I’ve written on here before about how when I first started running, I saw myself very much as a lone runner who had no interest in competition (AH HA HA!), but that all changed when I joined Ely Runners in 2015. Now I really don’t enjoy running on my own, and never have I missed my fellow runners as much as I do now.
I’ll be honest – I’ve really been struggling.
I was genuinely doing ok with lockdown to begin with. Not great obviously, because this SERIOUSLY sucks, but I got into an exercise routine thanks to the amazing array of online workouts available, I started running with the other half when he decided he wanted to take it up to stay fit while he could no longer play his beloved badminton, and I started picking up old hobbies again. But then I had to say goodbye to my darling cat and the wheels suddenly came off in spectacular fashion.
For those among you who aren’t really pet people, it might be hard for you to understand just how much my heart broke when the worst possible moment finally came. Without going into it too much, she was diagnosed with a rare, incurable cancer 6 months ago, so we knew our time with her was limited and we did our absolute best to make the most of the time we had with her, especially during lockdown. But to have to say goodbye to your companion for the last 12.5 years when you’re not even allowed to set foot inside the vets is agonising, and suddenly lockdown became this pressure cooker that threatened to suffocate me.
I couldn’t go for my solo, head-clearing runs because I couldn’t bear to be on my own (if I were to go for a run, I would have to be at home on my own when my husband went for his daily exercise). I wouldn’t even go upstairs to bed on my own so I would stay up until the early hours and skate by on 4 or 5 hours sleep a night (he’s a well-conditioned night owl). I cried every day because everything in the house reminded me of her. I felt like I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack (having had one once at University I recognised that jittery tightness in my chest and the shallow breathing) and I kept thinking how what I really needed was to go for one of those really long runs with one of my closest buddies and howl at the universe and what a crapstorm it could be sometimes.
And my word, the guilt. The guilt of not being able to go in to the vet. The guilt of making the decision in the first place. The guilt of my husband having to shoulder the job of getting me through this entirely on his own. The guilt of struggling with the loss of a pet when people are losing human loved ones by the hundreds in extreme conditions every single day. It was almost as consuming as the grief itself.
But thank goodness for the online world and for those who will be there in whatever ways they can despite the fact they are all currently dealing with all of their own new-world stresses. I had friends who let me ugly cry at them through a screen. Those who dropped off flowers, gin, chocolate and those who I don’t even know that well but who messaged me to check how I was doing and to assure me that in time, it would get better. And looking back I realised that almost all of these people are those who I’ve met through running or my gym.
I think that when you’ve beasted an epic run together that involved dodging cows, dodgy stomachs and bog-like conditions (Ely Runners Christmas run, I’m looking at you) or survived a fitness class together where you end it face-planted in a puddle of your own sweat, you can look at each other in a new light and feel able to open up to each other. You can let yourself be a little bit raw emotionally, having already done it physically.
And slowly but surely, thanks to my remote – but thankfully, still very much present – support crew, I’m starting to come out the other side. I’ve got friends to do online classes with, friends who send me stupid GIFs, friends who drop off a seemingly endless supply of cake and friends who I know I can call and who will answer straight away when I have a bad moment. I’ve picked up the yoga again after a 6-week hiatus, because for a while only cardio appealed as it forced me to only focus on the physical. Yoga felt like it would give my brain too much time to breathe and therefore too much time to think. I’ve started doing Headspace’s grief programme, am baking more and am occasionally able to think of Minnie with a smile instead of tears.
After reading all of this you might be wondering why I’m writing about this in a fitness blog, but to me, mental health and physical health are the same thing – health. And the mental aspect of my health picked up a serious injury and I had to work out how to deal with that. And quite honestly, I’d rather have plantar fasciitis. But thanks to my husband (who is nothing short of a hero for getting me through the last 4 weeks when he had his own grief to manage) and my amazing support crew, I feel like very slowly but definitely surely, I’m coming out of the other side. I would name them all but it would simply take too long. But you all know who you are, and when this is over I can’t wait to thank you all properly in person.
And bloody hell I can’t wait to go for a run with you.