Running is a solo sport. I like it that way. I never feel lonely or disconnected when I go for a run. In fact, it’s the isolated and empty space, that makes me feel most whole, most alive and a part of this world. Running, all by myself, brings creativity, freedom and the ability to let go and just be. There’s no judgment in it, or hurry to it. I can work through something in my own time, and if it’s not finished or ‘figured out’ in one run, I can earmark my thoughts as I do the pages in a book, and revisit them the next day.
The solitude of running is perfect for me since I’ve always thought of myself as a lone wolf. I’m someone who doesn’t need or crave the group dynamic. Maybe it’s because I got burned out on it playing on a college tennis team, or the fact that I’m impatient; but somewhere along the way, during the ultra-distances I started to cover on foot, I thrived on the fact of being alone. I became more confident, late in a race, battling only myself trying to maintain the voids and empty space around me –– my sacred solitude.
But somewhere along the way, I changed. I was forced to. Forced to abandon this notion that I needed to be alone – that I was better off alone. This forceful change has happened to me several times, and they all happened around injury, change or trauma. Of course, I talk extensively about my path to survival (more mentally than anything) in my new book Out and Back; but I want to use this space to talk about the importance of this shift, to this notion that I didn’t need to be alone and that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. This idea, that the community I surrounded myself with, played an essential role in my mental health.
Now, let’s talk about community. I’m sensitive to this word. To me, it implies a huge group of people, or an entire village. This has always been overwhelming to me since I prefer intimate conversations to big group gatherings, or a small gathering of close friends, where we make dinner together and I have time to talk, connect and laugh with each person. It didn’t dawn on me until later that this was community too. My small group of close friends and no more than 5 people, that I choose to be around. That last thing is important – it’s a choice.
One of the greatest challenges I have faced throughout my journey with mental health is choosing to be alone or choosing to let others in. Choosing to let others see me in a time of weakness and offer their support, love and sympathy. For me, this choice didn’t happen until my lack of autonomy was undeniable – I was forced to relinquished control, and I still chose to let someone else in, to help me through it. This choice is both scary and powerful. Scary, because showing weakness to others can be defined as tabu or undesirable. In a culture where the definition of strength forces us to live in one rigid dimension, it can be terrifying to walk outside of that, to try a different path, to admit you need help from others and let yourself grow and change as a part of your community – that, in my opinion, is strength. It’s also an essential piece of mental health – knowing you’re not alone and allowing others to help.
My words today might not seem like a typical discussion aimed at mental health awareness, so I encourage you to look deeper within your own experiences and in times where you’re struggling and need extra help. Do you push people away? Do you long for help, but don’t know how it’s possible to connect with someone? Maybe there’s a complete lack of belief that anyone could or would possibly understand what you’re going through. These questions are valid and warranted. In fact, they are the perfect starting place. My answer to them all is this – you are not alone. Community is there, it’s here, it only needs your definition to quantify it. So, my message today is simple, you’re not alone. Find acceptance in that, and as we all continue on our own journey of mental health, don’t forget the importance of the community around you and the choice to let others in.
May Is National Mental Health Care month. I’ll be writing about different aspects of mental health all month. Hope you enjoy.