How running has changed my life

April 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm

As part of Depression Awareness Week, BIMHN’s membership engagement officer Becky writes about how she has used exercise to help manage her mental health. Here is what she has to say…

It was early autumn 2014 when I decided to go out for a casual jog around my local park. Apart from the occasional sweaty five-minute burst on the treadmill, this was the first time I’d attempted to run in quite a few years. Twenty minutes pounding my local streets culminated in me curled up in bed, with a flannel on my forehead, feeling a bit queasy and vowing to never run again.

Running changed my lifeBut I did. A few weeks later, my boyfriend had persuaded me to go along to the Ashton Gate parkrun in South Bristol. Again, feelings of nausea came back to haunt me as I dragged my sorry, red-faced self across the finish line. It had taken me so long to get around the hilly course that my boyfriend (who received a serious dose of silent treatment upon my return!) thought I’d got lost along the way. But amid the humiliation, exhaustion and sore knees, I also noticed something much deeper within – a profound feeling of fulfilment and accomplishment. I realised running made me happy, and the more I did it, the better I felt.

From that moment on, I have used running as a way to manage my depression, which I was diagnosed with six years ago. Before taking up running, my depression had got a point where I was plagued with constant tiredness, zero motivation, and sinking feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Life felt like it was continuously overwhelming, and I lacked any desire to socialise. But running has helped towards minimising those ‘bad days’ – I am now sleeping better, I am seeing friends more regularly and I am better managing overwhelming thoughts and feelings. For me, running is mindfulness. As soon as I put on my trainers and step out the door, my focus becomes on the wind brushing against my face, my feet navigating the ground and my heart pounding in my chest. It’s my escapism and I love it.

Running changed my lifeI have even been coaxed into several races over the last year – including the Greater Manchester Marathon. It was no easy feat, I tell you! There were tears, laughter, substantial amounts of pain, and maybe even some projectile vomiting (I blame the energy gels!). But 26 miles offered a good few hours of contemplation, and towards the end – with the finish line in sight – I couldn’t help but think of the run as a reflection of my journey with mental illness, each mile representing the years of my life (I’m now 26).

I started out well, remaining focused and strong, despite various aches and pains along the way, and then at mile 20 – the age I was when depression struck – I hit the proverbial wall. The following four miles were hellish. I thought the race was never going to end, as I scrambled through country roads with the sun beating ferociously down on my head. Retreating to the roadside and giving up seemed much more appealing than carrying on. But before I knew it, I was passing the 24-mile marker with a renewed sense of energy and hope – the end was near! Clocking the finishing line in the distance was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – me finally making sense of my depression and mastering ways to best manage my mood.

I’d like to say that crossing the finish line marked the end of my depression, but that would be wishful thinking. Instead, I look at it as marking the start of a new chapter, where I am the one now taking control, not the depression. Running has changed my life – it has strengthened my mind and body in inconceivable ways – and I’m so glad that I gave it a go.

April 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Blog | No comment

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