Running on Empty

Military Spouse and her two children.

Written by Sarah Ortiz Benson 

The temperatures are dropping, with gusts of welcome wind. Pumpkins and harvest décor abound, despite the lack of colorful leaves. The state is aglow with football’s Friday night lights, fairs, and festivals. It is Fall in Texas, her favorite time of year.

She stares at her to-do list, marks off one task, then immediately thinks of another. The list is an elusive clean slate. There is never enough time it seems. She wakes at 4:30 a.m. most days and does not return home until after the carpool line. Operating half of each month as a single parent, there is always more to be done. 

She juggles life’s responsibilities like a circus performer who is new to the gig. There are many roles to fulfill in the hustle and bustle of her daily routine. Mother, nurse, wife, dog-mom, daughter, family member, friend, transportation guru, gourmet microwave chef, home project manager, the list of roles is endless and exhausting. 

The sink is full of dishes while the laundry baskets overflow. The Halloween costume needs to be finished, yet the dog also needs a walk. She paces the house moving from one room to the next, accomplishing nothing. One glance at the monthly calendar reveals endless dots, representing days full of commitments. She suddenly feels a tightness in her chest.  

A brand-new pair of shoes beckons to her from the closet. The cry is hard to hear at first because the mounds of dirty clothes on the floor muffle the sound. She rummages through the piles until the shoes are visible and can’t help but laugh. The colors of her Asics, much like those representing the season, are so ugly; they might just be cute. She answers the call, throws on the nearest workout gear, laces up the shoes, and grabs her phone. At this moment she is finally able to choose herself over any other item on her to-do list. The door opens and slams as a quick burst of energy and wind collide at exactly the right moment to instigate inspiration. Instead of looking back, she runs. There is no destination, no end in sight. She simply puts one foot in front of the other and picks up the pace with each stride. 

Recently, the pounds have started to weigh heavily on her existence. She carries both unwelcome physical weight and a strange burden of resentment from life’s recent transitionsThe unbearable weight of her own thoughts drags her into the depths of her own worst enemy; herself. In her head, she hears the whispers saying: 

“You are fat.”

“You look exhausted.”

“You should take better care of yourself.”

“You don’t spend enough time with your daughter.”

“You are doing too much.”

“You aren’t doing enough.”

“You need to slow down.”

“You can’t afford to slow down.”

So many things in this season of life are out of her control. Yet, she can control her breathing, pace, stride, and distance. Running is not a hobby. It is a release. As she moves, she cleanses her mind and body. 

The crisp air fills her lungs, and they begin to burn. Taking a deep breath is more challenging with every thud of her feet on the pavement. She longs to stop, rest, and be still. Oh, how these feelings parallel her day-to-day life. Sadly, rest is but for the weary. 

Her legs tremble, with weak knees, a pounding heart, throbbing pulse. Just one more mile, another landmark to pass, a final thought to clear. Ahead in the distance, there is a flash of hope at the end of the road. The black and white mailbox signals her sanctuary is near. 

As her pace begins to slow, she asks herself, 

“Where are you going?”

“Why are you running in circles?” 

“Are you so busy running your life that you are running from it?”

As she opens the door and enters the house, she realizes she has no answers. She is running on empty. With a deep sigh, a sip of water, and a glance at all that remains undone, she heads to the shower still longing for closure, peace, a moment of calm, and a brief second of sanity. 

While the hot water cleanses her body, she wishes the mom-guilt, and self-doubt could be rinsed away as easily. She looks at herself in the mirror just before going to bed, realizing she is her own worst critic. As her tired eyes look back at her, she takes a deep breath, longing to grant herself grace. She settles into bed alone and her racing thoughts begin to wind down, although they never come to a complete halt. Sleep brings a welcome moment of reprieve until she awakens to the blaring alarm and her daily marathon begins again. 

Words by Sarah Ortiz Benson @sarahobensonsomuchmore
Photography by Annie Louise Wilkins @annielouisewilkins

About the Author

Sarah Ortiz Benson is a retired military spouse and writer with a background in sales, marketing, and nursing. Her passion is writing about current events and issues affecting military spouses and their families. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of South Florida. She has lived on islands in Hawaii, Jamaica, Alaska, and The Bahamas. Sarah currently resides in Texas with her family.

Please visit to learn more and connect with Sarah on Facebook and Instagram @sarahobensonsomuchmore. 

Previous Article Next Article

1 comment

  • Beautiful Sarah,
    I’ve been exactly where you describe so vividly in your essay! It does get better; however, the key is for us to learn ways to enjoy the journey along the way. One thing that’s helped me most is to begin each day in my ‘Thinking / Prayer Chair’ being still, quiet, reading, & in prayer. Thanks for sharing your writing! BEST to YOU. Dorothy Bonvillain


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published