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Running Helped Me Turn the Pain of Depression Into Meaning

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I remember simultaneously feeling terrified I was about to die and wishing it would just happen already. It was a panic attack that had woken me up in the middle of the night. Short of breath, tightness in my chest, panic coursing through every nerve in my body, but I was too afraid to call for help. I was living alone at the time and waking up like this was a regular occurrence. I had been plummeting into a dark place for awhile and no one knew. That night I unlocked the door to my apartment and wrote down my online banking passwords so the paramedics wouldn’t have to break in and my family could access my savings account.

That’s probably the time I also knew I needed to do something about the way I was feeling. Depression and anxiety can have crippling effects. I think one of the worst things for me was how good I was at hiding it. I excelled at work, took on projects outside my day job, and always tried to put a smile on my face — but that ate me up inside.

I decided to start small. After reading about the benefits physical activity can have on mental health, I started going for walks. Apart from the endorphins being released, I found the movement to be greatly therapeutic. Moving — in any way, at any speed and in any direction — helps you feel like you’re going somewhere. So, slowly, I started moving.

Over the course of the spring and summer of 2015, I started running. Just around the block at first. And for awhile at the start, the running was interspersed with walking. But there was something about the release of my feet on the ground that pushed me to go further. A jog around the block became a 5 km run. Then 10 km. Then a half marathon (21.1 km). Taking myself from a place where I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning to where I could run for a couple of hours without stopping.

Even if you aren’t a runner, you can believe what you’ve heard. Running hurts. Even if you’ve got a great pair of shoes and perfect form, pounding into the pavement or trail for about 20,000 strides takes a toll. But that’s why I think I love running — why I think it has helped pull me out of a bad place and manage my depression and anxiety. Running is painful and so is life sometimes.

With running, there’s a high I feel when I finish a race. Whether it’s completing a goal of jogging around the block or a half marathon, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. It’s an immediate reminder the pain I go through meant something. When I can see the results of how far I went, slowly see my muscles get bigger, and know that I was responsible for it.

Mental health is a serious subject, but it doesn’t have to be a subject full of sorrow. Just as running up a hill mid-10km can be a challenge, it doesn’t mean you should stop and feel defeated. Even if it will take you years to get up, take that one step. Embrace the pain, let yourself feel it and use it. Move.

See more from Jacob’s Run for Wellness campaign in the video below: 

Originally published: July 6, 2016
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