Psychosomatic Vomit: Running From Grief


I was doing my routine interval running workout a few days ago. And except for the fact that I was doing it after, rather than before work, everything was going routinely. A mile warm up at an easy jogging pace felt good and got me activated, even though I noticed I was a little more tired than normal. Two half mile intervals at a moderately challenging running pace left me feeling strong, even with my tiredness. Then I ran my first quarter mile at a fast running pace. Halfway through I felt the base of my throat start to convulse, and I really thought that I was going to throw up. I had never experienced this sensation while running before, and hadn’t eaten anything unusual or right before my run. I told myself that my feeling of having to throw up wasn’t real, and took extra deep breaths as I quickened my pace to complete my first quarter mile sprint around the track. As I started my recovery walk I noticed it took another 20 seconds for the convulsing to stop, and I made a mental note of the nearest trash can, in case I needed it, even while continuing to walk in the opposite direction.
I finished my recovery walk and started my second quarter mile interval. This time the convulsions started almost immediately, and lasted for a minute after I stopped running. I completed the quarter mile run by focusing on my breathing, cadence, posture, and belief that the physical sensation I was experiencing didn’t have to dictate what actually happened. I was also very aware of the nearest trash can, and bathroom, and relieved when I finished. I moved to my recovery walk, then half mile cool down jog without regurgitating my lunch.
Driving home after my workout I reflected on why this had happened. I realized that my anxiety had been very high this week, especially within my new relationship. I knew this anxiety was about my fear of being abandoned, and that this was connected to my late partner’s unexpected death. Since then I hadn’t stopped running, which has been a constant routine in my life for 10 years. I ran my first marathon a few months after his death because I had already committed to do it and knew he’d be “mad” if I didn’t. I came to realize that I was running from my pain and grief, and running was the distraction and means of exhausting myself that I needed for many months. When my energy started to return, I started running toward, or chasing, distractions as well, especially ones that made me feel as happy in the moment as possible. It took a while before I realized that chasing “highs” was unsustainable, and threatening to destroy the sense of stability I had previously created and need to attend to my wellbeing and derive meaning from my work.
A sports injury from skiing recklessly finally helped me decide to seek balance and stability again. I knew that I needed to do this, and doing this finally made my grief and pain unavoidable. I was now spending time “in the darkness,” but running was becoming an anchor and reminder that there was a way to “move forward” after visiting the “darkness” without getting lost there. I had also recently started a new relationship, which initially offered the promise of an exciting and fun distraction, but realized that now I wanted a relationship that could support my effort to build a stable foundation in my life. However, negotiating this with my partner (a life loving night owl artist whose creative energy never stops) has stirred new anxiety within me, and I realize that this anxiety is my fear of being abandoned, again. Writing the word “again” is a brand new acknowledgement that my late partner abandoned me, and that I am mad at him. Writing these words is so uncomfortable, and in fact, makes me want to throw up right now. They don’t mean I don’t love him or am not grateful for his love. Rather I am now acknowledging that my love, and anger coexist.
I believe it’s no coincidence that I had such a powerful sensation of needing to throw up after several days of high anxiety around the possibility of being abandoned in a new relationship, anxiety I took it upon myself to avoid by altering my routine to over accommodate my partner’s later schedule, resulting in not getting enough sleep to engage in my regular Wednesday morning workout. Seeing that I am being overly accommodating to someone else, realizing that this is due to my own fear of abandonment, acknowledging that I feel abandoned by my late partner, and that my undying love for him includes anger is hard to swallow. My best guess is this is why I felt like throwing up during my workout. Looking back, I’m grateful for the experience to swallow, that is ingest, what I previously could not, by pushing through those quarter mile intervals, and later by shedding tears while I finally took the rose I had pressed that was laying on my late partner’s chest at his wake, and placing it in the beautiful box that my partner presented me with for that purpose. And I now feel less queasy about future prospects of leaving psychosomatic vomit on the track floor.

“Julie Smith” (pseudonym)