Running From Depression

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I think back to last summer when I completed my first half marathon. I was healthier than I ever have been in my adult life. I was eating well, losing weight, and exercising regularly. I felt healthy. I felt powerful. I felt amazing. I was doing things I never imagined I could do (i.e. running a half-marathon).

And after the race, I took a well-deserved short break from running. Which turned into a long break. My old eating habits started creeping back in. And I started gaining weight. And I was sinking into depression.

Depression is an old frenemy of mine, so I know the signs well: the short temper, the loss of interest in all good things, the constant feeling of being overwhelmed, and subsequent desire to escape it all in mindless computer games or tv or just plain sleep. Most people who know me probably wouldn’t even guess that I’m slogging through the depths right now. But I know. My husband knows. And my kids know, without really knowing – “Mom, why are you mad at me?” (Mom Guilt is a great sidekick for depression.)

For a while I tried to figure out if one caused the other. Did the lack of exercise and the eating crap bring on the depression (was it my fault)? Or did the depression pull me back to the bad habits of feeding my stress and crawling into bed instead of lacing up my shoes (can I blame my chemistry for falling off the wagon)?

In reality, I don’t think there’s a chicken or an egg. From my last therapist, I learned that depression is often cyclical, and mine comes around every 3-4 years (going all the way back to 7th grade, if I’m really honest about it). From my own experience, I know my healthy/unhealthy habits are also cyclical. It just sucks that they happened at the same time, because it made the downward spiral go deep and fast.

It’s not the deepest it has been though. Luckily, after hitting rock bottom years ago, I’ve never come close to it again (also luckily, my rock bottom wasn’t as bad as some). So I know that I can still turn it around myself. I know (for now) I don’t need medication or therapy. But I do need to do something. I need to run.

There’s a lot of information out there about how exercise helps with depression (here’s one article from the Mayo Clinic for fun). And everything they say is true for me – the confidence, the coping, the feel-good brain chemicals. It’s all part of the benefits I feel immediately when I run.

But there’s something else – when I put my headphones on and start moving my feet, I get into a zone that is just for me. For 40 minutes, I’m not a mom, or a wife, or an employee, or even a friend. I am just me. I only have to think about me. Worry about me. Take care of me. Focus on me. Be only me.

It took me a long time to allow myself to go there. It sounds selfish, but it is fundamental for me to have a healthy balance. As they say on the airplane, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with their mask. Running is my oxygen.

All of this is in my head and is spoken regularly by the rational voice that tries to get the rest of me to do the right thing. And yet, I still have not gotten back into the routine I need to move forward. So today I bit the bullet and registered for my second half marathon. The race is in four months, so I have to start training now. And to get back up to that distance, I have to train frequently. I have to.

This is how I will change the direction of my spiral. This is how I will get back to where I was when I felt healthy, and strong, and amazing. This is how I will beat my depression: I will run from it.

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About perfectday

There is always something bumping around in my head, and if I leave it up there, I will go crazy. So I try to get my thoughts out onto paper (or the current equivalent). Mostly this blog is just for me to keep my sanity, but I also hope there's a nugget or two in there that other people find worth reading.
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9 Responses to Running From Depression

  1. only1rodney says:

    Wow. So awesomely transparent. I totally relate to this! I tend to go through depression. 6 years ago I had It reeeally bad, to the point where I almost lost my marriage. But, Thank GOD, I discovered Cycling, and just like you described how running does for you, Cycling (and yes I can say running too) did and still does for me! I went by the motto of “putting it all on the pedals” all my worries, doubts, fears, and depression… I’ve been on 100 mile bike rides feeling freeeeeee and I love it! Thank you so much for your post!

    • perfectday says:

      I’d love to add cycling sometime too – I imagine there’s an extra rush when we you get moving FAST which can’t really happen with running!

  2. Amy says:

    There’s nothing like putting yourself out there. I appreciate your honesty and transparency. For me, everything you said rang true. I have felt the cycles, and I have also felt the spiral take hold and drag me down. So far down, that the cycle became self-perpetuating. But as you said, there is something about running that momentarily takes me away from the depression and fatigue. Perhaps it gives me just enough energy to do something that I would not have otherwise done. Perhaps its those feel-good chemicals. Either way, I’ll take it. My 1/2 marathon is in October. I have a little bit more training time than you, but I thank you for the inspiration to do it.

  3. Kelli says:

    This is an amazing story! Too many times we hide and present a ‘perfect’ life, thank you for having the courage to share. I am a strong believer that I need to take time everyday to focus just on me and I do that through exercise. I am a much happier person after I have 30 minutes to spend on me. My family, and friends know this. Life is a challenge, but you are a fighter and an amazing women just from the short time we have spent more time together.

  4. You speak for so many of us!

  5. Pingback: Dear Morning Julia | A Perfect Day for J

  6. Pingback: Start. Fail. Shame. Rinse and Repeat. | A Perfect Day for J

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