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The Challenge of Running When You’re Depressed

Hot on the heels of the London Marathon, I’m sure many of us are feeling spurred on to either begin running or to get back into it. I’m no different. I used to run years ago, but unfortunately I let it slide. I could blame this on depression and how it makes me want to sleep my days away, but it’s also about just getting plain lazy.

Once your fitness goes and the weight piles on, it’s really hard to contemplate exercise. Starting from the beginning is always tough. It’s even harder when you’re fighting depression and anxiety. The negative thoughts tell you it’s not worth the hassle and you will only fail, so why begin? On bad days, negativity wins and the cushion fort of the sofa becomes a refuge.

Unfortunately, I have a propensity to comfort eat when I am depressed. I understand many people lose their appetite when they’re in that dark place, but not me. I have been known to put on quite a lot of weight from trying to find solace in carbs-laden and sugar-heavy foods. This has done me no favors in further despising myself.

I have been reticent about exercising. I will confess that a brisk walk or negotiating a flight of stairs has led to me being a little out of breath. Hardly a catalyst for wanting to do something more strenuous, is it?

Then the other day I watched a show on BBC 1 called ‘Mind Over Marathon’: This involves a group of 10 people, all with mental illnesses, committing to training to run the London Marathon. They have a range of illnesses and many have never done any form of running. I found myself relating to those who find running hard because they are battling anxiety and depression.

Like some of these individuals, I am petrified at the idea of running outside where others can see and potentially judge me. Not only do I worry about small things such as whether I’m running correctly, if I’m red in the face, and if I appear unfit, I also contend with being overweight and having mental illnesses.

I went for my first run in years, a few days ago. It was tough. I did a “Couch Potato to 5K” program, which I think will suit me, but I don’t mind admitting it was painful and I got upset.

Through the walking and jogging stints, I was not only trying to motivate myself to keep going, but I was also battling against the depression thoughts that I should just give up, that I would not complete it, and that I was foolish to even try. Add to that the anxiety spiral of worrying people were laughing at me and judging the woman who looked like she was about to have a heart attack, and you have something of a nightmare.

So you would think I gave up, right? Oddly enough I didn’t.

The next day I decided I needed to go again. It helps that my husband is coming along with me, for now. He is providing me with encouragement, motivating me to keep going when I want to quit, and, dare I say it, I know if people are casting us a glance, it may be at both of us rather than just me.

The second run was still tough. I don’t expect great things so soon. However I can genuinely state I felt a sense of pride in doing it. It was good to be outside, listening to music, being in the company of my husband and defeating small hurdles of jogging every now and again in between the walks. I’m not going to sugarcoat this and declare that running will “cure” all mental illnesses, but maybe it is a way to strengthen the mind.

I am heartened that the London Marathon chose Heads Together as their chosen charity. It shows how the link between physical exercise for helping those of us with mental illness is strong.

Running is a case of mind over matter. That’s not so easy for someone who has to deal with the relentless thoughts and worries that come from being mentally ill. Not only are you trying to make it through physically when you’re exerting yourself, but you’re waging a war with the demons in your head who want you to lie down and quit.

I’m not a poster girl for running. I can barely complete the easiest part of the program at this stage, but I know I will keep trying to get out there and run. I believe I owe it to myself. Please don’t think this is easy for me. I am currently in a depression relapse, and even summoning up the energy to think about running is tiring. I guess I like to win. No matter how small, putting my sneakers on and taking that first step out of the door is a personal victory.

I will fail some days when I want to hide from the world. I am determined I will look to tomorrow for a potentially better running day. I desire the freedom running gives of pushing my body and experiencing those endorphins that reward the effort.

I want to look after my mind by exercising my body. I wish to feel proud of myself for hitting my goals, both big and small. I need to keep living. Running makes me feel alive. It reminds me that this body and mind can work together and that I am worth it.

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Thinkstock photo by kieferpix