I’m feeling a bit depleted today, after running yesterday’s Great Bay Half Marathon in a blistering 2:01:37. I was a complete spazz out there, running at wildly inconsistent paces from mile to mile. There were low moments, moments when I had to repeat to myself over and over, “if you can do childbirth, you can do this.” And indeed, racing and childbirth share much in common: by the end, one feels as if one’s lower body has been hijacked and replaced with completely foreign anatomy. Still, the sense of accomplishment is similar. Mercifully, however, no one handed me a red-faced, slimy, slit-eyed half human at the end of the race. Perhaps because I resembled one myself.
I corralled my sister, my brother-in-law, and my husband into running this thing with me, and we were feeling excellent about the achievement until we got to the front of the “free beer for runners” line to watch the last draft being poured for the jerk ahead of us. We watched with tears in our eyes and broken spirits as the empty kegs were carted off. At that point, it was no longer clear why we had done this to ourselves in the first place.
Aside from the free beer, I often find myself getting asked why I run. Or, more often, told that I am “crazy,” “obsessed,” or that I must be some kind of superhuman. None of which is true, though the first two were fair descriptors for much of my life. First off though, I assure you, one need not be a superhero to run a half marathon. If you doubt this, consider the 75 year old man apparently known as “Noobs” wearing a headband and a neon windbreaker who passed me at mile 9. Also, the plodding Clydesdale of a man whose guts could be heard roiling from some distance away. He finished. And my hat is off to the larger ladies whose athleticism defied credulity and the apparent limits of spandex.
But to the crazy and obsessed claims, I say this: for most of my life, I have been a seething mass of anxiety. I had my first panic attack at age 11 when I feared I wouldn’t finish my styrofoam model monorail for a sixth grade project on superconductors. (I know, sound the nerd alert!) Then, in college, I had what one might term a nervous breakdown–anxiety so continuous and debilitating that I had to leave school for a semester.
Despite that, it wasn’t until I had kids that I decided I needed to get help. I was such a total jerk to them sometimes; I was on a hair trigger and had an unsettling tendency to slap their hands or arms for minor infractions. I headed to Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD) for an evaluation. The diagnosis: anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. My obsessions were pervasive, vivid images of my children being maimed and killed in bizarre and horrific ways. Lawn mowers, pool drains, grain mills (don’t ask me how they would get into a grain mill. They’re young boys. It could happen.) In response to these constant obsessive thoughts, I cleaned and tidied and scrubbed (the compulsive part). My house was always impeccably neat, which was nice, but it flowed from a drive in my mind to order my small part of the world and momentarily dispel the images. It never lasted long.
Now, after learning some thought management techniques at CARD, I am vastly improved. I won’t ever be entirely normal; they made that clear when I was diagnosed. And in addition to the thought techniques, there is running now. I run without headphones, without music, with only my footfalls and ragged breaths in my ears. And I run until I’m too tired to think of the horrors that used to plague me all the time.
So to the people who say I’m obsessed, you’re right. I still work on it everyday. But running isn’t a symptom, it’s a little bit of my cure.