About 2 years ago I suffered a crushing disappointment in my personal life. I was in the midst of a stressful patch, and the one aspect of my life that I felt was secure fell apart in front of my eyes. I experienced something that I thought I would never have to go through. It brought me to lowest place I have ever been and caused me pain that I wouldn’t wish on even the worst of people.
You may be asking, “Who are you?” And “Why do I care what you have to say?” I’m nobody, I’m just another average guy. I could be your neighbor, your friend, or a stranger on the sidewalk. I could be anyone. Which leads me to why I’m writing this, because it’s possible that someone reading this is going through something similar and needs to hear this.
Most of my friends probably thought I was handling it well, and some may have even thought I was fine, but I wasn’t. Only one or two of my friends knew how deep I really sank. I became guarded, because I thought that as a man I had to just control my thoughts and emotions and keep it to myself. The trouble with depression is that you don’t control it and you can’t predict it. One day it’ll sneak up slowly like a tide, and others in an instant seem to crash over you all at once. Sometimes, I was able to suffer through a workday and make it home to fall apart there. Other days I would be reduced to hiding in a bathroom or behind the building at work unable to control my emotions wondering what was wrong with me.
Throughout this period of my life I was very fortunate to be surrounded with friends and mentors that understood me. I cannot stress enough how much those people helped me. These friends and mentors constantly listened, encouraged, and corrected me, having men in my life who had been in my shoes and experienced what I was going through helped me see that it was possible that I might one day be able to “Ok” again.
I think returning to running really was pivotal for me. I had run cross country in high school and some recreationally after. Cross country meets, long training runs, and the team comradery are some of my fondest memories of high school; I would often reminisce on those days. So, when some friends of mine told me they were training for a 5K it didn’t take all that much coaxing for me to join. I knew that exercise is shown to help with depression, and I knew that I needed to get out of the house. I also knew that it would be healthy, but it still took conscious effort to stick with it.
Around this time, I was keeping a journal, sort of. Not regularly or for any tangible goal, but just to vent my thoughts. I knew I was gradually beginning to try to deal with my feelings, hurts, and disappointments, but at a snail’s pace. My mental and emotional state would wax and wane like the moon; good days, bad days, meh days, and crippling days all took their turns at random. But something happened as I started to run; my thoughts began to focus and clear.
Some runs I would just zone out like a zombie, others I would relive every painful memory trying to understand it. Sometimes, I would break into a full sprint, in a fit of rage until my legs were weak and my lungs burned. Much of my running pace was based on my mood. The one constant that kept me running was the feeling that everything just seemed more manageable, as if running turned the stress level down a notch or two. In hindsight I think I’ve had some of my greatest personal revelations during and after my hardest runs.
Naturally, as I have stuck with running I have seen changes. I’ve gradually gotten faster, and can run longer distances, and I am starting to feel much more confident in myself. My mental clarity and toughness are now better than ever. Running has helped me toughen both physically and mentally, I’ve learned that the mind and body are much stronger than I ever imagined. I’ve even made lifestyle changes for the better because of my running; alcohol and junk foods are no issues for me now as I can moderate and restrain myself, I sleep more regularly, and I manage my time more effectively. Running is helping me be more thoughtful with time and energy.
Running has provided me with an outlet for my energy, and a dedicated time for deep thought and reflection. At this point in my life I have much more peace than I have ever before. I still stress and worry at times, but overall, I am at peace. I have forgiven myself for my mistakes, and others for theirs. Even though events didn’t play out as I may have hoped for, I have accepted them for what they are and made peace with that. Moving forward with life from here I know that I have dealt with my past as best as possible and can live with myself and my choices. I know how to choose to be happy now, and I’ve learned how to enjoy a moment.
The joy I’ve found in running cannot be overstated. The local running groups have been wonderful, they have made running more than just exercise. The friends I’ve made have held me accountable, pushed me to work harder, and have always been encouraging. Post run beers and hanging out are something I look forward to every week. Each month I see personal improvements and try new things. I recently participated in the City Club Mini-Tri as part of a relay and will definitely consider trying out a few triathlons on my own. Luckily my fellow runners will have plenty of advice and pointers. Lafayette’s running community is full of genuine people that add to the joy of running.
Exercise alone didn’t bring me peace, friends, faith, and time all played a roll, but running was probably instrumental. Running got me off of the floor and out of the house. At first it was just an excuse to get out and do something, for a time it was my therapy, and now it’s a pleasure that I look forward to every day. I won’t tell you that running will solve all of your problems; I will boldly tell you that it probably can’t hurt. If you’re in a tough place, if you are hurting, if you’re feeling like a failure, you are not alone. Don’t let it beat you. Don’t let disappointment steal your joy and your peace. Find an activity or a sport that interests you; find a group to try it with.
Running is not the answer to life’s problems but it may help provide some perspective and balance. It has for me.