From Grief to Depression to Ultras

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that I lost my dearest friend years ago – 13 years ago tomorrow to be exact.  I try not to bring it up too often.  I know it can be a subject that makes people feel uncomfortable and helpless and I totally understand why.  I don’t want to be that person…the one that can never move on or process their feelings, constantly reminding everyone of her sorrow.  But sometimes, I need to process and work through emotions for myself.  And that is the real reason for today’s blog – so I can hash out and work through some of these emotions that have come flooding back to me today.

This morning, within the span of minutes, I found myself in a funk.  All of a sudden, I felt like I had a great weight on my chest, my stomach was nauseated and hurting and I felt incredibly anxious.  At first, I blew it off as nerves for my upcoming 50k/13.1 race weekend but as I considered that, I didn’t believe the anxiety was race-driven.  And then it dawned on me.  Thirteen years ago today was the last day that I would spend with Allison.  We had been sponsors at church camp and after driving home had decided to go wash our clothes  at the laundromat.  It was there that she would have an episode that would lead to her being carried by air ambulance to the hospital where she would later pass away.  Even though it has been 13 years, it is still incredibly difficult for me to think about the events of  that day.

One of my favorite pics of Allison. I can still hear her laugh.

Losing Allison was obviously a terrible tragedy for everyone involved, especially for her family.  It was the biggest devastation that any of us had ever faced, and with it came a loss of innocence about the world.  Where I had once embraced life with joy and anticipation, I could no longer find the joy in living.  I’ve often said that the light in the world dimmed the day that Allison died.  I think it is still true today, even after years of coping with the grief and finally finding ways to feel joy – it will always be a hollow substitute to what I felt before she died.

The grief was so huge and overwhelming, at first.  Just trying to process the enormity of that loss was nearly impossible.  As the days and weeks went by, the loss was hammered home and I didn’t handle it well AT ALL.  Soon, my grief turned into depression and instead of being constantly sad, I felt like I was living in a black hole, void of all emotion.  I did force myself to continue going through the motions of life.  I wasn’t really vested in it, but I tried to be.  Looking back at that time in my life feels like I was trapped in a nightmare.  I don’t really remember much of what I did, but I remember everything just feeling gray.  Thank God that my husband and children survived that era.  I was completely checked-out.

I practiced this going through the motions for years.  YEARS.  I slowly began to have more moments of joy.  Real joy.  Where, for a few moments, I began to actually feel happiness again.  Those moments starting coming more often, but I was still trapped in the fog of depression.

I’ve mentioned several times about how running gave me my sparkle back.  Allison was a runner.  I believe with all my heart that this is no coincidence.  Allison was always trying to convert me to running in life – why would it change in death??  Anyway, the more I ran, the more I began to feel joy again.  I never run without thinking of Allison, so I think running has helped me continue to feel close to her as well.

The reason I’m detailing all this now – today – is because of a running documentary that I recently watched.  This film highlighted ultra-runner Nikki Kimball and her attempt to break the MEN’s FKT on The Long Trail in Vermont.  She missed the men’s record by a day, but went on to set a new women’s record by 2.5 days!  Anyway, she was very candid about her struggle with depression – intense depression.  When I heard her say this in the movie, it stopped me dead in my tracks.  I knew immediately that this was the real reason I’ve been drawn to ultra-running.

“I think that depression is my secret weapon.  When things get really, really bad in an expedition or an ultra race, I can look back at the pain I was in at the worst of my depression and the pain of an ultra race isn’t that bad.  ……..One of the things about depression, you know it’s not that you just feel sad – you feel nothing.  And I think one of the reasons I do ultras is because it gives me the highest highs and the low lows.  But I can handle acute, strong lows.  That juxtaposed to feeling nothing is fantastic.”     ~Nikki Kimball

First of all, the feeling nothing within the framework of depression is SPOT ON.  And as far as feeling pain – I have felt some pain in my racing and training.  I’ve been tired and hurting and all I want to do is stop.  But when you keep going through the pain, it is such a victorious feeling.  But I haven’t felt the pain enough….

I don’t have a lot of ultras under my belt right now, but I truly believe the lure of the pain is a big part of what makes ultras so enticing to me.  Getting to that place where you don’t think you can continue.  Getting to the place that you don’t want to continue.  Yet you do continue and you prevail and you feel something and it is a reminder to you that you are still living.  Maybe I’m crazy, but all of us distance runners are.  And most of us have pain in our past that pushes us to keep doing the crazy things.

This weekend is going to be tough.  I signed up for a 50k on Saturday and 13.1 on Sunday…on a trail….in the Hill Country.  I knew it was a stretch when I signed up, being only 5 weeks out from Galveston.  I didn’t give myself time for a proper build.  But I’m going to welcome the battle.  I want it to hurt.  I want to fight for it.  Because I will prevail.  And because it’s that time of the year, I will be fighting in honor of Allison.  I know she will be right beside me.

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