deeper for my readers. According the MRRA’s very own Redevelopment News newsletter that number is actually 730 jobs—which they cite as being “60 percent more than projected four years into this project. The newsletter goes on to report that they “expect to have more than 800 employees here in high-paying, quality positions by the end of the year.”

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

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Explore! New Gloucester-Bonus Material

In May, I began contributing to the Sun-Journal’s Explore! feature in their Sunday b-Section. I pick a town and explore it with fresh eyes. Last month I visited Wilton, and for June, I was nosing around in New Gloucester.

I had a bit of bonus content last month about a giant and a naked man in the wilderness that I tied in to the print piece. This month, with Moxie deadlines looming, a new book just off to the printer, plus a few other irons in the fire, I wasn’t intending to post bonus material. However, since Pineland Farms is in New Gloucester, and is mentioned in today’s feature, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share just a bit about Pineland’s past, my own ties to it, and the unique destination it’s become. Plus, I’m a writer and a blogger, and I can’t help myself.

The entrance to Pineland off Route 231.

The entrance to Pineland off Route 231.

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Back from Collapse

It felt good to run this morning. Yes, it was cold and I didn’t wear gloves. The cold, crisp October air, rushing into my lungs reminded me again that the road back from my accident in August has been slower than I anticipated. That’s when I tumbled off my bike and all the training that commenced back in January got put on hold.

I didn’t think it would take nearly three months to get back to where I was before I cracked a rib and punctured my lung on August 5th. It’s been a slow, uphill climb, but I’m really close to being able to do everything that I had been doing prior to crashing my bike that Monday night after work. Continue reading

Maybe I’ll Get Training Wheels

Four years ago, I had a nasty bike accident. I went over the handlebars on a road with broken pavement and I now have a scar on my chin that I cover with a goatee.

What mitigated the damage of that crash was being properly outfitted; the gloves I was wearing saved severe hand abrasions when I planted before hitting my chin. I was wearing a helmet that day and I always do when cycling/biking.

Hundreds of miles later and a few minor mishaps, I had another accident last night. Continue reading