Running Through My Head

Picture this: You’re running through the quiet streets of rural Maine. You can hear the occasional bird chattering in the distance, a snowmobile driving through a nearby field, your footfalls on the pavement or splashing in the slush and puddles. Now picture your neighbor out puttering in their yard or shoveling their walkway as they hear snippets of “Mein Herr” from Cabaret or Pink telling them to “Raise Your Glass” or maybe even Rihanna & Eminem talking about the monsters and voices in their heads. Then they see this giant bumblebee of a woman running by, possibly smiling, possibly gasping, with that music emitting from her body. It’s a glorious image, isn’t it? ūüėČ

Saturday was very warm for central Maine–in the low 50s on a February morning. The sun wasn’t shining throughout my 10K run, but it still felt like spring. I was able to wear my orange running shoes instead of my trail runners I have to wear on the snow and ice-covered roads, and I felt so light with those beauties on my feet. Yesterday it was either bare road or mud puddles, and I loved them both.

During the first few miles of my run, I just enjoyed each moment. My music made me smile, there was little traffic, I felt strong and swift. My thoughts started to drift towards home, towards my son who was getting ready for his first date as I pounded the pavement. He was nervous but excited. My husband was having a good morning with no body pain. It was a good morning.

I started to think about my therapy appointment from the day before. How overwhelmed I’ve felt this week. My need to prioritize my workload, yet how stuck I’ve felt all week. I got the call on Monday that I’ll need to have a distal pancreatectomy–removal of the tail of my pancreas. The cysts that are present are precancerous, so it’s time to take care of them. I’ve done so much of my own research that I feel like I know what’s ahead of me, yet I feel like I am completely clueless all at the same time. I meet with the surgeon in a few weeks with my long list of questions (thank you friends!) and I think I’ll feel better at that point. Or I’ll feel worse.

I know for a fact that the recovery will be awful. Hell, the removal of an internal organ or part of one is no easy thing for your body to heal from. It’ll take time. There’ll be a lot of pain and fatigue and who knows what else? Probably loss of weight, which normally I’d say “Alright!” Maybe I can look at the weight loss as a positive?

Yeah…maybe not. That’s my eating disorders and poor body image talking.

These thoughts flitted in and out as I kept running. The Beatles’ “All Together Now” came up on my playlist and I focused on the song and nodded along. I thought of my brother who introduced me to this song. I thought about the library and my work and how long would I need to be out for this operation and recovery? I love what I do but I also feel a lot of pressure to continually justify the library’s existence. We do great work and we provide MANY services to our patrons and residents, but sometimes it feels like too much, especially with just a handful of staff.

I had to push all of that out of my head and keep running, placing one foot in front of the other. Jon Batiste’s “I Need You” started to play and I could feel my face light up with that happy, fun music–just like my friend, Denise–this is her song and I love it! It makes me want to dance or run faster, which I did. It helped push me up a small hill and past the cemetery where my Grammy is buried. I blew her a kiss like I do most days and couldn’t help but think of Mom. If she were here, she’d be sick with worry about my upcoming operation. And Dad would reassure me that all would be well but worry as soon as I left the room.

As I neared home, I thought about what will happen during my recovery. What will I be able to do at home? I’m fortunate that my son is a teen and could do nearly anything we need him to. I worry that my husband will not be well enough, but currently he’s ok. And like many women I know, I currently do WAY too much of the work at my house. That will all have to change.

And I’m going to have to let some things go. I absolutely hate losing control over anything, and this all feels like a damned tornado ripping through every aspect of my life. Yet if I don’t go through with it? Pancreatic cancer will surely rear its ugly head at some point in my future.

So….yeah. I think I’ll take my chances with the tornado.

When I arrived at my house and tiptoed up my icy driveway, I was still in the same good mood I was in when I left. Actually, much more so. Even with all of my worries unraveling, I didn’t need to deal with them right then and there. I just finished running 6.2 miles at a much faster pace than I had run in weeks and with my body still feeling decent. I was smiling as I started to stretch on my front steps, and I asked my husband to take my picture. I wanted a record of how I looked, while I felt as good as I did.

I looked good. Happy. Satisfied.

It was a good day.

The future is uncertain, but isn’t it for all of us? Let’s just try to celebrate those good moments and good days right now.

Tomorrow I’ll work on my plans on how to control the universe.

Run it out

Five years ago today, I ran my very first race. It was a 5K fundraiser¬†for an animal shelter about 45 minutes from my house. I wanted my first race to be far enough from my home that no one who knew me would be running in it or watching it. I just wanted to try this racing thing and not be completely embarrassed. Like many other slow runners, “just don’t finish last” was my mantra. (Although a few years later, I did finish last in a 5K I ran/walked with my family, and it was freakin’ awesome.) So I ran my race, felt pretty wonderful about it, called my family, texted a friend, then went home. It felt a bit anti-climactic after being so nervous for months, but it was alright.

I wore my first racing t-shirt on my run this morning.

On this anniversary of my first race, I wore my first racing t-shirt on my run this morning. This is me after the run, very sweaty and smiley.

I’ve run a handful of races since then, but racing makes me feel anxious. There’s the cost of the race, then there’s getting there on time and finding a parking space and where do¬†I go and all that shit that I don’t want or need.¬† After several running injuries, a bad back and now hip pain, the reason I still run after 5 1/2 years is because it makes me feel good.

That doesn’t sound quite right, does it?

Not all of my physical ailments are due to running. I’ve always had a bad back and the MRI image of the herniated disc is my proof. All of the other issues (pulled muscles, feet aches, hip pain) may be from running, but most of that has been manageable. It’s the emotional and mental release that running allows me is why I keep tying those laces time after time.

Running helps rid me of anxiety and worry and sometimes sadness or anger. Although I often do math in my head while running or think about sex or sing the lyrics to whatever tune I’m listening to, all of those things just flow through my mind and I don’t really *feel* any emotions. I just work my body until it’s tired and often sore and when I think I might need to walk the next hill, I try to push through until the next song on my playlist and if I can keep on running through the next one and the next one, then I do.

I think running washes¬†the limbic system in my brain. It clears out the gunk built up in there by my emotional reactions to nearly everything in my life. I’m hoping it will help my memory in the future, too, but only time will tell.

When I run, I love that I can leave everything behind, even for just 30 minutes. I don’t think about mom’s dementia or if I’m scarring my child for life with my parenting skills or what debt needs to be paid. I don’t worry about what I look like. Since I live in a rural area, typically I don’t even have to worry about saying “hello” to other people on the road. I don’t have to be nice to anyone or smile or watch my words. I get to just move my body to the best of my ability, while music I have chosen blasts through my ears and into my limbs and brain and I only think of¬†putting one foot in front of the other. I feel nothing. I’m not angry or sad or happy even. I am¬†just my body and the music. Nothing else.

Not every run is like this, unfortunately. Some runs hurt too much to not feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes my brain is just too filled with emotional baggage to shut down. But most of the time, even for just part of a run, my¬†brain goes on vacation while my body does the work. It’s glorious. It really is. Maybe if someone had told me this before, I would have tried to shed those 85 pounds earlier and got my ass out on the road 20 years ago.

If you’re not a runner and you’re still reading this, I’m not telling you to get out there and run a 5K. I don’t believe running is for everyone. But I think there’s something out there for¬†you that can help¬†you “escape reality” for just a bit, something that can allow¬†you to let off some steam and release whatever pressures you’re feeling. Maybe it’s creating art of some kind, writing, playing tennis, or baking bread. Whatever brings you joy of some¬†sort and makes you breathe easier once you’ve done it.¬†Whatever that thing is, go do it.

I know¬†you’re busy. We all are. But if we don’t find something to release stress and anger and sadness and frustration, then you may find yourself eating that stress away, or drinking it away, or yelling at your loved ones over nothing. You’ll find yourself with high blood pressure or diabetes or some other physical ailment that you might have been able to prevent.

So go.

Find that thing you do.

Climb a mountain. Paint a picture. Make a tasty tomato sauce. Or just go for a run.

You’ll feel better afterwards. I promise.