I know I haven’t been myself lately. I’ve been that other person, the one who doesn’t smile, doesn’t dance, doesn’t sing. I’m brooding and isolating myself, saying weird things, making jokes that are more bitter than funny and being possessive with my friends. I’ve been trying really hard to deny it, but I give up. Like 12% of American women, I’m depressed.
Luckily, admitting it is usually the first sign that I’m about to fight my way out! Since I’m injured I’ve got a bit of a handicap this time, because usually my best way to combat depression is running. You’ve all heard it, you’ve probably even said it: Running is Cheaper than Therapy. But not only is it cheaper, it may even be better!
Depression has been a nuisance in my life since I was a little kid struggling to cope with a violent family tragedy. Like many kids, my brain went into defense mode and blocked out the memories until somewhere around the age of 13, when I started asking questions. The reality I discovered was a shock to my system, jolting me back into grieving over the loss of my father. Then suddenly, inexplicably, I started running.
What’s strange is that I was not an athletic kid. I was an overweight gym-class-dodging book nerd who suffered constant heckling from other kids and begged for a viola for my birthday–sports were not exactly my thing. But somehow that summer I got it in my head that come hell or high water, I would join my high school cross-country team. The only requirement was capability of running three miles without stopping, so I found some old running shoes and out the door I went.
Running changed everything. Suddenly the reality of my family situation didn’t seem so unbearable. Suddenly life was simpler; it was just as easy as running until I couldn’t anymore. Then I would walk until I felt good enough to run some again. Suddenly I had a time set aside every day to clearly think about my sorrow and piece together how I had become the person I was. Running made me realize that I had the power to change that person-over the course of a few months I changed from a gym-class-dodger to an athlete!
Things got really bad again when Hurricane Katrina tore my life into pieces–I told you that story. Once again, running came to my rescue and helped me regain control over my life.
The last time I had a dark time was around Christmas 2009–again I was unemployed for a long time and was struggling through a weird break-up. I lost interest in food, in dance classes, in finding work and even running, but luckily I was on a training plan for my second half-marathon, so my phone beeped at me every day to get outside and run.
I ran while sobbing so hard I doubled over almost every hundred meters from the physical strain. I ran crazy fast speed workouts on the hills in Prospect Park to punish myself for being so sad. Once I accidentally ran off a trail and fell because I couldn’t see through my tears–but I got up and kept running, and running kept me going. And by the time I finished my race I was over that boy and working on a new job.
This time I’m down with unemployment blues, heartsickness, loneliness and running injury woes. I know, I know…worse things have happened to better people. Just call me Spoiled Cinnamon with my sad little first-world problems and I’ll cry you a river. Look, I know they’re pretty weak problems but they’re dredging up a lot of abandonment and self-worth issues from my childhood, okay?
For me, and for others, the best running therapy is done solo. A long solitary run is time set aside to think about your problems and work through them. When you’re off by yourself on a desolate path somewhere you can give yourself permission to cry about things and yell at yourself and yell at other people who aren’t there. You can even run away into the woods and scream (just make sure you don’t scare anyone). You can let physical exertion take the place of your emotional anguish for a little while – hopefully long enough to mentally sort through the tangled knot of negative feelings.
The most therapeutic characteristic of running for me has always been that it gives me goals to work toward so I can focus on something positive. There’s always a race out there I can train for–but not this time. This time an injury has me on the sidelines, nervously attempting some slow runs with my club here and there and walking through the rest of my workouts. I know I’ve got to get better physically but it’s hard to take time off from running when I also need to get better mentally!
Krissy Moehl, one of my running heroes, says “there isn’t a problem a long run can’t fix, just sometimes the run has to be longer than others.” Feels like I’m due for a 100 miler.
Have you used running to feel better in a time of sadness?