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.”