It has been more than four weeks since I held my children’s hands, kissed my husband’s lips, ran my hand down Amira’s back. I am alone in a new land, making my way. Before leaving home, Kenny and I talked a lot about how I would make the most of this time. By ramping up my running and dialing in my nutrition. Working towards these goals has given me focus and purpose, but not companionship.
Without the daily support system of my family, I find myself swatting away the edges of depression trying to cling to me like cobwebs in the woods. Talking with them and video-chatting are certainly helpful at times, but at others times, it just makes our separation so much more tangible. I try not to share how much I miss them because I know that we are all putting on brave faces and I want to stay strong. Yet it is always there.
So many people face loneliness and separation. The sacrifices of soldiers deployed away from family for months on end. Refugees and immigrants who are unsure when their goodbyes will turn back into a hello. The family facing the permanent loss of a loved one who is struggling with terminal illness. Their sacrifices and circumstances are far more heart-wrenching than mine and my empathy for them has grown.
Amongst many of life’s lesson, I have learned that which we nurture is what grows.
Daily, I find myself in a constant battle between what to nurture and grow. My depression is trying hard to convince me that it needs attention. It wants me to say no to new friendships. It wants me to eat tub after tub of vegan ice cream. It wants me to climb in bed at 7 o’clock each night and stay there until I have no choice but to rise.
Fortunately, I have grown stronger than my depression, a gift that running trails has given me. When I fall on a trail, I rise bloody and filthy, but keep moving. When I feel exhausted on a trail, I slow down, but keep moving. When my legs are strong, I fly over the trails and always keep moving. Always moving forward toward my goals, no matter how much my body is begging me to stop.
To cope, I have been seeking out friends, both through work and through the trail running community. Trail runners are amazing and on multiple occasions I have been blessed by a trail running stranger taking me with them on a run only to instantly be connected because of our mutual love of getting dirty and running hard. Each time I see an opportunity to connect with others, I have to force myself to do so. My natural tendency is to retreat, alone with my junk food and comforter. But I am not nurturing that tendency….I am choosing to nurture and grow the person I want to be.
Surprisingly, some days I wake up, look in the mirror, and the person I want to be is staring back at me. She is excited for the day, ready for an adventure, and full of energy. She doesn’t want to go back to bed. In fact, she makes the bed and is out the door before the sheets can cool. Her motto is “Wake up, Kick ass, Repeat”.
Other days, like this past Monday, the face looking back is full of shadows of the darkness. I have to shine a tremendous light to burn even a portion of that darkness away. Here are the strategies I use to shine that light so bright on days like that:
Only focusing on the next step I need to take. Not thinking about getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, going for a run, showering, making breakfast…..all those steps are overwhelming! First putting my feet on the ground then thinking of the next step. Stand up. Check. Walk to the bathroom. Check. Only after each step is done will I think of what’s next.
Nothing shines a brighter light on despair and starts the day off with more hope than getting a run in before work. Even if it is just a mile or two, the effects are tremendous. While other activities may work for others, I have found running to be far and away the most effective for me.
Meditation is extremely helpful in teaching control over our reactions. When meditating, thoughts always come into the mind. I don’t practice getting rid of thoughts, but rather allowing them to slip away and not grab my attention. These techniques are critical in helping control my reactions to my despair.
On days of despair, I am gentler on myself. I may not accomplish as much or my workouts may lack luster. I know I am not shining brightly on these days and I let myself be okay with that. The days I do shine will make up for it.
I always have a choice on the actions I take. My depression does not choose for me. It took me a long time to understand this, but I know it now and exercise that understanding whenever I need it.
These strategies have pulled me through on many occasions and give me the courage to keep going.
The journey continues….