I’ve always been a runner. But not seriously. I’d run on and off as a teenager, but that was mainly because I wanted to look good. (I grew up in California. The pressure to look amazing was intense). In college I continued running, but that too was very sporadic. It wasn’t until a huge mental breakdown that I started running more regularly and led me to run for my mental health.
Let’s back up a second. When I was 18, I was diagnosed with depression, but I didn’t do anything with the diagnosis except take Prozac. I was too ashamed to do anything else. I’m the fun, sassy, outgoing friend. I couldn’t still be seen as that person if I had depression! The thought of people knowing I this new dark secret of mine was unbearable. What would people think!? So I stayed silent and continued on with my life.
The end of 2011 was when my status quo changed.
The depression hit worse than ever. I checked myself into a mental hospital as a result. When I was a released a week later, I confined myself to my bedroom at home. You know how in the movies, you sometimes see people lying in their beds, just staring up at the ceiling, unable to do anything? That really happens. I spent days in bed. Sobbing. Not eating. I had a care plan in place that included going to therapy and taking medication, but unfortunately, that all takes time to make a difference.
One day while I was in bed, I rolled over lazily, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neglected, bright pink running shoes. For a brief second there, I felt an emotion akin to missing a friend. “What the heck,” I figured and I put them on. That day I completed a 15-minute walk, outside, in the fresh air. When I returned home, I sort of felt a little bit better.
The next day, I walked further. The day after that, I ran a bit. And so on and so forth. Eventually I found running was more than just a thing you do for the body. It’s something you do for the mind as well. This isn’t a placebo effect thing either. It’s been proven that when you run, or exercise, endorphins in the brain are released that trigger a positive or euphoric feeling (runner’s high, anyone?).
In January of 2012, I joined a running group to train for what would be my first race in years. Several months later, I completed the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25k, the nation’s largest 25K road race. I’ve been running ever since. To date I have 3 marathons, one half ironman, 10 half marathons, five 10Ks, and countless 5Ks under my belt.
The races I’ve completed mean nothing compared to what my mental health has been like since my breakdown in late 2011. Running has saved my life. It gives me motivation, it’s helped me meet many wonderful people, and it gives me attainable goals to conquer.
Since 2012, I’ve become so much more open about my mental health journey and I also attribute that to running because running can be responsible for improving a person’s self-esteem. Now, I tell everyone I can about the benefits of running for mental health through a community I started called Still I Run. The goal with the group is threefold:
Running, or any form of exercise really, is so important for mental health. It’s changed my life for the better and I hope it will change your life as well.
Originally published at medium.com