Once upon a time, I was an avid runner. After all, before we became parents, weren’t we all something? Painters, musicians, voracious readers. Many people still find ways to work their passions into life after kids. I was not one of those people.
I found myself bombarded by the demands of everyday life with my first baby, postpartum depression, and feeling overwhelmed. Without the luxury of family or friends nearby to help at the drop of the hat, I struggled to find a place for myself. Gradually, I felt myself slipping away into this role of someone new, someone I had never been before, someone I didn’t know how to be. I wondered what happened to the person I was before I had kids. With so many changes from being a wife and mother, there was barely enough room for everyone else, let alone myself. I didn’t know how to become the person my family needed me to be while anchoring myself to the person I used to be.
I ran for 16 years, donning a dark blue baseball cap as I ran on pavement, dirt roads, and trails — losing myself as I skipped over creeks and danced my way up and over the massive tree roots of Washington state, dumping my brain from the chaos and fog of life. I ran to run — rain or shine, hot or cold. Running was my drug, my high, my therapy, my way of coping with anything life threw at me. With running, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.
After I got married and moved to a new state, life got a little more complicated. I had a running injury I couldn’t overcome, we had a new home, and I had a new job. My first baby was en route. Running slowed until it stopped. Motherhood introduced me to a chaotic new world with a mild case of postpartum depression and exhaustion I never dreamed existed. My blue running hat hung on a hook in my closet, forgotten and unused. Seventeen months later, I had my second child and slipped into a deeper depression for about a year.
I just wanted it all to be like it was when I could hit the street and everything would vanish with every pound of my foot, one step at a time. I wanted to run. I wanted to feel like that woman used to feel. I wanted the euphoria that she felt, the kind that lasted for days after being kick-started by a jog up the road — a runner’s high. I wanted so badly to be her again. Mostly, I wanted that connection to that part of my life back. The one that was free and independent, not this woman who felt defeated, lost, and hopeless — trapped in a life where she had to be someone’s everything all the time. I wanted to cross the creeks and dodge the rocks partially buried in the trail path, literally, not metaphorically.
I tried to run a few times but I was tired, overweight, and out of shape. I quit every time I tried. Sometimes I’d cry. Sometimes I’d be angry with myself. Most times, I walked until my chest stopped burning, then with my head hung in defeat, I’d go home. Running had become as complicated as the rest of my life. Everything had changed so much. Nothing felt familiar anymore.
That’s how life goes for the first few years of motherhood. Not for all of us, but for a lot of us. For all the joys and happy times we experience with our children and families, we never forget about that person we used to be and wonder how much longer we can hold on to the memory of her before she slowly slips away, leaving us to continue bobbing in a sea of uncertainty. We wonder if we’ll ever find her again, or how we can continue moving forward with such a large piece of ourselves missing from the most important parts of life.
It’s easy to get lost in the multiple roles required by parenting, and the taxing demands can often lead us away from where we’d like to be. But we take each day in stride and we tackle things one issue at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. In essence, the first few years of motherhood are conquered one step at a time.
One afternoon, almost six years later, I went into my closet and found my running hat still hanging on the hook, now buried behind four or five jackets. The brim was faded to a shade of purple from all the years it shielded my face from the rain as it torpedoed down while I ran through the blustery days of the Pacific Northwest. I tossed it on my head, laced up my running shoes and hit the road. I was slow, but I continued. My chest burned, but I ran anyway. Within 15 minutes, everything ceased to exist except the sound of my breathing. I was able to get into a rhythm and a pace that felt familiar; my body had fallen into the pattern I had become accustomed to during the 16 years I called myself a runner. My legs and my lungs remembered that woman I used to be, and as I ran the last 15 minutes, I remembered her too. I ran the rest of the way with an empty head and the onset of a welcomed euphoria I had not felt in years.
I realized that woman I used to be was never gone. I always thought she was, but as I headed down the last hill, I understood that for the last eight years, she simply stepped back so that I could be the person my small children and husband needed most. She was here all along, patiently waiting for the day when I had just enough freedom to grab that old running hat off the closet hook and go. As I ran down the last stretch of road, I pounded the last eight years into the pavement, knowing all too well that there was no more time to waste. My old self and I had been reunited, and we have a lot of miles to catch up on.
Finding yourself again takes time, years, and patience. But, it will happen and no matter how you feel, you’re doing better than you think. So, don’t forget about your old self while you’re in the throes of the most chaotic time of your life. That person you were is still a part of you and always will be. Maybe you don’t feel her anymore, but she is there. She’s just quietly waiting in the background for the right time to join you. Until then, just take each day one step at a time.