Light. Fast. Strong. Powerful. I feel like I could run forever. The run is freedom. The run is the answer. There is no problem in life that a long run can’t solve.
Except for the ones that it can’t.
My legs are filled with cement and my lungs are on fire, my left kidney might have given out back at mile 2.3, and the voices came along for the ride.
Who do you think you are? Why do you even try? You. Are. Nothing.
I glance at my watch. I don’t remember a quarter mile taking this long. It’s hot. I should have worn shorts.
You can’t do anything right, can you?
One more mile and then I’ll turn around and head home. One more mile. The switch has to flip soon. I know it will. I will return home feeling better than when I left.
WHAT IS THE POINT?
I’m walking now, shoulders hunched. I’m done and my whole body knows it.
I wish I could disappear. This isn’t working. The blue skies and puffy clouds are mocking me as I trudge back toward home. They should make me happy. I’m supposed to be happy. I’m so lucky to still be able to run. I’m so lucky to live right here in these mountains. I have no reason not to be the happiest woman alive. The dust wafts in tiny puffs in front of my high-end running shoes. A wave of guilt washes over me at even owning them. They were made for real runners.
So many of us are drawn to running because it is simple. We can step away from life’s issues and put one foot in front of the other until endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and all those other ‘feel good’ chemicals kick in. Push harder to get stronger, faster, better. Or put it on cruise control and take it easy to relieve stress.
Depression is anything but simple. The more that this complex disorder is researched, the more possible factors are found to be involved in causing it. Genetic predisposition, life situations, trauma, gut health, faulty neurotransmitters – the variables seem endless, but the message is clear: Depression is a very real condition with biological repercussions that cannot just be dismissed by deciding you don’t want to be sad.
I see well-intentioned motivational memes declaring that nature and exercise are true treatment and that nothing else is needed. “Just try harder!” If this were true, I’d be the happiest hippy on the planet. This is not to downplay the importance of nature and exercise. They are absolutely vital tools in coping with a debilitating disease. Some runs do feel like the fix. When it comes to depression, the warriors that live with it will confess that nothing is permanent. Meds need to be changed now and then. Sleep cycles alter. And sometimes the run doesn’t work.
Living with this disorder has taught me that there is no shame in finding what works for you. And there is no shame in changing and combining survival tactics whenever what worked doesn’t anymore.* Herbal remedies, prescription medication, diet changes, exercise habits, cognitive therapy, and yoga are all valid resources for helping you to cope. There is no ‘versus’ in treating a disease this complex. The best weapons in the fight against depression are a strong support network, and a huge list of possible resources with a committed willingness to use them.
My plea for our community is that we stop pretending to know what is right for anyone else, and instead stand as a part of the support network. Check in with your friends. Connect with them. Don’t let them disappear when they feel as if they might. And my plea for my fellow mental health warriors is that we commit to continuing our stories by whatever means necessary. Let’s not limit ourselves to a pill or a run, and let’s not forget that what didn’t work today might be tomorrow’s savior. May we care for ourselves and each other as if lives depended on it, and may we never lose hope that tomorrow’s run might flip the switch.
*Please consult your healthcare professional before changing or combining treatments.