Running and crying

The other night, I had a conversation with a non-running pal about running. She’s interested in getting into it, so we talked a bit about what I love about it, and the conversation eventually turned towards running and emotions. After re-counting a few of these stories, my friend and I were both happy-sobbing, and she said, “I hope that you’re writing all of these down somewhere.” So here I am, writing these down.

The first time I ran a half-marathon
I signed up for my first half-marathon kind of on a whim. I had never run more than 10k, and then on International Women’s Day, my run crew did an optional 15k route, and I decided to give it a try. About a week later, I was peer-pressured into signing up for my first half. I did two more longer training runs, and then it was race day. I started the race with my regular running partner, Mary Higgins, and had the goal to just keep up with her.

Around the 17k mark, I started to lag; she was pulling ahead, and I was ready to accept that this was where we parted ways. Just then, an older gentleman padded up beside me, placed his hand on my shoulder and softly said, “don’t let her go.” He ran by my side, giving me that little push to catch back up with Mary, and then went on his way. I almost burst into tears right then and there. As a result, Mary and I finished the race together.

Watching other runners on my crew finish the marathon
That same day, after finishing the half, I went to cheer with the rest of my run crew at the marathon finish line. Every time someone on my crew ran by who I knew was running their first marathon, I got teary eyed.

I also got teary-eyed about strangers though
At the same finish line, there was a young woman who was coming in hard for the final 100m stretch. Her mom was standing on the sidelines cheering. The woman’s mom didn’t look to me like she ran herself, she had a stereotypical softer middle-aged suburban mom-bod and was dressed in a grey crew neck, mom jeans, and keds; but when her daughter came running through, she cheered so loudly, grabbed her daughter’s hand, and sprinted to the end with her. Another woman on my run crew and I both saw this, then made eye contact and burst into tears.

Every time I run by cheer squad. Every. Damn. Time.
I run with the Parkdale Roadrunners, who are notorious for being supportive, and for having a really over-the-top cheer squad at pretty much every race in Toronto (and sometimes in other cities). Every time I know that I’m about to round the corner before cheer squad, without fail, I start to cry. I can’t help it. Sometimes, I call it tearsquad.

When I was running my first marathon, PDRR was also hosting Bridge the Gap, which is a global run crew movement where run crews all over the world will come in for one race. So cheer squad was a million times bigger than usual. While running through the half point cheer squad, I almost had my first asthma attack because I was so overwhelmed with emotion.

Then at the final finish line cheer squad, I was the last marathoner on my crew to come through. I felt like a god damn celebrity in an episode of “Altaira Northe, THIS. IS. YOUR. LIFE.” People ran up to me and grabbed my hand and ran me through a tunnel of flags and confetti and other people shouting my name, and cheering me on. Then two of my run coaches sprinted to the end of the course with me, yelling, “You can do it! Faster! You’re almost done!” I died. It is one of the most memorable moments of my life. There was a video taken, and whenever I see it I bawl my god damn eyes out.

Mary Higgins’ first marathon
Mary ran a huge chunk of my first marathon with me, so I offered to run a huge piece of hers with her. I was eagerly waiting at the half way(ish) cheersquad, and when I saw her, my eyes filled with tears. I tried my best to suck those tears back into my eyes though, because we had a race to run!

But then at the end…
Mary powered through the end of her race like a champ. We hugged and high fived, and then looked behind us to see who else was coming across the finish line. Just then, a much older woman, after crossing, glanced back at the clock, and threw her hands in the air, yelling, “Boston!” I’m crying just thinking about this. I find older female athletes so inspiring; maybe because I didn’t ever think of it as a thing growing up. I don’t think that I knew that you could be a 70 year old woman, and be choosing to run a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston rather than choosing to just let yourself “get old.”

We turned around and congratulated this woman, and gave her a big group hug, and we all cried. CRYING FOR EVERYONE. One day, I will be this woman, and I hope that like her I can inspire younger women to keep being active well into their later years.

So those are my main stories about crying and running. Full disclosure – I’m a really emotional person, so crying about things that inspire/overwhelm me is not a rare occurrence. But the thing about running is that I didn’t ever expect to find it emotional. The first time I felt tears in my eyes watching another runner finish a race, I was taken completely by surprise. Because whatever – it’s just running, right? But something about it ends up digging these very raw emotions out of you. You feel your gut drop, and your heart just catches in your chest. You can’t help it. I know that it sounds like a cliché, but it’s a triumph of the human spirit. Even if in some ways it seems kind of frivolous, you get out there and push yourself to run. You run to show yourself that you can do it; you run to prove to yourself that you can push through pain and adversity; you run because you can.

Altaira Northe’s Guide to Getting Doored

On October 2nd of 2015, after years and years of cycling mostly without incident, it finally happened – I finally got doored. I have to say, as much as it was awful, I was also lucky. For one, I’m a pretty adept cyclist, so rather than falling over into traffic, I was able to maneuver pretty well post door collision. For two, there was no streetcar coming at the time, and the parking spot in front of the car that doored me was empty, so I didn’t immediately careen into another vehicle, or get smoked by a giant train… which would have led to a much more devastating outcome. I don’t really like to think about it. Despite the fact that my injuries weren’t life-threatening, I WAS injured, and dealing with the police, the driver, and the insurance system in the hours, days, and months that followed was so disheartening and frustrating. For these reasons, I’d like to share what I learned, so that hopefully if you are ever doored (but hopefully you’re not) that you are better prepared to deal with the fallout. Keep in mind that some of this advice might only apply specifically to Ontario, where my accident happened.

  1. Even if you don’t feel injured, you might be injured. ALWAYS GET THE DRIVER’S INFORMATION. ALWAYS.

Getting in an accident floods your system with adrenaline, making you believe that you are more ok than you actually are. You might feel alright in the moment, but chances are injuries will settle into your body as time passes. Superficial injuries are easy to spot, but it could be days before you really start to feel deeper tissue injuries.

In my case, the driver who doored me refused to give me her information. Despite her protests, I took photos of both her and her car (including licence plates); without this information, the police wouldn’t have been able to file a report.

  1. If you would like the driver who doored you to be ticketed, a police officer must be called to the scene.

Right after the accident happened, I called the non-emergency line for the Toronto Police Department. They asked me if I was in danger, and I told them that I was not, so they instructed me to go to the nearest police station to file a report. Upon arriving, I was told that the driver could not get ticketed for dooring, since no police officer was called to the scene. I was furious. The driver was on her cell phone, and barely looked up from texting when I hit her door. In fact, she proceeded to tell me about how stressful her morning was. I most definitely wanted her to be ticketed. Had I known about this rule, I would have insisted that a police officer come to the scene of the accident.

  1. File a police report.

Again, even if you don’t think that you’re going to pursue any action at the time of the incident, you might change your mind later. And you won’t be able to without a police report. FURTHER, if you want the powers that be to have accurate information about how many cyclists are hurt on the road, YOU NEED TO FILE A CLAIM. The more cyclists that file reports when they are injured, the more accurate the information that government officials have will be when they consider driving laws, infrastructure, and other policies that affect cyclists. By filing a report about getting doored, you are hopefully helping to reduce the chance of other cyclists getting doored in the future.

  1. The police officer who files your accident report is REQUIRED to give you the insurance information of the person who doored you.

I spent MONTHS trying to track down this information. I was initially told that I either had to file a form for 100 dollars to get the info in something like ten days, or I could get it in over a month for 35 dollars. I spoke to at least 3 police officers about this, and none of them could give me the correct information about how to proceed. Every one of them was condescending and dismissive.

Finally, after a particularly harrowing experience, I tweeted at the TPD. Within 24 hours I was on the phone with an officer from their public relations department. The next day, I had the information that I needed to begin talking to the driver’s insurance company. Getting this info took three months, and it should have been given to me the day I was hit.

  1. Go and see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident.

If you have serious injuries, obviously call 911 and go to the hospital. If your injuries are not life threatening, and you’re still mobile, make sure to go and see a doctor for an assessment as soon as possible after the accident. A doctor’s immediate assessment will play a huge role in any insurance claims that you might choose to file against the person who doored you. Even if you “feel fine”, just go get assessed. A few hours now will lead to much less distress if you decide to pursue claims in the future.

  1. Be clear with the insurance company about your intention.

I spent two months going back and forth with the insurance company before I found out that they had referred me to the wrong department. I had been working with the department dealing with lawsuits, and what I wanted was to file an Accident Benefits Claim.

If your injuries are less serious like mine, and you’re just seeking coverage for rehabilitation therapy, then you file an Accident Benefits Claim. If your injuries are quite serious, and you missed work etc, you might want to file a lawsuit on top of your Accident Benefits Claim.

At any rate, it only took a few days to file the Accident Benefits Claim once they transferred me to the right person. This mix up delayed my treatment by several months.

  1. Even if your injuries don’t seem serious, GET TREATMENT.

A little whiplash or sprain might not seem like a big deal now, but these are the types of injuries that really settle into your body and come back to haunt you when you get old. A little shoulder ache now can turn into chronic shoulder pain and disability in your old age. If you are doored, you are entitled to receive physiotherapy treatment. Take the treatment that you are entitled to! When I was doored, I got some pretty serious whiplash in my shoulder, and sprained my ankle. In the months after the accident, I experienced daily pain, especially if I engaged in physical activity. Now, after two months of visiting a physiotherapist and RMT on a regular basis, I’m getting pretty close to recovery. I still experience pain if I push myself too hard physically, but it has improved a great deal.

  1. Get back out there.

Since getting doored, I worry a lot more while cycling. I flinch. I brace myself for another hit. I’ve always been cautious, but I find myself being almost too cautious since the accident. It took a while to get back out biking in traffic, but I know that the only way to feel comfortable again is to just keep getting out on the road over and over until it feels normal again. Keep biking. Keep asserting my right to be on the road. And keep making space for other cyclists to take to the roads too.



Make it don’t break it – ego and men’s mental health

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been researching and… no… it goes back much farther than that. I’ve spent most of the past decade working in health communication – the longer I worked the more I became interested in research and treatment of mental health issues. My formal work researching and writing about mental health has also been coupled with years of really intense personal exploration through talk therapy, running, writing, and lots of reading/practicing mindfulness, CBT and ACT. I’m also a feminist.

As I got deeper into my work, and read more, and observed more, one theme that kept coming up again and again was that many men do not seek external resources to help them process their emotions. I’ve experienced this in my own love life, and also heard it time and again from acquaintances and in other people’s writing. “I tried to talk to my partner, but he just shut down”, “I feel like I undermined his sense of manhood”. This, or I have just seen men in my life walk away from difficult situations and bottle up their feelings despite the fact that I can plainly see on their faces that their insides of being gnawed away by their own anxiety or depression.

When women feel this way, we get tarot card readings, we go to the spa, we take a yoga class, we share a bottle of wine with our girlfriends – many men don’t seem to give themselves the space to find healthy outlets.

It worries me. It worries me, because I have acted as therapist to many men that I’ve been involved with, and I see other women in my life playing this same role more often than they’d like. How does one navigate the line between wanting to help your partner because you see that they are in pain, and becoming a bullying mother figure? How do you continually push your partner to seek out mental health support while still maintaining your desire to have sex with each other?

I’ve noticed a lot of anxiety and depression in a lot of people across the board, but once the feelings are identified, I have found women to be far more proactive in seeking help.

Anyways… this year I decided to create a series of workshops and retreats that sneakily address mental health issues through other means. Currently, a friend and I are running a writing workshop that draws on mindfulness techniques to get over creative doubt, and we’re planning on developing another that uses the same techniques to help people get better at public speaking. The next round after these two will have a physical activity focus. Part of my hope in developing these, is that they would offer a gateway to men. If you frame mental health tools as creative productivity tools, will men be more likely to seek them out??

But for the first round of the writing workshop, all those who registered were women. Granted, I DID post it only on my own social media, and in two FB groups that have only women as members, but still… I was a little disheartened that very few men showed any interest.

So the questions that I’m left with: (1) How do we help men to feel safe talking through, and seeking help for difficult feelings? (2) How do female partners support their male partners to better themselves without making them feel emasculated? (3) How do we make mental health resources more appealing to men? (4) How do we market mental health coping strategies to men in a way that’s enticing and doesn’t sound like “TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, SAD SACK! YOU ARE BROKEN!”

I am worried about men, because they die younger, and have heart attacks more frequently, and I want my future partner to feel like he can talk to me about issues in our relationship and in life, and also to not feel like I’m criticizing his entire being when I bring up issues that bother me. I’m worried about men, because I know what it’s like to live with at times crippling anxiety and depression, and I cannot imagine what I would do with myself if I wasn’t enabled to take care of myself through healthy outlets.

Later this week, I’m going to be releasing a Typeform survey on some of these topics, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s your experience with men’s mental health? How have you helped yourself, or your partner, access the resources they need?