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How Running and Harry Potter Changed How I View My Anxiety

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I’ve become a runner. I’ve always enjoyed being active, but never on teams. Hello competition anxiety! No, I have always enjoyed challenging myself: swimming, hiking, rock climbing, and more recently, running. I often find when my anxiety is up and I begin to feel restless and desperate, taking it out on the pavement is one of the best things for me. I like to be outside, and I love the solitary time to be with my thoughts. You can run anywhere with only a pair of good shoes.

I’ve also become someone who has committed to regular therapy. My therapist and I have been working through some of my anxiety triggers through the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. In a nutshell, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to help me process traumatic experiences. The bilateral stimulation can be done with your therapist by tracking a pencil left and right with your eyes or by slowly tapping alternating sides of your body, among other methods.

As we’ve begun this intense inner work together I found myself continuing to feel like the experience was opening up other things in my subconscious. Other processing started to happen that I wasn’t even fully aware of. I have moments where suddenly a multitude thoughts and memories collide. Fragments of memories from lectures in college from a decade ago would suddenly integrate with a line from Harry Potter. At times it was so intense that it would take my breath away. It still does.

I didn’t realize this at first, but I was having these intense moments while out running. And wouldn’t you know it, running is also a form of bilateral stimulation. In one specific instance, I went out running after being triggered by hateful political rhetoric. I was so upset and I was thinking about how awful these people were to say such things, and then suddenly it hit me: these hateful things that people say, it’s like what my anxiety says to me. It tells me I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not worthy. It leads me to dark thoughts, dark places, even suicidal places.

But then I heard the voice of Sirius Black telling Harry this: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” I realized that even though there’s this hateful, self-deprecating voice of anxiety inside me, it doesn’t define me. I might find myself in dark places, I have dark thoughts, but I can choose to not be what my anxiety tells me I am. It is hard work, so fucking hard, but I can choose to focus on the light. It takes practice, and like running, I can’t do it every day, but I’m building up my endurance.

What’s more, I have profoundly grasped the impact of the words of others who have told me over and over again that this is all in my head. Of course it’s all in my head! The anxiety, the depression, the darkness and the light. I thought again of Harry Potter, and I had an intensely validating moment from good ole Professor Dumbledore. There’s that moment in the final Harry Potter book — when Harry had just been hit by the killing curse for the second time and it wasn’t clear if he was dead or alive in that instant. Harry was waiting and talking with Dumbledore, and Harry asked if this was real or all in his head. Dumbledore responded, “Of course it’s all in your head, but why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”

Image via Facebook – Harry Potter

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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