When I was in 8th or 9th grade, we were given a list of books and asked to choose three and write book reports on them. Word rapidly spread that “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” was the shortest book on the list and we all tried to get it from the library as quickly as possible. (Remember those days?) I don’t know why it was so important to read the shortest book when I pretty much read books all day every day anyway, but I successfully got the book and wrote my report. I don’t remember the book at all, but that’s okay because I’m not here to rehash my middle school book report.
No, the title is more literal than that. I’ve been feeling lonely and sad lately, and I really don’t know why. It started with running. This training season, I’ve been on a different schedule than a lot of my friends – I either had more miles to run, or had the same number but because I’m slower I needed to start earlier in the Texas heat. Sometimes they’d make plans to go to breakfast afterwards, and while I was always invited, I ended up declining because I knew I couldn’t finish my run in time. Obviously, this wasn’t anyone’s fault, but soon I found myself feeling left out of my running buddies group and feeling like I was destined to just keep running alone for the rest of my life.
The feeling of being left out of various groups of friends bled over into the rest of my life and interactions until I felt the edges of depression trying to creep in. I’ve struggled with depression off and on for most of my adult life. I’ve taken anti-depressants before: once for a few years after the end of my first marriage and again for a month or two right after diagnosis. I prefer not to take them because they end up leaving me feeling sort of numb – not sad anymore, but not happy either.
So now what?
Well, for me, it starts with self-care. The very first component of that is to remind myself that it’s okay to feel bad, and it’s not my fault.
It’s not my fault I’m sad.
It’s not my fault I’m lonely.
It’s not my fault I feel left out.
It’s not my fault I’m angry.
And I have to tell myself that, because otherwise I spiral down. I tell myself that it’s my fault I feel bad, then I feel worse, and so on.
Instead of worrying about why I feel bad, I need to figure out what would make me feel better. Sometimes it’s as simple as calling or texting friends to make plans, whether dinner or drinks or just hanging out. Sometimes I feel left out of a group because I’ve stepped back and removed myself from it, and I just need to throw myself back in. That helped a little this time, but I needed more.
So I thought about it and tried a few things. It turned out after experimentation that I needed more running, more sleeping, more meditation, more reading, less time on social media, and (yes) more time with people IRL. And while I’m not 100% back to my regular badass self, I feel the clouds starting to lift. (And if they don’t, I have the number of a psychiatrist given to me by my oncologist in case I think I need the medicine again. I promise I’ll use it if I need it.)
A few weeks ago I was running alone and my friends were also running at the lake. At mile 11, I got run over by a bicyclist. In a lot of pain and pretty sure I had broken my hand (I didn’t), I called my friends to see if they were still at the lake. No, they said, they had just arrived at Taco Joint for breakfast. Never mind then, I said (not wanting to inconvenience them). I’ll walk back to the car (about three miles) and call my husband in the meantime to meet me there. Ten minutes later I got a text. “We are at the dog park. Where are you?” They left their breakfast plans and drove back to the lake, even though I told them not to bother. They picked me up, took me to the McDonald’s drive-thru for ice and a Coke, and waited with me until Tony got there. Then they helped drive my car to the hospital so it would be there when we finished at the ER. See, they were there all along. I was the one who thought they wouldn’t be.
I’ve been planning this post for a while, but I hesitated to actually write it. It’s pretty vulnerable to admit that I have been feeling this way. But when I posted in a Facebook support group last week that I had been sad, I got so many private messages. Lots just to say they cared. And lots that said, “I’m sad too. I feel lonely and left out too.” So I decided to write this blog post not just for me, but in case anyone reading it feels any of those things and doesn’t know how to say so.
Yesterday when I was running a song from Dear Evan Hansen came on, and it reminded me of that day of the bike accident so much.
Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, When you’re broken on the ground, you will be found.
If you feel sad, I hear you. I see you. You will be found.