Recover in your own lane!

I was about half way through the New York Marathon when I was overtaken by a 7ft cigarette. Well to be more accurate it was a large foam imitation of a cigarette being worn by a very foolhardy marathon runner. It must have been about mile 15 when the cigarette slowly passed past me and initially I didn’t react, but then this sense of deep injustice began to rise up in me: 'How could a 7ft cigarette pass me, this far into the run?' I was wearing a running vest and shorts, totally uninhibited and relatively fit, and here I was being humiliated by a man wrapped in 6 inches of foam. I quickened my pace until I passed the cigarette and then slowed my running so it looked like I was just casually outpacing him.

Unfortunately the cigarette was annoyingly persistent, and his pace was surprisingly quick. Half a mile down the road and he ran past me again! I kept saying to myself, “I must not get beaten by a cigarette!” the trouble was, as I speeded up to pass him a second time, I was using energy I didn’t have. We traded places probably 4 or 5 times until, at mile 18, I finally gave up; I was really hurting and I just had to let the cigarette run off into the distance!

The experience of trading place with a 7ft foam cigarette has stayed with me over the last few years and proved to be an important lesson for me about running in my own lane. Where mental health recovery is concerned we must all learn to run our own race. Inevitably there will be people on the same general track as us who will be making a faster recovery than we are. It might be that they don’t even undertake all of the healthy steps that we are rigorous about! It can seem totally unjust that they appear to be getting on better or finding things easier and the temptation is to try to speed up, make comparisons or feel defeated.

The reality of mental health recovery is that it is not linear process like many physical health issues. You know when you are getting better from the flu; your muscles stop aching, your temperature goes down and you appetite returns. Mental health recovery is much less clear, you will have good days followed by bad days, ups and downs, some symptoms vanish only to be replaced by something new a few days later. The key thing is setting your own pace and not putting yourself under additional pressure. Try measuring your recovery in terms of months and not weeks, keep a diary of good days as well as bad ones to remind you that how your feeling can fluctuate and change, not all in one direction.

People who have experienced a recovery are often so pleased about how they are doing that they will invariably make it seem like the easiest thing in the world. Our minds tend to edit out the pot holes on the road to healing and, what was a bumpy uphill track, looks retrospectively like and downhill runway. Don’t be fooled! As Christians we believe God is central to the healing process, but testimonies of healing tend to edit out the human struggle for the divine miracle. Just because your road to recovery may be bumpy and hard, it doesn’t make it less miraculous. God is with you, supporting you to, “Run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1. Just make sure you are persevering in the recovery that’s going in your own lane, not anyone else’s!


Will Van Der Hart, 09/05/2017
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