I remember in high school, the beginning of my love affair with running for exercise, when people would greet me with: “Hey, I saw you out running the other day”. Running not only served as a vehicle to earn an athletic scholarship at a junior college or a way to exercise; running was my identity. Varsity high school track became college competitions, which evolved into training myself for marathons. Running was ME.
I wasn’t the best runner in the pack at any point during my career, but I craved the competition; I craved the level of fatigue I’d feel after hard workouts and long runs. I craved the accolades I received when I earned medals in road races. I was a runner. An athlete. And I had no intentions of being anything different.
My spine had other plans. At some point in 2010 I received a diagnosis of spinal disc herniation in my lower back. I was 25 at the time–my doctor said I needed a hiatus from running until my injury became less acute and more at the “chronic” stage.
Chronic. So, ongoing, right? Like, I have to manage something over a period of time? Change my plans? I’d reached a certain point in my relationship with running–I could visualize myself competing in road races regularly. I trained myself and owned my training plans. This was my identity! Who am I now ??
It’s funny how “what we do” so often becomes “who we are”. I think it’s human nature: you are a runner, that’s who you are. You’re a therapist, that’s who you are. You’re a sister/daughter/girlfriend/friend, that’s who you are.
Runner, therapist, sister/daughter/friend–those are labels. They serve as simple identifiers of what we do with our time, where we devote our energy.
Who we are, however, is different. It’s deeper. It’s a question I so often ask my therapy clients, and just as often they’re stumped. It’s an existential concept that’s avoided in the many superficial interactions we have on the daily, for obvious reasons. An explanation could leave us raw and exposed, and who wants that.
So, I don’t run that much any more. I simply can’t run 40 or 50 miles a week. But as a person who believes in the adage “everything happens for a reason”, I know my mid-twenties, “sort of adult” self needed some balance. My personal life had been fairly chaotic for several years and running had become my “safe zone” that wasn’t controlled or impacted by anything but icy sidewalks.
While my identity was challenged by a forced change in exercise type, I am still ME, with all that entails. I’ve gained the ability to focus outside of my own grieving to seek what else contributed to my identity. It was a struggle; if I’m honest I still struggle sometimes. And that’s okay.
My hope is that my family, friends, clients and blog entry readers can dig a little deeper with the question: “who are you?”
Thanks for reading 🙂