(Note: I wasn't sure where to post this. My tablet always screws up blog posts and those get ignored sometimes. This memory always brings up a lot of anxiety and depression this time of year and, for the first time, I wanted to put it down into words.)
In Canada, it's the labour day weekend.
Every year, I think back to that Labour Day weekend in September, 2004, while I was out on my morning run, Running has been my lifeline for many years and it has prevented me from being swallowed into a life of depression. On this morning I was randomly attacked by two thugs. There was no motivation to attack me personally. They were just out looking for someone to beat up, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In attempting to escape, I ran faster than I had ever run in my life and I lost my balance. At full speed my knees smashed into the pavement and my head hit the ground. I was unconscious for several seconds. When I came to and tried to get my bearings, I opened my eyes to see one of my attackers flying through the air attempting to land by kicking my head in. Bizarrely, I had a very surreal thought as it was happening that it reminded me of an old Juicy Fruit commercial, with a snowboarder flying off a hill. I could almost hear the music. I also recall thinking that I needed to move aside before he smashed my head in. It still amazes me to think back on this and remember all these thoughts that must have taken place in a split second. I don't know how I moved quickly enough to avoid the contact but I did. I rolled out of his way and avoided the death landing. Bystanders were calling 911 as the attackers fled the scene. My knees and elbows were covered in blood and my head and shoulder were bruised. I was in a daze.
It took several days to determine the extent of the injuries and I was terrified I would never be able to run again. Not only did they assault and traumatize me, they killed my only coping strategy to deal with stress and depression. How was I ever going to survive? I wasn't sure I wanted to. I went from being a runner to someone who had difficulty walking more than a street block.
It took nearly two months of therapy before I was able to start running again. When I began hitting the running paths again, I felt motivated to sign up for a local half marathon. At that time, I had not run a race in 21 years and thought those days were far behind me, yet somehow, it seemed a way of reclaiming my life. The race route took me right past the place where I was assaulted, and it seemed like a symbolic way of putting it behind me. There were tears in my eyes at the end of the race. I was still alive, still running, and even though they never caught my attackers, I was moving on with my life.
After the euphoria of crossing the finish line I slowly began realizing the trauma, anxiety and stress were not so easily erased.
On the first anniversary of the assault, I recall going out for a run, aware of the significance of the day, and feeling some anxiety that it was going to happen again. I could intellectualize the likelihood of such a phenomena repeating itself exactly a year later, but I still felt anxious. I managed to get through the day without falling to pieces.
During this time I had found a book titled "Working with Available Light" a biography about a woman who was brutally assaulted while on a run and the impact it had on her family. I'd just started reading it before the first anniversary and I got to the point in the book where she talks about not feeling any better a year later, that in the initial months she felt that she was moving forward, yet, she really wasn't. In the space of a few short moments, the assault changed her life and took away any sense of joy and pleasure.
For the first time I broke down and cried because I realized that I felt exactly the same. In that short time of violence, it's like you've been lifted put of your life and you land in a slightly different place where things just aren't the same. You live with the anxiety and an even greater feeling that you or someone you care about could get hurt. You live with a heightened awareness of the fragility of life. And eventually you learn to appreciate every day of life.
Ten years later, the memories are still present, but they are not quote as vivid. The flashbacks, the PTSD are far less frequent, and there are genuine moments of happiness again.
These days, I am more aware of the difference I have made in the lives of people. I have always been passionate about my work as an advocate for tenants and low income people. In the years since the assault, I am appreciative of the numbers of people I've been able to help, and the fact that I'm still here to fight passionately on their behalf. I also spend more time reaching out to family and friends, especially this time of year, sometimes making them a gift, as a way of saying I'm still here.
Labour Day weekends are still hard, but after ten years, I'm still moving forward.