When I began running over a year ago, I didn’t realize what a therapeutic and transformative effect it would have on my life.
I started running for my mental health, listening to affirmations because I couldn’t bear my own thoughts or the pulsing rhythms of music, releasing pent up anxiety, getting out of the house when my agoraphobia was at its worst. So, I should have had an inkling how much it would help me on my emotional journey.
But, over the past year, I’ve seen running as just that and little more: running. For my mental health, with benefits for my physical health. And, sure, a reason to get better shoes and cute running clothes.
Because my main reason for running has been to combat my anxiety, I’ve been able to approach running from an entirely different direction than most other aspects of my life. I am a perfectionist. I’m also both literally and figuratively bipolar.
It’s been a familiar pattern in my life to suddenly have some new life-changing idea or activity into which I lunge head-first. I’m going to do spinning or yoga or start my own business or make friendship bracelets or only eat foods that begin with the letter “c.” I binge on a particular activity and then, especially if my perfectionism kicks in, I give up. I give up, as a precaution, before I fail. I am paralyzed by failure. I’ve given up on photography classes on new jobs on dozens of unfinished sewing or knitting projects; things I have enthusiastically begun, but lost the drive to finish.
I’m afraid of failing and therefore, afraid of taking risks. The years of making excuses in conversations or therapy sessions echo in my ears. No, I don’t have time for that. No, that costs money. No, I shouldn’t. No, I couldn’t. All that negativity because of the illusion, the fallacy, the unattainable expectations of my own perfectionism.
But, running has not been that way for me. I do it. Or I don’t do it. It’s not a manic impulse or a binge activity. I am gentle with myself. I am not a perfectionist about running. I listen to my body. I don’t push myself too hard or too little. If I didn’t run last week, it’s okay. I can get up and run again this week. I don’t compare myself to others. I don’t measure my worth by my miles. Running has somehow become a practice, a framework for how I ought to live out the rest of my life.
This past Sunday when I ran my fist 5K, I felt full of emotion. I felt feelings so intense and overwhelming I knew I would cry if I gave them any thought. I pushed my tears back and I ran. As I rounded (several) corners, coming into the last stretch, strangers cheered, children held hand drawn signs of encouragement and I felt my eyes begin to water.
What a feeling! Not of achievement, of success, of straight-A’s or perfection. Not of someone else's or society's or my own skewed expectations. I had an epiphany. I realized, as I crossed the finish line: I can. And not only CAN I do this, but look at all the people who believe in, love and support me.
Afterwards in the car, I choked back tears, as I told my husband: “I don’t know why I ever EVER ever doubted myself... [insert sniffles and sobs here]... when there are so many people who support and love me.”
It was a true, in my gut, in my heart, in my soul feeling. And I let myself feel it. I let the love and support wash over me. In its boundless and unconditional forms. Not just for that day and that race. Not just for running. But for all my choices. For all the things I’ve done and not done. For my life.
What a feeling! To truly let love in. Not only accepting the love of others, but also accepting my own self-love, a love that I have deprived myself of all these years. Allowing myself to feel pride in my achievements, to know—beyond a doubt—I’m doing the right thing for myself, and the right thing as a role model to my Dearest Daughters, caring for myself emotionally, intellectually, physically.
I’ve lived the past twenty-nine years feeling undeserving of attention, of praise, of love. I’ve shrugged off achievements and compliments, always second-guessing, judging and measuring myself by an imaginary, but cruel yardstick. I have blanketed myself in negativity, demeaning and negating everything from the smallest compliment on my cooking to my educational achievements, even, to my most beloved creations, my Dearest Daughters.
This 5K certainly did not cure my perfectionism or mania. I still have a yardstick that I must continually remember to blast to smithereens. It’s still my inclination to be negative, to confine myself.
But, I have experienced Yes. I have experienced Possibility. I have experienced Freedom.
Little did I know what a pivotal moment running a 5K or running at all would be.
As I prepare to turn thirty in the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about this year; about this being a “Me Year” or a “Say Yes to Lauren Year”—what that involves I’m still working out; classes, travel, doing things I’ve always wanted to do or should have done for myself, taking risks.
Regardless, this year will be a special one.
Thank you to all who will make it so, to all those who have always supported and loved me, who have believed in me despite my refusal to see and accept such things. Thank you to my family and my husband and to those strangers at the three mile marker.
And thank you, especially, to my Dearest Daughters who have been my light in my darkest moments, my reason to keep living and who inspire me to be both a better person and, simply, the person that I am, the person they love no matter what.
I love you back no matter what,