These last few days I have contemplated how I would write this next blog, and just like when you buy a new red car and suddenly all you can see are other red cars - everywhere, I have stubbled across books, blogs and articles that also touch on the benefits of running...beyond the obvious health outcomes.
So, why do I run - really?
Partly because don't like team sports, or competition in general, and I do NOT enjoy fitness classes as they tend to be full of people, and while I really do like people I find strangers en mass so intimidating I would rather spontaneously combust than walk into a room full of them. Solitary activities like swimming, walking and running work well for me. I make an exception for yoga classes... if I serious trust the teacher, especially if it means hanging upside-down in a hammock.
But mostly I run because it keeps me sane, it keeps my mind clear, it keeps my anxiety under control and it reminds me that I can do what I think (and sometimes what others think) I cannot.
Right now there will be people I know, and even others I don't know, reading this thinking to themselves 'yeah, yeah ... everyone gets anxious'. There might have even been times I tested the waters with you, with a quick joke about panic attacks or the like to gauge a reaction, test the waters and more likely than not decided to not talk any further.
Today, I am coming clean because when I talk about running, especially the long distances people look at me with wonder or even awe...but really running is my saviour, possibly even my hero.
To give a frame of reference, here is just a little of what my mind can do:
There are nightmares that are so sickening that I wake in pools of sweat, unable to breathe, completely unsure of who I am, never mind where I am...so even at 40 years of age I leave lights on at night.
There are the mornings I wake to find my heart racing and noise of all my fears and worries rushing to the centre of my consciousness, now I have learned to just lie there and tell myself that this is anxiety - that there is nothing to fear and that it will pass, do not let the nasty thoughts get their claws in. Repeat after me 'this will pass, this will pass, this will pass'; this is the mantra that allows me to ignore my self loathing and actually get out of bed.
There were many, many days before I had any understanding about anxiety that were spent in bed, or at least spent between tending to my children's immediate needs and my bed.
There are days when I am so fatigued by panic that I simply forget basic tasks or why I entered the shopping centre, even the words I need to finish a sentence or what I was doing earlier that day - lists have become a saviour and a compulsion.
There have been days that shyness has left me incapable of scratching an itch on my face while sitting on a train in case it caused someone to look in my direction. I am well known for not showing up, not going to social functions, and spending the weekends I don't have my children without seeing or having contact with another human being.
There have been days I have been so determined to self destruct that I have sort the company of people entirely too dangerous and put myself in what could have been catastrophic situations, not always escaping unharmed.
How does running help??
Like most aspects of life the ferocity and the frequency of these 'attacks' fluctuates and when life is busy and full and tidy ( I like tidy very, very much), and I have a focus, goals to work toward the balance is tipped toward a more calm state of being.
However, I can honestly say that no matter what is in store for the day ahead it is ALWAYS a better day if it starts with a run...no, really! Running is the magic that focusses my mind, lets things fall into perspective; shrinks the little things, and makes the important ones stand out. It raises my heart rate without the fight or flight instinct kicking in, it challenges me to step outside my comfort zone and push through barriers. It lets me know that I am capable and I am alive, that I am stronger than I tend to believe...and it brings the calm in spades.
That doesn't mean that every run is fun, or joyful or even easy - sometimes it is tough and I literally feel like I am trying to out run my ghosts but it is definitely what gets me through the muddy patches.
Sadly, while training for this big, old run to Melbourne I cannot actually run every day - that would result in injury, so I also have to swim, gym and yoga.
I love swimming; being in the water, doing the laps - the getting in and out of the pool, not so much. In fact I have to blank my mind completely, to the point of zen monk like transcendence to even get my outer gear off and walk the few metres that feel like kilometres to the edge of the pool. On gym mornings I wake feeling nauseous, without fail, and gym evenings require nerves of steel and take-along book, just in case anyone tries to talk to me...but the bigger picture and the purpose of all this training pushes me through and I show up. I get on with it and leave as quick as humanly possible.
The other truly fantastical quality about running is that has the ability to bring me out of myself - to see past the end of my own nose. It has nourished my compassion for others, which probably wasn't lacking in quantity but direction...it has brought me face to face with people doing it really tough, living out on the streets - sometimes scrambling for shelter - it has provided me with the opportunity to confront the realities of what life is for some of our fellow community members. Their tenacity and courage, their willingness to speak with me, all sweaty and most likely stinking to high heaven, their ability to still smile and share moments as well as materials leaves me in awe.
This very, very long run gives me a platform that will hopefully make a change...and in that way running saves my soul and my heart, not just my mind.
Right now I am sinking a little...for the first time running has not felt like enough. There are more and more mornings lying in bed battling the racing heart, the feelings of worthlessness and the dread of 'showing up'.
But... this last week I have found that actually, the running is helping - it hasn't taken the edge off the full forces of this current circuit - it has shown me that I can still get up out of bed and run, and even enjoy it - immensely.
And this long, long run to Melbourne has stayed true in my focus and will be what keeps me going, (along with my four exceptionally precious small people), every day until the sharp pain becomes a dull ache...there are bigger battles to fight than the ones in my own head.
If you are looking for other bits to read about running and mental health here are a couple of links:
Run, swim, cook: the new prescription for happiness
For Depression and Anxiety, Running Is a Unique Therapy
Eat, Drink, Run. How I got fit without going too mad