Swan Lake

How run­ning helped me carry on

Canadian Running - - CROSSING THE LINE - By Kelly Bouchard

In my sec­ond year of uni­ver­sity I was di­ag­nosed with body dys­mor­phic dis­or­der, a la­bel given to peo­ple who ob­sess over some imag­ined or ex­ag­ger­ated de­fect in their ap­pear­ance. When I looked in the mir­ror I saw a face hideously dis­fig­ured by pus­tules, pim­ples, and black­heads, de­spite psy­chi­a­trists as­sur­ing me I looked OK. I wore a hat pulled down to my eye­brows, and planned my routes around cam­pus to in­clude as many bath­rooms as pos­si­ble, so I could check my ref lec­tion. At home I spent hours pick­ing at my skin with sewing nee­dles, or burn­ing my­self with hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide. Some­times, I wouldn’t leave the house for days. I thought about dy­ing a lot.

I made a deal with my­self. My room­mates and I lived near Swan Lake Na­ture Sanc­tu­ary in Vic­to­ria, where a trail and board­walk cir­cled a marshy lit­tle lake pop­u­lated with ducks and geese. At one end of the lake the board­walk bridged the open wa­ter on f loat­ing pon­toons. I often thought how easy it would be to dive be­neath the pon­toons and drown my­self. No­body would find my body there, I thought, which seemed like it might be eas­ier on my friends and fam­ily. The deal was this: each night I’ d go for a run around the lake. Two laps. Each lap I’ d have a chance to climb into the wa­ter. If I made it home, I’ d for­get about killing my­self un­til the fol­low­ing night .

I made the deal in early fall af­ter a psy­chi­a­trist at the uni­ver­sity di­ag­nosed me and of­fered to pre­scribe me lithium pills, which I re­fused. My fa­ther had once told me pain was some­thing to pay at­ten­tion to, not sup­press, so in­stead of tak­ing the pills I de­cided I’d try lis­ten­ing to the pain. Ei­ther the way I felt was telling me I needed to change some­thing in my life, or it was telling me the world just wasn’t for me. My nightly run be­came the lit­mus test. Each time I ap­proached the bridge the ques­tion loomed: try to fig­ure this thing out, or call it quits?

Each night I’d set out in­tent on fol­low­ing through, but then I’d get the cool air in my lungs. If each day felt like a night­mare, each run felt like a grad­ual awak­en­ing. The first time across the f loat­ing board­walk al­ways felt the most dan­ger­ous. I wasn’t fully awake yet. The night­mare still had me in its grasp. But I never even came close on the sec­ond lap. As I ran I thought about all the things that lived around the lake. I thought about the rab­bits and birds that f led through the bram­bles to save them­selves as I stormed passed. I lis­tened to my breath­ing and the f lat hard pat­ting of my feet.

One night on the first lap I stopped and climbed over the board­walk’s rail­ing. I held onto a rail and leaned out over the dark wa­ter. It would be so easy, I knew, to slide be­neath the sur­face and let the cold wa­ter fill my lungs. I knew I could do it, but af­ter one lap I also had a sense of what I’d be giv­ing up. I was aware of my pulse in my ears, the sweat on my brow, and the rough feel­ing of the wood be­neath my hands. The pain was still very real, but so were all the other things in life. I hung there for a long time. On the sec­ond lap I crossed the board­walk mov­ing well, and imag­ined some­one else was down in the cold wa­ter be­low me lis­ten­ing to the thun­der of my feet over­head. I breathed deep. Ran on. Kelly Bouchard started run­ning home from school when he was nine years old and has run reg­u­larly ever since. He claims he once ran a sub 35:00 10K, but no­body was there to see or time it. Read his blog at run­ning­magazine.ca/ cat­e­gory/blog­gers/thoughts-from-the-run

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