The Journey or the Pace?

“What was your time?” “How long did it take you?”

I finished my first marathon last weekend. The New York City Marathon. A big deal. A HUGE feat. Just to finish, since many do not AND most don’t even try. But it would seem that, in my small world at least, it’s not as important that I finished, but more so in what time. Extraordinarily to me is that I am mostly asked for my finishing time by people who themselves are not runners. People, whom when I was training would claim to be capable of running no more than a few miles before collapsing. Seemingly impressed if not awed by my plan to be a marathoner. BEFORE the marathon, the feat itself was THE THING. After….it’s about how long it took me and did I even finish? 

I can’t help but associate to psychotherapy and psychoanalysis when I think about the idea of approaching, starting to run, facing the ups and downs of the course, feeling and trying to acknowledge and push through the inevitable aches and pains that arise and then seeing the finish line….crossing the finish line. The last part of that idea…finishing….such an amorphous notion in the world of treatment. Over the years, I have myriad patients ask, as they start the process of therapy, “how long will it take?” After exploring the question, I often would say “it’s a process and I cannot say how this treatment will go.” Something like that. I can’t promise where the finish line is and how long it will take to get there. But I have faith we will try to get wherever “there” is together. My patients usually find my answer frustrating. We like to see finish lines. It brings a sense of order to a process that is filled with a lot of disordering and difficulties. You take on treatment and you take on a marathon of introspection and relational dilemmas/solutions, self-understanding, increased knowledge of your capacities and shortcomings.  So many similarities to an actual marathon.

One matter I associated to in this regard is the idea of competitiveness. Now, for me, this is a significant part of my approach to many matters, especially matters of sport. Yet, I do remember more than once wondering whom would finish treatment first, the woman who I always saw exiting her session before I entered mine, or me? Who would get better more quickly? Figure “it” out faster? Self-realize sooner? Yes, I know it’s not a competition and treatment, just like running a marathon…is a process…a “marathon,” not a 10K race. A marathon is about YOUR journey; a 10K race can be about that too, but for me, it ‘s about kicking the
ass of anyone who’s getting in my way.

When I got to mile 22 in last week’s marathon, my quads were screaming bloody murder and I was having a very hard time ignoring their bellows of agony. I knew that this was the time to know the pain was there, but to draw upon my mental reserves to get me to the finish line. I’d come that far, I needed to just keep running. But….I stopped to walk….a few feet. And then I resumed running. It reminds me of those ebbs and flows that I see in treatment with patients where they seem to be plowing ahead with a great insight and they feel really good, since it took a lot of work to get there…and then they get stuck again. And things feel shitty and immobilizing and the pace slows and they might even feel hopeless and despairing. But hopefully they keep on at it and find their inner resources to keep them in the process. I think that’s what my little walks were about. Yes, WALKS. I took about three. All about the same distance…a few feet. I was trying to get my bearings. In those moments, I could not see the finish line. Ironically, I was closer to it than ever before and I could really picture it, but it seemed so far away. And I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted to go…as I usually can go when the race is shorter. And I had to tolerate that experience and readjust my process and expectations. This is what happens in treatment all the time. And, likewise in life. 

Well, I crossed that finish line with such overwhelm and pride and frustration…because I did it! Yes! But, I knew I didn’t make my goal time. My goal time that was based on something arbitrary…a competitive urge in me towards someone I have no right competing with, especially in regards to marathon running. But it had given me a goal, something to shoot for and aspire to as I involved myself in this arduous, rewarding, exciting, challenging, painful, self-realizing process of deciding to do….what was it a marathon or treatment I was talking about? Hmmm….