By Mark Remy, Runner’s World
You’ve probably seen or heard it, or some variation, a thousand times. I know I have. “Running keeps me sane!” … “If I couldn’t run, I’d go nuts!” … “Running is my therapy!”
Ha ha, LOL, etc. All of us, I think, can relate. (Though it’s debatable whether running is indeed “cheaper than therapy.”) Which is why all of us have seen or heard it, or some variation, a thousand times.
Recently, though, someone bent the old trope till it broke. This being 2014, it happened via Twitter, where I saw this pop up in my feed: “You’ll never need a psychiatrist if you have a good running buddy.”
Okay, stop. No. Hit the brakes.
Referring to running as your therapy is one thing. Declaring that a “running buddy” can or should substitute for professional mental health care is wrong. Worse, it’s reckless.
And on today of all days—with news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’ suicide by hanging, and tributes to his life, all over social media—a message like that isn’t just wrong and reckless, it’s spectacularly tone-deaf. (Poor Robin. If only he’d had a good running buddy. Well, #RIP!)
Before I go further, let me declare a few things of my own, preemptively.
First, yes, I understand how hyperbole works, especially where comedy or drama is concerned. Second, yes, I agree that folks in general need to “lighten up.” (And I’m trying really hard not to be a tight-ass about this.) Third, I agree that self-righteous indignation is pretty much the worst. (And I’m trying really hard not to lapse into it here.)
Most of all, let me stress that no one is a bigger believer in running than I am. I love running. Running is wonderful. Cathartic, cleansing, clarifying. Rejuvenative. Revelatory. At its best, running can be transformative and transcendant. Even, yes, therapeutic.
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For most of us, that’s enough. For some, it just isn’t. For some, running, on its own, will not and cannot heal all wounds—even if you have the best running buddy in the world. Suggesting otherwise, even in jest, does a real disservice to runners. (It also trivializes an entire field, by the way. Psychiatrists and psychologists aren’t just a bunch of glorified “listeners.” They’re professionals who are trained to help sick people get better.)
Because by this point some of you may be wondering, I’ll go ahead and say it: Yes, I have needed a psychiatrist or psychologist, particularly during two very rough stretches in my life, and thank God for them. Yes, I manage an illness with daily medication, which helps to keep some pretty dark stuff at bay. And thank God for that, too.
All this, despite the many “good running buddies” I’ve had over my two decades as a runner. At least one of them, over many years and thousands of miles, became a true confidant. I shared a lot of very personal things with him. Loved him like a brother. He was empathetic, sympathetic, and a fantastic listener. He often gave me honest (sometimes painfully honest) opinions and advice. He made me laugh. We were always candid with each other, because we trusted each other implicitly.
But he wasn’t equipped to deal with the truly dark stuff. Not even close. Even if he had been, I wouldn’t have wanted to burden him with it. That’s what professionals are for, which is why I sought professional help.
Why on earth would anyone treat something that important in such a glib, dismissive way?
I struggled mightily to put all of this into words. And I write it knowing full well that some people will read it and scoff, and that others may react with self-righteous indignation of their own. That’s fine. I also know that people will continue to joke about running as therapy, etc. That’s fine too. Just please don’t suggest that there’s never a need for clinical help, that all you need is the right running partner, that you can just “run off” your depression or anxiety or whatever has you by the throat.
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That’s not what people need to hear. What people need to hear is that it’s okay to need help, and to get it.
Take care of yourselves.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
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