I have sat on a couch in many tiny stuffy rooms with a person paid to listen to my problems. I still do this, except now I sit at home and talk to this person through a computer screen. It’s a dream come true for depressed people like myself who can finally wear their pajamas to therapy without cause for alarm. I am fairly certain that our therapists are getting away with wearing their pajamas, too. But, I am pretty sure no one else but me would admit that they are also secretly caressing their 37-year old baby blanket instead of the fidget toys that used to be laid out in the actual office.
I feel that everyone should have a therapist. I know that’s not possible for many reasons, but I still believe it. My favorite psychologist I ever had in a long line of Phds, Psy.ds, LMHCs, MSWs, etc. since my teenage years wouldn’t like me saying that…that…word. SHOULD. Oops.
She noticed a pattern of mine. I said should a LOT. She started telling me “there are no shoulds or shouldn’ts, there just IS.” When I was “shoulding,” I was judging myself and that was not helping with anything. I’d either do something or not, but using the “S” word leads to guilt and shame, especially when I wasn’t able (or the world wasn’t ready) to turn my shoulds into reality.
For example, I used to sit on her couch and say “I should exercise more.” Me saying this didn’t get me to go to a gym or get outside.
When this therapist had to stop working with clients in her private practice due to an accident, her wise words were often repeated in my mind: “there are no shoulds!” It was kind of like me asking “What Would Jesus Do? ™.” Or, the less popular choice, “What Would Buddha Do? (WWBD?)”
So, there I was, without a therapist for the first time since I was 15. And what did I do? I impulsive decided to start running. Running! A thing I thought I couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t do…ever. I replaced her couch with an app called, yup, Couch to 5K.
I’ve noticed a lot of therapists like to encourage looking to the past to examine why things are the way they are now. It doesn’t really make that much sense to me but let’s look at the past anyhow. Cue the dreamy wavy sitcom music and fade the screen into a flashback scene. Kids are gathering at the track during the presidential fitness testing month. The running test… *Shudder*
It was always the coldest day of the year. When they’d set us free on the track, I’d just take off, running as fast as possible until I could taste blood in my lungs. Probably at a pace of like, a six minute mile for the first lap. But after that one, there were three more laps to go! Forty or so minutes later, I was done. Done, and full of hate for myself, everyone else who passed me, and our gym teachers whom I apparently inconvenienced by taking so long.
Shout out to all the P.E. teachers out there who actually cared to teach their students to enjoy exercise safely from a young age. I fully believe I could have learned if they didn’t give up on me so easily. Everyone is athletic in some way, even if we are a diamond in the rough, like Aladdin.
The “coaches'” unkind words and disdainful looks made me write myself off and abandon exercise altogether. Unlike the wise words of my therapist, every time I thought of running, the voices of my gym teachers would taunt me. I’d tell myself all the reasons I would NEVER be able to. If running meant the difference between arriving five minutes late or on time to something very important, I’d just have to be late. If I was being chased by a person with a knife, or a zombie, I was sure I’d choose death.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I started actually running. It felt gratifying and amazing. I often cried tears of joy while on a run, because I thought it wouldn’t ever happen. The wouldn’ts are the evil step sisters of the shouldn’ts. Their mother, the Couldn’ts is the evil stepmother in this twisted fairy tale.
Just when I thought I had outrun the zombies and evil step-people chasing me after I was finally fitted with the perfect glass sneaker and won over the prince (whoever that was?), they got louder and angrier that I achieved something I thought was once impossible. They got more demanding and mean. I was running so fast and far that I could no longer hear my therapist’s voice cheering me on (the fairy godmother in this story). My positive thinking eventually got replaced in my consciousness with more shoulds. And also coulds. And woulds.
Could interval training help me learn to run?
Could I even run a 5k?
Would running another 5k help me realize that running 7 minutes a mile in the first mile of a race was a bad idea?
Would I be able to run a half marathon even though I am more built for a 50-yard dash, or some other kind of short sprint?
Should I run 13.1 miles when I woke up the morning of the race with pain and swelling in my legs?
Should I stop running and just walk the rest of the half marathon that just so happened to be on the hottest day of the year?
I said yes to each of these questions and yes was mostly the wrong answer here. I hurt myself pretty badly after my half marathon, and eventually had to abandon running. It wasn’t that I shouldn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t run. If I wanted to heal, I HAD to stop.
This caused me a lot of grief. I had learned to love running. I would do so to feel free, solve problems, find creative ideas, write college essays and papers in my head. I would run in all weather, snow and rain or intense heat did not stop me! (Those were actually my favorite times to run). But, my back and leg pain and immobility did stop me.
I wanted everything to be different. I should have swallowed a magic bean to regenerate my legs when I noticed pain. I could have drank a potion that allowed me to run and jump so fast that I could stay at the front of the pack instead of learning how to pace myself. I should have just moved into fairy tale land where there is no pain at the end of the story.
My therapist hated modern fairy tales, as she believes they give children unrealistic expectations. Honestly, maybe the people popularizing and selling these fairy tales should be responsible for my co-pays. These stories never tell the story after the happily ever after. The parts where the heroes still have to deal with obstacles, failure, or unhappiness. They don’t show Cinderella trying to figure out a humane way to move the mice out of her castle when they began to cause problems. We don’t see Aladdin struggling with his self-image when he grows older and is stressing out over his gray hairs and receding hairline. We don’t see Snow White learning how to eat apples again without anxiety, or Elsa sitting in front of a Sun lamp to help her seasonal depression. Those of us who don’t live in fairy tale land can’t just find someone to wave a magic wand, say “Bippitty Boppity Boo”, and POOF! make our obstacles and struggles disappear. Although, I *wish* we could…
In my next blog entry, I will talk more about wishing, so stay tuned!