It started as a joke.
“I think I’ll shake things up tomorrow,” I told my mother on Tuesday evening. “I’m going to run around the Arboretum… in the OPPOSITE direction of my usual route.”
My reason for doing so was actually pure logistics. On my typical route, when I emerge from the UW Arboretum on the east end of Lake Wingra and pass the Vilas Zoo, there’s a massive wind tunnel that gets particularly nasty on cold days. This Tuesday, the air was so cold and the wind so strong that my nose dripped with snot, which the wind pushed back up my nose into my head, giving me a swimmer’s headache.
So the next day, I decided to get the best of the wind tunnel, running with the wind at my back instead of up my nose.
However, because I unthinkingly uttered the words “shake things up,” an idea sparked in my dear mother’s brain.
“You should write a guest post for ‘Shake it Up Thursday!’”
“No, thank you.”
But she continued to inveigle me the rest of the evening, so I eventually relented. So here I am, logging my honorary shake-it-up Wednesday for the entirety of the world wide web, at least the portion that reads this blog, which Google Analytics suggests consists of me and my mother’s dog. (Kidding, mom).
It began this morning with a notification. The Google Photo app alerted me that I was running out of storage space; I would need to either pay for more storage or free up space by deleting unwanted photos. I chose the latter, which, on a lazy holiday morning, gave me a grand excuse to lay supine in bed and stare at my phone for an hour or so.
As I was scrolling and mass-deleting (far too many photos of the same exact sunset and plants that were surely more interesting at the time), I came across… this:
And then, still scrolling, these:
Let me explain.
I started taking running selfies when I was going through a difficult time. For one, this was around two years after my college boyfriend died and I was struggling to move on. But that’s just the most sympathy-inducing cause for my distress. I was also struggling with the banal responsibilities and anxieties that come with simply living, taking care of your own life, maintaining friendships, trying to find your place in the world, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Struggles everyone deals with at some point or another; struggles that aren’t as pitied as grief.
Regardless, I was feeling very down about myself. I wanted a turnaround. I wanted to feel more comfortable in my own skin — even during the lows. Especially during the lows. It’s easy to feel good about yourself when you have a banging hair day and you’re wearing a sweet dress that brings compliments from strangers and a unicorn leaps down from the sky to offer you a lift to work. It’s harder when you’re feeling dejected and lonely and staring in the mirror at a pillow-squished face, ragged from sleep.
Running has always been a great healer for me. It has served as an escape, a salve, a struggle, a victory. An obliviator of hangovers (most of the time). An opportunity to explore a new area and discover the cracks in the map of my own home. A mental oasis perfectly primed for pondering. A laxative. An endorphin rush. A sweat-cleanse. Often it’s the only way I can truly get out of my head.
So why the running selfies? I wanted to embrace the lows. I wanted to embrace the makeup-less, sweaty, red-faced, messy-haired version of me — often the happiest version of me — and memorialize it. To transform this chaotic, unfiltered self into a foundation strong enough to hold up everything else.
Thus began this project. I would snap a selfie when I felt a moment of elation, like running hard to the top of a hill or turning around to see a sunrise. Or I would take a pic when I felt like stopping but pushed myself to keep going. Or when I simply remembered that I was running, I was there, I got out of bed, I got out of my head.
It wasn’t very pretty (and you should see some of the photos that didn’t make it into this post). But it felt good, even when everything else felt bad.
Somewhere along the way from then to now, I stopped taking running selfies. I forgot.
I’m pretty sure that’s a good sign. Life has improved many ways. It’s still a struggle at times, but I think (I hope) I’ve learned how to deal with it better.
Today, for my REAL shake it up, I remember. You’re welcome, mom.
PS: Here’s what it looked like with the wind at my back on my reverse-route: