While I never held a press conference on the matter, it’s pretty much out by now that in early ’07, about half way through my pregnancy with Yiftah, I starting sinking into a pretty heavy depression. I remember the turning point – when it really hit. We were in Manhattan, with Neta, on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, looking out in all directions. I was clinging strongly to eighteen-month-old Neta, and thinking about the vast multitude of people spread out beneath us, and how it must have been the saddest thing I’d ever seen in my life.
It gets blurry from that point on. Being pregnant, with a toddler, and depressed was quite hellish. Neta was in day care, but the two hours a day I had to be alone with her until Tal came home from work were a living nightmare.
I’m not going to go to much into what was going on with me then, because it still triggers the fuck outta me, so let’s just fast forward a bit. After nearly a year of trying to cope, with some sessions with a state-funded therapist that didn’t really do much for me, when Yiftah was six months old, I started taking Sertraline HCl (AKA Lustral or Zoloft), the only SSRI that was considered truly safe for breastfeeding. It didn’t make life suddenly better or easier, but it lifted the veil of sadness through which I saw everything, and made it possible for me to perceive other shades of emotion once again.
Fast forward a bit more. Summer ’09. Yiftah is nearly two years old. I was starting to get back on track, and even ready to try getting off the medication. My days were pretty good, and it was becoming obvious that the main factor in my moods at the time was that Yiftah was still not sleeping at all well through the nights, and waking up very early in the mornings (read: well before dawn).
One of the caregivers at Yiftah’s daycare threw a nonchalant comment about me having gained a lot of weight. And it was true. I weighed almost as much as my peak weight during my pregnancy with Yiftah. Now, I’m not the type to fuss too much over my weight, but her comment made me realize that my promise to myself to get back into a proper exercise routine once Yiftah started sleeping through the night was not going to cut it. (Let the record state that Yiftah was not going to start sleeping well for another YEAR. Sleeping through the night has only been around for 3-4 months in this house, and it’s still rather fragile.)
So I decided I’d do a couple of things. First, I started practicing yoga, once or twice a week, after I hadn’t in several years. Second, I decided to buy a bike and start running my errands with it rather than with the car – good for the environment, good for myself (or so I thought). Third, I decided to look into the Couch-to-5k running plan, that had started popping up often on the LSG boards on Ravelry. (LSG, as always, you have made my life so much richer and for that I will always be grateful.) I figured that even if I’m a total zombie for lack of sleep, I ought to be able to give myself just half an hour, three times a week.
At first, I didn’t even tell anyone about it. I didn’t want to get all worked up about how I’d taken up running, only to have to start admitting later on that I fell off the wagon 2-3 weeks into the program. So the week of Yiftah’s second birthday, I was fully weaned off of the Sertraline, and started the program. I still remember very vividly, doing those Week 1 runs, with a stopwatch, red and heaving with effort, not believing that I’d been running for only 20 seconds. I couldn’t envision myself ever getting to the end of the program.
A week and a half into the program, I was having a really nice day. After sleeping in that morning, as I usually did to make up for the nights, I did my yoga, and even engaged in some massive organization work that needed to be done, and then took the bike out to pick up some food for lunch. On the way back home, on the downhill street right outside my house, I took a turn too fast, panicked, and jumped off the bike. It took me another 8 hours of taking care of the kids and conducting my usual chores to realize that my right wrist was not just bruised, it was broken. And another 24 hours after that to realize that my left shin was not just scraped by the asphalt, but severely infected, to the point that I was unable to walk on it for a few days.
After a week had passed, depression was starting to chew at me again. I had only just started to do good things with myself, and had been delivered a blow that really carried a clear message to keep my head down. I remember feeling very despaired. At this point, something snapped in me. I decided I was going to teach depression a lesson. I would go out. I would run. With my cast, and what have you. I would run long enough to start producing endorphins. I wanted to be able to say of myself, “well, I’m so crafty, I make my own antidepressants.”
So this time, I grabbed my neighbor, who had a 1-pack a day smoking habit of 20 years, thinking he and I would be pretty much on par, fitness-wise (I was so right about that, it was kind of sad and funny at the same time), and we started the program together. This was the end of July ’09. We stuck with the program, though I ended up getting thrown off track repeatedly with several very unfortunate mishaps along the way (and I’m going to keep this stuff personal – I don’t mind talking about it one on one but still feel uncomfortable having it plastered here for the world to see). Major family drama, the very sudden outbreak of chronic sinusitis and rather harsh allergies, lack of sleep, etc. But I stuck with it, and even at times that I couldn’t really run, I was out there, running what I could, walking what I couldn’t, moving. Sometimes, I was very glad not to be running alone, because it felt like if I were alone there would be nothing to stop me from running into oncoming traffic. But every time I came back from a run, even if it was really awful, my spirit would be lifted a notch. It was really working.
Running had very simply become equated with emotional health. It wasn’t about weight, it wasn’t about being able to fit into my jeans. It was about being able to reside in my own head and not want it all to end.
It took me almost 4 months rather than 2 to complete the program. And because of my physical health, for the longest time (until just a couple of weeks ago, in fact), completing the 5k/30 minutes was most certainly not a given.
In February ’10, I ran my first 5k race. I walked part of it. In April, I ran another, and walked maybe a minute in the middle. In May, I got very very sick and hit a wall with running. Couldn’t even run 15 minutes straight for a while. It’s been going up and down.
On 10.10.10, I ran my first 10k. It was the Tel Aviv Night Run. I ran with friends, and 15,000 other people. We ran slowly, my official race time was 1:18.00, and the whole way we were talking and singing and cheering and admiring the Tel Aviv night skyline and the vast sea of runners surrounding us. And I ran every single step of the way.
And I realized that I am, in fact, a runner. Not a wannabe, not in training. A person who runs. A person who could decide at this very second that I want to run now and just go out and do it.
On the emotional front, I’m not safe yet. I think that I never will be. Every time I’m sick and miss more than two runs in a row, I start plummeting pretty fast. But running really works for me. It can pick me up when I’m very down, to the extent that I can count on it, and when I’m having a particularly gloomy day, I know it will pass by the time of my next run. And maybe the knowledge that I am not safe will keep me running always.