There’s millions of articles and blogs typed up on a daily basis about learning how to properly run and breathe. Controlling your breathing while running helps you preserve energy to go longer distances. After you mastered breathing, you can increase your stride. Your limbs can take you to great distances and in a sense, you can become a tourist in your own home town. Sure, I fell into this cliché. Three or four week ago, I practiced my typical morning ritual. I hit the snooze button four times until I felt compelled to use the bathroom. Washed my face. Threw on some running attire. Since I’m backwards, I checked the weather before heading out of the door.
Honestly, I have been working out harder at the gym for the last few weeks. The days have been blending in together and thanks to an article posted in Self Magazine, listing me as one of 28 Black Fitness Pros You Should Be Following on Instagram, my inbox and social life has been indescribable to say the least. Some of my closest friends feel like I should be on top of the world right now, as I am one of the few people who started off 2017 in such a phenomenal way but I have been quietly falling apart. Fifteen minutes of notoriety is incredible and I’m blessed by all of the wonderful emails received thus far but to my son, I am mom. My nine year old likes to refer to me as the best chef that knows and is fully aware that I am a fitness nut but he loves mom. Mom is a superhero to all of his adolescent needs but he doesn’t know how broken mom truly is when he goes to sleep or when she gets a moment alone.
My son William, Jr. is a type one diabetic and has been diagnosed with this auto immune disease since July 3, 2015. Perhaps, you saw my vibrant son in a few of our Instagram story videos making food together or you might see me transition from Patty the Sailor Mouth Ass Clown to stern mother all within a 20 second clip but he is my beautiful baby boy. I watched him transition from vicariously living the life of a child who has no worries in the world to seeing the metamorphosis of a child who rarely feels a needle prick after being checked 4 – 6 times a day for his glucose levels.
His diagnosis makes me numb some days. I spent my tenth year wedding anniversary inside of his school, nursing his insecurities because other children his age bullies him about his demeanor to perpetuating ignorance about his diagnosis. Children will certainly be children but adults are probably the worst in my opinion. To prevent myself from strangling close friends, family members or a random stranger who speak passionately about my son’s diagnosis, pretending to ‘understand’ our hurt, frustrations and stance, I opt to go for a run.
In case you don’t know about being a type one diabetic, I am glad to give you the most basic definition that I possibly can. Type one diabetes, typically referred to as juvenile diabetes, is a condition where your pancreas produces little to no insulin. Unlike type two, there is no cure on the market as of yet for his condition. It’s considered an auto immune disease because his body attacks itself, preventing the body from breaking down sugars. Until there’s a cure, he will need to take insulin injections for the rest of his life. Of course, he should maintain a healthy diet and stay active but try telling that to an American nine year old who happens to have an at-home professional chef who makes an array of appetizing food for clients on a regular basis.
When he was diagnosed, my husband and I was thrown so much information into our faces that we were drowning. Nobody was gracious enough to push our heads down into the deep blue water to help us escape our new reality. In a week, we were fully educated about his condition and learned how to keep our son alive through his new routine. A doctor suggested that William should go to counseling or join JDRF so he would know that he wasn’t alone. Perhaps they should have suggested counseling for me as well.
Until that Wednesday morning a few week ago, I was in such denial of how much I am crumbling in such an unimaginable way. My skin is as thick as GoodYear tires when it comes to Internet trolls or ghastly stares from strangers as they watch this 200 + body push itself through the wringer but nothing managed to penetrate me like my son’s condition. Leave it to pretentious articles plastered in my Google search, I should go for a run because it’s ‘therapy,’ so I did.
I struggled for the first mile at a 14 minute pace. Like yoga, every day is different. There will be days where you feel like you’re unstoppable and then there’s days like Wednesday where you are wondering what the fuck is going on with your lungs and limbs. My mantra is typically to move one foot in front of the other and I hummed a military cadence that I learned from a few military friends of mine. Take my word on it, you don’t want the words to the horrific ones that keeps me going. Mile two started to feel a bit better as I fell into the rhythm. As my endorphins picked up a bit, I started opening up my stride and opted to turn on the music to my phone.
Morning runs are consistently my stronger suit, as I’m not much of an evening person unless we’re going out for drinks. I was aiming for a solid 5 miles on one of my favorite routes and it was supposed to be an easy run. I stopped to take a selfie when I reached downtown Brooklyn and that’s when so much changed. I saw a mother struggling with her daughter who was going through a mini breakdown. Her daughter dropped a few things out of her hand and I reached over to pick it up off the ground and then I felt this lump in my chest as I looked at her leg. I noticed her daughter’s insulin pump and whilst seeing her mother push together the words ‘Thank You,’ I felt broken again.
In my mind, I felt like I was okay. Truly, I don’t know why seeing her insulin pump was such a trigger but it was enough for me to feel slightly manic. The incline on Fulton Street felt harder than usual. My chest tightened up and my anxiety built up at each step. When I reach rough spots on the course where I question if I can go on any longer, you can catch me having a full conversation with myself muttering that I’ll be okay. Wednesday’s ramblings weren’t much different.
Folks talk about the runner’s high in such a glorious way but what about the runner’s low. The runner’s wall doesn’t count. Runner’s wall is a metaphorical term of your body wanting to give up. What happens when your mind is tired of fighting? My leg carried me for dozens of miles. I’ve pushed through sciatica, through shitty days, through grieving but not through this. There’s no guide or self help book that could coach me through being an adult with the weight of the world on my shoulders. And please spare me the condescending “it could be worse” comments. People in my position have to hear that all of the time and yes, it could be worse but THIS moment is my worst. Would you tell a six year old dying cancer patient that it could be worse because they have three weeks to live versus two? Fuck no. And if you would, you’re an asshole. So what’s left to do?
I stopped. Great stride and all. Just stopped. And then I cried. Snot filled and in a full blown breakdown in the middle of Downtown Brooklyn with my headphones. I cried. I knew people were staring. Even had a few strangers who asked to help me. I took the tissue from one because I looked like a catastrophic mess. After purging out months of frustration, I didn’t feel like I wanted to stop crying. I knew I needed to get back home in time so my husband could make it to work. After all, I had a kid who was home because school was out for a week.
I opted to continue running while feeling like a fumbling fool, tripping emotionally over my own tears. Initially I felt like I wouldn’t make it because crying and running is hard when going up an incline. At one point, I was nervous that I would trigger an anxiety attack. After two songs played, I found myself gaining my composure. It is very indescribable but there was this overwhelming sense of peace that rushed through my limbs. My stride started to open up and lungs weren’t as heavy as it was when I started. I didn’t feel the need to play around with my phone to change the song selection. Five minute later, my Nike + App announced the fourth mile and average speed. It transitioned from a 14 minute average to 12 minutes. I didn’t care much because my focus was on chasing an active meditation state. Another mile passes and I’m averaging 11 ½ minutes. My arms moved faster and tears slowly reducing. Whilst I knew that my heart beat was working hard, I wasn’t too bothered by this. Left foot. Right foot. One inhale; hold for 3 second. Release. An acute pain rushed across my hamstrings but I couldn’t stop running. My calves felt like a forest fire trail but my body refused to submit.
At the end of my run, I realized that I surpassed my 5 mile run by a mile. I didn’t get a runner’ high. Running didn’t make me feel like I spoke with my therapist. No aha moment nor was inspired to have this optimistic view on my current worries. I just felt like I ran six miles by myself. My run didn’t give me peace. It gave me a moment to be alone. My run gave me access to an escape for a little bit over a hour and although physically worn, it gave me a moment to lose my shit in a safe area. Perhaps you’re questioning my logic at this moment. Maybe you don’t look at crying in front of a bunch of stranger as liberating but I do. My run gave me a moment to have a breakdown away from those who mattered the most to me.
Parents tend to take on this superhero personality. We wipe tears, discipline, get one too many moments to adult while taking care of random responsibilities that’s thrown at us in life. Our children don’t see this, particularly not at my son’s age. He sees Mom. Mom is strong and resilient. He doesn’t see mom breakdown often. I am supposed to be his guiding factor according to society but moms (and dads) aren’t perfect. Sometimes, we get so caught up in wearing the superhero cape that we forget to take it off and be human. My Wednesday run allowed me to surrender for over a hour. It doesn’t make me weak or inadequate. Actually, I think it showed me other layers of my strength in my vulnerability. When I walked back into my house, I was able to conquer another day. Prior to my run, I wanted to lay in my bed and allow my irrational thoughts to consume me. Again I must stress, running is NOT my therapist but it surely served its purpose for the day.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
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