Running may save my sanity

It seems I gotta tighten the straps of Houdini’s stroller

I have anxiety. It builds in me and makes it terribly uncomfortable to sit still. It overtakes my body and my mind. I managed it in high school with singing and swim team. When I had a particularly rough day (the joys of hormone imbalance, lack of control, and depression) I had my arsenal of coping mechanisms built into my day. I could sing out my emotions in choir with people I loved and trusted. You have to, to create a beautiful collective of sound and soul. That would get me through to the afternoon where I could get the energy out. I would get to swim practice and slip into the warm embrace of home. The water soothed me. The muscle memory of the strokes made me feel graceful. The repetition of long sets gave me time to think. To solve the problems of the world. To process.

There have been many times in my adult life that I have longed for a pool. Not just the water or the peace, but the team. When I have managed to get myself into a pool, it is a transformative experience. But it is always missing something. It’s missing the people. That, coupled with cost and lack of time, I no longer swim like I used to. My waistline and anxiety are acutely aware of this fact.

About nine months ago I sat in my office on a Wednesday night, nearly crawling out of my skin. I needed to move. I needed to release the energy. I needed to distract myself from the fact that I couldn’t go home and hug my child. So I texted my best friend. All it said was “I need to run”. At which point she succinctly replied “Do it”. Of course I should. I had a million reasons not to. I should be working. I should use this time sans kiddo to get some things caught up. I needed her short encouragement (and her dispelling all of my reasons not to) to get me moving. That was the day I began my C25K training. That was the day I got back in touch with how moving can help me get my anxious energy out. I put on my headphones and I run.

I run to exhaustion. I process feelings. I allow anger to flood my mind and then discharge itself through my heels as they hit the pavement. And sometimes, I solve the problems of the world.

But I have learned some things about myself through this new endeavor in my life. I have learned that I am stronger than I think. I am surprised when I survive a new week with increased running and decreased walking intervals. I always make it back home. I never collapse. I tap into a strength that I don’t always trust I have. Running isn’t comfortable for me by any means, but it doesn’t hurt as much as I expect it to. And I improve a little bit every time.

My limits are not as close as I think they are. I can be pushed past what I think will break me.

For a while, I perpetually thought that I couldn’t finish the interval. I thought that my legs hurt too much or I couldn’t breathe. But I never give in. Well, I can’t say never. I gave in once, for 2 seconds and then I started back again. But for some odd reason, even now, when I get to the cool down, I have to fight the urge to add another running interval. I’m not 100% sure what that says about me. I get a second wind? Once I reach a goal I immediately set a new one? I want to continue to improve and push myself? Could be all of these things. I could just be crazy.

No matter how difficult the previous run was, I always go for another. Deep down I have faith in myself. I know my body can withstand it. I know that I will be ok. And sometimes, I surprise myself with how well I handle it.

These lessons carry me through. I remind myself that I can surpass my limits when Moose has woken up two nights in a row and I have to go to work on little to no sleep. I remind myself that I am more resilient than I know when Moose is teething and I have to keep my composure at 3 am and his crying feels personal. I am beginning to recognize these traits within myself through running, but they were already there. Maybe becoming a mother has strengthened me.

I have been tempered by hard decisions, practicing patience when I think I have none left, and unconditionally loving another human being more than I love myself.

As mothers, we concern ourselves with everyone else’s needs. We don’t turn the gaze to ourselves to ensure that we are taken care of. We are stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for. There are entire areas of the internet filled with memes about how we are hot messes. And we are. But  we are also courageous, giving, and pillars of strength for our families. We are tender and tenacious.

I don’t often feel strong. I never feel like I have all of my shit together. My house is in a perpetual state of chaos. I never feel like I even make a dent into my to-do list. And all of that makes it easy to lose sight. Lose sight of what I am doing right. Where I am strong. Because a clean house is nice- and would probably benefit my anxiety- but it is not a reflection on the kind of mother I am. Or the kind of person I am. Actually, it might be. Not for the obvious- that the chaos matches that which resides in my brain. But because it shows my priorities. Time playing with me son. Talking on the phone with those that I love. Visiting family. These things are so much more important to me than controlling the clutter.

Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs there is. The stakes are higher than anything else you will take on in your life. And it doesn’t end. There aren’t sick days. The worries don’t stop when the kiddo goes to sleep.  Doing it alone sometimes feels insurmountable. The weight of the world- my world– is on my shoulders. Sometimes pressing down so hard it is difficult to move my feet.  But on a day like today- a day that I feel capable- a day that began with my son requesting hugs repeatedly this morning- I realize that my feet always keep moving. That my son knows I am a safe place. He knows that when he needs a hug, all he has to do is ask. He feeds me- an action I have determined is a sign of a giving spirit. A little boy that will grow into a selfless, caring man. On a day like today- though my house is still a mess, my hair is piled into a messy ponytail, and I have no makeup on- I feel strong. I feel capable. I am happy.  I’m doing some things right.

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