Words: Dr M Sawrey (GP and Runner)
The sun shines brightly, hovering low over the increasingly modern city scape skyline of industrial Manchester. The sparse cloud paints the baby blue sky as the rays pierce warmth from above. Heavenly beauty over machine like growth. Its a time of contrast and paradox for me, for most I suspect. I take my eyes from the view down to the crunching snow covering the bobbly field grass, searching for my footing.
The sound comforts me, it lets me know I’m here. Its the coldest day of the year, the biting wind penetrates my sinuses and chills my bones. I take a deep inhale of icy air and keep running forward. I’m here, I’m alive, I’m in my body and running. I go back into my head and start thinking about the day. Things that I have done and said and I try to make some sense and meaning of it all. Then the recurring thought pops back in; I’m lonely. Deeply lonely and isolated. Is it just me? Does anyone else have a pervasive sense of loss and longing for something more, something whole, something like before but different? The next paradox comes to me, I’m looking out across a city of thousands of inhabitants over a 10 mile radius, I’m surrounded by people, however I’m living through a time which restricts meeting. I’m humanly disconnected and surrounded by potential connections; the modern era of instant online connectivity.
I keep running. The cold sweat on my body sticks to my cotton top and the synthetic over jacket holds out the wind. My legs feel fresh and springy. A dog walker smiles as we exchange a glance and say hello to each other. Another runner approaches and we nod with approval and recognition of our discipline. I go back into my head, now what was that thing I was worrying about before at work? It seems less important now. I take another deep breathe and sight out the tension and stress from the day. Something seems to be lifting. My thoughts are less intrusive and I’m running into the light.
I’m trying to connect. Come home to myself in the hope that I can take more of me out into the world again in due course. My fear and anxiety accumulates with unhelpful thoughts, the handbrake on a few notches with my foot on the accelerator. Running for me paves a way back into my body, back into having a relationship with my whole self. My legs, my lungs, my heart. It take me on a journey inwards and outwards to explore new surroundings and nature.
The loneliness starts to evaporate. I belong. I meet people, we talk, we share stories, How many miles? We enjoy each others success. I look back up over the skyline, the sun is dropping and a violet red dance of colour stretches out before me. I smile. I have hope. Anticipation and excitement that through the pain and loss and suffering that something more beautiful and wholesome will grow. Something new and real. Running has carried me through the dark times and guided me to the light at the end of the tunnel. I get back home and sit on the doorstep as I peel the laces apart with pulsing hands. The steam floats out of my trainer and I let out a sight of relief. The stresses of my day are in the past. My feet are on the ground. I’m present, I’m looking ahead, I’m more connected. I’m a runner.
We are in the midst of a pandemic, its uncovering an invisible mental health pandemic. The facts are clear, exercise helps. How can we reconnect with what it is to be human? To be together, to be communal, to love and laugh and learn. The root of all mental health issues lie in a disconnect with our authentic selves and a mis-attunement with others, often our closest. For me running helps bridge the gap, more so than ever when the dark clouds are here for a little while longer.