I’m not a huge fan of running…I used to have a rather intense hatred of it, but that lessened when I was training for a mini-marathon last year. During the first couple weeks of training I was pretty convinced I would burn my running shoes after the event and refuse to ever run, or even speed-walk, again. My shins hurt, my ankles were swollen, my nose had frostbite (training started in winter), and my legs were getting bigger with new muscle. A change in my body I was not happy about.
Doesn’t sound like my hatred was lessening does it? Well about a month into training, we had a “technique” day. One of the IU running coaches worked with me to improve my form and gave me one main piece of advice: land on your toes. All of the sudden my running life changed. Not because my form was better (I doubt it was) but instead I had something positive to focus on when I was running. In place of hearing my shins whining, my knees crying , my lungs screaming, or my hands chattering…I heard “land on your toes”. (Which wasn’t weird to me, as I’m used to ‘hearing voices’ remember?)
This running lesson has helped in my mental illness adventure. I’ve felt like life has sucked recently. I’m tired of having a tension headache so bad I can’t see when I wake up. I’m tired of not remembering hours of my workday. I’m tired of desperately battling with my muscles to relax and my breath to deepen. Life has appeared to be too hard, fighting the anxiety has gotten too tiring, and I can’t find a reason to continue. When these emotions overwhelm me, it’s like the end of a long run. Every thought and every part of my body is saying “Why are you doing this?!” “Who thought this was a good idea?” and “If you stop now, what’s it going to matter?” All rational thought is lost.
So like running, I needed to find one idea or one belief to lock in on. During training it was “land on your toes”. Simple, clear, and no matter how tired I was, I knew it was true because an All -American runner told me it. The more I repeated it, the more it was engrained into my head.
So what’s my focus when the illness overtakes me? What is that phrase to can zero in on to answer the “Why” “Who” “What” questions above.
For me: “Louise wouldn’t be ok”
Louise is my sister.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my sister would never be the same if she lost me
Sure, there’s other people (my husband, my parents, my friends), that would miss me. But in the worst of my moments, I can talk myself out of those. “Oh Sidney will remarry” “My parents have three other kids” “I’m no one’s best friend anyways”. But I’m her only sister, and I’m also one of her only girlfriends. She needs me—even messed up/crazy/anxious/bipolar Nicole is better than no Nicole in her life.
So what’s yours? For some people in my support group it was a pet. A child. A parent.
Or even a “Bucket list”. This was one of my favorite ideas. He had a list of things he wanted to do before he died, and there was never less than two on it. When he completed one, he added another. That way there was always something to hold on to.
Here are my qualifications for picking your “land on your toes”:
- Pick something you can physically touch or see: I have a photo of my family on my desk. I know I’m feeling bad if I look to it and see my sister immediately instead of thinking how kick ass my wedding dress was.
- Keep it clear and simple: It should be a simple phrase; no more than five or six words. I find that a name doesn’t work well—you also need the reminder of why they need you.
- Protect your focus: When you’re feeling good, repeat your mantra in your mind. Remind yourself of it. Drill it into the deep parts of your mind.
- Pick something you believe: This seems obvious, but what I mean is this: don’t pick something that you sometimes struggle to believe when you’re healthy. For example, I know that Sidney loves me. I do—but I’ve admitted to struggling with thinking it’s unfair to him that he has a bipolar wife. So in the worst moments—even those small tiny doubts can be magnified.
So what’s your Louise? What qualifications would you add to my list? Do you have any unique or unusual ideas (such as the bucket list) to add? I’d love to hear more about other people’s ideas/thoughts