Brush with the Black Dog

by Farouk Gulsara

I run. Yes, I run. What am I running from? Is it that life is too painful that I do not have the courage to stand back and fight? Am I running from my responsibilities? Is this an outlet to cow away from the stresses of life, the realities of life? Am I running from the shadows of my checkered past?

Yes, I run.

People say running is not good for you. They say it will ruin your knees. At the drop of a hat, they can narrate to you of their supposedly loved one with no medical illnesses dropping like flies as they started being active. Sure, they must have been couch potatoes all their lives who suddenly one day must have got a revelation to run just like Forrest Gump. Well, what do you expect?

They are quick to quote anecdotal studies and coffee shop talks to prove their point. 

What do they know?

I know my family history. I have the first-hand experience of my father with his unwinnable battle with an unassailable disease called diabetes. He lives long enough to experience its complications. I know that my ethnicity makes me a ticking time bomb for my heart to stop ticking. 

I know of the runners’ high that I get every time I run that no shot in the arm can give. The euphoria lingers on much longer that the time needed to complete the run.

I know that I can still gorge on those sumptuous Malaysian foods, knowing pretty well that come tomorrow, all its calories would be history. I know I would still look dashing in the same outfit that I was in university. I know my friends would be envious of me and think of my son as my brother. They would die to be in my shoes, my running shoes.

Yes, I run marathons. I run for my health, away from the stresses of life, to smell the fresh air, to be in sync with nature the way we are supposed to be.

But wait!

Why am I running? What am I running from?

I am running from my shadow, from a past so painful that the fatigue of the aching muscles and sore joints can take away the pain inside.

I remember that day like it was just yesterday even though it happened a good five years ago. The strewn shaver and the crimson trail of trickling blood that lined the grey floor of your room told tales of the drama that must have preceded the event. My heart sank. How could it be that it had come to this? What have I failed to notice? Have I failed miserably as a parent?

I know she had been the weak one. If other kids could run after a fall, she would cry to be picked up. She yearned for attention. She had been the one who asked questions for the sake of asking. She would put in that extra effort to outdo her siblings just to get my nod of approval.

The struggle, the fight, the battle to be at par with her siblings must have gone on for years. When the going became too overwhelming, she must have thrown in the towel. Why did I miss this? How could I have been so blind? She needed me, and I failed her. She tried telling me in so many ways, but I chose to ignore. I thought it was a teenage angst, but I did not know it ran deep. 

My heart bleeds for you. At such young age, why so much pain? I will do the worrying; you do the living. There surely must be another day to suffer. You should be enjoying the pinnacle of your youth, smelling the roses and experiencing the joy of your existence.

I wish I could turn back the clock. If only I could be back time to a time when everything was a-ok. I remember when Sunday morning was a time for family. It had become a sort of household ritual to head to the favourite family eatery, Pandi Restaurant. How you laughed at my jokes even though they were same ones I have been telling you all these years since you were young. But it was funny to you, Tania, and the rest of the gang, nevertheless. How my oft-repeated tale of the three princesses and their father, the King, would tickle you blue? Even though the storyline was predictable, the third daughter angering the King, who later realised her wisdom, all of you still laughed like I was telling it to you for the first time. 

Just like the gravy at our favourite restaurant, my jokes just start sounding stale to you. You had grown too big for my jokes. Pretty soon, the banter, the jovial chats and the laughing lost their lustre.

If I remember correctly, it was the day of a family outing. It was the day of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everybody was yelling loudly in the car about something so trivial like deciding on the choice of music in the car. The decibels proved just too loud for your ears. You flipped. Your happy days were over. The frequent listlessness and panic attacks followed. You ran away from school. The desire to self-harm and to just leave it all went too far. I was at wit’s end trying to put things right. I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have handled it better. The pressure of the public examination and your zest to over-achieve must have been too overwhelming for you. 

It was a Saturday night. You just had a fight with your boyfriend. Handling schoolwork was already a burden, but no, you succumbed to the peer pressure of having a boyfriend. You were wearing too many hats. And that the hats covered your face and blinded your path. You wanted the cake and eat it too. 

Our the years, as you walked into your teenage years, I felt unwanted. You looked at me with disdain. You thought I was the person who wanted you to be a student par excellence. Believe me when I say, “I just want you to be an independent lady able to stand on own two feet and not to be dependent on others for confidence”. You keep on blaming me for your unhappiness. I am your friend, not your enemy. I try to help you, but you keep shutting me out.

The past five years have been trying years. They say life is a package packed with the good, bad and ugly. Like the hills that I climb and the descents I encounter, life has been a constant battle. It had a concoction of waxes and wanes of hope and despair. Some battles are long. It has to be fought not with bursts of energy but in the strategy of a marathon runner. I have to keep my energy for an obstacle yet to be reached at the same time not to be overzealous when the going gets too easy. I cannot possibility foresee how Tania’s future is going to be, but I have maintained my sanity to see her through her trying times. I see running as an opportunity to develop my inner resilience. The endorphins that fill my system after a run provide me with an abundant supply of natural antidepressant, anxiolytics and serotonin. What better way to maintain my sanity than to run?   

I just passed the forty kilometre mark. In less than three kilometres, the marathon race would be over. Unlike the marathon race, Tania’s fight against the dreaded black dog seems far from over. With so many bad days and the occasional good days to face in her confusing bipolar world, Tania seems to be fighting an even more gruelling battle than mine. Yes, I run to numb the pain. 

Brush with the Black Dog

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