Something Wild.

Something Wild. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

Something Wild is actually a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately. The lyrics inspire me, the melody awakens me, and the song makes me realize how much I’ve grown. Training for my 57 mile run is changing me. The long training runs give me time to look at myself in retrospect, to look at the broken path I’ve run down, and realize how I built the road before me with those pieces.

You had your maps drawn
You had other plans to hang your hopes on
Every road they let you down felt so wrong
So you found another way

Running helps define who I am and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

My running career has been anything but simple. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. A hike with so many peaks and valleys I’ve lost count of the times I’ve stood triumphantly at the summit and felt lost in the low depressions, surrounded by seemingly unclimbable hills and towering pines. But still I run, blindly following where my feet guide me next.

Running brings peace and calmness to my life. When I’ve struggled in my personal life and/or professional life, running is what helped me disconnect from the madness. There are times where I felt so lost, I wasn’t sure if the path I was traveling down was the right one. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes the road cracked and crumbled beneath my feet. Sometimes I came to a dead end and couldn’t imagine turning around and going back down the twisted way I’d already stumbled through. But in these times I could always clear my mind with a run through the woods. And when I was injured, I visualized myself being back out there – breathing in and out, a methodical rhythm, one foot softly landing before the other across a leaf-strewn path.

And I found another way.

You’ve got a big heart
The way you see the world
It got you this far
You might have some bruises
And a few scars
But you know you’re gonna be okay

For as long as I can remember, I cared most about everyone but myself. Whether it was a boy, friend, family or boss, I was terrified of disappointing anyone in my life. I always put myself last in hopes it would mean I would never lose those people in my life. It worked for a little awhile, until the stress and anxiety caused me to disintegrate. Other than family, I lost those people anyways. It wasn’t until recently, as I was struggling to find my diagnosis with lyme, did I learn it’s okay to put myself first and take care of the pain I felt.

I do have many bruises and scars, and it’s okay. I used to be embarrassed of who I used to be and the things I did. By no means am I proud of myself in some of those instances, but I no longer feel the urgency to keep the “old me” locked away and secret, in fear of being judged. I don’t care if you judge me or see me in a different light. I don’t care if you know I struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder – I’ll put it out there bluntly for you because those things don’t define who I am anymore. They never did (as much as I thought so in the moment). It took me a really long time to realize this, and even though it’s been many years, I don’t think I could understand until I was truly okay.

And even though you’re scared
You’re stronger than you know

I’m not ashamed of the old me. The old me is one of the strongest people I know.

And I’ve only gotten stronger.

If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding
Caught in all, the stars are hiding
That’s when something wild calls you home, home
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen
Chase the sky into the ocean
That’s when something wild calls you home, home

Nature heals. And running allows me to experience the world in such unique fashion. There is an orchestral interlude during Something Wild where the violinist plays a folksy melody reminding me specifically of running through Ireland’s green countryside with my dad and Erin. We headed out early in the morning from our rental cottage near the sea, the salty air filling our lungs and hearts. The narrow roads were lined with large archaic-looking stones, and we hopped through them, onto a strait through the receded bay where herds of sheep grazed lazily, thinking nothing of the rising tide to come later. I don’t remember the conversations had (and it’s possible we ran mostly in silence, taking in the beautiful landscape around us) but I do remember the green, the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, and the languished squawks of seabirds above. I remember this lightness in my chest and calmness in my mind as we ran in a line toward the sea, and the sun rose higher above us. There was no other place we were supposed to be in that moment, experiencing the freedom and beauty of Ireland before most people were even awake.

On this same trip, I can also remember sitting in a small pub late at night with my family, as my parents sipped Guinness and we listened to a band playing traditional Irish jigs and reels. As we sat in the dim pub, my parents tapping their feet to the fast beat, I sat hunched over my notebook writing endlessly. Back then, I was in my early teens, I used to carry paper with my everywhere so I could write my stories whenever I had a chance. The music inspired me, and even though I never looked up from my paper, I felt as if I was experiencing that pub and music in the best way possible. At one point, the lead musician came over to my parents and commented he had been watching me the whole time during the set and noticed I hadn’t stopped writing once. My parents said, “she’s a writer,” and my heart swelled with pride. As I scribbled out my story the rest of the night, I thought of myself as a real writer, and imagined myself doing it as a profession.

These moments of clarity are living. These are the memories I hold nearest to my heart, and running has given many to me.

Lately, I am tired of feeling trapped, spinning in the same circle as I try to find the right balance between my responsibilities. For a long time, I forgot I am a writer, even though my younger self was so sure. I lost my writing after college to a high demand job, and then my brain fog from lyme took my vocabulary. And as it’s slowly coming back, I know I AM still a storyteller.

When I left my job in communications just about two years ago, I left for several reasons. I was sick, I was unhappy, and I wanted to bring back meaning to my life, which otherwise felt stale. I wanted to rediscover myself and see if it was possible for me to take part in my life again, instead of standing by and watching it whirl by in front of me. And while it was hard to let go of who I thought I was, it ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Being a disappointment to family and friends has always been one of my greatest fears, but when I finally stood up to my fear and left the job to focus on finding what truly made me happy, I became an even better person. I learned it doesn’t matter what you think others think of you and the choices you make in your life, because ultimately it’s your life. And your happiness matters most. You don’t have to have a corporate job to be successful and respected by others. And I didn’t learn this until I let go of the standard we’re taught that without a corporate/professional job after college we are not successful.

There is not just one equation for success.

I believe happiness is the ultimate success.

Sometimes the past can
Make the ground beneath you feel like a quicksand
You don’t have to worry
You reach for my hand
Yeah I know you’re gonna be okay
You’re gonna be okay

When I envision myself running 57 miles I don’t think about being sick or past injuries I struggled through. No matter the injury or sickness I was dealing with, I always planned to get back to running. I was always hopeful and believed in my ability to get back to the roads and trails where I could be myself.

When I stress fractured my hip my senior year of high school it nearly broke me, but I persevered and ran a personal best in the 5k once healed. After my knee injury and surgery in college, a surgeon told me I should never run again, and certainly not long distance. But I believed in myself. And after I taught myself how to walk again, I taught myself how to run again. And I started slow and the process was painful and challenging, but it was all worth it when two years later I ran my first marathon. Giving up is something foreign to me. Don’t ever let someone else tell you what you can and cannot do.

I don’t let my past injuries and challenges in life define how I look at the future. 57 miles is the biggest challenge I’ve ever embarked on, and even though I have a past riddled with injuries it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. After being a competitive long distance runner for 18 years, I know my mind needs to be stronger than my body. And I’ve never been surer my positive mentality will carry me through. I couldn’t run for three weeks before my 50k this past April, but once I got out there on the trails I fell into the same mentality I always have during runs: a blank tranquility only focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again.

So, I guess what the song helped me realize is it’s okay to take a different path than the one you always expected yourself to go down. It’s okay to have a complex past, to see yourself in different stages of life as different people who finally grew into the wonderful person you are today. Having the urge to be free from every day routines is natural. I know every once and awhile I need to immerse myself in nature, set myself loose into the wild.

Because the wild is home to me.







“You Went to Bucknell?”

You graduated from Bucknell?  

I stare at the woman sitting across from me and smile at her even as I detect the hint of disbelief in her voice.

Yep, I reply simply, challenging her to ask exactly what I know she’s thinking.  The woman is with her husband and they look my parents’ age.  When they walk out of the store twenty minutes later, shoes in hand, I hear the woman say quite blatantly to her husband: graduated from Bucknell…I wonder why she’s here?  Her husband replies, maybe it’s just part-time.

I’m still smiling at the door even though they’re gone and before I can let their little conversation sink in and affect me, I brush it off.  Part of me wants to chase after them down the street yelling and justifying myself: wait! I’m a freelance writer too!  And I’m working on a novel!

But this is not the first time I’ve had this conversation and it won’t be the last.

It is no secret to me older generations view my last year’s career move as a step backward as opposed to one forward.  When I worked at the nonprofit doing communications, people told me I was so lucky to have found the job and I would have it made for the rest of my career.  People told me to stick with the job even if I didn’t like it because of the security: health benefits, salary, and resume-building experience.

People spoke to me with respect.

When I chatted with colleagues at meetings and conventions, we had the same conversation as above but it always went a little differently.  Oh, you went to Bucknell?  There was a hint of excitement in their voice and they’re smiling.  I’d tell them I graduated in 2012, grinning from ear to ear.  They’d exclaim: well now it all makes sense – that’s why you’re so smart!  I’d laugh, trying to shake off the compliment.

But what they didn’t see was the sadness.  The depression I struggled with every day and the fatigue I felt in every inch of my body.  They didn’t see me push everything other than work out of my life – running, writing, friends, travel – desperately trying to prove myself to the older generations I worked with I could be successful. Other than my partner, I had no friends and I was stuck in a miserable cycle of work, eat, sleep.  I had no balance in my life and no one but myself saw my health deteriorating.  But I didn’t make any changes because everyone put such high value into the security of a corporate job.

Don’t get me wrong – my time working at the nonprofit was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I learned from my bosses how to be a more efficient writer, how to manage stress and deadlines, and most importantly, how to be a leader.  They coached me and put me in positions of decision-making and importance, showing me my voice and opinion mattered.  Leaving the position was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. But ultimately I knew I needed to be a leader in my own life and find happiness before I let everything mattering to me crumple at my feet.

It has been almost a year since I stood up to all the doubts swirling in my head and gave my two-week notice.  Since then I feel like I’ve grown immensely.  Stress and sadness don’t rule my life anymore and this year I’ve made more time for friends, family and myself than I have in years.  I traveled to Colorado and hiked the beautiful Rockies with my twin.  I flew to Oregon with some of my best friends and stood at the ocean’s edge watching the waves crash turbulently against the rocky cliffs.  These are vacations I would have never taken in the past because of my fear of missing work and failing.  I’ve written and ran more in this year than I probably have in the previous three years combined.  I feel like myself.

And I get it.  There will be many more people who stare at me in disbelief, like the couple at the beginning of this post, for my career change decision.  But I like my job at the running store and being in an atmosphere I’ve been saturated in all my life.  I love freelance writing and the amazing company I’m working with right now.  I was never cut out to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day, no matter the pay or if that’s what people think I should be doing because I graduated from a prestigious school like Bucknell.

For awhile, I lived my life for everyone except myself.  No more.  I’m going to experience life and chase my dreams no matter how far they get ahead of me because I believe I can catch them if I work hard enough.  For too long I believed my diploma defined what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life, whether I was happy or not.


I’m not going to say I used to feel proud of my undergraduate degree because I am still immensely proud of my diploma from Bucknell.  No, I’m not working a corporate job anymore but I also am not going to feel the need to justify this any longer.  Because at least I’m happy, and I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone take it away from me.


© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved