top of page

A Mantra Like Kindling

A single bead of sweat rolls slowly down my temple, and then drips off of my left cheek to the pavement below. My lungs are burning, begging for the fire extinguisher inhalers tucked neatly into my running hipbelt, which are next to my energy gels and chapstick. My legs are aching, and there’s a funny twinge somewhere in the ball socket of my left hip, leftover from one of my three pregnancies. It’s been flaring up on and off for months now. Feet pounding the rugged pavement, I take a running leap over a pothole, dodge out of the way of an oddly parked car, and glance reflexively over my shoulder, just in case, without missing a beat. The pain in my aching feet, the throbbing of my head in the too bright sunlight, and the mental toll of pushing myself to keep going even though I’m all by myself is… heavy.

But it’s not as heavy as the thing I’m running from. My mental illness.

Far too often I feel like a blacksmith’s iron, caught between the anvil of my mental illness and the hammer strikes that are my life. Hour after hour, day after day, being heated and cooled and molded and shaped.

Bang. The kids are fighting. Bang. The house needs cleaning. Bang. The email came, and I didn’t get the job. Bang. My to-do list is a mile long and I know I’m forgetting… something? Bang. The baby’s crying. Bang. I’ve been sick with a fever and vomiting for a week. Bang. Don’t forget to register the kids for school. Bang. Will they need masks for class this year? Bang. Read every label on all my food so my nursing baby doesn’t get fed his allergy foods. Bang. Coordinate co-parenting across state lines. Bang. My husband’s shifts are over 12 hours and I’m dying to hear another adult voice. Bang. Get to the pharmacy before Tuesday or you’ll run out of antidepressants. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Each strike is small, but powerful. And beneath it all, to add an ever increasing intensity to the forgery, lies my mental illness. Sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but always there. Every single thing in my life, no matter how big or small, is affected and amplified by it. If not directly, then at least because of how deeply my mental illness has shaped who I am as a person. I remember being just 10 years old and clinically depressed. I don’t remember who I was before that. Who would I have been had this fire not ravaged and torn and burned and destroyed and rebuilt me over and over and over again? Would she be more confident? Less defensive? More apt at making friends? Not as self deprecating?

Honestly? There’s no way to know.

I was placed into the fire, the bellows were pumped, and as ash and smoke and sparks flew into the sky in a puff of possibilities… I was made. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant. I can’t go back. What’s done is done, and now I have two choices.

  1. Be angry, bitter, and cynical. Wallow in the pain and the unfairness of mental illness. Turn a disgusted eye away from my dismal mess of a half forged self and rust away to nothing. OR…

  2. Pump the bellows. Let it burn. Add fuel to the fire and watch in unbridled awe and wonder as the hammer strikes, the sparks fly, and I am molded into something beautiful and useful and worthwhile. The process will hurt either way. I can’t stop that. But I would rather hurt and become something wonderful than hurt and become something wounded.

4.97, 4.98, 4.99… 5.00 MILES! I’m pulled out of my wandering thoughts for a moment as the GPS ticks to five miles and a small ding in my ear lets me know I’ve completed another mile of my run. The sun is beating down ever harder now. My lungs are burning hotter. My sweat is dripping faster. This run could be beating my body and mind with an intensity that would be absolutely insurmountable. An intensity that could break me. Except I know that it won’t. And in the midst of my struggle, I grin and run harder, because:



By Laura Clark

bottom of page