🎶 I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today
I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence
Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel 🎶
- Twenty One Pilots
Twenty One Pilots wrote a great song called “car radio”, which when listening to it, I am always reminded of how I (we as people) avoid stillness or silence as it is confronting to the uncomfortableness that it makes us feel.
Keeping my mental health in balance is a constant battle, trying not to tip one way or the other. It has been a tough journey, dealing with ups and downs while celebrating the periods of calmness. This battle against depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsiveness is fought in my mind. Before I started to use running to turn my life around, I would surround myself with noise (distraction) to avoid the silence. No distraction meant more chaos and noise in my mind; this was actually quite scary to be confronted with. Having received plenty of psychological therapies over the years, I am familiar with the concept of mindfulness and other relaxation techniques, but in the past these therapies have only brought me frustration.
One thing I learned rather quickly when running is that no two runs are ever the same. You can run the same route multiple times and every time it will be different both mentally and physically. I noticed quite early on that even though I am not really in sync with the aspect of pain within my body, my body is very much in sync with my mental state. I know that my Autism makes it hard for my mind to process certain feelings and moods, but these feelings and moods are most definitely trying to make contact with my mind. Running, for me, is the key that allows me to do the mental checks that are needed to make contact with these feelings and moods.
When running, if I am angry I have arguments going on in my head and generally the argument is the key to what I’m angry about. If I am frustrated then I find it hard to get into a rhythm with my pace. If I am sad then it’s quite quiet and reflective in my thoughts; again the thoughts are a key to what I’m sad about. If I am happy then there is a spring to my step and I have been known to sing every now and then. Even the routes that I choose to run generally reflect my state of mind and all of this helps give me insights or warnings as to where my mood is heading. I really do believe that the mental stability I now have is mainly thanks to the insights I get while running, allowing me to recognise my present state of mind (feelings and moods). In the past my state of mind was only revealed after the moment had already past, causing frustration due to having not read the signs in time. Knowing what is coming in regards to my feelings and moods enables myself and my family to prepare for the ups and the downs which come with mental health issues; knowledge is the vital element to minimising the effects of these swings.
Over the years I have found a powerful tool allowing me to calm down the noise in my head when there is no distraction available and I am faced with the chaos of silence. I had once thought quieting the chaos in my mind an impossibility, but have discovered that doing long runs in circles allows everything to slow down in order for processing to take place. I have a few places where I have found a 1km-2km loop which allows me go and just run around and around and around repetitively. My favourite loop is on a 40m hill which does a figure 8, climbing the hill twice between full-grown pine trees, and is home to woodpeckers, deer, horses, and squirrels.
Running in circles for a long period of time is mentally challenging. You go through cycles of varying struggles; motivation, fatigue, and most importantly, dealing with the thoughts circling in your mind. I have taken to walking up and running down the hill as it also helps in slowing my system down. I have found that there is a certain point while doing the loops where, in the drowning noise of silence, my brain is calmed. What follows is a stillness that lifts me up, and it is a moment where I can process the challenges and successes going on in my life. I would love to one day learn more about the calming neurological effect of running, but for now I guess doing this physical repetition is my version of “stimming” to calm myself down.
Even though the longest run I have done going in circles is 50km, I believe that distance is relevant to each individual’s fitness. While it can take quite some time for me to get to that place of calmness, for others it can be achieved a lot sooner. (Please, when reading this keep in mind that I am an experienced runner, seek a health professionals advice first before pushing yourself beyond your normal activity level).