I was a fifty-four year old man full of joy and optimism when I moved to Florida in late August of 2015. I was in a good place mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. Two months later the only leg of that chair that wasn’t broken was the financial one and that was because my parents had passed and left me and my four siblings, if not a large inheritance, then at least one that cushioned any rough edges.
The whys and wherefores of my depression fueled downfall aren’t relevant. Suffice it to say that emotionally and mentally I’m close to my baseline of two years ago and financially I’m still able to make ends meet without any “creative bookkeeping,” illegal, or nefarious actions. I may not be the man that I was in August of 2015 but I’m a lot closer than I have been in the interim.
I’m on the mend but 20 months of illness doesn’t allow for instantaneous rebound and physically I’m a lot weaker and fatter than the lean, keen, smooth running old man machine that thought Florida would be good for him. (Ha! As if!)
At the bottom of my depression I felt incapable of any exercise. My wife, a robust, highly motivated, competitive, full-time corporate-cupcake and part-time group-fitness instructor, was mortified. She wondered where her life-partner, training-partner and self-starter husband had gone. We had once participated in triathlons, running and obstacle races and enjoyed being active together. My decline even made walking painful and every day I hurt physically, mentally and emotionally. My wife did her best to encourage, cajole and motivate me but I was down so GD low that it looked like up to me. (To borrow a phrase from Jim Morrison of The Doors fame.)
I got a little better, then a lot better and now mostly better, but better and well are not synonyms. I have begun to enjoy life again and now view cycling and exercise as a pleasure rather than a necessary self-care chore. Even at my depths, when exertion brought me no pleasure, I still knew the importance of self-care so we took some of my inheritance money and built a swimming pool in the backyard so I could at least swim for exercise. (It’s 45 feet long so six laps equals a little over 1/10 mile or about 165 meters. Repeat six laps as necessary to achieve desired distance.) Pain in my shoulder that was so severe and omnipresent that even flipping from one side to the other while lying in bed had me swimming the crawl with just one arm but I persisted in an Eeyore, woe is me fashion. It wasn’t very satisfying but at least I was doing something.
If one eats well (And I don’t. Though I love fruit and vegetables I love sweets even more.) then swimming and cycling and a little strength and stretch exercise is sufficient to keep one healthy. The problem is that my wondrous wife (Remember my description? “…robust, highly motivated, competitive, full-time corporate-cupcake, part-time group-fitness instructor…”) loves to do running races and triathlons and would like her life-partner/ training-partner to race with her. Hoo-boy.
As I said, my physical decline included pain. Lots of pain. Run? Hell’s bells, I didn’t even want to walk! My part time work schedule had me limping home in pain at the end of my three or four weekly work-shifts and even though any activity that I did was not strenuous I still found it exhausting. I got better. My darling insisted that I see her chiropractor, a massage therapist and a podiatrist. My emotional and mental state had risen to a point where I wasn’t in a constant state of defeat and these three healers put me on the road to physical recovery. (Another blog post that I need to write.)
I felt so much better that on July third I told my wife that I would beat her in the Independence Day 5-K race that we were signed up for (I didn’t beat her, but I did enjoy the race. https://keithakenel.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/glorious-loss/) and afterwards decided that perhaps I could try running again.
Did you just go, “Huh?”
Over a year ago I quit running except for races and the only reason I was racing was because even when almost nothing mattered to me my wife still did. I raced for her. I raced because she deserves my best and was living with my worst.
Just in case you don’t know, even though cycling and swimming can be great aerobic exercise they do not do a great job of prepping middle-aged folks for running races. I was slow, running even 3.1 miles was difficult and I was sore for days after. Only running on race days is a terrible strategy but it was mine. From July 4, 2016 to July 4, 2017 I probably logged around sixty miles or 100-K and all of these were in races.
But then I got better. Mentally, physically and emotionally better and life is sweet again. I made the decision to do a little running each week. My goal is to add a two to three mile weekly training run into my routine. That may not seem like much but I’m confident that the regularity of running will help me in many different ways and reopen closed doors for me.
I celebrated my new normal by running two miles in a little over nineteen minutes the other day: Tiny acorns to mighty oaks. Two or three miles per week, plus the very occasional 10-K race, will double my yearly mileage and puts me in contention for being able to tell Groucho Marx, “Why, yes, I did stop beating my wife but I sure hope to take it up again soon.”
I hope none of you ever understands the depths of despair that depression can bring but if you do then I hope you hang in there until brighter days return.