Once, when I was between jobs and husbands, I got really depressed.
I treated it by playing Minesweeper for about eight hours a day while chain smoking at my desk.
I was also poor and a desk was about the only furniture I had, along with a water boiler that I used to make meals out of little dry packets of soup. This suited me because I didn’t have a kitchen sink and washing dishes in the bathroom was a bore.
As was everything, because the blackness had come and who knew how long it was going to stay. I knew people took medication for these things, but I also knew I could probably just get a job.
I don’t know what happened, some sort of glimmer of optimism that lives deep within my cells or perhaps a particularly potent cup of coffee. In any case, one day I decided I would become a runner.
That optimism is oblivious to most rational arguments. Smokers who can weigh themselves in measurements usually reserved for cattle auctions might want to assess the risks of launching out the front door in a pair of boxer shorts (the only kind that fit me).
That first run, I wanted to make it to the street light before taking a walk break. It was about 400 feet away. The next months were like that run. Step by step. I got a job and a kitchen sink. I made a salad. I quit smoking. I never much liked it anyway – it was just the European thing to do.
Then I spent the next decade or so living in fear of that darkness. I equate any kind of lethargy or packaged soup with the inevitable downward spiral into an isolation so thick and impervious, nothing short of desperation or a good shoe sale will free me.
Running was the antidote. For nearly 20 years, just the knowledge that I could run to save myself has kept the fear at bay. And of course, every diet that every fitness guru, spiritual leader, doctor or celebrity has ever designed. (If my education as a nutritionist didn’t qualify me for my job, my ceaseless self-experimentation must.)
Lying in bed these last weeks, in postsurgical mandatory bed rest, I could see the gray clouds approaching like a rain storm that descends upon the land and suffocates it while we all helplessly try to keep our feet dry and carry on with our lives as if they mattered. And I couldn’t even run away.
I slept it off. I took up the whole bed. I decided if I had to be in bed, I’d shop online for delicious, overpriced sheets. They are fabulous, mind you, and now I can’t send my kid to college because I’m developing a fine linen habit. I read some Vonnegut. I played some Sudoku. OK, I played a lot of Sudoku with the argument that it was at least more cerebral than Minesweeper. The rain came. I paid it no mind.
Because I have a kitchen sink, and someone made me real soup, and I don’t even want to smoke. As dark and awful as some of those experiences have been, they have given me faith: This too shall pass. Not surprisingly, this is my ultramarathon mantra as I slog out mile after mile. Sometimes the darkness comes there too, and maybe that’s why I like it.
No matter what we do, time passes. The inevitability of that also lends to things like healing. One day I was on crutches in the greenhouse, starting seeds for the garden. The clouds broke up a little bit. The surgeon said I could pitch the crutches, and I went home to start a brush pile. Because no matter what, it’s lighter outside than inside, and the color green increases endorphin production, and torching a giant, destructive ant hill is somehow oddly satisfying.
This weekend, I went out to work in a planter box and forgot a tool on the back porch. I jogged up the hill to grab it. It was an accident – I had merely forgotten and broken the rules. But it didn’t hurt. And clouds broke apart. And sun fell onto my little seed starts. And everything seemed green and hopeful.
And I wrote the organizers of the Leadville 100 and asked if they’d let me run next year. From where I stand, that looks about as far away as a street light.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at email@example.com
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