Saturday, November 30, 2013

Awkward Beauty

There are times in your life when you just wish the photo was not taken.  Yesterday, instead of participating in any Black Friday commercial gluttony, all the boys from the Young house head to a local frisbee golf course for some friendly competition.  This includes boys of all ages.  Scores are not kept but best and worst throws are remembered forever.

Our annual tradition is quite simple but at the same time the best fun of the Thanksgiving weekend.  We head to the course around 10:00am, play a round, have a lunch full of pizza and real coke (my boys never get real coke), and then head back out to the course for another round of golf.  While everyone else is battling the crowds at the mall, we are happily playing disk golf in the solace of the outdoors.

I had been documenting our annual fun by taking photos at the tees and the baskets.  It is always fun to try and capture a photo that really shows the effort and fun we put into a friendly round of disk golf.  When it was my turn to throw, my middle son stops me by asking for the camera.  I say no, just let me throw but he insists saying that no one has taken my picture yet.  I submit, hand him the camera, and take my place to throw.  He NAILED the photo and I have titled it - Awkward Beauty.  I am clearly the awkward one with the flatirons of Boulder in the backdrop as the beauty.

Awkward Beauty
Just to prove how photography can alter the true beauty of an athletic move by stopping it at the most awkward moments, here are a whole set of photos from yesterday's Awkward Beauty.  We had serious fun and most of all avoided the stress of the Black Friday crowds.

Awkward Beauty







Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Only You Can Prevent Wildfires

I thought the U.S. Forest Service abandoned this motto and now embraced fire as a necessary function for keeping forests and ecosystems. Their motto should be "nature says let it burn".

Social Fear

Family - you love them and you hate them.  For me - I really, really struggle at family gatherings.  I have been secretly introverted my entire life so much so that family gatherings are extremely stressful.  Basically I fake happiness during social interactions as my mind screams for me to hide.  I almost cannot stand it and without alcohol I would not be able to handle more than a couple of hours with family.  This includes my immediate family, Heather's immediate family, any extended family and even gatherings with friends.  I suffer greatly at any family gathering no matter how large or small.

No one in my family has heard this before and I would be willing to bet they had no idea I felt this way.  I allow a false arrogance to take over me as I internally shut down, get quiet, eat a lot, and drink.  Obviously this is not healthy for anyone's physical or mental state.  This completely sucks because not only is it stressful, this feeling is not fair to me or my family.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am already freaking out about having to deal with the 21 other people who are coming to my house to eat turkey.  My anxiety is high and I will shut down.

The question is why?  Why do I suffer?  Why can't I handle being around family?  These are the people who love me unconditionally.  I should be ecstatic to be with them.  I actually don't think it is family that causes my distress - it is being with people in general.  In other words - social anxiety.  Family events are always in very close contact so I think the feelings are magnified.  My social anxiety is obviously not extreme because I can and do attend public events and go to parties.  It is just not my choice or favorite thing to do.  I can always manage my anxiety with a good bottle of tequila which turns me into the life of the party.  Is this really a good way to live?  NO! 

Self -medicating during a family gathering in 2012
So I am still trying to answer the question of why I really do not enjoy family gatherings.  I think it is because I am afraid that someone might discover the true me.  I have always had a false arrogance that hides my self-loathing self and my perception of personal weakness.  Everyone knows me through my arrogance and if they ever find out how vulnerable and alone I feel inside myself, they would be shocked - even Heather.  I absolutely fear anyone getting too close to me just in case they find out about my true feelings for myself (I guess the cat is out of the bag - fuck!).  My feeling of being a complete and total loser dominates my psyche and life when with others.  This is very hard to change regardless of the support, love, and affirmation I receive because this feeling has been so ingrained into who I am.  I am changing this mindset right now with this blog post.

Let's get this straight right now - I do NOT want any pity from anyone.  Please keep loving me as if I never wrote this blog post.  Please remember - this is my blog written for myself.  You are just a voyeur in my mind.  I also have an amazing and wonderful therapist supporting me as I discover myself during this 40th trip around the sun.

Back to my social anxiety - I have to deal with it tomorrow.  I already have accepted that I will self-medicate with alcohol although I am not proud of that.  Until I find myself and can move forward in a social setting with my paranoia of discovery gone, I am forced to carry on as I have ever since I can remember.  Maybe this blog will help move me forward.  

I used to take "beer selfies" as part of my justification for self-medication.
Thankfully this stopped about a month ago as I really began to discover my true self.

I Can't Focus

Today's is the day before Thanksgiving.  I am at work and having a terrible time focusing.  I have doubled up on my Adderall dose and it is still not working.  Focus, focus, focus I keep telling myself but my mind is elsewhere.

My mind is on snakes.  Normally I welcome this amazing distraction but today I should be tying up lose ends at work before the very long weekend.  I find myself instead of daydreaming about snakes.  My rainbow snake blog really makes me miss the swamps, streams, forests, and sandhills of the southeast.  It is this distraction that is killing me.  Colorado is sunny but cold, cold, cold and I feel it in my bones worse this year than ever. 

I can't focus!  Since my mind is off in the woods wanting desperately to embrace my passion, here are some photos of southeastern snakes.

Don't Touch My Beer

Green Anaconda

The Green Anaconda is the heaviest snake in the world.  What does that really mean?  It means that a large Green Anaconda can weigh more that an average human male.  The heaviest wild Green Anaconda that has been scientifically weighed was 215lbs.  Yes - 215lbs of muscle and bones.  This was a big snake!  Green Anacondas are often mistaken as the longest snake in the world but this record belongs to the Reticulated Python which was discussed in my Lucy Grace post.  The longest Green Anaconda ever scientifically measure was 17'1" long which is over 4' shorter than the longest Reticulated Python. This video of the Green Anaconda Song is actually a very good factual representation (except for the weight and length) of these not-so-gentle giants.

So why am I writing about Green Anacondas???  Well these snakes have quickly become a favorite of mine because of one small anaconda that came to me from a local pet store.  Once again, a customer of the pet store bought a baby green anaconda.  When they are born (yes - anacondas give live birth to their young) anacondas are small and very cute.  Averaging about 22" long they don't seem that big however when properly fed can reach 5' long and weigh 10-15lbs in a year!  This is an amazing and one of the fastest growth rate for any snake.

Ashton (my five year old) with Pequeña
Well - this baby snake that quickly grew into a 5' long snake and with little handling during this time it also became a snake with a strong defensive response to being held.  The pet store called me and asked if I wanted to adopt the green anaconda for our education programs and my answer is always yes despite the snake's temperament.  Even defensive snakes can be held successfully without being bitten once the defensive triggers of the snake have been identified.  So the Center for Snake Conservation now has a new 5' long Green Anaconda named Pequeña.

Pequeña is a female Green Anaconda who has a little temperamental issue when held.  If she is on the ground, she is a perfect angel but it when she is picked up that bites can occur.  I have gotten to know Pequeña pretty well and now am bitten only when I make a mistake handling her.  The bites I receive are never that bad or her fault as she is only defending herself.  Typically I did something to her (showing off her unique head morphology)  or moved in a threatening way.  

The nostrils and eyes of anacondas are both on top of their head.
This helps them see and breathe at the same time like an alligator.

Examples of Pequeña's bites:

Grazing bite to finger
Full bite to thumb

So how do you handle a large snake that can bite?  The answer is very, very carefully.  Snakes get defensive when you grab them - this can cause even the nicest snake to bite.  With large snakes it is almost impossible not to grab them as you hold onto them.  Never grab a snake behind its head unless it is extremely defensive even when not restrained.  This presents a tough challenge when holding an anaconda.  I move slowly once the snake is in my hands and try to passively support the snake.  This helps her feel safe.  Ashton below is demonstrating a technique where the snake is on the ground.  He is holding her tail when positioning the snake gently with a snake hook.

Me and Pequeña
Ashton showing how to handle Pequeña safely

What do you do if you are bitten a large snake?  Well I have not had a bad bite from Pequeña yet but my friend Jesus Rivas certainly has from other anacondas.  Jesus is a research biologist who has worked with Green Anaconda for over 20 years in the Llanos of Venezuela.  I met Jesus while he was filming a show with National Geographic about snakes in the southeastern United States.  He came to the Savannah River Ecology Lab to film my advisor's research on the defensive behavior of cottonmouths.  If you can believe it, as part of this research we intentionally found cottonmouths and stepped on them to show that their defensive behavior does not include biting when stepped on.  The MAJORITY of snakes we stepped on never even tried to bite.

A very large anaconda from Brazil
Photographer unknown
Back to Jesus.  Jesus and I have kept in contact sporadically over the years but what has impressed me the most about Jesus is his fearless ability to find and catch large anacondas in the wild.  He wades in water up to waist deep feeling for anacondas with his feet.  He has stepped on many black caiman and even a crocodile doing this.  Once he finds an anaconda, he works his hands along the snake's body until he can grab it by the head.  Jesus perfected a technique to not get bitten but sometimes accidents happen.  Check out the short video below (ignoring the "among the world's deadliest" comment) for how to get an anaconda off of you once you have been bitten.  Actually it is easier to just let go of the snake but since Jesus doesn't want it to get away, he holds onto it and has to manually extract his finger.

Back to Pequeña.  Why would I want a snake that bites for education programs?  Isn't the Center for Snake Conservation about dispelling myths?  Yes but we also want to show a diversity of snakes despite their temperaments.  A Green Anaconda is a perfect snake to teach about snake growth, size, morphology, and temperament.  We also discuss snake safety as any of the giant species are ALWAYS (no exceptions) two person snakes.  This means that no one even opens the cage of a giant snake when alone.  Even when we travel to our snake talks, the giant snakes have locks on their travel containers.  Just recently, I got a request from a friend for a video of what exactly is in the locked box.  Check out the short video I made explaining everything.

Pequeño from Snakes on Vimeo.

So Pequeña, despite her strong defensive response to handling, is a perfect educator for the Center for Snake Conservation.  I really look forward to developing a personal relationship (yes - snakes get to know who you are and will act differently with other people) with her.  Currently I am the only educator allowed to handle her but I hope this will one day change.  Regardless, she is going to be a perennial participant in my snake presentations.

Demonstrating how a Green Anaconda's head morphology is an advantage in the water.

Pequeña climbing my leg during a presentation


I am sure you all have heard the saying, "good things come to those who wait"?  I tried to Google its origin but just found out that it is simply an English phrase for patience.  This short phrase has probably been used by parents for centuries.  I know I have used it with my kids.  I do think it has a deeper meaning than just a way to get our kids to shut up but does that meaning really matter?

"Patience is a virtue" - just another saying to make us wait for something, whatever it may be.  Why though?  Why is patience a virtue?  Isn't it just a copout for things we cannot get?  Or does it really matter to wait, wait, and wait some more for what we want.  I am being to think that this phrase is a myth and you have to forget patience and drive hard for what you want right now or it will never happen.

I had very little patience growing up but now as a father I understand that this is a trait for most children.  Here two examples where I lacked patience growing up:

1) Every year I knew exactly what "Santa" was bringing me weeks before Christmas.  How?  My impatience had me searching the house for my presents until I located them under my parents bed.  Once I knew the hiding place, I would sneak into their room as often as I could to see if any new presents had arrived and dream about the ones I already knew I would be getting.  I guess I did have some patience because I always waited until Christmas morning before I opened my presents.  Christmas Chaos with my family:

2) I hated waiting for church to be over.  I would wiggle and wiggle which prompted a predictable response from my mother each week - "Cameron, stop wiggling" would be forced through her teeth as quietly as possible.  I remember being even more annoyed when the pastor's sermon went long or something special was added to the program.  I was just about as impatient as could possibly be at that moment.  Maybe I was just bored?

North Decatur Presbyterian Church - my childhood church 
I think I am fed up, sick, and tired of waiting for things in my life.  I understand that many things take time, training, planning, and (oh crap) patience in order to be successful.  That said, if I wait too long, I may completely miss my opportunity.  This is true at work, at home, in friendships, and in love.  How do we know when we have been patient enough and need to act in order to make something happen - good or bad?
The Center for Snake Conservation is a great example of how I have been extremely patient.  I was very impatient at first because I thought the CSC would explode as a conservation group because there is a REAL need for snake conservation.  Well, it did explode in popularity but that is it.  I was blinded by my passion for snakes and thought everyone would jump on board, become members, and make the CSC the next powerhouse in conservation.  The CSC has a very successful Facebook campaign but that is about it.  We are starting to really develop a presence along the Front Range of Colorado with our education programs.  In addition, the majority of the academic and field herpetologist world knows who we are and this reputation is stretching across the world.  The trouble is that reputation and popularity do not run a business.  I have had to learn patience because I don't know how to run a business either and need help.  It is time to make a move so I am actively seeking this help now because I am tired of waiting.  My patience has run out.

There are other things in my life that I have been waiting for but I am not sure if patience is the right course of action.  Yes - many of these things require baby steps and serious planning.  However, as a chronic procrastinator until things hit crisis mode (please read my blog Self for details), being patient means that nothing will ever happen.  It seems that I am very good at procrastinating my life without ever taken action for what I want.  I am hopeful Running With Snakes becomes a new source of inspiration, an electronic cattle prod, and forces me to act.  Only then I will be able to develop a healthy patience.  Only time will tell. 

The Dominator

Although the guitarist for Metallica wrote this song for his girlfriend and it was never intended to be released, I think it really lends its self to learning patience.  We are on the road, far away from our dreams, but we must be open to living life our way.  Patience may be required but ultimately "Nothing Else Matters".  In other words - be patient if you have to but always go after you want and make your life happen.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rainbow Snake

Want to learn about something that drives me?  About a passion that burns uncontrolled in my soul? Makes me happy and frustrated at the same time?  Has brought me sheer exhaustion but I am still crazy enough to pursue it?

I want to introduce to you the rainbow snake. 

The rainbow snake is arguably North America's most attractive snake species.  Considered the holy grail of snakes in the southeastern United States, it has been sought after by many herpetologists with only failure and the bottom of a whiskey bottle to show for their efforts.  I will freely admit that the search to learn more about the rainbow snake has altered my mind to the point that I have a dangerous passion for this species.  Only Sasquatch hunters are crazier.

Rainbow Snake
Photo by J.D. Willson
Rainbow snakes are high on the priority list as a snake species that may need immediate conservation measures implemented to ensure it continue existence.  The trouble is that no one knows very much about them.  We have learned through anecdotal observations that this amazing species eats American eels.  This alone is cause for concern as eel populations have been plummeting in the last 20 years all across the eastern seaboard.  We also know that they are oviparous (lays eggs) and nest far from the water's edge in a dry sandy area.  Human developments also typically target the same high and dry areas as prime places to occupy.  This with the additional road infrastructure that bisect the southeast are very serious threats to female and baby rainbow snakes as they migrate to and from these nesting areas.

I am one of the lucky few who has been privileged to find many rainbow snakes while I lived in the southeast.  I was also blessed with access to the Savannah River Site where more rainbow snakes have been caught than anywhere else.  I made it my mission while in graduate school (instead of doing my research - see my previous blog Snakes - Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?) to discover a method to find, catch, or trap rainbow snakes reliably.   Despite my long hours in the field, my efforts resulted as all previous attempts at this task.  Sure I caught my fair share (most herpetologists would say more than my fair share) of rainbow snakes in the process but I was not able to ever predict a capture with any certainty. 

My search for finding the perfect method for catching rainbow snake dominated my graduate school life while at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.  I would set traps and drive roads endlessly looking for a spot with high rainbow snake densities.  While I discovered a few places that you could trap rainbow snakes and stream crossings that produced DOR and AOR rainbow snakes, I still did not have a reliable and consistent method for catching them.  My friend, Tony (master educator and snake hunter extraordinaire), suggested that I shine lights from bridges into the water for rainbow snakes.  It was then that I introduced Tony to 1 million candle power rechargeable spotlights for the task.  He found a new passion for spotlighting off bridges but unfortunately only found watersnakes and cottonmouths with a few other old ball snakes throw in.  See the video below for a daytime example of rainbow snake by-catch.  Hmmm - what to do next?


I took it upon myself to prove that you can walk streams at night and catch the shit out of rainbow snakes.  I spent the next two field seasons in the field every night walking streams.  Starting at sundown I would walk, shine, walk, shine, walk, shine, walk, and shine in streams until roughly 3:00am each night.  I walked myself to sheer exhaustion.  Not unexpectedly, I did not find a single rainbow snake with this method but I still swore I could figure the species out!  I was not going to stop trying either!!!!  Eventually this compulsive habit was part of the avalanche that ended my graduate career.
Rainbow Snake Habitat At Night
As the Director of the Center for Snake Conservation, I have been passively promoting the need for rainbow snake research and the development of species specific conservation measures.  The CSC is not quite ready to make the full commitment of building a huge southeastern contingent for this species but that does not mean we aren't doing anything.  We do have a Rainbow Snake Initiative that requests for any information about rainbow snakes and where they were found.  Below is an example of a cell phone video sent to us through the Rainbow Snake Initiative website.  Is this enough?


Probably not.  In order to make rainbow snake conservation a priority, I am going to have to build my personal presence in the southeast.  I need to let the world know about this amazing snake and why it is so important we learn about its ecology and natural history.  People need to experience my passion firsthand for this snake in order for me to pass on a wonder and appreciation for all snakes.  I know my fascination of snakes is highly contagious especially when I can exploit the amazing adaptations of a species such as the rainbow snake as my teaching tool.

Am I ready to abandon what I have been building in Colorado to pursue my infatuation of rainbow snakes?  Maybe I am?  I have been slowly reducing my involvement in the CSC's Colorado work so I can focus growing the CSC in other ways while secretly dreaming of my passion.  Well - all snakes are my passion but the rainbow snake has me perplexed to the point of almost an obsession.  The rainbow snake has given me glimpse of who it really is and what makes it tick without giving up anything about its true identify.  As a sucker for frustration, this glimpse is just enough to keep me coming back.  Even with the limited insight I gather from a new clue about this amazing snake, my passion is raging into a fury to learn more and more about this species.  Its beauty and complexity is unsurpassed by any other snake species.

Yes, I am emotionally involved with rainbow snakes - no doubt about it.  I have invested too much of myself into discovering their true identity not to be emotional.  My rational mind reminds me that while I will pursue this dream, I must first ensure that everything is secure with the CSC.  That said, I am absolutely driven towards this snake.  I don't care if it takes me another 1,000 nights of walking streams to discover their secrets, I will do it.

Fun By-Catch When Walking Streams At Night
Yes - I know it is not a snake!

Monday, November 25, 2013


I am not sure if this photo gives true justice to the first light I witnessed this morning. My favorite time of the day is dawn - it is the rebirth of the day. Despite the past, dawn is always a new beginning. 

The first sliver of light from this moring's dawn. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Have you ever thought about yourself?  No, I mean really, really thought about yourself.  I don't think I really ever have so this blog post is dedicated to me - to my self.  I don't know how long it will be or even if I will find something deep to talk about.  Whatever I find in the self I am going to write about will not only surprise you but I am sure as hell as guessing that it will even surprise me.

I came up with the topic of "Self" on my run yesterday.  I was supposed to run 10 miles as part of a step challenge with a FitBit friend.  We were competing for bragging rights for who could complete the most steps in a day.  My run was going to kick off my day with about 18,000 steps.  Well I ended up running 13.3 miles because I was running a new trail system on the west slope of Davidson Mesa that I just realized existed (I use a smartphone app to record my runs so if interested you can see where I ran at this link - Strava).  I felt really stupid when I was using Google Earth to explore the mesa and found these new (actually existing) trails.  I have lived here 6 years and I am just now finding trails that are right in my backyard.  Long story short, my run went long as I explored (and got a bit lost when the snow hid the trail) but the positive was that I ended up with over 22,000 steps to start my day.  Unfortunately my FitBit friend needed to postpone our challenge because of a personal matter.

Snow covered single-track trail from today's run
Yesterday I was running naked to my mind be free to wander where it wanted.  Running naked to me is without headphones so I can take in all the noise and feeling of the run (see 18 Wheeler).  I came up with the topic of self around mile 4 of my run very near where the photo above was taken.  This gave me 9 miles to think, ponder, and begin to formulate this post.  My mind went all sorts of places with this topic until I came to the conclusion that I just needed to sit down and let the words flow onto the paper.

I am going to start with one thing that I really like about myself and one thing that I cannot stand about myself.  Here it goes:

Like:  Legs - You all know I really love my legs - click Legs to take you to my Leg post.  I could talk about them more but instead will just post another photo taken yesterday before my run - Enjoy!

My Legs before my run.
Dislike:  Procrastination - I have procrastinated everything in my life since I can remember.  Everything.  Absolutely everything.  Nothing has escaped being procrastinated - not even this blog!  I was able to compensate for my procrastination all the way through college by taking a drug and cramming.  I was an expert crammer.  I could lock myself away and force myself to focus until I wrote the paper, studied for the exam, or completed whatever task that the deadline had approached.  The drug I took to focus and get things done was anxiety.  This is not a real drug but it can act the same way in making me focus when a crisis hit.  I am blessed to be gifted with a high IQ and intelligence which allowed me to survive the chaos and still manage straight A's.  Then grad school happened and guess what?  I learned the hard way that I couldn't cram research or a thesis - my drug failed me.  My anxiety was extremely high throughout my graduate school attempts but it just wouldn't help me complete what needed to get done because as I said above, you just can't cram research and a thesis.

The thesis that never was...

I still procrastinate in my every day life.  My drug, anxiety, helps me at work and at home but not without undue stress on my colleagues and family.  I wait until the last minute for just about every task on my to-do list (I actually don't keep a to-do list but you get the point).  My life is spent reacting to what needs to be done instead of careful planning and easy success with early completion.  This doesn't mean I am not successful - it just means my drug, anxiety, has to work in overdrive which is a not a healthy way to live or work.

My favorite thing to do when procrastinating
Snake hunting
When I was about 30 years old, a psychologist told me I was ADD.  This certainly helped explain some things in life.  I really don't think I needed to know this during high school or college as my drug, anxiety, worked well enough.  Knowing that I was ADD would have really been beneficial to pursuing my degree.  I am not saying I would have finished - it just would have helped explain a few things such as never, NEVER having the ability to sit down and focus enough to read a single scientific journal article from start to finish.  Yes - this is the first time I have ever admitted this out loud but I don't think I have ever done that - read any paper from start to finish.

Being ADD is not a problem that cannot be helped.  I have gone on and off Adderall ever since being told I was ADD and now I take it daily to help me focus.  Adderall has really helped me focus on tasks until complete but it has not stopped my procrastination.  So - procrastination is the thing I dislike most about myself.
The behavior that I do to hide from myself - drink.  Thankfully I am not dependent on alcohol.
Hiding my fat gut under the waterline is something I do to avoid looks and judgement.
Self - do I truly have a real sense of self?  Looking at my biggest like and dislike about myself makes me think that I just might have a sense of self but that it is a new realization.  If you had asked me three months ago I would not have been able to tell you who and what I am all about.  I would have told you that I am a loser with no self-esteem.  If you read Snakes - Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? you can see that I may have had a sense of self for a very, very long time but I just did not know it.  The evolution I have been through to become the Executive Director of the Center for Snake Conservation could not have been possible if I was completely hiding from a sense of self.

I learning through a lot of introspection that I have blocked a lot of memories from my life behind blast proof doors with war bunker walls surrounding them.  Now this sounds very, very sad and it has been for most of my life - read Southern Fried Chicken and Bittersweet Symphony for a brief introduction into my brain.  Regardless of how sad it had been, I am now developing (or realizing that I have) a sense of self.  I strongly encourage each of you reading my blog to really think about yourself and see if you truly know who your "self" really is.  I am betting you will be surprised how little you know.

Self is also what identifies me with other people.  I have been a loser in my mind so long that I am worried about what the realization of self and the change that comes with it might do to my relationships.  I am excited about meeting new friends and growing these relationships like making the perfect Southern Fried Chicken.  It is my old relationships that worry me.  For example - I told you above that I ran 3 additional miles during my long run.  This took me an additional 30 minutes to complete so I was late getting home.  3 months ago this would have completely devastated me with guilt for two things - going running and being late.  Guess what?  Yesterday I could care less what anyone else thought.  "Fuck it" is what I said in my mind as I was enjoying those extra 3 miles of my run. 

Post-run Selfie
Taking Selfies is part of finding of myself.
When I got home my run yesterday, Heather was visibly annoyed with me.  She and my sister-in-law were waiting for me to get home so they could go shopping.  Oops!  Heather was pissed but I didn't care.  She let me know it too but I still didn't care.  This was a FIRST for me - previously if Heather (or anyone for that matter) was mad at me, I would completely shut down.  I would mope around the house and sulk as if I were a dog that just got caught in the garbage.  Not yesterday - I went on about my life as happy as could be.  It is this change that I am worried about affecting my relationships.  I do think this a HUGE positive for me but it may change how I interact with people.  It is those people that I have had relationships with a long time (my old friends) that may see the change in me the most.  I hope they like it but if they don't, I think I can honestly say "fuck them - I don't care what they think of me" and be happy about it.

I can attribute this new self to the many things I am working on in my mind but 4 things stick out the most.  First, for the first time ever I am seeing a psychologist that I really trust.  In the past, I have never fully trusted my therapists.  I have always agreed that therapy is an excellent way to help me get through problems or low periods but trust is key in any relationship.  I have a paranoia about people reading my mind and judging me - this affects me in almost any situation from my morning bus ride, at work, and even at home.  This paranoia caused me to not trust my previous therapists because I believed they were judgmental of what I was working through, thought I was stupid, or didn't like me.  My current therapist is absolutely incredible and I trust her completely.  We are making amazing progress in finding the self hidden deep behind those bunker walls and blast doors.

The second thing is this blog.  Since I am writing for myself and no one other than myself, this blog is allowing me to talk openly to this "self" that has been missing for 39 years.  Yes, I talk to you as a reader but this blog is really about me and written by me for me - no one else.  Yes, you read it and see that I am asking you questions like I expect an answer.  Tough shit folks - that is just my writing style and this blog is not meant to explain or share anything with you.  I know that sucks for you but please just appreciate the fact that I am actually, for the first time ever, letting you into the dark secrets of my past 39 years on this planet almost daily during my 40th year of being on earth.  I started this blog as an examination of the present and an outlook to the future.  Unfortunately (actually I think this should be fortunately) I have to get through describing who I am in this first month of this blog. Running With Snakes will then begin defining my present and future.  I like it!  So, this blog is the second reason I am finding me; finding that self that is making me a happy and fun person.  Fuck off and stop reading my blog if you don't like it.

Third is my sister-in-law, Mitzi.  Really you ask?  Your sister-in-law?  Yep!  Mitzi is a psychologist with over 20 years experience as a therapist.  She has also known me since I was 12 years old.  This has given her a unique access to study me as a lifelong patient watching me grow up in my family, struggle to find my own identity, and watched me progress as a father.  I have never used Mitzi as a resource because I have been hiding from myself so long (plus every time I talked to Mitzi she scared me because I thought she was psychoanalyzing me).  Lately though I have several conversations with her that have left a positive impact on me.  She understands me as a sister would because she has watched me grow up but she is also a very good psychologist.  The night (Friday) before my first ever "guilt-free" run, Mitzi and I had an incredible conservation about how I became the past me.  Mitzi drew a diagram showing me how to find the self that has been missing.  Actually it was a drawing that was not designed to show me how to find the self but a visual way of seeing why it was not there.  Her explanation matched my ADD learning style and was extremely beneficial.  I look forward to talking more to Mitzi as I reach deep inside myself breaking down walls and unlocking doors.

My sister-in-law in a perfect therapist pose with my big dog.
The fourth reason is one that you may laugh at but I am too the point that I just don't care what others think anymore.  I now have the confidence to tell you to fuck off if you don't like it - progress made.  These are my FitBit and MyFitnessPal friends.  Both of these groups include amazing online communities of people that need and give support.  We cheer each other.  We taunt each other.  We offer words of encouragement.  We offer compassion and empathy to the struggles we have during our fitness journeys regardless of how different our individual goals are.  This is the friendship I have been missing in my life - judgement free. I mentioned my paranoia of judgement above which left me lonely.  I know that the judgement from my friends is in my head and not a reality but my whole life up until now I have not been able to believe this.  My FitBit and MyFitnessPal friends could care less about judging me - we all have the same goal - success!  Not only have these anonymous friends helped me with my fitness, they are also helping me find the self I have never truly had.

Southern Fried Chicken for my FitBit friends
My dad sent me an email after I posted Southern Fried Chicken that struck me as pretty important to pay attention to as part of my self discovery.  He wrote, "You have always been quiet and keeping the activities of your life quiet to us.".  Yes - this has been my MO of my life.  I made sure I stayed out of the radar at any and all cost.  Avoiding the radar has forced me to do a lot of strange things.  I chronically underachieve.  I settle for whatever I am offered.  I hide from conflict.  I never accept thanks, compliments, or gratitude.  I have remained distant from everyone.  I bury my feelings deep.  I have basically not been alive - not true to the self that is so important as part of my human identity.  I have kept quiet for long enough.

So how do I keep true to this self I find this year?  To start I am going to stick with what I know - snakes and running.

Snakes and running are constant positives in my life.  Every time I leave my habit of running I go farther away from myself.  To stay within myself this winter, I going to train for a marathon to run this spring.  I am pretty set on running this marathon by myself without friends or family attending the race.  The race is going to be about me and reaffirming the self I am discovering.  I am dedicating it to me and for the first time in my life doing something by myself for myself.  There will be no guilt and no hiding from myself.  Just me, the race, and my thoughts as I run 26.2 miles as fast as I can.

The marathon I choose will also be during prime snake time in the southeast.  Yes - I plan on going home to my old stomping grounds to run a marathon and catch snakes - a lot of snakes.  I don't know which race I am going to run but I can assure you I will be catching a crap load of snakes anywhere I choose.  Being stuck in the snakeless winter of Colorado is taxing every year but knowing I am training for a solo trip with no agenda except for catching snakes and racing 26.2 miles.  This is incentive enough to keep true to who I am - snakes and running.

Self - without a self you are not truly living.  I am finding myself during my 40th year on earth and I can't wait for the next 60 - yes I am living to be at least 100 years old.