I run. I run because it makes my brain work better.
My own mental health journey is rooted in anxiety and depression mostly. Throw in OCD that gets exacerbated by my anxiety and that’s as good a starting point as any. I struggled in silence for years - forever trying to curate a vision of a happy functioning person that I wanted everyone to see. I didn't want to be a burden and let anyone know how much I was struggling inside when things were bad.
And things got really bad sometimes. I've gone through some really low periods and although it never felt like I would at the time, I've always made it out the other side. I'm here. I remind myself of how lucky I am for that.
It has only been these last couple years of my life, after a particularly rough patch, that I decided enough was enough and I had to face it and fight it if I wanted to make it out this time. I remember what it was that did it. What made me feel like I should fight. I was the lowest I'd been and it didn't feel like anything was going to change. I was pushing my closest friends away because I didn't want to be a burden. I didn't want to bore them with my issues. I couldn't open up properly. I had convinced myself they didn't care or want me as a friend. One day they invited me on a walk to the forest. I got in the car and my friend said, "I'm really glad you're here." When we arrived and met another friend that friend gave me a big hug and said how happy they were to see me. It was like someone turned a light on. The sky was blue. The grass was the greenest I'd ever seen it. The sounds of all the birds in the forest were the most perfect they'd been. I was surrounded by people who cared about me. I wasn't all alone.
As soon as I could see a reason to keep going I wanted to make sure that I didn’t just survive anymore. I wanted to thrive. I felt like I had a new lease of life. I felt like I’d come so close to not existing anymore that I just wanted to make sure I made everything better for myself.
For a long time cycling made me feel better, but when my anxiety was really bad I couldn’t get on my bike for the life of me. It filled me with dread, and terror. Absolute panic. I decided to look to the gym for my endorphins if I couldn’t get out on my bike. I devised a simple workout plan and I stuck with it. I fell in love with lifting weights, but I couldn’t face indoor cardio. It was too hot, too boring, and too hard.
And then there was running.
Now, it’s not like this was the first time I’d been running. I ran a bit in school. I’d joined my dad on the odd jog while I was growing up. I had tried running a few times before as an adult and it was such a struggle, I hated it. I hated how I felt when I saw other runners out, looking fast and in control. I hated how I felt like everyone was going to make fun of me and realise I wasn’t really a runner. I hated feeling like I was the only runner who wasn’t thin.
Then one warm October evening in 2017, I went for a run with a friend and something stuck. The next day, I woke up with very sore legs but I made a plan to go for a run again in a few days. I set myself a goal that one day I would run the length of the seafront. I would head out and run from one point to another using familiar seafront landmarks ie: beach huts, statues, cafes, etc as my markers. As soon as I reached the next marker, I could walk a little bit. One day I would run all the way from my house down to the end of the promenade without stopping. One day I would run all the way back. One day I would keep going and run down to the other end of the promenade. It was hard work. Running was hard, but something had clicked for me, and I wanted to do it. I was enjoying it. It was the kind of hard work that left me wanting more. Sure, there were still the thoughts in my head that I was too slow, too chubby, too awkward, too red in the face. But the good feelings were outweighing the bad ones by a long shot, and most importantly I could run regardless of how anxious I was feeling and once I got going it felt like an instant relief.
I remember the first run where I understood why runners love running.
I was running along the seafront heading into the sunrise. It was beautiful. The sea was so calm it looked like it was made of glass. All of a sudden I was down at the end of the promenade without having stopped to walk and hadn’t even noticed the time passing. I was so focused on my breathing, the sound of my footsteps, the sunrise, the tranquility.
Was I a runner now?
My goal of the seafront soon turned to bigger goals. One day I would run 7 miles to my brother’s house for breakfast. One day I would run 10 miles. One day I would run a half marathon. In February of this year, I ran my first half marathon which took me along the route that I started on. Taking in the seafront views and pushing myself hard, I was slow, I was red in the face, I struggled, but I pushed through. I’ve now set bigger goals, yet again.
Whenever people tell me how disciplined they think I am because I just get up and get out running, I try to explain it’s so much more than that. It gives me a minute to process my thoughts. It gives me a minute to shut off from the stress of running my business. I’ve made some wonderful friends through running and I’ve made countless positive memories. I’ve joined my local GoodGym where I meet once or twice a week with other GoodGym runners to volunteer and help out the community. I’ve attended a running camp in Mallorca. I’ve got more races in the diary.
Running is always going to be hard, but it’s much easier than putting up with anxiety and depression.
I’m a runner, because I run. I run to make myself feel good.
Written by Angela Chick - an illustrator and designer based in Southsea, UK www.angelachick.com
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