Back in January, Claire asked if I would like to write a post about running. She knew that our Run for It 5k event is something I look forward to for a number of reasons — not least of these being my active participation as a runner. At the time of her request, she didn’t know that I hadn’t run with any sense of regularity since September, just before the NFL season entered full swing. It’s a time that comes on the heels of frenetic travel and just before my seasonal depression takes its familiar seat at my table, an unwelcome guest that coaxes me into inactivity.
Truthfully, writing this has been difficult. I’ve stared at blank pages and screens for days. I’ve felt immobile and muted. I knew that if I wanted to write honestly I would have to get back to training. I had hopes that, by running, my lungs would gain the strength to carry my voice still muffled by that depression.
In subtle ebbs and flows, some thoughts came. And with familiar passes over retreaded paths I discovered that running was a fitting analogy for my relationship with my mental health.
For most of my life, running was a means to an end. I didn’t enjoy movement for the sake of movement, but I ran because it would increase the likelihood of making the team or cracking the starting line-up. My inspiration to run was always something in the future, which made the present training physically and existentially exhausting. When I stopped making teams — when I stopped making goals — I stopped running.
Looking back, it’s clear that my self-care is closely linked to my ability to discern reasons for my self-care. This pattern was true in my recovery as well. When I stopped self-injuring, I had to find a reason. It had to be compelling, something bigger than “me,” because at that time I saw my “me-ness” as unworthy.
But I knew on a foundational — albeit deeply buried — level that change was possible. I knew that my young nephews who currently lacked the language and curiosity to ask about my coping skills would one day do so. Should my destructive self-medicating continue, I knew a day would come when I might have to lie to protect them from the darker parts of my story. I knew that would effectively build a wall between them, the closest thing to innocence I’ve known, and myself.
So I took a step, wholly unaware of where this would go and yet crushingly cognizant that this would be hard. While it wasn’t an overnight process, I learned that there were trustworthy people that I could welcome into my recovery. They gave me grace and helped me establish a safe training ground. They allowed me the space to grow, to announce what still ached, and to fail. They allowed me to stretch, to rehabilitate, to study tactics, and to learn my opponent. And through all that, they learned too; they grew as well. My personal struggle and recovery transformed into a team sport. They never expected instant results and they tempered my own expectations. And yeah it was hard, but my strength grew in the midst of people with whom I could train, spar, cheer, and heal. My strength in recovery grew as any muscle would — gradually, with discipline, and in keeping my goals in sight as I celebrated the growing distance from my starting point.
I’ve read a little about the relationship between mental health and physical health and have seen the work that our friends like Amy Clover have done to build a language and bridge between those two points. Through studies and my own experience, it’s clear to me that there are distinct advantages and gifts that arise from training in some sense of community.
It seems like a disproportionate amount of athletic stories focus on a “Me against The World” narrative. But I’ve found that my best runs happen when I can see someone still in front of me and when I know I’m in the mix of others.
Running in a group is an interesting experience. There is a common course and a set time and a uniform with bibs and whatnot, but “success” is determined solely by individual runners.
I want to finish.
I want to do better than last year.
This is a warm-up for my next race.
I want to make my kids proud.
We all have our different reasons for running, and I do not need to understand your reason in order to participate with you. Sometimes my reasons change with each stride.
I am running for the resistance.
For the betrayed and for the reconciled.
For Shane and Ali and Cory and Ty.
For those who couldn’t wait for today and those who didn’t think they’d ever live to see it.
I am running for the beauty of ever-changing yet ever-present reasons and for the hope that they intersect with yours.
And here we are. Training is hard. Recovery is hard. Writing this was hard. But gradually, it happened. There is nothing cute or intentionally poetic about that. It happened with help and encouragement. It happened with rededication to a sense of self-care and an acknowledgement that my lungs were built for a deep breathless burn more so than stagnant sighs.
The greatest fear Depression (Self-Injury, Addiction, Eating Disorders, Anxiety) has is that you would move, that you would announce that you’re ready to change, ready to train, and ready to place yourself in the midst of others and their list of reasons to keep running.
And that’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m moving for. That’s why I run.
Our 5th Annual Run For It 5k is happening April 15! Sign up for the local race (Satellite Beach, FL) or as a virtual runner. What will you run for?