Thoughts on “Thoughts”

I am one of those runners who listens to music and podcasts while running. I know some people think real runners don’t use headphones, but I am definitely not one of them. When you are running your 12oth mile of the week alone, bored, and struggling to get out the door in the brutal cold of winter or the blazing heat of summer, I think a distraction is justified and needed.

[PSA: if you are running with headphones, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t run on the road while wearing them as you are less likely to hear approaching cars. Even if you are off the road, headphones make you less aware of people around you, so please be careful out there.]

I was on one such run a few weeks ago. Just a morning maintenance run, but it was windy and I was friendless for the duration, so I loaded up my shuffle with a new podcast I wanted to try. Invisibilia is new to NPR’s lineup, and while I have not listened to the many others yet, the first one got my attention. So much attention that by the end of the show I was crying as I ran.

The show is titled “Thoughts.” The first half of the episode was interesting and certainly informative about how thoughts affect people and how to change them by using a variety of therapies. Interesting, but not worth crying over.

It was the second half of the show that choked me up. The hosts told the story of a young boy afflicted by a disease who ended up trapped in his own body. His family thought he was a vegetable from the time he was 12 until his 20s, when in reality, he had come out of it. He was aware of everything from around the age of 16 on. His family and nurses bathed him and clothed him and moved him from chair to bed and back again without realizing that he could hear and see and feel but was unable to move any part of him. He was there, and they had no idea.

His thoughts were all he had. He was in a dark place and all he could think about was dying. He couldn’t kill himself, so he would try to simply vanish in his mind, not think for days on end. He was able to accomplish that, but it only worked for so long. He reached his breaking point over reruns of Barney. Barney was left on for him all day and drove him crazy, so he looked for a way to tell time by shadows. That set him off on a path that allowed him to reframe his thoughts in a more positive way. He worked and worked to be able to move and eventually squeezed a hand. Ultimately, with physical therapy he was able to begin communicating, operate a wheelchair, and go to college.

None of that was what made me cry though. It was when he began to describe the depth of the darkness he had lived in, separated by nothing but his inability to communicate even so much as a blink. The helplessness and despair he felt broke my heart. He spoke of his certainty that he would die wholly alone and never be known by anyone again. For years he was alone. The tears flowed then as the host described how after his recovery he met a friend of his sister and fell in love. He wasn’t alone anymore. He had found love and a partner to accompany him through life.

I know I just told you the whole story, but I did not do it justice at all. Go listen. I promise it will make you stop and look at your own life differently, if only for a day or two after listening. It will definitely give you pause. For me, I have had disappointments and struggles the past year or two and have at times felt very sorry for myself. Even in this marathon cycle, I have workouts where I feel sorry for myself or days when I lament where I am at in life, and this story was a slap in the face. I can speak and I can love and I am loved. I imagine you are too. We should celebrate that daily and be so thankful that we can be strong, active women.

Next week, I will race a marathon for the first time in almost two years. I am scared and nervous and some days I wish time would stop, so that I never have to run it. But I am going to take courage from this story and understand that simply training is a blessing and racing is a bonus. I have nothing to lose. I have done all that I can, so I will step on that line and just run. For myself, my God, my family, and a little bit for this man I never met whose story I found so inspirational.