smileys in a row

Learning How To Feel – One Run At A Time

I don’t remember the first time I cried during a run.

Maybe it was on those lonely plantations in South Africa, where the only sound that overlayed my inner voice was the cry of an unknown bird. When I just started running, and didn’t know how it would shape my character and life.

Maybe it was in the lush forests surrounding the small town that was then my home in Germany. After I returned from my trip to the black continent, I continued running and exploring the trails.

The sounds of a stream nearby, the jumping over fallen trees, and immersing myself in nature made me feel alive. An aliveness I have never felt before, and that is rivaled only by the aliveness I felt in those still rare instances when I sat down to write.

Maybe I cried during one of my nightly runs through the streets of London. My first time ever living in a big city. I felt stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed for the better part of my six months living there.

I may not remember the first time I cried during a run.

But I remember the last time.

It was during a 50 km training run that led me through Berlin’s streets and parks. I felt tired, nauseous, and wanted to be alone.

An impossible task when you live in Germany’s capital.

I also remember the exact point of my run. It was just a fraction of a second after I had climbed up a steep hill. When my girlfriend sent me a message. As soon as my ears registered that familiar and unique ringtone that told me it was her, tears started to run down my cheeks.

According to Runner’s World, crying on the run “is a totally normal reaction.”

But for me crying and being able to cry – especially in front of other people is something sacred. It is a symbol of my healing. My proof that I can finally allow myself to feel.

Allowing myself to accept all my emotions is a skill that I am still learning.

Growing up, I was rarely allowed to express my feelings. On the contrary – my feelings were unimportant and invalidated by the adults around me. Countless times I was told that I didn’t really feel what I was feeling. Or that I have no rights or reasons to feel a certain way.

When having nightmares and looking for comfort, the only response I received was, “You’re silly. Go back to bed.” There was no hug, no questions asked, not even an escort back to my bed.

I was also not allowed to cry when I was hurting – no matter if physically or mentally. When I could not control myself enough and tears escaped my eyes, I heard the words, “Stop crying, or I will give you a reason to cry.” Worse than this sentence was only the hysterical screaming “stop crying” that rang in my ears and terrified me even more.

When I felt sad or pensive, and my facial expression mirrored these states of mind, I was attacked for “being in a mood.” No one bothered to ask how I felt or if something was wrong.

Is it any wonder I have been struggling with expressing my emotions?

To this date, I still sometimes don’t know what I feel.

But I am much better now at allowing all feelings to surface. And I feel comfortable telling the people closest to me when I am in one of those moments where I can not describe what I am feeling or what I need.

Through the lonely mornings on the trails, I learned what exhaustion feels like. What tiredness feels like. What bliss feels like.

I had space and time to let my mind wander. To ask questions. To heal.

And since it was only me and nature, I could let it all out.

No one was there to judge me when I cried during a run. No one was there either to make fun of me when I sang in ecstasy.

And that day when I cried after receiving a message from my girlfriend?

I don’t know if mental exhaustion was the catalyst. But I was overcome with gratitude to have her in my life.

I feel fortunate and blessed to have a partner who gives me space and time when I can’t answer the question: “What do you feel”?

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