I'm writing this essay as part of the Week of Writing Prompts, a celebration of my first year of blogging. Click the link to find out more!
Prompt: What's your happiest memory? Describe it in detail, what made you so happy? What makes this memory stand out compared to other memories?
Well, it's not my happiest memory, that one will always be too personal for me to share on the blog. But I'm lucky, and I've got a lot of happy memories that I do feel comfortable sharing with the world. Here's one that I've been wanting to share for awhile:
Do you remember the day that you finally became who you were supposed to be? I do, but it took me awhile to get there.
2012 was a rough year for me. A breakup, the loss of my grandmother, and my first real bout with depression. I was still in college, but on summer break, so I stayed on campus to work for the summer. The town was empty, the house was empty, and I was empty. Drained of everything good in my life, and left completely devastated. I'll be honest, I wallowed in it for awhile, allowing myself to cry for days on end. I stopped eating, and only left the house to go to work. It was a pathetic way to live, but understandable given the context. I was 20 years old, and experiencing the type of pain that people write songs about. It sounds dramatic, but that's really how it was. I was broken.
But then one day, in a bizarre and unexpected turn of events, I found myself in the campus recreation center, running around the indoor track. I don't know how I ended up there, but I did. And I only made it about one lap before I had to stop to catch my breath. My heart was pounding and my skin was tingling. I liked it, so I kept doing it. I went to the gym almost every day. I started out slow, gradually increasing the distance in between stopping, until one day I realized I had completed an entire mile. It was something I hadn't accomplished since middle school, and it filled me with confidence. I felt good for the first time in awhile, and I wanted to keep feeling that way. So I signed up for a 5k and got to work preparing for it.
I had a goal now. It was something to focus on that wasn't my failed relationship or my own self hatred. Running was all I had, so I threw myself into it with my whole heart. It was like therapy for me. I'd run around the track, feeling and embracing the entire spectrum of human emotion. Some days I was sad, and I found myself blinking through tears as I put one leg in front of the other. Other days I was fuel by anger, and I could feel the heat emanating from my body as my feet pounded the red polyurethane. The world that I had grown so familiar with felt like it was spiraling out of control, but the running stayed constant so I held onto it.
By the end of the summer I was ready to run my first race, the 5k that I had been training for. It was only 3 miles, but it was the longest distance I'd ever run. And when I finished that race I felt something I hadn't felt in awhile. It started in the same place that the anger and sadness did, bubbling up in the pit of my stomach. But it quickly spread outwards, making my skin sparkle and my heart glow. It was confidence. I had set a goal for myself, and even though it was hard, I had accomplished it. I knew I wanted more.
So a few more races came and went. Running became my life. I'd wake up early to get some miles in, and I started eating foods that I knew would nourish my body for the work I was putting it through. I could easily get through five miles before I felt uncomfortable, and even then I would push myself to run longer until the next distance felt easy. I was still so sad, about so many things, but running gave me a way to properly deal with them. I'd run for miles and miles, and each step would remind me of every thing that was hurting. I was crying during my runs, but things were getting better. Running became a way for me to deal with my stress. If something or someone was bothering me at school, I'd calm myself down by reminding myself that I could run that evening. Running was like taking a xanax, as I started a run I could feel waves of relief washing over me. Running became so familiar to me, and I found comfort in my routine. This carried on into the school year, and by the time the next summer came around I knew I was ready for my biggest challenge. A half marathon.
It meant months of training, but I was determined. This time I was living back in my hometown, and working two jobs. So after I'd get home from work at night I'd lace up my shoes and head out for a run. I memorized the trail system, and had my routine timed to the minute. Long runs were on Sundays, and those were the days that I really realized how different my body had become. I felt the muscles in my thighs growing, and I was hungry all the time. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, so hungry that it brought me out of sleep. I ate anything and everything, but my body got leaner and stronger. I had become someone entirely different. I had so much energy and enthusiasm. I was working towards this goal of running 13.1 miles, and all I really wanted to accomplish was to run it without stopping. I paid so much attention to my body, taking ice baths and being sure to take rest days. I was still heartbroken, and still emotionally fragile, but running gave me something else to focus on.
By the time the day of my half marathon came around I was admittedly a little nervous. On the morning of I went through the morning routine I knew so well. Eating two hours before I had to leave, so my body could properly digest everything. I lathered by skin with sunblock, and coated my inner thighs with bodyglide. I remember pacing around the room in anticipation. The training program I had followed had only let me complete 10 miles on my longest run, promising me that by the time race day arrived that my training would give me the strength I needed to complete the last 3. I was ready, itching to run, and when the race finally started I felt the familiar waves of relief wash over me.
The race took place in Vancouver, B.C. so I was able to soak in some really beautiful scenery and each mile went by comfortably. We ran through the streets of the city, across the Robson street Bridge (and back) and along the "sea wall", one of the most truly breathtaking places I've ever seen. In a spur of the moment decision, I came up with another goal. At the end every mile I told myself something I had done that year to make myself proud, and then I focused on that specific thing until the next mile came. Sometimes they were little things, like I celebrated the fact that I had lost 25 pounds that year because of my healthy new habits. Other times they were a lot bigger, focused on the transformation my mind and spirit had gone through since I had started running the year before. By the time the 10th mile arrived, I could feel my legs starting to burn. I had never run farther than this, and with every step I could feel my knees begging for a moment of relief. But I didn't give in. I had sweat dripping down every square inch of my body, and I knew that if I started walking now, that I wouldn't be able to stop. So I kept running. I fought every instinct I had, and ignored the ache in my side, breathing in and out, and remembering why I did this to myself. I was strong. I knew that now. Just because I was broken back then didn't mean that I had to be broken forever. I was running away from the pain and anger and running towards something so much brighter.
During the last quarter of a mile, I was back in the city. I could hear music playing, and the crowd cheering. I saw the finish line up in the distance, and as I crossed over it I saw my sister waiting for me, shouting my name with pride. And then I burst into tears.
Every emotion I had ever felt hit me all at once. I stopped dead in my tracks and one of volunteers pulled me off to the side to ask if I was hurt. "No" I forced out, as tears streamed down my face, "I just can't believe I did that". She smiled and guided me in the direction of the exit, and I joined the throng of other exhausted runners as we made our way to exit corral. I was a mess. Crying, no, weeping, and when I joined up with my sister she held me in her arms while I cried and cried and cried. We both knew how important this race was to me because It stood for so much more than just running. My sister told me how proud she was, and I beamed through my tears.
I did something that day that I'd been needing to do for a long time. I proved to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to. I was so weak, left very fragile by a particularly challenging year. But running made me strong. It forced me to confront the things I was scared of. Running transformed me, saved me. It lifted me out of my deepest depression and gave me a reason to love myself again. It gave me a new life and breathed new hope into my aching heart.
That moment, at the end of the race, where my sister held me and cried with me, was one of the happiest moments of my life. It felt like something new was starting, and I wasn't terrified to go at it alone anymore.