Tag Archives: depression

How I became a runner and other meditative ramblings…

Running is the last thing I want to do today. My calves are loaded with petulant resistance, and the ache of 2,000 inexplicable miles ran in the past year and a half.
But, I push off like I always do, and it’s still a slight surprise every time. My feet drum down on a path that always seems to both elude and gratify me. The pace is arrhythmic and the strides are awkward. My torso shifts around on top of squat legs. No. My body is not like those lean Olympians in Runner’s World. My body is a Jenga tower, lopsided in action and eternally poised to topple.
But, the inertia of movement helps me to forget my apparent absurdity. On the 101, runners ribbed with muscle sprint ahead. Ponytails flick and tick past me like minute hands that clock a sometimes mediocre pace. The voice in my head says, “You’re not running fast enough,” or, worse, “You’re not good enough.”
But, I push on.
And, this is the single greatest thing I’ve discovered about myself as a runner: I push on. Past the literal pain of shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and the sore calf muscles. And, also, past the painful abstractions: the self-doubt, the anger, and the depression.

The Beginning

I became a runner two winters ago in Catonsville, Maryland. At the time, I was unhealthy on several floors of myself. If the house of a “self” is constructed of mind, body and soul, all three floors were suffering the wear of time and poor choices.
My body was flabby, and I generally preferred not to think about it. Instead of acknowledging my dire need for major life changes, I routinely scarfed down Taco Bell enchiladas and Wendy’s cheeseburgers with my stoner ex-boyfriend.
I also had an appetite for a variety of illicit substances. Heroin ritually crawled through my blood veins. When I couldn’t have heroin, coke sufficed. Junkfood and opiates medicated my sadness. Heroin may not have cured my depression, but it did help me float off and away from the reality of it.

My scatterbrained psychiatrist at the time prescribed Xanax and Viibryd to treat my depression. When I came up on Viibryd, my legs flailed and flounced restlessly for hours at night. My brain felt like taut guitar strings (strung too tight) that were plucked painfully, and repeatedly. It took several weeks to adapt to the 40mg dosage, and once I had, I didn’t necessarily feel happy. Just wired. Jittery. Like so many bored, self-indulgent Americans, popping a pill in a dark room lit only by a television screen was much easier than attempting to discern the root of my sadness.

My relationship, like other facets of my life, was a tepid affair. It was comfortable, and altogether uninspired. My boyfriend was complacent and content to cohabitate forever in our attic of long-expired passion. Although, I wonder if it was ever even there? He wiled away the hours playing Wii U in a cloud of ever-present marijuana smoke. My resentment grew daily, but I never left. I was afraid. Of what?
But, if anyone was going to reach deep down into their deflated soul, and discover some sort of salvation, it was going to have to be me. I hadn’t realized all of this yet. And, as a sidenote to anyone reading, it’s delusory to think that you can manufacture or force love. True love may take courage, but it is organic. Love is effortless. Love, if it’s truly there, will perpetuate in its perfection long after you perish —with the right person.
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;”

Bottomline: You cannot TRY to love someone. You either love them of you don’t.

One Fateful Morning

One morning of “no particular consequence,” I went for my first run. I can’t explain why it happened other than to reason that I’d probably reached breaking point. After all, I’d slept for 14 hours the previous night, half of which was heroin induced. I was sick of my lethargic indifference, and incapable of watching myself slowly die (although my boyfriend seemed unfazed by this fate). He dozed on the beige sheets of our bed in a stained undershirt and boxers, also dreaming the dragon dreams of too much heroin.

I craved the organic – something that didn’t come in a neon green dime bag. I longed for trees and flowers and deeply-felt life.
So, I ran.
I ran for approximately 1.5 miles with split times of 16 minutes. Each stride left me panting in agony. The next day I ran 1.38 miles. The next, 3.86.
But, there was something coming to fruition inside of me beyond the reached threshold of my physical pain. In the beginning, running was like unearthing an old trunk of childhood toys in my parents’ attic. It was a flashback to July evenings, the sun still alive and drizzling its honey over the stained glass sky at 8:30 pm. The fireflies were alight on the evening breeze and drifting over my sweaty body. I remembered feeling both electric and exhausted after a day spent romping through backyards and wading through Columbia creeks.

After taking such a lengthy hiatus from exercise, the experience of running was like greeting an old friend. It was a reunion and reassembly of the scattered parts of myself. For over a decade, I’d done my best to cover the bulges and curves of my body. But, running was an act of reacquainting and wedding myself to my body’s capabilities.
At the suggestion of a friend, I fueled my runs with fresh vegetable juices and plant-based meals. Retiring the junkfood diet purged my body, and uncluttered my mind. As I ran, I harnessed a sort of clarity. Running and eating properly allowed me to squarely assess my life, and the changes I needed to make if I was ever going to be happy.
I stopped doing heroin, too, which was surprisingly easy despite its notoriously addictive reputation. Once I became a runner, heroin made me sick. I didn’t derive the same lukewarm numbness anymore. It made me reel and vomit. My body rejected the artificial high of heroin in favor of natural endorphins. This, of course, is only one more example of how running saved my life.

I didn’t know it at the time, and the events that would later transpire, in consequence, were entirely unanticipated. But, I suppose when I began to run, I changed. As I transformed, the gap between the life I was living and the life I hoped to live became bridgeable.

Shortly therafter, I met the love of my life. I think that I met him because I was finally ready to meet him. Running literally and figuratively trimmed the excess and the excuses. It filled me with confidence, and demonstrated to me my own remarkable resilience and strength. It was then that I let go of the empty relationship I’d clung to for security with my ex-boyfriend, and gleefully pursued my explosive passion for the incredibly brilliant, and handsome man who is now my fiancé (! Happiest girl in the whole damn world !). To quote Joseph Campbell, I “followed my bliss,” and I haven’t looked back since (unless you count this blog). My fiancé and I now both live (and run) in Southern California.

Running has come to represent freedom to me. I live for Sausalito mornings where the dirt path winds unending behind the emerald California hillsides. Like a yellow brick road, off into Oz. I live for the gold plated clouds as the Carlsbad sun sinks into the depths of ocean with my sneaker prints in the sand. I live to run past the city fairs and docked boats of Santa Barbara, and past the enchanted, seaside cottages of Carmel. I live for the feeling that I am exactly where I always wanted, hoped and dreamed I would be… Mind, body and soul.

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Ages and ages hence, I shall be telling this with a sigh

On Sunday mornings, the bedroom blinds rise and fall in the soft, yellow breeze. Piano keys inflate a somber, life raft melody, and I drift off. These tectonic thoughts of mine shift so quickly. There’s little time to acquaint myself with the person I’ve become or am becoming.

Six months ago, I didn’t even know him. I’d read about Big Sur, but I’d never planted my feet at that Pacific precipice. Six months ago, I hadn’t ferried from Sausalito to San Francisco or walked Rodeo Drive. That was someone else’s life.

Six months ago, I spent my hours running along Woodlawn Avenue in Catonsville. I enjoyed looking at the old Victorians back there. Each one, a dollhouse with petite turrets and mansard roofs, freshly iced with Christmas lights. In window cutouts, mothers heaved toddlers over their shoulders. Elderly men ticked through newspapers, exasperation on their weathered, roadmap faces. The street was lit only by endless, window illuminations. I followed the pockets of light like breadcrumbs into the dark. What was I looking for then, if not for him? Dead leaves fluttered across the vacant road, and the boughs of the trees twisted overhead like arteries.

Six months ago, I found happiness in a tiny, electric green Ziploc bag. Happiness was $20 and it stuffed my head with clouds as the snow fell. I drifted off on those Sunday mornings too. Sleeping for hours and hours. The sounds of truck engines and children’s laughter outside reminded me how detached I’d become. So many Sundays spent in a hazy daydream. I remember the way the bump of brown grit looked on our granite countertop. There was a solace I took in the ritual of breaking each clump with my driver’s license.

But, now that love is here, and I run in the light, and happiness comes without a drug deal in a Baltimore alley, my life is more fractured than its ever been. Every heavy hour that passes without him is an ailing desire I cannot satisfy, and every Sunday morning is an idle invention of time. 

Fractions and the Weight of Love

“What happened?” his voice pleaded, cracking. “Is there somebody else?”

“God, no!” I cried too soon.

“Then” he choked back sobs, “What is it? Why would you ever leave us?”

I sat alone on the love seat of our attic apartment, cupping my phone in a cage of fingers. His words came out of the speaker, but they fell to the floor. My half-heart hung from the gallows in my head.

Trucks blazed by on Route 695. Their headlights cut the empty room up, illuminating the place before asphyxiating it in darkness.  Sputtering engine noises consumed the carnal silence.

“I wanted to marry you, Ashley.”

It was never clearer to me that his love, in all its temperate complexity, was not mine to keep. When we met, I had nothing but negative experiences to compare my conflicted feelings to so I thought that love must be languid like him. His love was gentle, so I allowed myself to climb to a safe summit with him. My love was tepid. The irrepressible volatility in me, the need for control, quickly overthrew him.

Our love story was a broken lullaby that left me slightly restless at night. Decembers gave way to Decembers and, for years, I talked and tossed myself into a light sleep. I took Xanax, and laid stiff with my back boarded against him.

But, every night, he reached for me through cold sheets. His hands were warm, but my body was cold. In all of my listless melancholy, my rigidity softened in the reach of his embrace. He was an angel that I slowly starved.

The erupting truth of us came out of me all at once. It was inescapable in the end and deluged us. It was a gospel that leered at me from the beginning. Taunting me after so much time. My selfishness infuriated me.

“I don’t love you, Gerrod.” I said, “I am so sorry.” I let myself fall into an ocean of fully realized deception.

“What do you mean? You love me,” he cried weakly, “You know you love me.”

“I love you. I do.” Violins played in my voice as I struggled to bury our emaciated relationship.

“But,” I broke, “I am not in love with you.”

This was too much for him. The phone line went dead.

The proceeding silence was electrifying. My emotions revved through me violently. Relief and terror dueled as my brain processed this final, slicing detachment. I was ready.

I lay baby’s breath and white lilies, pallid like our grief, at our gravestone. They were colorless, but beautiful.

Our last words summoned passionate tides that seized us, then released us. There was a sense of dispossession, and of balance. In the end, his jagged, grasping love for me didn’t prove as incisive as my soft detachment.

The rest of the callous world took no notice of our break-up. People were unaware of our tiny corner of love that ruptured, then faded. Life went on without mournful silence or penance for the three years I spent with the softhearted man I never truly loved.

Three years of walking through the snow-covered playgrounds in Maryland.

Three years of frozen yogurt shops, and drugs.

Three years of laughter, and fights.

Three years with this wonderful man before I fell completely and utterly in love with someone else.

The Man in the Black Suit

I overlooked him at first, but he had seen me right away. He was the man in the black suit, occupying the third booth from the back. I didn’t recognize him from college. In his facebook pictures, he smiled a wild smile at a bar with friends. In another photograph, he embraced an older man, perhaps his Father, in front of a twinkling Christmas tree. But, today, beneath the light fixtures in the cavernous restaurant, he was gaunt and sallow looking. His long nose slid down into thin lips that curled in weak defense.

The man in the suit was some big deal in advertising, and sounded ever so effeminate when he spoke. He seemed to love his job because whenever he mentioned it, his eyes lit back up. Every morning, he tossed ideas around a conference table with “the women” at his office.

He said, “Oh my god,” in a husky, but slightly feminine way, “I don’t know why the industry is so populated with women. But, 55% of college graduates will be women next year. They’re so much more emotionally mature.”

He answered his own questions when he talked.

He was quick to talk. Too quick. Like me. I think the silence that hung between words scared him. Whole worlds were constructed and torn down in his mind in a simple glance. His was a mind that was rapid to conjure an impression or sell a product, or an idea. It was fast, but tortured. It had suffered the lovelorn blows of fickle women.

The man in the suit told me about his wife that afternoon, and how he wasn’t mad about the fact that she no longer loved him. He wasn’t even mad that she was outwardly hostile toward him.

He sat like a scarecrow, lost momentarily in a head that seemed like a dusty attic, cast in shadows.

He said, “I still make her lunch every morning, and make lunch for the kids. There’s no malice there. She likes her apple diced with a side of pecans.”

I believed him because his eyes looked swollen, and puffy. I asked him if he was okay.

Clouds seemed to pass through his eyes, and I wanted to hug him because he never answered. I wanted to tell him it would be okay, and that Friday night wouldn’t always feel like a “cage.”

Right now, I expect he’s sitting with his father who is dying of Parkinson’s. He’ll stay with him until 3AM. Until his Father falls asleep. He does this every weekend. His father has had Parkinson’s for “two years now.”

And, when I feel sad, and alone. When Baltimore, with all of its people, buildings and whirring traffic, feels like too much, I’ll remember to take a breath, and to think about the men and women who sit alone, like me, tonight. I’ll think about the man in the black suit.