It is often said that there are few problems that can’t be solved by a good long run. Left alone with only your conscience, thoughts, and heart to guide you, you are quickly stripped clean. If you’re hurting, you’re aware of it. If you’re struggling with something, you can begin to unravel the knotted ball of yarn. If you owe amends, you can gain the strength to make them. Running at its best can cleanse us; strip us to our bare beauty and our ugliest character defects. And this done, it then begins to heal us with each new breath we take. I have left the house in a fog, heavy-hearted and heavy-legged, and returned a lighter being.
Those are beautiful days and beautiful runs, runs when, to quote George Gershwin, “the livin’ is easy.”
This is a different story.
Life of late has overwhelmed me. I sit here on a flight to Denver with my husband (DB); in Denver, he will head to Eugene for the weekend, while I will go on to Monterey for the Big Sur Marathon. I am terrified to be without him, to be away from him right now. He is my life source and my best friend; he is the love of my life. We have a good and strong marriage, yet I have found it easy to focus on the struggles. I am far from the perfect partner. I am selfish and bossy. I procrastinate but act offended when confronted. When I am angry or hurt, I tend to turn away, to shut him out, to want to talk to anyone but him since he is the one that hurt me. And I could win an award for being the most organized messy person in the world. I am profoundly organized. I have the memory of an elephant. But I bite off more than I can chew, get behind on time, and end up leaving annoying messes all over the house. Clothes on the floor by the bed, that’s me. I make excuses to rationalize and justify my poor relationship behavior. And after years of knowing exactly how fragile a marriage is, I got hit by an emotional busload of sh*t and managed to unceremoniously dump it all on him. They do say it’s easiest to hurt those closest to us.
Yesterday was one of the darker days of my life. A backgrounder: I do suffer from clinical depression. I have fought a long and hard battle against it since high school. And due to the whacked out response I had to the fertility medications last month, my hormones have been left to fend for themselves, which has proven quite dangerous (and futile) for them in the past. The combination is lethal.
DB and I have been waging the infertility battle for almost three years. In short, we started by just “trying” with reduced mileage. Then we moved on to weight gain and reduced mileage. Then we moved on to infertility tests. Then they found some stuff wrong. Then we started a drug in pill form called Clomid, which is pretty much early menopause in a bottle, although it does stimulate egg production. Then we combined Clomid with an uncomfortable procedure every month to help things along. Then we started playing with the high-rollers; injectable fertility drugs. Much more potent, much more expensive, and lots of needles. Then we got desperately close to our baby, lost it after about five days, and took a long break. Then we started shooting up again and I ended up with cysts all over my ovaries.
So no more drugs, and quite likely, no baby.
My mom is chronically ill. She’s not dying by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s sick. She’s struggled with weight all her life, and is a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict to boot. But for the grace of God, she’s been sober for almost 20 years, but that didn’t happen until I was a senior in high school. Our relationship has been a field of landmines, some on the surface and some buried so deeply I don’t know that even I could find them again. She is morbidly obese. She has been hospitalized twice this year already for recurrent bronchitis, which is a result of her asthma. She has chronic cardiac problems which she says her doctors attribute to the pulmonary medications. She had a minor stroke two years ago. She has severe back, skin and breathing problems.
She is 63 years old. And no matter how I may have tried over the years, I cannot break my bond with her. She is my mother, and I love her. I love her so much that it hurts. Although I raised her more than she raised me. Although to get the answers I need from her would mortally wound her. Although I still struggle to know what is truly “truth.”
I am not ready to lose my mother. It claws and eats away at me, in the back of my mind.
Yet I find myself completely unable to be there for her how a daughter should right now. Because I cannot do this last thing; I cannot, as I grieve my inability to be a mother, once again be mother to my own. This, too, claws at me.
And while I’ve always been a person of great faith, I’ve run away from the God of my understanding as well. I sit in church; I make half-hearted attempts to pray; and in the end, I really just feel as if the phone is ringing, over and over again, but no one’s home. I believe in God, and I believe God is with me even now. But the line itself just feels … dead.
So instead of running, I’ve chosen to run away. Though I can and do cry with the best of them, years of not wanting to descend to that utter helplessness I witnessed from my mother have led me to do the opposite: I remain strong, run my miles, cry in spin classes and pretend it’s sweat. I bury, I ignore, I push it all down as if my own mind and heart are a trash compactor and I can compress it into nothingness. I talk, but I don’t let myself feel. And most of all, instead of truly running¸I just run away.
So I did. I ran away from the pain of a bursting cyst on a Saturday night, never going to the hospital even as my husband pleaded with me. I’ve run away from my mother by just not being there at all. I’ve run away from my faith, hoping I’ll just somehow find it again. And I’ve run away from my running. I do it, but I feel nothing. I have no motivation. No runners’ high. No … feeling. I’m supposed to start training for the Vermont 100 “officially” on Saturday, and … well. There it is. Just “and.”
And most of all, I ran away emotionally from my husband. As I told him last night, my job – my primary purpose in life – is to protect him. To keep him from ever being hurt, scared, sad or unhappy. But as I’ve said, I’m selfish and bossy and I get easily overwhelmed and then I want all the attention on me. Which is an entirely unrealistic way to live life or conduct a marriage. So I stopped turning to him. I stopped talking to him. I stopped sharing with him. I just went on about my life, pretending everything was “fine.” Because really, I didn’t want to turn to anyone. I wanted to hide behind my big brave face … and stew in my misery by my tiny sad self.
And yesterday, the proverbial house of cards collapsed, and I cried. I didn’t run, I didn’t pack, I cried. I cried. I broke down. Heaving, uncontrollable sobs. Sobs of pain, sobs of regret, sobs of despair. I cried and cried and cried. I cried until I was weak. I felt so lost, so overwhelmed, so unlovable.
And today, I have to put on my running shoes and run. Because my life is beautiful. I have unconditional love, a wonderful home, amazing pets, opportunities beyond anything I ever imagined. There are people dying, people starving, people truly suffering.
I used to think I was too young for a midlife crisis. I haven’t even yet talked about figuring out what a life without children looks like (and yes, we know we can adopt), or that I seem to be confronting my mortality and simply feel like the clock is on fast-forward and I’m getting too old too fast and I’m scared because we were supposed to have kids by now, and this wasn’t what it was supposed to look like, and honestly … What am I doing with my life and what do I want to do with it now that it looks a little bit different than I expected?
Maybe a simple run can’t fix everything. Sometimes it takes a little extra serotonin, a good therapist (even for a girl who hates therapy), some extra sleep, some better decisions, and worst of all … just some time.
But like my faith, I believe it will come back to me. My running, that is. Just as I can’t stop praying just because there’s no answer right now, I can’t stop running just because there’s no joy right now.
So today, I have to put on my running shoes and run.
This one’s for you DB, with all my love.