Mental Illness and Marathon RunningJan 06, 2021
Going through life with mental illness is like running a marathon with an added 100lb weight on my back.
I don’t love the metaphor of life as a marathon, because that is really not how I see it, but it works for this analogy, so let’s go with it.
The marathon itself isn’t going to change just because I’ve got to lug this extra weight around. The mileage will still be the same. All of the rules remain in place. I am the one who has to adjust. Sometimes that makes me feel angry and frustrated.
Believe me, I get into the “It’s not fair!” mentality from time to time. And you know what? It’s NOT fair. But you know what else? The marathon still goes on and I still gotta run in it.
Here is where I get to make a choice.
I can stay in the “It’s not fair” mindset, yell at healthy runners as they go by, trip up those doing better than me, complain to the judges, seek sympathy from the bystanders. I can totally do all of those things. That is absolutely an option I can choose.
No one is going to stop the race because I got dealt a heavy load. It is still going to happen no matter what I choose. The only control I have is in my own experience during it.
Sure, yelling at other runners might be fun for awhile.
It can feel satisfactory to watch giants fall.
Complaining creates a feedback loop that results in more reasons to complain (which is great for staying in that feeling of entitlement).
Sympathy can feel like care and nurturing (for a bit).
For a time, that first option seems to feel good and safe. The problem is, all of those things are temporary and go against our nature.
The runners I yell at won’t hear me because they’re already down the track.
Giants always pick themselves up.
Complaining adds more weight to that extra load, which is counterproductive. Bystanders can only dole out so much sympathy before tiring out.
Once all of that is said and done, I still have to run the damn race, but now I’m doing it alone with an even heavier pack.
Or I can choose to accept, adapt and advance. I can tighten the straps on that 100lb pack. I can find new ways to use my body to carry it. I can move forward.
At first I do this slowly, as slowly as I need - because let’s be real, I did not know I was running a marathon in the first place, let alone carry this heavy pack through it. Other runners are zooming past me with apparent ease, pulling applause from the crowd. I take another step, and then a few more. With each passing mile my body gets a little stronger. The pack feels a little lighter. I experiment with new ways to haul this load around and stay in motion. Sometimes I fall down, but there are people around who kindly help me back up. Some of them say, “It isn’t fair that you have to run this marathon with such a heavy pack.” I smile at them mischievously.
By this point I have figured out the secret. I’m the luckiest person in that race!
We’ve all got to participate in this marathon, but those of us carrying the heavy packs are going to grow stronger and MORE capable than when we started.
Is it fair? NOPE!
Is it to my benefit? You bet!
Does it still suck sometimes along the way? Of course it does!
Will that change reality? Hasn't yet!
So to all the others out there running this marathon with an extra 100lb weight attached to you, I say:
Move at the pace that keeps you in motion - even if that feels really slow sometimes.
Take all the breaks you need.
Accept the kind arms that help lift you when you fall.
Experiment with new ways to optimize your circumstances.
And whatever you do, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I'll see you on the track!
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