It was less than a week after we lost my sister to suicide that I found the strength to run. I wasn’t sure where I was going, the mileage, or how I would feel. But the day before I would make my 12-hour drive back home, as I left my father’s house where I was visiting, he said to me, “Don’t get distracted.”
And I understood.
Don’t get distracted. Don’t lose yourself in tears. Don’t let your mind wander and not pay attention to the cars.
And I didn’t.
My father lived in a small town with back roads for miles. I ran up a hill on a main road, turned left, hit a side road, and then the back road I needed to see that morning. But instead of the sun rising in front of me, it was dreary. Gray. Overcast.
And it stopped me, because it was perfect.
It was perfect.
I took a photo, and ran down that road until I was ready to return to my father’s house. I didn’t run far—maybe 4 miles. It was all the strength I had.
In the coming weeks, sadness and grief overtook me most mornings. I would plan to run with my running friends of nearly a decade. I would wake to my alarm, feel the heaviness and text my running group “I’m out” more times than I can count. And I would go back to sleep. I had nothing in me.
I needed to feel again.
Eventually, through time—because it is a healer—my love returned and running provided the freedom I needed to FEEL again. To run free. To allow running to heal me in ways therapy couldn’t.
Many times over the coming months, I would post runs on social media and say, “Never thought I’d get here again,” or “Never thought I’d want to get to this distance again,” or “Thank goodness for my running group.” It was a mix of renewed strength and support through the beginning of a depression that was about to surface so hard, so fast, so deep, that I wouldn’t know how to live with it.
I thought I wouldn’t know how to run through the days in which I could not stop crying.
The days I found it hard to carry on to the next day. That I wouldn’t know how to find one more ounce of strength. That I wouldn’t understand when that darkness would leave. The days when I simply survived. And it went on for months. And months.
Running was my saving grace.
When I had the strength, it gave me more. When I ran my roads, it opened me to healing. When I ran with my friends, they made me laugh. Or they let me run in silence for 6, 8, 10 miles. Whatever I needed. And the depression was hard. It’s never easy. But running free helped me. Therapy helped. Finding daily things I was grateful for helped. But running healed.
Running gave me freedom I needed. It broke me free. And for as long as I’m able, I’ll return to it over and over.