Sunday, April 10, 2011

Running under the cherry blossoms

“I have the same commitment everyday when I wake up – today I’m going to try my best, today I’m going to give it my all.”
--Dean Karnazes, ultra marathon runner

It is Friday again, and I just came back from a run around a park near my house. My legs got sore so I didn’t run as long as I would have liked. Still, it was good to see the cherry blossoms (picture above), which are in full bloom. Many people are walking around admiring them, some groups are picnicking and drinking under the trees, as Japanese have done for generations. There seems to be less people doing so than usual, in deference to the recent disaster, but people are still out and about.

I don’t feel great, but I am trying to do some simple things to keep my head above water. This week I went running three times, and I did a major spring clean. I threw out a bunch of junk that had been cluttering up my place for some time, and reorganized things. I have more space now, and I think having an organized place helps my state of mind.

In the midst of the spring clean I also pulled out my guitar. I bought an acoustic guitar years ago, before I came to Japan, and have attempted to learn how to play it on several occasions. I seem to find simple things very difficult to learn and remember, and this includes how to play music. On Wednesday I pulled out the guitar for the first time in a year and practiced some very simple exercises from the Mel Bay Grade 1 book. I told someone that I seem to pull out the guitar every year and realize that I don’t have guitar skills. He made the simple point that if I practiced every day, maybe I would realize that I did have guitar skills. I am only three days in at this point, but time will tell. Usually I get ashamed of my own inability to improve and give up.

While I was out running I was listening to the Radio National Breakfast podcast, and today’s included an interview with Dean Karnazes, an American runner who is running across the US. At the time of the interview he was in Missouri, heading for New York. He talked about how he took up running seriously because he was bored and in his regular life everything came easily to him, but he found an almost spiritual experience in his extreme runs.

As I, an Australian running under Tokyo’s cherry blossoms listened to him, an American charging across a entire continent, I thought about how different the two of us were. Unlike what Karnazes said about his own life, nothing seems to come easy to me. Every day is a struggle.

I’m not running because life is too simple and easy, but because for me it is too much to deal with. And some exercise, like therapy, medication, and other things, can help to take the edge off a little bit. I am very much a creature of habit, and I hope that by establishing better habits I can manage my condition a little better. I know this depression, this anxiety will never go away. It is part of me. But I need to learn to tame it, control it better. I hope I am on the way to doing that, I really do.

I am not capable of running across a continent. But I, like Karnazes, am capable of giving every day my all. And that's what I'm going to do.


  1. Hi, D.R. - I used to live near Washington D.C. where there are many cherry blossoms, so I know how beautiful they are. I'm glad you are able to use running as a way to help control your symptoms. I know that excercise helps, and I myself need to make the time to do it more often than I have been recently. I admire your tenacity and ability to use logic to motivate yourself to do something physical. Depression is a stubborn black dog, but I agree that life is better when you find ways to manage it.

  2. I think by just doing your best everyday, you are meant to be doing what you are doing and that will probably help you to live a better life. But it takes time so just be patient. Obviously I don't see what goes on in your life but you have a very admirable trait of being very disciplined. A lot of depressives don't have that.

    Good luck with the guitar playing, practice makes perfect. I play both the violin and guitar by ear. The guitar sounds fine but my violin playing will hurt your ears!

  3. I understand what you're saying. I used to feel that I was really lucky, that things just worked out for me. Since I became depressed it seems like nothing comes easily and nothing works out the way I hoped or planned. If you can find it in yourself to do your best everyday, no matter how much or little that may be on a given day and if you don't give up, I think that is our first step in controlling the Black Dog.

  4. Hang in there! Love your blog, I think getting those feelings out in the open is a great way to hold it together.

    Good luck with playing music. Just persist, don't get frustrated and you'll be having fun in no time!

    I really recommend keeping a practice diary - it gives you a real sense of your progress, and does amazing things for your motivation.

    Also, have you thought about other instruments? If you've already tried guitar a couple of times it might not be for you. I used to play for a while, and then became jaded with it. It took me a while to realise I really wanted to play drums, and I haven't looked back since! No need to worry about noise - you'll be constantly playing on a rubber practice pad, and there's heaps of rooms in Tokyo you can hire out to practice in. Or there's electric drums... nothing beats the sound of an acoustic drum though. Or playing with other drummers!

    The deep malaise you describe reminds me of part of my time in Japan too. Isn't it eerie how sometimes you can be in a packed out space there, and it's quieter than a library. And the way people stoically deny or shyly retract from the glaring obvious, and constantly over-exaggerate. It used to do my head in, I was constantly lonely and all at sea as to what people around me really thought or felt. Fortunately there were some lovely and open people out there too though. My inner world just felt like a garden that was dying in a drought, and started to become a parched desert as I desperately hoped it would rain again.

    Especially now that I've got a great routine going with my music practice, it really feels like my soul is being nourished with the warmth it needs to get through the tough days. Hope you find that thing which makes your heart sing too. Its a shameless plug, but if you do think about drums check out Tommy Igoe's DVDs, he does an amazing job. All the best!!


  5. I feel the same way about cleaning and organizing. In fact, I'm miserable when I let things go.

    I didn't know you were from Australia. I have so many Aussie blog friends that I sometimes wonder if I live on the wrong continent. Of course, being friends on the net doesn't necessarily mean being friends in person, but it does interest me the number of Aussie bloggers I know.

  6. Thanks all for coming by and giving your thoughts, I appreciate it.

    @Jen - I had heard that there were a number of cherry blossoms in Washinton. The are planted fairly liberally all over Japan, and definitely liven up the place when they are in bloom.

    @Stephi - I try to be as disciplined as possible about things, keep to commitments as much as possible, be a man of my word, etc. I hope this will keep me slipping back down into the black hole yet again, and who know, I may even find myself happy someday?

    @Jojesek - I know what you mean. I think that we all do the best we can, sometimes it is a lot, sometimes it is not much. But I think being able to be satisfied with what we have managed to achieve may be more important than the actual achievement itself. I'm not there yet, but I have stopped beating myself up about things quite so much.

    @Anonymous/Mike - Thanks for coming by, I'm glad you liked the blog. it was interesting to hear your comments, and that part of your time in Japan had been somewhat similar.

    I don't think that I am really cut out to be a musician at all, regardless of the instrument. All I can say is that it does help me chill out a little if I play around with the guitar. I looked at a could of Tommy Igoe's clips on youtube, he seems very talented. Maybe I should look at drums at some stage - your comment reminds me a little of the film The Visitor with the man who tried endlessly to play the piano, before getting turned onto the drums.

    @Snow - I'm sometimes not sure if letting things go makes me miserable, or being miserable means I let things go. But either way, the two things are closely related, and given that I can't reach into my brain and switch it to "happy", but I can pick up my stuff of the floor, the floor option seems the better one.