A Post About Running: Really About Depression, Empathy, and Teaching Kindness

Ten years ago this November, I made a conscious choice between life and death — to find a way to heal the pain consuming my mind and body, or to finally decide that a life of struggle is not one worth living. It was quite literally the choice between turning left, and turning right. At the time, carrying my depression, my trauma, and my eating disorder as planet-sized boulders on my shoulders, the thought that I would, or even could, one day live without them (or at the very least, with ways to cope), was a far off fantasy.

Around that same time, I rekindled a flirtation with an old flame of mine — running. In college, and after — in the very worst of what was happening, I would force myself to run 5, 6, 7 miles a day. There were times where I used my running as torture, as a way — amongst other, less productive ways — to feel physical pain to match my emotional pain. Of course, my body put a stop to that pretty quickly — through injuries to both knees that left me in a place where I had to sit and be with my pain. When I returned to running as I was starting to heal, I found that it made me feel so…free.

The news of Kate Spade’s death is shattering for many reasons — but one of the most heartbreaking aspects of it is the knowledge that despite the apparent success, fame, and above all — her beautiful creative spirit — she felt so utterly alone. Talking about depression in a grand — world media — scale tends to minimize the true impact that it has on those who suffer with it. Imagine — waking up every morning cursing the fact that your eyes have opened again. Imagine — taking sleeping pills every 6 hours, like clockwork, to avoid being a part of the world outside. Imagine — making it through your particular, typical day with thoughts of how to hurt yourself tantalizing your brain. Every. five. minutes. Imagine — being in so much pain that even the thought of your family and loved ones being in pain at losing you doesn’t even register on the spectrum.

I don’t have to imagine any of that, because I have lived it. I have lived with it for two decades, and I have learned — by force, and by enormous support — how to cope, how to keep trying, even when I fall — and above all, how to ask for help. It is not an easy task to master when your mind becomes such a dark, despondent place. For my mother, her biggest fear with my being pregnant (the first time, but probably this time too), is that the hormonal shifts and my dramatically changing body would plunge me back into the depths. With my first — I was carefully monitored, was required by my care provider to have weekly therapy, and was treated as an “at risk” pregnancy. I wrote a lot during that time — about my body, about exercising while pregnant, about how I was feeling and evolving spiritually and emotionally.

This time, I have been a lot more quiet. I haven’t written long posts in almost a year. I kept my pregnancy “low-key”. The truth is, this pregnancy, has been a lot more challenging than my first. This time, they symptoms of nausea, pain, vomiting, discomfort, headaches, and exhaustion followed me through well into month 5. I kept quiet. When people asked me how I was feeling, I would lie — and say “oh, fine”. When my colleagues told me I looked tired, I would say, “don’t we all?” At home, I would watch as my mind struggled with this pain that I had no control over. I would struggle to explain to my husband and daughter why I wasn’t feeling well. Even with years of experience, even with all the work I have done, even with what I teach — the low moments can still be very low.

Remember that, when you speak to people who tell you that they have (past tense) struggled with storms in their minds. The truth is, many of them still (present tense) struggle now. We (those who struggle) are amongst your peers, your family members, your colleagues, your employees, your children, your students…

Some days, I still feel like I can’t see the end of the tunnel, and I want to turn back — start it all over. On those days especially, I do my best to get outside — to put on those sneakers that definitely need replacing — and to just get some mileage in. One of the hardest parts of all this, is finding that less and less empathy exists amongst us. We live in such a busy, distracting world, that it is challenging for us to really stop, and listen. Every single one of us has fought at least one battle in our lives. Whether illness, challenges in relationships, financial struggle, loneliness…we have all been there. No matter how put together we look, no matter how much we smile — we all have these scars.

In the classroom, I try to see each child as their own universe, because when I do, I am able to see the struggles that orbit their center. I am able to look them in the eye, and tell them, “I’m here, let’s talk about it.” Not every one will want to, but many of them, and most of us, are really just looking for someone to be kind to us. To tell us that what we are going through is okay. Even if we feel that it isn’t.

At work, amongst a staff of women, I find both tremendous support and unspoken danger. We (women) have our own struggles unique to our experience in the world — and sometimes, we take it out on other women. Sadly, very sadly. Yet, we tend to penalize each other for having these struggles.

This week, I read about an app called “Zombies Run” that turns running into a game — collect tools and outrun the zombies. I found it both hilarious and genius. This morning, as I watched the dew rise from the grass along my route, I realized that these zombies, for me, emerge as I run. I am able to see the difficult moments of each day and, quite literally, run through them. On some of my runs, I wipe away tears for miles.

Now, at 29 weeks along, I am thrilled with any mile I can get. It brings me joy, it brings me 40 minutes of freedom, and it brings me knowledge that no matter what storms may brew in my mind, there is always a road on which I can run through them, break them down, and wipe away the tears.

I missed @globalrunningday this year, but I’m still logging my run in to count…#RunningIsMyZen #RunningForTwo #GlobalRunningDay #5KAnyDay #StrongMama



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Writer, Runner, Speaker, Teacher, Compassion-Creator. www.yaliszulanski.com