BY: ROSE ASRICAN
Please don’t ask me what I do for a living. You might think it is really boring, and then I will feel self conscious and nerdy. Or worse, you might think it is really cool and brainy, and then I will feel like a fraud. At work I often don a “space suit” – you know, like the ones you see in the movies when “scientists” are working with deadly pathogens – and I, well, I go work with deadly pathogens. I spend my days researching vaccines and therapeutics for highly infectious diseases like the bubonic plague and tuberculosis. (My friends will be angry if I leave out my current infectious disease of choice, chlamydia – much less dangerous but just as worthy of the jokes it has garnered.) Despite the facts that I have a Masters degree in my discipline and have been in this line of work for nearly 20 years, this not so little voice inside my head continues to tell me I am a fraud. There is just no way that I could possibly be smart enough to be considered a “real scientist”.
One more thing: please don’t ask me about my running. I never actually set out to be a runner. Growing up, I was never particularly athletic. We were required to play sports in high school and I staked my place on the field hockey and lacrosse teams as an all-star bench warmer. The only thing I liked about high school sports and the only thing I was remotely good at were the warm up runs we did before most practices. But even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t run regularly on my own until after college. Once I got started on a routine I realized that I loved the way running made me feel and it became ingrained into who I was.
If it hasn’t yet become abundantly clear, I struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Of course, because I struggle with anxiety I don’t tend to want to talk about it; it’s a frustrating and exhausting loop to be stuck in.
For those of you who don’t have personal experience with GAD, the best way I can explain it is to say that essentially my brain is wired to worry about everything – and nothing – all the time. This chronic nervousness, apprehension and self-doubt may or may not be associated with real life stressors, and it is my constant companion. In any given situation I am convinced the absolute worst possible outcome will happen. I don’t sleep well most nights because my mind is too busy replaying situations and interactions I had during the day and agonizing over whether I said or did the right thing. I wonder if my friends really like me or if they are just being polite. I worry about my children. Do they know all of their spelling words for school? Are they happy enough? Can I save enough money for their college? I worry about my relationship with my husband. Did I make him mad at some point in the day? Did he really like what I made for dinner? Will we be able to retire comfortably? You name it and I have worried about it at some ungodly hour. And it isn’t just at nighttime either. These thoughts can pop up any time day or night and leave me unable to function in any sort of productive way.
I have spent too many years hiding my anxiety behind my dry wit, and my sassy and sarcastic demeanor. In my mind, if I make people laugh, then maybe they wouldn’t realize that internally I am agonizing over whether I am saying and doing the right things. Over time it became much easier for me to maintain this facade and not allow myself to be vulnerable, but unfortunately this coping mechanism didn’t allow me to cultivate a lot of authentic, close friendships.
For many years, running was a solo endeavor for me. I didn’t have any friends who ran and it never occurred to me to join a running group. But the dawn of social media brought me the opportunity to connect with other runners who loved the sport as much as I did. I started following Oiselle in the company’s early days, when the Volée was a small team of selected competitive runners. Every Monday they would post race results on Twitter, and I followed along as team members congratulated and supported each other. I was intrigued and inspired, yet still too intimidated to gather the courage to apply for the Volée when the yearly application period rolled around again. My anxious mind convinced myself that I didn’t run enough, I wasn’t fast enough, I didn’t look like a real runner, so I let the opportunity pass me by.
But somehow, when Oiselle opened the team to the Flock in the Summer of 2014 I made the decision to step way outside of my comfort zone and I joined immediately. True to form, about 5 minutes after I registered I was filled with a sense of complete dread. What did I just do? Can I get my money back? There is no way I belonged here with all of these runners who are faster and leaner than me. And yet…somewhere in the back of my mind I also realized that this had the potential to be a transformative moment for me. I saw clearly that I could let my anxiety keep me from being part of a team or I could face my fears, step out of my comfort zone and see what happened.
Nearly 3 years later, this team has become the cornerstone and intersection of my running and social lives. By interacting with teammates over social media and showing up for as many of the local meetups as I could I found a diverse group of women who treat each other’s goals as important as their own. My paces, my PRs, what size I happen to wear have never factored into the relationships I have built on this team. Through this team I have found a group of women who have become my closest friends and fiercest supporters. These women have stood by me through recurring injuries that have taken me away from the sport that I love for months at a time, trained with me and paced me to massive PR’s, and helped me through the everyday stresses of marriage, child rearing and work. They applauded me when I decided it was time to change my twitter handle from the self-deprecating @roserunsslow to @roserunson and cheered me on when I decided one day that, self-consciousness be damned, it was just too freaking hot and humid to run with a sweaty shirt clinging to me and I ran, in public, in my sports bra and shorts. And best of all, I know, without a shadow of a doubt that they love me as much when I am wracked with anxiety as they do when I am dripping in wit and sarcasm.
I am living proof of the fact that this team is about much, much more than running. It is about relationships – real, authentic, messy relationships. It is about arguing respectfully, laughing so hard you cry and running one another in at the end of races. It is about text threads so long you can’t even find a message from 30 minutes ago, road trips to camp and the inside jokes they generate, and both providing and receiving emotional support when a child is struggling, a marriage is frustrating or an injury is nagging. It is my proof that it is okay for me to cast aside my anxieties and spread my wings a little bit. I certainly didn’t know what to expect when I joined the Volée, but I can tell you that the community I found has far exceeded my wildest dreams.