Don’t let your struggle become your identity.
We all know that running makes you happy. There are lots of reasons for this; it releases endorphins. It helps you feel healthy. It allows you to set targets, and when you reach them it gives you an enormous sense of achievement. It reduces stress, partly thanks to those endorphins and partly because running does this amazing thing where it helps you think clearly and also stops you thinking too much at all at the same time.
The fact that running makes you happy means that there are loads of us runners out there for whom a huge part of why we do it is to burn off the crazy.
The last time I decided to take up running again, Mr. Duff agreed with me that it was a good idea because, as he put it, ‘you just seem to be a lot happier when you’re running’. This is very true.
Of course, the problem with this is how you then handle it when you are suddenly not able to run, especially if you write a running blog. Anyone remember that episode of Sex and the City when Carrie worries that she’ll get fired from writing her sex column because she’s not having any sex? I mean I know you guys can’t fire me, but you might stop reading if all I’m doing is complaining about not being able to run. I wouldn’t blame you. Sucks to be me, right?
It’s not helping that cross training isn’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped. The other day I went to a yoga class. It was unexpectedly difficult – my legs felt extremely weak, and they were shaking like mad in the same way they had a couple of times in San Francisco before my treatment started. I couldn’t work out if this was because the session was hard, or because my strength is on its way out. Or whether the shakes were brought on because of my condition, or by attempting to do any exercise at all. The thought of not even being allowed to do a simple yoga class because my body’s not strong enough to cope with it when a month ago I was training for a marathon was just too much for me. The teacher had given us out ‘intentions’ cards at the start of the class and mine was about being in control of your emotions. Yeah, well, not so much.
Actually this is another reason why I prefer running – ‘intentions’ cards and all that wind chimes and affirmations hoopla really is not for me. I am much more comfortable with straightforward, practical, cause and effect forms of exercise than in trying to balance on one leg whilst repeating an internal mantra and trying to remember which chakra it is I’m supposed to be opening. Yoga is brilliant for your body but I do feel that sometimes it’s in danger of disappearing up it’s own viny-arse-ana.
I left the class tearful, despondent and worried.
For the last few days I’ve started to feel that oh so familiar pull towards the edge of the depression pit. It got worse on Wednesday when I was expecting to be allowed to start running again by my physio but was told it would be at least another fortnight. To then be told I can’t even do any proper cross training was another blow. And the poor performance at the yoga class really felt like the last straw. When your self esteem and your sense of who you are is so caught up with how you feel physically, it’s hard to cope with when you can’t physically do anything.
Depression is devastatingly hard to deal with, but when you start to get that low feeling it can seem like the easier option to just close your eyes and slip down into the pit than it can to fight it and refuse to allow yourself to be pulled under. I’ve been there before.
Well this time, I’m tying myself to a safety rope at the top. I refuse to succumb.
Apart from anything else, I just haven’t got time in my life for this bullshit.
Conscious of how close I am to the precipice at the moment I decided that not being able to run it was no reason to stop me from going to parkrun on Saturday. All the regular volunteer slots were taken but I asked if I could take my new camera along and be a photographer. I thought I might as well get up and do something constructive – much better than sleeping in til noon and then sitting about feeling sorry for myself all day.
I’m glad I went. It cleared some cobwebs from my brain. I got myself a coffee for the walk down to the park and made myself put away my phone and just enjoy walking in the quiet of the early morning in Ealing. Lots of birds were singing, and the trees are turning the most spectacular colours for the Autumn.
There’s a lot of talk these days about mindfulness – it seems to be the melancholia cure du jour – but having read many articles and even a book about it I must confess I’ve never really understood what it is you’re supposed to do to achieve it. On my walk to and around the park yesterday it struck me that perhaps all mindfulness means is paying attention to what’s going on around you. Is that it, has anyone else worked out the secret?
Well anyway, if that is what it is, it was a pleasant way to spend the morning. I got to see some friends, giggle at them running in their Halloween costumes, found a nice interesting tree stump to stand on and took some good pictures.
I’ve said to a few people over the last couple of weeks that being out of action, even for the short time it’s been, has started to make me feel like less of a runner. But I’m not just a runner am I? That’s not the only thing I do. There are other things in my life I enjoy or have responsibility for. So instead of defining myself solely as an ‘injured runner’ and therefore doing nothing because I can’t do the thing that makes me a runner, I could just not define myself as anything and do the things I don’t usually have time for because I’m out running.
I could get round to creating that gallery wall in the dining room. I could stop eating so much cheese and pizza and follow through with my declared intention to start making healthy lunches for work. I could break into my busy injury management schedule of watching Game of Thrones fan theory YouTube videos and take 20 minutes to sweep up the leaves and pull the weeds out in the front drive, so that it doesn’t keep pissing me off all week when I get home and it’s too dark to do anything about it.
Hey, I can multitask – I can still watch the videos while I’m sweeping.
So that’s what I’ve done this weekend. I’ve started to use the time I’ve got back to get my shit together. There’s healthy food in the fridge, we’ve had two sets of builders round to quote for sorting the house out, and the front garden now gives the neighbours the impression we care what they think of us.
At the risk of being blasphemous, running is not the only thing in life. It might be one of the best things, but it’s not going anywhere. It’ll still be there for me in a few weeks time.
Til then, I’ll just be getting on with double knotting this safety rope.