This is Day 3 of a series of stories about how fitness can serve as a means of coping. You can all the articles here. Also be sure to visit our new forum, Fitness and Grief. Today we meet Melissa who now finds herself running through tears of joy, gratitude and love following a family tragedy.
My running story begins a long time ago, pretty much at birth. I believe my soul has always known I was a runner, I’ve always felt like I should be a runner, and I’ve always known I would be a runner some day; it just took my body 42 years to figure it all out. And thank goodness it did because over the past year, running has literally saved my life.
I began running as part of lifestyle change (aka “the I’m tired of being a heavy weight” weight-loss program) in late January 2012. Little did I know that running would not only become an integral part of my fitness routine, it would become lifesaving therapy for me just a few short months later.
On Aug. 17, 2012, my mom, sister-in-law, and 8-year old niece were killed when a drunk driver crossed into their lane and hit them head on. My then 5-year-old nephew survived the crash after being rescued by brave bystanders from the wreckage. Needless to say, this unimaginable tragedy shook our family to the core.
I noticed upon my attempt to return to work and some sort of semblance of a “normal” life about a month later that I began experiencing bouts of acute anxiety, seemingly for no reason. I wasn’t a person that had suffered from anxiety prior to the crash so these feelings were new to me. I found there wasn’t much I could do to alleviate this new-found angst, despite the many tools (i.e. journaling, grief-work, talking, massage therapy, etc.) I was using to cope.
Finally, one night in the midst of a very stressful, grief-ridden moment, I decided to go for a run. To my surprise, I felt much better and much calmer after returning from my run. It took a few more grief/stress-induced runs for me to really make the connection, but when I did, my life completely changed. Not that my grief had really begun to subside much but I knew as soon as I felt the anxiety creeping in that I could go for a run and my stress would temporarily subside.
Over the Christmas holiday, a couple of weeks of super cold weather coupled with a very hectic holiday schedule had left me without my usual runs (I had some exercise but no running). I found myself anxiety-filled and my sleeping patterns were more disturbed than usual. Chalking it all up to the usual holiday stress (especially because it was the first Christmas without our loved ones), it finally dawned on me when I got out for a run after the new year that the added stress and lack of sleep wasn’t so much due to the holidays, but it was because of a lack of running.
I have a couple other similar stories to this holiday one but each one ends the same, as soon as my regular running schedule is resumed, my anxiety subsides.
During the past year, I have run through blinding tears, heart-wrenching pain, deep-seeded anger, extreme sadness, and the mental fog that settles in after traumatic loss. But, as I have slowly begun to heal from this tremendous pain, the focus of my runs has begun to shift. Instead of always running through tears of pain and sadness, I find myself still running through tears, but they are often tears of joy, gratitude, and love. I spend many of my runs remembering my mom, sister-in-law, and niece and more recently, I find myself running and praying – for peace and for healing for my family and friends.
Throughout the past year, running has been one of the few constants (besides family and friends of course) in my life. No matter what my mental status was pre-run, there isn’t a SINGLE run that I have returned from that I didn’t feel better that when I started– not a single one. That is better therapy then I could have ever thought possible.
Since I began my running journey, I have lost 62 pounds, 20 of those pounds since the crash. I don’t run fast or far, usually not more than three or four miles, but when I run, I run with my whole heart and soul.
In September, I will be participating in my first marathon. Although I am excited to tackle this race, that day, as too many have been in the past year, will be so bittersweet. My mom and sister-in-law were my biggest cheerleaders in my quest for better health.
I will miss the well-wishes from my sister-in-law but I will especially miss my mom’s smiling face at the finish line. Thankfully I will have 26.2 miles of beautiful therapy to carry me through.