You Can Do This. You Are Doing This.

Field at sunrise for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

Sometimes when I’m on a run, I feel real clarity about my life. There’s something about the way that running strips down my insecurities and worries and eventually – usually near the end – I can often feel answers to questions I’m pondering.

This only happens when I run alone. For the past few months, I’ve been running much more frequently with my partner Chris, and for much of late June and early July, I was sidelined with an ankle injury. I’ve only just started running solo again, and while I much prefer to chat with a friend or with my partner while I run, I also see the important role that solo running plays in my life.

As long-time readers of my blog know, I took up running in earnest after Shawn died. It was therapy for me, and I would frequently find myself starting a run with all sorts of anxiety and ending it in tears. I’m sure the people who saw me sob in a crumpled ball on the sidewalk thought I was completely unstable.

But I wasn’t unstable. I was healing. It’s not always pretty.

Running eventually came to just be a part of how I lived my life. I ran almost every day, and though I never set any real records, I could feel myself get faster over the months and then years. But honestly, that didn’t matter that much to me. What running brought me was a bit of inner peace (though not full inner peace, to be sure!) and the knowledge that my anxiety would have somewhere to go, at least for a brief period of time.

It’s been a while since I’ve needed to run to quell the anxiety like I had in the early days. I still enjoy running and it still helps partially alleviate any worries I have about my children or my job or the world. But I don’t have a feeling that I have to run like I once felt I had to. Or at least I don’t have it as frequently anymore.

I set out on a solo run the other day in the early morning hours. It’s when I’ve always run, and the austerity of the streets at dawn helps me to clear my head. I put on my old running playlist – the one with no theme that includes songs from Daddy Yankee and Taylor Swift and Whitney Houston – and set it to shuffle. I was going to run more miles than usual, I decided.

As I was running, I let my mind wander. I hadn’t listened to the music on that playlist in a long time, and as I did, I was reminded of last winter and how it felt to run in the freezing cold. Yes, sweat was now dripping down my back and the air around me was thick with humidity, but there was a very specific feeling from the winter that came over me nonetheless.

It was the one that said, “you can do this. You are doing this.”

It was my mantra every day for two years. In the beginning, I didn’t believe it, but I just kept saying it over and over again, often on my runs. I would think about my children, and how I had to stay upright for them. How I had to protect them, and that one of the most important ways I was protecting them was by keeping myself whole.

I had to keep going. And as proof that I was doing just that, I’d repeat to myself all the ways that I had kept going since Shawn’s death. Sometimes, I’d simply say, “I got up yesterday and finished the day without screaming” and I’d remind myself that such a day could be considered a victory.

Feeling this emotion was strange in that moment. Of course, I’ve been stressed for many of the same reasons that millions of people have been stressed in our country lately. But I haven’t been feeling the same grief I once felt, at least not at the same intensity. I am happier than I was six months ago, or a year ago. A lot happier.

And yet I still sometimes feel that very specific emotion – the one that says, “keep going.” I feel it when I’m running and I feel it when I face something that’s just a little hard or something that’s really hard. I haven’t felt it a lot lately, but it’s still there. It’s a feeling that I didn’t know that I had in me until I had to access it. Turns out, early widowhood didn’t just give me heartbreak and anxiety.

Widowhood also gave me the knowledge that I could go on. I found out that I could do this hard thing – survive – because I just kept doing it day after day.

And day after day on those runs, I kept saying it over and over:

“You can do this. You are doing this.”

9 Replies to “You Can Do This. You Are Doing This.”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been experiencing the same sense of many things having gotten easier but harder more recently – with the pandemic not helping matters of course. Now that my two young children & I have survived the last two years following their dad’s death, I’m struggling to find how I learn to thrive again and find a new sense of self as a young widow, single mother, etc. I always look forward to your posts and appreciate your honesty & hope in the face of young widowhood.

    1. Yes – it can be daunting to feel like you have to thrive. You WILL thrive, but the pressure to get your life to a good place is real. I don’t know what to say about this except that you have to go easy on yourself. Just facing each day makes you a thriving human!!

  2. This is my favorite post so far. I have only lost my husband 2 months ago and the grief feels unbearable. I have so much anxiety about all of the sudden being a solo parent to our 2 young children. I have always considered myself a very capable person but losing my husband in an accident has pulled the rug out from under me. I am terrified. I think I need to adopt your mantra. If you could tell yourself one thing in those early months, what would it be?

    1. I actually am writing a post that does just that – it will come out in August. But I’d say this: the best piece of advice I have is to go easy on yourself. This is a terrible time period and you shouldn’t really have any expectations of yourself besides getting through the day. You can be “capable” later on. But I think you get AT LEAST 6 months before you have to start feeling like you are doing those “capable” things. For real. My mantra is helpful for me but honestly, it was something I couldn’t really access the first few months.

  3. Michael Zoosman says: Reply

    This was so very inspiring. Whenever I take the time to read a post, I am remiss for those that I’ve missed. As a runner, I feel I can somewhat in my own small way relate to the impact solo running can have on my emotions. I’ve recently applied it to solo walking as well, doing so each day as my father was on hospice. It was illuminating and energizing in profoundly spiritual ways.

    Thank you for sharing this, Marjorie. Wishing you a swift and full recovery from the injury that sidelined you…from running. Sincerely, Mike

    1. Thank you for reading! And yes, I’m still working my way back to running but I’ll get there….slowly. Wishing you the best!

  4. Thank you so much.

  5. What you have gotten out of running, I have gotten from swimming laps. I have been a swimmer for 20 years, but after my husband died I think it was the only thing that saved my sanity. It’s been really hard the last few months as the pools have been closed due to COVID. On Saturday I was able to swim again for the first time since March and it was wonderful! It goes so far beyond the exercise, as afterwards I felt such incredible peace and contentment about my situation that I haven’t felt for a long time. I hope the virus numbers stay low enough here in southern Ontario that the pool can remain open! I also wish for you that your ankle heals up nicely so that you can get back out there and keep going!

    1. I’m so glad you are back swimming! It’s so important. I ran – slooooooowly – today and it felt SO GOOD. Yay!

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