Suddenly, like an eclipse, gloom descended and the birds stopped chirping.
I shouldn’t have been surprised I suppose. The end of a long-awaited holiday, dark January days, lots of travel, the death of my Step Father. I should have expected the black dog’s appearance.
But these days I know what I have to do. I reach for my trainers, and run.
I’ve learned that I can outrun depression, especially if I get a head start.
I am not sure why running works.
I guess there’s the obvious physical effects – endorphines and the like. But it feels more than that.
Running feels like an assertion of my values over my emotions. I never want to run, but I run. If that sounds easy, it isn’t. When I’m running the battle can feel quite elemental, like I’m in a fight for the direction of my soul. But if I can hang in there running starts to reconnect me with a version of me that I like, or at least find harder to hate.
This experience exactly mimics the latest research, which shows that committing to valued actions reduces suffering, but not the other way round.
In his seminal book ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, Haruki Murakami says:
“Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice.”
I think that’s true, even though my inner voice often says FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP AND EAT CAKE!
But to have a thought and not be pushed around by it….running helps me know where to draw the line. Over time my sense of self becomes defined less by what I think, and more by what I do.
It’s not just thoughts though. I also experience emotions more strongly when I run. Today I found myself choking up mid-run to Time to Say Goodbye.
I felt a bit stupid, but it occurred to me that running is the only time I allow myself to properly feel my emotions.
Maybe this is the difference?
When I started to get depressed in my 30s, I really would run from my feelings. But not by running – more often it was alcohol.
Today I run, but running doesn’t feel like running away from anything. It’s more like running towards my emotions. And even when sadness shows up – big gulps of it – I keep running towards them, like old friends greeting each other at a train station.
In this context sadness almost begins to feel like joy. A kind of reconnection with the best part of me.
The depression gains no traction.
It is just me, running in a forest, taking care of the person who sometimes hates himself.