The morning dawned too brightly.
The sun shone through the crack in the shades, throwing bands of orange against my unwilling eyelids.
I hadn’t slept well. Anxiety has been overwhelming for the past week, an undercurrent of electric anguish rolling beneath my skin. Last night I half awoke several times, heart hammering against my breastbone, limbs twitching in fear.
Sleep wasn’t helping, clearly.
I got out of bed, dragged my hair up into a raggedy ponytail, and found a pair of pants. I made coffee. I checked social media and Medium and my email.
The anxiety sat like a giant weight on my chest. Weighing me down. Pushing me further and further into a Deep Mood of epic proportions.
When I was in high school, whenever I felt like I just had to scream to let all of the feeling inside of me out, I went running. I’d run as hard and as fast as I could for a few block and work it out. It almost always helped — afterwards, I was too tired to scream. Too tired to fight. And the rush of endorphins helped.
So I decided to go for a run. After a breakfast of fresh mozzarella and Cheez-Its (the breakfast of champions, I know), I put on my sports bra and shoes and unhooked my house key from the key-chain and stuffed it into the inside pocket of my running shorts.
Something inside of me was screaming, keening for this.
I don’t run anymore. After years of torturing my legs, they finally gave out. My shins are permanently messed up — stress fractures don’t heal unless you get off of them. And I can’t not walk. So. Permanently fucked up.
But today, for whatever stupid lucky reason, my legs didn’t hurt.
I started off on a slow jog down the street. My “run forever” pace as I used to call it — approximately 11 minute miles. I made a wide circle around a residential neighborhood, appreciating the blooms of summer flowers that decorated the gardens.
My calves tightened, a sure sign of pain to come. I stopped in front of an old brick church, shaded by a maple tree, and stretched. Another runner passed me as I did, headphones plugged into his ears. My stomach sang with the feeling of nostalgia, of being one of the runners people always see on the street. I missed that so deeply.
I wished I had headphones to block out the world. But I can’t wear headphones when I run — I can’t block out the sound of the world without feeling like someone is going to run up behind me. That, and they always get ripped out no matter what I do.
I ran to the park behind the elementary school, the one with the 1/8th of a mile gravel track. The track was sweetness on my calves compared to the hardness of the concrete sidewalks.
Two other women looped the track. We all baked in the sun in various states of dress — one of the women wore long black yoga pants. It was 10am and almost 90 degrees. I felt for her.
I don’t know what came over me. My limbs just felt elastic, full of life and vigor and anger and sadness and anxiety. I passed Yoga Pants Lady and moved behind the other runner, who was wearing some kind of hipbelt that clanged with every step.
I don’t know why I get competitive. I’m not that great of a runner, and never was. But god do I love it. Something about pounding the ground harder and harder with my feet, overcoming the angry ache in my chest and the tiredness in my limbs — it just makes me feel unstoppable.
So I passed Hipbelt Lady too. And kept going.
And kept going.
I was the only one on the track by the time I was done, panting and stumbling with exhaustion. My skin burned from the mountain sun, shining down on me like a brand. A storm was rolling from the west, darkening the spine of mountains to a deep purple.
I half-walked, half-ran home. My insides felt like Play-Doh and I needed water desperately.
The moment I entered the door, I turned on the A/C and stood directly in front of it, drying the sticky sweat from my arms and shoulders. Goosebumps rose like armies marching across my skin.
My face was beet-red in the bathroom mirror.
The anxiety hadn’t faded, not entirely. But it lessened. The weight on my chest no longer felt so heavy, weighing my spirit down.
When we grasp onto our power, we grasp onto the truth. No matter how terrible we may feel, we are always able to act.
My act was running. And it soothed the savage beast.
For now, at least.
Sam Ripples is an essayist and novelist living in southern Colorado. She has an interest in words that provide the mind, body, and soul with rejuvenation and hope. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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