I am running down the trail, tall trees on either side of me. Six miles into a ten mile loop, my legs strong and steady. The spring dirt reminds me that life is coming back to the forest, blades of grass start to emerge, along with the wild flowers that line the trail. My stride is flowing, my breath controlled, and then suddenly I am halted by pain in my chest. I stop my forward momentum and touch my heart to feel the rapid pounding. I cannot breathe, or at least have the sensation of not catching my breath. It’s that smothering, drowning feeling that a panic attack decides to bring as part of its arsenal.
I’m in the middle of the forest, a place that seems like time, or at least modern society has forgotten. Perhaps, I should be thankful for this, as the trail is mine, but it saddens me too. I raise my arms above my head, take slow deep breaths, try to calm myself and get the anxiety under control. My knees buckle and I collapse. The cool floor of the woods feels comforting on my tired knees. I grip the Earth, begging for this feeling to leave my mind and body, but to fight it is only to fight myself.
I continue my breath work and after a few minutes, I once again experience calm and realize that it is truly a panic attack and not my heart. I begin a slow walk down the trail. As I look up it seems like the trees are all hovering over me, clearing a gentle path for me to follow. Ever since I was a kid, I have felt like the trees took care of me. Maybe that’s why I climbed them so often, hiding among their branches. My stride increased once again and I was back to running. With each step I felt better and then I started to laugh. Yes, I laughed at the absurdity of doing something so healthy, being in the midst of a great run, and having a panic attack.
My laughter vanished after the next steep hill. Then, I realized what my running was all about. I realized what all of my exercise and writing and reading was about. I was leaving behind ghosts. I was carrying their bones with me on my back and shoulders, only to leave a fragment of them behind with each step. I left behind my Dad’s abuse and cynicism. I left behind the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. I ran for those that didn’t make it in this world as long as me: David, Charlotte, Richard, Dave, Payton. I still grieved, but I was suddenly elated to be a survivor. As my arms pumped, I left the arrogance of the people I worked with behind and how they hurt me and others through their lack of values, and maybe a bit of my ego was left there too. I ran off the constant reminder of a benign tumor that is in my brain, and accepted it once again for what it is, a piece of me that I simply need to care for. I left it out on the trail that day, three-years ago, and never again had a panic attack while running.
We can leave behind our ghosts, the ones that haunt us and drag us down. Certainly, they may emerge every so often and remind us of the pain that they caused, but remember the trail can help shed some of that weight. That’s the magic that nature provides us.