November 17 2017
Five years after admitting defeat during a high school race, this runner reflects on her eating disorder recovery.
My public face showed confidence, happiness, and success. Behind my face were worry, fear, and loneliness.
I didn’t think anyone would understand. After all, I grew up in an excellent neighborhood, had a phenomenal education, and had a loving family. What could I be worried or fearful about, and why would I feel alone?
After many life changes and traumatic experiences, I unknowingly developed anxiety. For years, I could mask this. I dove headfirst into work, and I created a routine to keep me focused. Awake at 5 a.m., at the gym by 6 a.m. and at work by 8 a.m. Once I made it home from work 11 hours later, I would have some dinner, meal prep for the next day and then be in bed by 10 p.m. If my routine got out of whack, I was grumpy and anxious. I would panic about missing a workout, skipping meal prep, or being late to work. I was strict on myself, and if I missed something I felt overwhelmed. I eventually had to work on being less rigid with my life and accept it was okay to be a little out of routine.
Fast forward to January 2016, when I met my now-fiancé. The new relationship means schedules get out of whack. I was working from home, so of course, I had a strict schedule for myself. But, I wanted to make time for my relationship, which is when my panic attacks started to develop. Little situations seemed to overwhelm me. My emotions would get the best of me; my body would get stiff, my heart would pound through my chest, and I felt like the room was spinning.
I finally sought help from a therapist. Together we discovered and diagnosed my anxiety, which helped me understand my symptoms a bit more. For years, I didn’t realize how much I had masked but finally felt relief. However, knowing I had anxiety was not a cure-all answer or an excuse as to why I had panic attacks. I had to do my work to help ease my anxiousness.
My therapist recommended I exercise. I chuckled and said, “I do!” However, I realized my workouts had gone from seven days a week to three or four days a week. During my therapy sessions we also discussed family; past relationships, including when an ex-boyfriend cheated on me; eating disorders; fears; finances; etc. I acknowledged a lot of feelings that I had suppressed because I forced myself to just focus on school and work my whole life. I slowly started to lose friendships and not enjoy running like I once had.
One thing therapist told was that, since I worked from home, it was easy for me to isolate myself. Isolation is not good for anxiety. I needed to get back to running again. Even though I had been into sports my whole life, I used running and exercise more as a weight-loss or -control tool instead of a mental-health tool. So I took control of my running life again. But this time, I didn’t track my weight or log my miles or pace. Instead, I tracked how I felt after a good run or workout. I would track throughout the day how I felt emotionally. I could control my anxiety more on days that started with a run, moreso than days I didn’t run or would run in the evening. When I learned how to turn my anxious energy into a run, I could overcome my fears more easily. I felt more alert and aware and less fearful, especially on days I ran in the morning.
Running is not my cure to anxiety or nervousness—it’s my stability. I’m able to manage it much better, and I’m able to understand my emotions more. But I had to dig up emotions and learn about myself first to really understand how to live with these feelings and emotions. I discovered it’s okay to ask for help, something I was terrible at in my 20s. I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness, but I’ll let you in on a little secret—it’s not! I’ve learned it’s okay to mess up, it’s not the end of the world.
Another thing very important to running is managing you breath. I took those same breathing techniques and applied them to coping with my anxious moments when they happen.
Running has also taught me to clear my mind and listen to my body, which I use in real life when I feel it creep up.
Running has also taught me to let go of fear. Since running a half or full marathon is not scary to me, I use this mindset in my day-to-day life. Nothing is unattainable if I put my mind to it.
And in running you must be mindful; in everyday life (especially relationships), you need to be mindful too. And running boosts your moods, which is a bonus for day-to-day stress.
Some days are harder than others, but I’ve accepted my anxiety and have decided that I’m not going to let it take over my life. Each day, I set out for a run, and I feel more level-headed. I don’t feel alone, worried or fearful.