Filial Piety – Part 2: The Analog Clock

I have just realised that I should have mentioned that my posts can be triggering for some of you. It just never crossed my mind until recently. So, I will start of each blog if the content would have descriptions that could be disturbing to some. This is one of them.

As I have promised, this is part 2 of Filial Piety – to what end? that I wrote last week and had to stop because I could not continue writing at that point because it dredged up too many emotions within me that I could not contain if I continued to write it. I am now very aware to confront my troubled parts in piece-meal sizes so that I am able to be in control of how much I am able to process at one point and not risk re-traumatising myself with those buried memories.

From the age of 4, my mother would sit me down on the carpet in the living room and tried to teach me how to read an analog clock. I remember feeling overwhelmed and I just could not grasp the concept behind what each number on the clock meant. I got confused about the function and meaning of what the shorter hand was as compared to the longer hand. The numbers on the face of the clock always looked jumbled in my head each time I looked at it. I tried really hard to pay attention and make sense of the repetitions made by my mother, where she hoped that by repeating what those numbers meant would magically be imprinted into my mind. To my mother’s dismay, my tiny mind could not make sense of any of it, and she would berate me, “You’ll never learn this. Why are you so stupid!” Stupid – Somehow, I learnt the meaning of this word straightaway. It was then that I started to believe that stupid, was what I am.

Filial Piety: To What End?

According to Confucius, filial piety is the virtue of respect for one’s parents and elders. This virtue is also embedded in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. All cultures have some form of this expectation in varying degrees, but, it is more pronounced in cultures that are more collectivist in nature.

I remember fearing my mother’s rage for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were when I was 2 or 3, my mother would sit me on the potty and leave me there for as long as she needed to complete her tasks in the kitchen. As she busied herself in the kitchen, I would play with a locket that my grandmother gave me. It was a black stone shaped into an eggplant, attached to a gold ring, where the chain would lace through it. I remember that I would suck on it as I sat on the potty and wait for my mother to be free to wash me. I would not make a sound as I quickly learnt that if I did, my mother would yell at me to be quiet. So, I would sit, suck on the black stone locket and wait patiently while watching my mother in the kitchen, waiting for her to glance over, but she never did. By the time she picks me up from the potty, my bum was already quite numb from sitting on the potty for so long. She would wash and dress me and leave me beside a small transistor radio. I loved that thing. It was my priced possession. The first one that I got was a red one and when that broke, my father bought an exact same one but in black. It had a retractable antenna and a dial at the top beside the on-off switch that you turn to set the frequency. I remember just sitting quietly beside the radio and listen to music as my mother went along with her house chores everyday. Music was my friend, my solace.

I do remember happier times when I was a toddler, even after the sexual abuse started. The fondest ones are the ones where I would sing and dance along whenever my favourite songs get played on the radio. Being able to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was my favourite move and I relished the attention I got from the laughters of my father and sisters. In those happy snippets, I remember that there were no hearty laughters from my mother, only a smile carved on her face each time, while my brother was always absent.

I think I would need to continue this post for another time. I think I need to pause and contain my distressing emotions while I write this part of my life. I’ve decided to still publish this unfinished work because I feel that I need to get this out there. There will be a part 2 of this post at some point when I am ready to reopen my containment ‘vault’ and process through this part of my life in writing.

Sins of the Father

I guess you could consider this post as a sequel to my earlier post titled Sins of the Mother . I told my mother about the abuse at the hands of my brother when I was 16, but I waited to tell my father about it until more than a decade later. I was 32 when I told him. I’m still not sure why I waited so many years before till I decided to tell my father about the abuse. Maybe, I was afraid that I would receive the same respond as my mother had given me. Maybe, I was too ashamed to tell him. Maybe, I was still in denial that the abuse ever happened. I still have not figured this out yet.

My father came for a visit in 2011. I was still living in Malaysia at that time, running a small English language centre at the state of Johor, situated in the south of Peninsular Malaysia, by the border to Singapore. We had dinner at one of my father’s favourite Chinese restaurant nearby, when he decided that he wanted to spend some time at the language centre, before heading back to my apartment.

I can’t exactly recall what we talked about before I decided at the spur of the moment to tell him about what my brother did to me as we were growing up. I tried to gauge his facial reaction as the words started stumbling out of my mouth, but I saw nothing. To be fair, I don’t even know what I was expecting to see. Deep down, I knew what was going to happen. I just knew that he would utter the same words my mother did when I was 16. And I was right. With a straight face, not looking at me, but staring straight ahead as he said, “Don’t tell anyone.”

Flashes of better memories of time I spent with my father came flooding back. Where was the father that used to bring me to the cinema for movies? Where was the father that would carry me and place me on his lap as he moved his knees up and down to mimic a horse ride? Where was the father that used to carry me to the bedroom whenever I pretended to have fallen sleep on the sofa? At that moment, I was hoping for him to say: “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I wish I knew”. Or maybe a sign of anger or disappointment towards his only son. There was none of this. Writing this blog entry makes my heart ache and his words “don’t tell anyone”, echoes over and over again in my head.

Running an Off-Road Marathon For The First Time

After the Queenstown marathon last November 2020, my partner was looking for another marathon that I could aim at doing. At that point, I was still in the throes of depression that I was not thinking of doing anything, let alone another marathon. Nevertheless, she found the Big Easy Mountain Run, a 42.2km run that starts from Snow Farm and finishes at Luggate. I have to say, I did get quite intrigued by the prospect of exploring this area as I have never heard of Snow Farm nor Luggate. Despite, not being very sure about completing another marathon at just only 8 weeks after the Queenstown marathon, I decided to just do it.

As expected, I pretty much regretted making this decision the very next day! Spoiler alert: I enjoyed every minute of the run and I am still feeling the euphoria three days since completing it!

My training for this marathon only consisted of running daily at short distances of 6-8km and a 10km run on a Saturday or Sunday. But, I made sure I was out with my running shoes daily and hitting the kilometres as planned. I did not feel that I had the motivation to run anymore than those distances. I knew that this would not be enough to train for a mountain marathon, but, it was all I could make myself do in terms of preparing for it. I did make sure that my runs pass through routes that I needed to do climbs up and down hills, which was not difficult to find in Dunedin.

The marathon website stated that there is a 9km uphill run, before 12km of undulating terrain and the final 21km would be a downhill run all the way to the finish line. With this information at hand, I thought to myself, “Well, I guess half of the run would be downhill, depending on how tired I am then, would determine how my legs would feel running downhill at that distance”. I knew that running downhill can be tougher than running uphill because you are basically abusing your quad muscles as you control your balance on the descend. However, I was pretty comfortable that it might not be that bad. Am I in for a surprise!

The first 9km uphill was, in the scheme of things, the easiest bit of the whole marathon. By the 13km, I was struggling to keep my pace while running uphill as I tackled the undulating terrain that I needed to cover before reaching the 21km point. It did not take me long to start walking uphills and only running when I am going downhill. Reaching the 21km mark, I thought I would have some relief from pushing myself uphills as I started running downhill. I sighed a breath of relief as I raced down until I saw from a distance that an uphill stretch came to view. My heart dropped, but I still had hope that it would just be that one odd uphill stretch and then it would be downhill till the finish line. It was not to be. I was greeted by undulating terrain for what it felt like an eternity. I felt exhausted at this point and wondered to myself if this is THE marathon that I would have to call it quits before the finish line. Somehow, that thought came and went as quickly as that thought ended. I told myself that I will finish this even if I have to walk all the way to the finish line.

I took me 6 hours and 59 mins to finally cross the finish line. I did not walk all the way to the finish line. I continued running downhill and walking uphill as I passed each kilometre. Crossing the finish line always puts a smile on my face, no matter how much my legs were screaming to stop the abuse. As I write this, I still feel the sense of achievement that is hard to describe in words. All I can say is that it is an intoxicating feeling that you will feel for the next couple of weeks.

I have taken advantaged of this feeling and signed up for my next off-road marathon. I heard about the Motatapu Marathon from another runner at the post-race meal. He wanted to know if I have heard of it, which I answered that I have not. I have no felt so excited about something for almost a year now because of my depression, and I am thrilled to say that I am excited about Motatapu. I have 6 weeks to continue my training and I am sure I will enjoy Motatapu as much as I enjoyed the Big Easy Mountain Run, despite the torture and pain of running a marathon. This is good. Feeling excited is good for me. Feeling excited means I am on my way to my long and slow journey of recovery.

photo courtesy from the Big Easy Mountain Marathon website: https://theultraeasy100.nz/race-distances/marathon/

Thoughts about Being Back at Work

For those who follow my blog, would know that I went back to work on Dec 1st, 2020 after being away for most of the year, recuperating from a concussion and then a major depressive episode. The whole idea of being in a depressive episode gives the impression that depression starts at one point and ends at another. But, really, does it really ends or does it just retreat into the background as one tries to go back to some normality?

Normality for me is when I default back to my usual coping mechanism: I numb myself and throw myself into the task at hand. I become achievement oriented. I have had decades of perfecting this mechanism. There is no conscious effort on my part to numb myself in order to put all my attention to doing the best work, be it tasks at work or doing studies for psychology papers that I am doing at the moment.

The first three weeks of being back at work, felt like I was moving along an alternate universe. I feel like I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had a flat affect and I was withdrawn. Feelings of anxiousness, sluggishness and disorientation bombarded me constantly and the inner chatter in my brain that “everyone is talking about me, saying that I am no longer good enough to work here” dictated my need to hide away behind my desk located at the corner of the office. My desk is also beside the door and when it is left open, I become hidden from view. The door provided me a safe space where I can avoid needing to engage socially with my colleagues. I was really just going through the motions. Completing one task after another, avoiding eye contact as much as I could with anyone, and counting the minutes until I could leave work.

At the time of writing this, I have been working for 6 weeks. I am still on a three day work week and I have gotten into my default coping style in order to function. I have blocked out all my feelings of anxiety, confusion and inner chatter. I feel and look almost ‘normal’. But, really, I am just barely managing. I am merely surviving.

I stop myself from thinking about how it would be like to start a four day work week by the start of February. I start my work week by thinking about when it is going to end. On Sundays, there is a constant dread deep within me as the hours passes by, inching closer to bed time, where when I wake the next morning, I will have to be at work. This is definitely not how I should think and feel about work, but it is exactly what work is to me at this current moment. So, I continue to numb myself, drowning myself in task after task, heading out for runs daily and spending hours writing for this blog, which, if I stop procrastinating when I write, it should not take the whole day to write a blog post.

A Start of a New Year and Setting Goals

I think most of us would agree that the 2020 was a difficult and challenging year. Rolling into 2021, as most of the world still ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s fair to say that we are all still on edge over what is going to happen in the next couple of months. However, I feel hopeful that this year will be a better year for all of us. Setting goals for the year is a good way to start the new year and I would like to share some insight that I learned when researching on an effective way to set goals that would actually motivate us to achieve them.

I have drawn the ideas for this blog from this book: Bill Sternbergh and Sloan R. Weitzel entitled ‘Setting Your Development Goals: Start with Your Values’. The other is a meta-analysis by Tracy Epton and Sinead Currie, where they evaluated the unique effects of goal setting on behaviour change and under what circumstance and for whom does goal setting works best.

We all set goals at some point or another, hoping to work towards achieving more at work or to be more mindful about the here and now in order to spend quality time on people and things that matter to us. Sounds easy enough to set goals, but more often than not, we fail to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. Why is this so? Sternbergh and Weitzel (2001) outlined a few reasons why:

The goal isn’t valued – you haven’t committed your mind and heart to the goals.

The goal isn’t specific – your goal is too broad and overwhelming.

The goal isn’t supported – you don’t have someone to be your coach, cheerleader, or mentor.

Sternbergh & Weitzel, 2001, p. 7

We have all experience the feeling demotivated to work on our goals and come up with various reasons on why our goal cannot be achieved. Voices such as “My heart isn’t where it is suppose to be to lose weight”, “I just don’t have the time to write that book!”., “I need to make a career change, but I don’t know what that would look like” and the list goes on and on. These are all good goals to achieve but why do we seem to fail more than succeed in achieving them? A big part of this is because we set out goals based on what we think would be good for us and what you think others would want to see you achieve. This causes a disconnect between what you think you need to do with what you truly value.

The first step of setting any goal that would motivate the part of the mind that says ‘what you think you should do’ and your heart, ‘what would achieve a value that means a lot to you.’ This is why setting achievable goals are so difficult to do. We are constantly bombarded by what social media, our family and friends expect us to do and there is a default part of us that care more in achieving goals that others want us to achieve instead of focusing on goals that matter the most to us. A goal that would motivate us to persist and pursue is one where we bring our heart into the process of goal setting. Evaluate and examine how each goal aligns with our value(s). Values in this context means the life principles you find that is important to you and they are principles that you think makes you a better person. Ask yourself questions such as:

How should I spend my time, energy and money?

What are am I truly passionate about?

What should I do less?

What should I do more?

Is there anything missing in my life?

Next, once we have a clear idea of our values, Sternbergh and Weitzel (2001) stated that there are five areas of our lives to reflect on when looking at the bigger picture before setting our goals: career, self, family, community and spirit. By reflecting on each area, we will have better insight into what we would like to improve on or change. The next few paragraphs would expound on each area on how we can reflect on each of them.

Career

Is the work you do reflect the career you have always wanted? Most of us spend an average of 40 hours a week on our work. For some, it can go up to 80 hours a week, depending on the industry one is working in and these hours do not include the commuting time, checking email from home or the occasional extra work done during your off days. As we spend so much of our waking time doing work related activities, it is pertinent that we evaluate values that are tied into our work and our career goals. List out all the work related values (such as competence, autonomy, creativity, advancement) that are important to you and reflect on each one by imagining the career you want, and not in terms of the work related tasks that you do on a day-to-day basis while at work. Do the values you have listed line up with the career you see yourself in?

Self

What activities bring you pleasure or enjoy doing? When was the last time you practice some self-compassion? Does not matter whether you’re single or married, or a single parent, we all try our best to juggle between work, and family, prioritising everything and everyone else, while we tend to neglect self-care and self-compassion. We get lost in the myriad of tasks and to-do lists that need to be checked off daily and forget that we cannot be our best with the people we care most when we neglect taking care of ourselves. How do we practice self-care and self-compassion? Taking time for ourselves sounds easy enough but when you really reflect on it, it is not as easy as you think it is. Most of us are taught to be productive all the time. Slowing down to do the things we like, seems like an overindulgence that goes antithetical to what you are brought up to believe. Write down twenty things you enjoy doing (such as reading, playing board games with friends and family, eat out with friends). Then, think of the values that are important to you when it comes to self-care and see if they align with any of the fun activities that you have listed. Remember to keep in mind to focus on the values and activities that are joyful to you, not the ones that other people expect you to do.

Family

This is a difficult area in my life that I have always struggled with due to my traumatic past. I am still distancing myself from my father and our relationship is fraught with issues and the growing distance is palpable. To be honest, I am unsure whether my relationship with my father would ever heal. It is still something I am working on in therapy and maybe, I would come out the other end with some clarity when the time comes. However, my relationship with my two sisters and nieces and nephew, is getting better as the years go by, despite me living away from home. The value that is most important to me to build a good relationship with my family is to express how much I love them each time I end our texts or video calls with ‘I love you’. This might seem like common sense or a ubiquitous way to express closeness with our family, but, in mine, to utter the phrase ‘I love you’ is something that was never practiced in my family as we were growing up. So, what value(s) would you align with how you want to strengthen the bond you have with your family? How would you achieve this? Remember to align what you are going to do or what you are going change with the value(s) that are most important to you when it comes to building a close relationship with your family.

Community

We all want to form meaningful connections with others and feel apart of a bigger community. Whether it is your neighbours, schools, charities, temples, or churches, we all have different ways we connect with others. What is yours? There is a huge body of research in social psychology that found that being apart of a community, helps one to be more resilient in times of struggle and improves one’s overall well-being (if you’re interested to learn more, I have listed some research articles below). Again, reflect on what values are important to you in regard to connecting with others in your community via charitable organisations or sports teams, and focus on how you envision your community to be, and put in the time or change the way you commit to your chosen community, so that it is aligned with the values that you have listed.

Spirit

If you are not religious in the traditional sense, spirituality can take the form of your cultural traditions or existential meanings of how one should lead their life in the world. As the concept of spirituality is so abstract and intangible, most of us do not talk about it much with others. It tends to be neglected in our every lives, thus, it is not surprising that most of us don’t think about our spirituality when setting goals. However, reflecting on our sense of spirituality is important if we want to set meaningful goals and make necessary changes that would help with our self development.

Good luck everyone and have a Happy New Year. To a better year for all of us.

Extra reading resources for anyone who wants to know more:

Drury, J. (2012). Collective resilience in mass emergencies and disasters: a social identity model. In: The Social Cure: Identity, Health and Well-being. (ed. J. Jetten, C. Haslam and S.A. Haslam), 195-215. Hove: Psychology Press.

Jetten, J., Branscombe, N. R., Haslam, S. A. et al. (2015). Having a lot of a good thing: multiple important group memberships as a source of self-esteem. PLoS One http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124609

When Does Avoidance Become a Useful Coping Method

The past month since I started back at work on a part time basis, I have very quickly fallen into my default mechanism to cope: AVOIDANCE. The Oxford English Dictionary defines avoidance as ‘not doing something; preventing something from existing or happening’. What do I mean when I use the word Avoidance? How I use avoidance is not about not doing something, it is more akin to the second half of this definition, which is where I prevent something from existing or happening.

This is probably my default coping method because it has been drilled into me by my mother that hard work is a ‘virtue’ that is necessary for one to succeed in life. Her perception of what ‘success’ means scoring straight As, have a good career that pays loads of money. I use hard work as a means to block everything out; from the sexual and emotional abuse to making sure that I would be allowed play time when I was a child. Mother would not allow me out to play until all my homework was done and I have revised what I learnt in school that day. Whenever I fall short in achieving this goal that was set for me, I was reminded that I am not smart enough or too lazy. Guilt and shame was what my mother would use to condition me into fulfilling her expectations of me.

The guilt and shame has never left me. I still feel guilt and shame whenever I choose pleasure before doing anything productive. This conditioning of ‘work first, play later’ followed me throughout my teenage years, through university and everything I do in life. Guilt would eat me inside when I decide to just relax for a few hours, instead of starting my days off work studying or doing prep work for lectures when I used to work as a university lecturer. Even when I have worked hard and earned my time to do something pleasurable, this voice in my head would rear its ugly head and tell me that I have not done a good job, that I should not be relaxing. So, I don’t think I have ever really truly enjoyed the moments whenever I was doing something that was pleasurable. The pleasure out of the pleasurable activities/moments gets blunted because of this.

Any achievement that I have achieved has never made me feel that I am good enough. I struggle to acknowledge the achievement even thought the success was tangible and measurable. I still struggle with this. Growing up, I have been told by my mother and teachers alike that I am not smart enough, that I am stupid, that I am lazy. I know that it is ludicrous to still believe the validity of this, but the truth is, I still do. I truly believe that these negative attributes are part of me. I am working towards slowly changing my perception that I am not all that. That I AM smart enough and hard working. At this point, even typing these words right now, makes me feel that I am a fraud to think so.

So, when is it good to use avoidance as a coping method? Till now, I have not really answered this question. Well, in my opinion, I think avoidance is necessary when you feel that life is getting too difficult and your mind and body is telling you to not ruminate on these difficulties because it will only paralyse you. This is exactly what I am letting myself do, so that I avoid feeling the repressed feelings that I need to feel for my recovery from all the traumatic pass. I am reminding myself that this avoidance, must be temporary and that this time, avoidance will not numb and suppress my feelings and pain, which will inevitably bubble up and plunge me into the depths of depression once again.

The Face Behind This Blog

I have just changed my profile picture from my cat’s photo (her name is Lexi, if you’re curious) to my personal photo. I have been mulling about whether I should be open about who I am or continue to hide behind the comforts of anonymity that the Internet can offer. I have only just started this blog about 2 months ago and some of you might be wondering why would I want to come out of anonymity? It is not an easy decision to for me to make. There is a lot anxiety surrounding putting myself out there on the World Wide Web, because nothing gets erased on the Internet. Things stay on the Internet indefinitely (unless, one day, we enter a apocalyptic era where the world no longer exist!). Another reason to not put myself out there was also a worry I have about my profession as a mental health nurse. Would someone at work come across my blog? Would my boss come across my blog? Would it affect my career in the future? So, if there are so many negative repercussions of coming out of anonymity, why do it?

To me, it feels right this time around. I just turned 41 last November and I am tired of hiding this little part of who I am. I am not just what depression, anxiety and past trauma make of me. I am much more than these challenges put together. Aren’t we all complex being?

Being Asian of Chinese descent, mental health issues are just not talked about. This taboo does not just belong to my ethnic and cultural background, but it is present in every other culture. Another voice that talks openly about mental health struggles, is another space to normalise it. It is not something to feel ashamed of and it should not be discriminated upon. There has been a lot of shifts of attitudes in Western cultures, where levels of stigmatisation might feel less in the forefront, but, in reality, the stigma and shame is still very much the reality for people like us, who struggle to stay mentally healthy. Strangely, and quite saddening is that, a lot of those who work in the health care system are the agents for perpetuating this stigma. This creates a problem because many who work as mental health professionals are the ones that do not seek help, or like me, who waited until things unravelled out of control to seek help. I am not saying that ALL those who work in healthcare stigmatise people with mental health struggles, but in my experience, it festers underneath the surface.

So, to my followers and readers, thank you for giving my blog a go and for the virtual support via likes and comments these past couple of weeks. I know that my writings have been quite dark and negative since I started, but, I believe, my musings will be lighter and more positive as I continue to process the past trauma and come through the other side via a long recovery journey. Hopefully, you’ll stick around for the ride.

Back at Work…

After almost three months away, I returned to work this week on Dec 1st. Since I last saw my psychiatrist on Nov 17th, I have been struggling with the growing level of anxiety about returning to work. Just the thought of facing my duties at work, my colleagues, my manager and patients felt dizzyingly terrifying. I was the one that told my psychiatrist that I should go back to work. It was my idea. I should not be feeling like this. The brain never wins when it comes to dealing with depression and anxiety. Rational thought only works well, when one is not struggling with mental illness.

I only worked three days this week, but it felt like a lifetime. I felt mostly like an extra prop in the office as there was nothing much I could do. Groups have started two weeks ago and for me to facilitate a group is not ideal. Keeping the frame is more important than letting me get back to my duties straight away. Mostly, I feel relieved that I was not involved in any groups this week. It wasn’t a task that my colleagues are expecting from me. The clinic on Wednesday felt like I was of some use. That was something that was expected of me to do.

I knew I was finding ways to isolate myself. I did not want to engage with anyone. I did not want to talk. I did not want to do anything. I avoid eye contact. My physical body is there but my mind was in constant fight of flight mode and my cognition was on auto mode. That’s why I am relieved that I was only expected to clinic duties.

At this stage, I can only manage part time. Two days would be ideal, but I negotiated for three days a week with my manager. The likelihood of a part time contract seemed unlikely from the conversation. I am ambivalent about whatever outcome when I meet my manager next week for a confirmation. However, I have just decided that if I am offered a part time contract, I will continue working until I no longer can hold the fort.

Depressed: Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything? Do It Anyway.

I have always enjoyed participating in sporting events. Marathons are one of them. After five full marathons, a few 21km and 10km events throughout the years, I have not gotten enough of the adrenaline high that would last 24 hours. The sense of achievement and satisfaction of completing a race is akin to crack cocaine (not that I have ever use that stuff). To put simply; I just love how it feels after a completing a marathon.

This past weekend has been a weekend that filled me with dread for the past couple of weeks. The thought of driving 4 hours, socialising during dinner before and after the event, not to mention, the 42.2 km run itself felt like a mammoth task to take on in a single weekend. Gone was the enthusiasm and excitement when the ‘Enter’ button was clicked a year ago. The sense of being in a good place mentally and looking forward to running a full marathon with a friend who took up running early 2019 has since dissipated.

The week leading up to the event, I kept feeling this sense of dread and foreboding that I have to complete a 42.2km run, despite feeling depressed and physically tired. The past month of training has been a struggle, not being able to keep up with my friend. My body and mind were too exhausted and broken to run any faster. My usual pace of 5’30″/km dropped to an average of 6′-7’/km. This physical sluggishness did not help with my mood either. After every training, disappointment seeps through my pores and my mood takes a dive. The blackness of the past few months have made running more of a to-do check list to be done thrice a week. The sense of calm and joy that running usually brings has been obliterated.

My partner and I left for Queenstown on Friday (20/11/2020) in the morning and I was preparing myself for a social weekend. That night itself we were going to meet with my partner’s colleague and son who did the 10km run. Then, the night after the marathon, we were going to have dinner with my running friend, her partner and her partner’s mother and sister. I kept worrying about being overwhelmed by the social encounters that I have to deal with and thinking about it, adding to the anxiety. I have had these experiences before and I know that I always end up enjoying myself during these social interactions, but it does not stop me from feeling anxious about them when I am depressed. And…as always, I did enjoy them, like I always do.

The morning of the run, my alarm rang at 0620 hours. Groggy from restless sleep, waking up twice during the night, the throbbing headache from the night before blurred in the background, I pushed the discomfort aside as I fumbled my way to the other side of the room to grab a drink, not wanting to wake my partner, the room remained dark. It was not long before another alarm went off and my partner mumbled and reminded me to fetch the breakfast tray from the dining area downstairs. Breakfast was underwhelming; full grain bread, Nutella, a pair of hard boiled eggs and a banana.

The run itself was somewhat disappointing personally. I felt tired by the 3km and could no longer keep up with my friend and by the 13th kilometre, I wanted to quit. Quitting a race was never an option. Pushing through the screaming muscles and pain was expected, not an exception. Quitting seemed so obvious in my mind that I really entertained it for the next 15 kilometres. This just added to the grunt. Each 500m sign to the next hydration station, became a beacon that to keep running, to quickly arrive the hydration station when my legs can stop turning, so I could drink and stop running.

Passing each hydration station and seeing the kilometres melt away, focusing only on my breathing and legs, reaching the last kilometre to the finish line, I sprinted towards the finish line. A melding of cheers from strangers, friends and my partner, a glimpse of their faces from the corner of my eye as I cross the finish line, made every painful stride worthwhile. The adrenaline flooded through my veins as I soak in the surroundings of people blanketing me from every corner, a volunteer placing the finishing medal over my head broke my reverie. I smiled at my partner as she approached me and asked for a hug while my sweaty body protested as she held on tight. What a wonderful weekend!

Surrounded by the people that mean most to me during experiences like this is what I have to keep close to my heart whenever that feeling of wanting to hide away in the blackness threatens to swallow me whole.