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Grieving the Loss of Running

It's been more than seven months since I've had to step away from running. While I've been able to do other things during this time, I've experienced strong and varying emotions every day that I haven't been able to run. It occurred to me only recently, while watching an episode of Jane the Virgin (an excellent show that I was pretty skeptical about initially), that I've been grieving the loss of running. In the episode, Jane recaps how she went through the well-known Kubler-Ross five stages of grief in one day, over the loss of a relationship. But it was her highlighting of these stages that made me realize I'd been going through the same thing—except over months, and over the loss of running.

It may seem trivial, especially given the grave and tragic world events occurring daily, to make such a big deal out of running, but we all still have our personal challenges to deal with each day, and I in no way mean to minimize the suffering of others in this post.

Here are the five stages and how I have experienced them and still continue to:
  1. Denial. When I first felt the pain, I thought I'd just take a few weeks off and get back to it. I went to several doctors over the course of several weeks, not accepting the possible diagnoses I received, which would have required serious treatment that I didn't think I really needed.
  2. Anger. When it became clear that a diagnosis—never mind a treatment plan—was not going to be easy to come by, I grew very frustrated, and scared. All I wanted was a plan—a way forward, and I couldn't seem to get one. 
  3. Bargaining. I decided I'd be okay without running for a while as long as I could do other things—bike, swim, and workout at the gym. But of course, these would only be temporary. I'd trade them back in for running when my foot was healed.
  4. Depression. When it started to feel as though my foot would never heal, after a false start back to running, I became depressed about my situation. I then went to another doctor and received a stress fracture diagnosis. At first, this was happy news. It was a solid diagnosis (I thought) with a real treatment plan. I kept up my training with some restrictions, but soon began to doubt that the stress fracture was the real problem. The closer I got to my two-month "sentence" in my fracture boot and on restricted exercise, the more I felt unconvinced that I'd be able to run in the foreseeable future. The fracture, if it really existed, was in a different location than my initial foot pain, so the doctor wasn't able to address the initial problem until the fracture finished healing. After two months and three weeks, I was released from the boot got a cortisone shot in my foot for what we thought could be a neuroma. I thought the shot would be the answer. But it didn't help. And I was back to the start, with new pains I'd developed from wearing the boot. I went to yet another doctor, who told me the MRI I'd previously gotten did not clearly show a stress fracture (I think I went through an entire grieving process for that news alone), and essentially I'd wasted three months on a misdiagnosis. She re-diagnosed me with metatarsophalangeal (MTP) synovitis (basically, ball-of-foot pain). She prescribed a treatment regimen for me to try for a few weeks, which I'm still doing beyond that few weeks, because I wasn't very dedicated the first time around. 
  5. Acceptance. I feel I've had no choice but to reach this stage. It's not that I think I'll never run again, but I cannot plan for it. I can't keep asking, "when?" That has only led me to disappointment and frustration and depression. I have to live my life the way I can now, even if that means without running. I've gone back to yoga, a practice I used to do regularly but fell out of when running took over. It was hard to go back; I felt I'd betrayed the practice and I had to overcome my own guilt from walking away. But now that I'm doing it a couple times a week, it feels really right.
I still get twinges of pain when I see someone running outside, especially in this cooler Florida weather. But I can be out there too, just on a bike instead of on my feet. And I'm still swimming three times a week and loving it. I'm also trying to embrace more non-athletic things, because I've learned what can happen when I tie my identity too closely to those endeavors.

Life without running is still a good life—a great life, if I allow it to be. Arriving at that realization has not been easy, and on a cheesy, pre-Thanksgiving gratitude note, I also have to say how thankful I am for the family and friends who stuck with me through all of my gloom and doom. You helped pull me through the worst of it, and I'm so grateful.


shirley said…
I'm so sorry Sweet Girl. I wondered about this but didn't ask because I didn't want to upset you. I was pleased to see you went back to Yoga though. You always seemed to be pretty happy when you used to go regularly. Having loving support is essential no matter what is going on in your life, I'm so happy you could turn to them. So now I have to watch "Jane the Virgin" as I have been skeptical also. I love you honey, and enjoy Thanksgiving. I love you.
B.o.B. said…
Lee, I am so sorry to hear you've been struggling so much. I feel like a bad friend! I'd love to swim or bike or yoga with you. I feel as though a lot of the running stuff I miss during injury has a lot to do with the social aspect of it. I'm always here if you need anything at all! xoxo

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