The old cliche… running is cheaper than therapy. We’ve all heard it, right? I used to even have a shirt that said that. I used to joke when I wore it though, “But some of us need both!”
But running is not a 1-1 substitution for therapy.
Let’s make it clear, running can have amazing mental benefits. Over the summer I read the book Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier by Scott Douglas and it outlined a lot of the very positive ways running (or exercise, in general) can be beneficial for the mind. It also (despite the title) made it very clear that it’s not only running that is the solution, professionals are needed at times, modern psychological techniques in combination with running can be magic, and mental disorders (or just struggles) are a larger arena than just going out for a run.
If you’ve read this site for any length of time, you know that I have battled an eating disorder. I entered treatment for my eating disorder in 2009 (wow, almost a decade ago!) and it was one of the hardest decisions I made, but it was also necessary and a really good choice. During my treatment, the facility I worked with liked people to stop doing all exercise. Most of us were not using it as a tool for good and even I had the lovely “compensatory exercise compulsion” tacked onto my diagnosis. I still probably look at exercise as a compensatory mechanism. But I also NEED running. And because I promised to not exceed a certain amount of miles or days of running during treatment and not train for races, they let me keep running. Running helps me feel stronger and more confident in myself.
Most of the time…
At least, it used to…
Since I had my daughter in 2012, running has become a conflicting bag of emotions. Basically, I still love to run and I still love the endorphin rush I get from a good run, a long distance, a PR, a special event… but running is harder and harder to fit into my life and I feel guilt for leaving to go run. (I’m leaving my child behind, I should be doing things around the house for my family, I shouldn’t be away from my desk for my lunch hour to run, the list is always full of possibilities.)
And over the years, my time has felt less and less my own. I hear so many stories about mothers who run to reclaim their sense of being, but I feel like I lose who I am a little bit more every single day. And as these feelings of anxiety and sadness grow and grow, I feel more and more physical symptoms that make it harder and harder to run. It turns up the IBS, it makes it difficult to breathe, I get hives all over, I feel more and more fatigued because my brain is constantly running…
It should also be noted, that at the same time I had my daughter I stopped seeing my therapist. I didn’t have time to go see her when I had an infant to take care of and full-time work! And then the infant became a toddler, then a kid… and her social calendar is far more full than mine is and as she is only 6 I tend to accompany her on these, so how do I fit me into the picture?
But I’m breaking now… my ability to cope is diminishing on so many levels. Work struggles annoy me more, my husband drives me up the wall, it’s harder to laugh at things, and dealing with being a mom is nearly killing me.
So I started to see my therapist again. And I’m hoping that having someone to talk things out with on occasion will help me get back to a place where running can be a form of therapy again as well.
But I just wanted to remind everyone that sometimes our mental health is fragile and we need to take care of it. Sometimes, the people in your life don’t really make it feel like you can count on them so you can work on this health. From what I’m told, you may just have to force the issue. Self-care doesn’t just fall into place and it’s not an easy puzzle to figure out. I’m working on it… because my overall wellbeing needs it. My running needs it, and that contributes to my overall wellbeing.
It’s just hard when the fixes for your broken-ness feel broken too.
*The font on the graphic at the top is like an inside joke to myself. So often it’s presented that it’s all rainbows and hearts for running to fix you. It’s not…