My in-law’s ranch is in the sand hills of southern Saskatchewan, somewhere between Cypress Hills and civilization. It is a beautiful, rugged place where this city girl never quite understands anything. It’s a place where hundreds of placentas lay in the field in the spring, cow excrement is a regular thing to get on your clothes, and conversations are about length of grass and moving bulls and where the horses are. The only light besides the stars at nighttime is the one yard light, the driveway is two miles long, calves sometimes get eaten by coyotes, belt buckles are big, and life is full.
A few weeks ago we were at the ranch and I went for a run. I jogged along two miles of gravel up the rolling hill to the ranch sign with the wind at my back. It was the first time in forever I hadn’t run with a stroller. I crested the hill at the top of the yard, and reached the sign. I stopped. I breathed deep. I felt the breeze. I breathed. I looked out over the vast prairie. I breathed. I felt the crisp air at the back of my nose. And breathed. I watched the cows eating grass, the gophers popping in and out of their holes, the storm blow in from the south. And I breathed. I was calm in my entire body. And a thought came to me.
I thought back to my elite athlete days where you would train at the brink of your breaking, take short breaks, and continue exercising with the same intensity. We didn’t train our bodies to not sweat. We didn’t train our bodies to never breathe hard.
We trained our bodies to endure hard work.
We trained our hearts to recover quickly.
And I instantly thought of life alongside anxiety. I always feel like I’ve failed if I experience anxiety or have a moment or day when I can’t get my mind under control. But that’s not true. Uneasiness, unknowns, and uncontrolled thoughts are just sometimes part of life; not everything can be controlled. Stress is inevitable. Stress is proof of living a wholehearted, brave life.
But anxiety doesn’t last forever. You breathe through it.
Just as an athlete breathes through their training.
What marks a fit athlete is how quick they can recover from hard exercise. Ready to run again. Ready to lift another set of weights. Ready for the next shift. Ready.
What marks a person living successfully with anxiety is that they can recover. Get out from under the fear. Ready to run again. Ready.
You don’t fail because you have anxious thoughts. Your success can be measured by how short a length of time it takes for you to overcome those anxious thoughts.
An athlete doesn’t train to never sweat or never breathe hard.
An anxious individual might always be prone to anxious thought.
Recovery time marks the success of an athlete.
Recovery time marks the success of an anxious individual.
We sweat. We’re anxious. We continue to run. It means we are alive.
This 20 second flash of understanding I had at the top of a sandhill in the middle of nowhere changed my perspective on anxiety. It became more of a fact and less of a limp.
My heart rate returned to normal. I felt at peace. The storm was ever-closer. I turned my face into the wind. Ready to keep on running.