I remember my breath tasted funny…like potato chips. As I huffed around the perimeter of the middle school’s field hockey and football fields, I could detect the starchy flavor in the back of my throat and tried to imagine that I was settling down with a can of Pringles rather than attempting the mile run for my gym class. Despite my powerful imagination, no luck. I couldn’t take myself out of that plodding pace over the dirt. I was stuck in my body, one I didn’t particularly like, and one that I felt like, even then, at 12, couldn’t perform.
“If you ever see me running,” I said later that day to my best friend on the bus home, “you better start running, too, because the only reason I’ll ever do that again is if something is chasing me.”
Twenty years later, I suppose something is chasing me each day that I lace up my sneakers and hit the pavement. Rather than a bear or kidnappers as I might have imagined at 12, or even extra pounds as I would have imagined even just a couple of years ago, it’s fear that chases me. I started running (again) this year out of fear.
In the last couple of years I have developed a deep anxiety regarding my mortality and my health. As the week closed in on Christmas this past Friday, I had daily panic attacks that led me to believe I must have COVID. The year before that, I was convinced of heart troubles. It was only during the 9 or so months of my pregnancy that my health anxiety was rather quiet, and that was probably because I was visiting a doctor regularly and the ladies at the hospital’s lab knew me (and my tiny veins) all too well.
I should add that none of these fears are founded. My heart is fine. I don’t have COVID. I had a pregnancy almost entirely free of complications.
Yet, the fear persists.
And so I’m running.
The running is two fold: one, it’s the only thing that provides almost immediate relief from my anxiety (fear). Two, it’s the only thing I can do easily and for free that I know will contribute to my long term good health and possibly extend my life (fear of death).
’Cause shit, I really like this life. I like it so much that I’m willing to do one of the things I swore I’d never find myself doing.
I generally don’t approve of doing things out of fear, but this time things seem to be working for me. The fear is propelling me into something I honestly never saw myself doing, something I had always assumed wasn’t for me. I’m short and fat and terribly uncoordinated. I don’t like doing things I’m not automatically pretty good at. Yet here I am.
Slowly, this is transforming into something beyond my fear and into something I do for the enjoyment, for the escape it provides, and for the doors it is opening. For the first time in my life I am seeing myself with a new dimension, imagining something for myself I wouldn’t have dared before. If I can be a runner, if I can let myself think of myself in that way, what else can I be?