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.