Running and my mental health

I’ve often considered composing a blog about how running has helped or affected me mentally but never actually had the nerve or wherewithal to sit down and write it.

But since it’s World Mental Health Day there’s no better time I suppose.

Then again, who cares about what I think? Who set me up as some sort of ‘expert’ on the subject? Who even do I think I am? You get the picture … they’re questions that get to the very core of who I am or, at least, give an insight into my own opinion of myself.

Full disclosure … I’m not a fan of myself. I’ve never been and I doubt I ever will. I constantly fear that I come across as full of my own self-importance, that I’m big-headed, that I’m needy, that I’m lesser than everyone else, a failure.

Earlier this decade I went through 16 months of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy until I was unceremoniously dumped by my counsellor. No warning, no gradual winding down of the sessions, she even gave me ‘homework’ at my last session – a pretty intense task as well – only to abruptly end them, not even in person but hiding behind my GP’s secretary, and for a long, long time that sudden ending to my weekly sessions really hit me badly.

I just couldn’t handle it. She was a professional, she was paid to listen to me but even she couldn’t stick me. If she wasn’t prepared to do it, then why should anyone else?

Then I discovered running. What a revelation! What a change it has made to my life!

From my first tentative steps in putting myself through the NHS C25K programme to my first marathon running has given me the chance to escape all my worries. When I’m out running my only immediate concern is my next step, my next kilometre or my next mile.

Running has allowed me to process the current issues in my life, quite often bringing clarity to a situation where none existed beforehand.

Running has opened up so many wonderful things over the past two-and-a-half years that I would never otherwise have experienced. I have met so many amazing people and felt things I never imagined possible … the sense of euphoria at crossing the finishing line, the pushing of another boundary, the smashing of another glass ceiling.

I have all my medals, 40+ and counting, on the wall beside my desk but deliberately just out of sight. Looking straightahead at my monitor typing this I can’t see them, but turn my head a little to the left and there they are, in all their glory, reminding me what I’ve done and what I can do. I always get a little lift seeing them there.

I’m chronically shy. I withdraw in a crowd of people. I lack the confidence to engage with others. I worry (no, I know) this makes me appear aloof and unwelcoming when the polar opposite is the case … but my own insecurities stop me from being any different.

Yet, because of running, I joined my local club. That in itself was a huge leap on my part. I’m slow, I’ll always be slow and I really worried that I’d be like a fish out of water amongst the rest of them. A little fat 46-year-old alongside these athletes.

But, in less than a year, I now look after the club website and the majority of press relations. I often worry that I don’t do a decent job, that I’m only in the position because no-one else wants it yet when I get positive comments (oops, remember what I said earlier about being big-headed?) I’m on cloud nine, I feel like my very existence and presence is vindicated.

I can go to club sessions on a Monday night and feel I’m amongst friends. For a notorious loner that is a huge thing. I can go to races and be guaranteed support simply because of the shirt I’m wearing. That is massive.

I still worry myself sick before each and every run, even a short training outing. What if I’m even more useless than normal? What if I can’t do it? What if someone sees me and mocks me? I favour running in the dark or running in quiet areas for those very reasons.

However, I keep doing it, I keep putting myself through it even if sometimes it takes me all day to work up the courage to go out.

Why? Because running has really helped me develop as a person. It has taught me that no matter the hurdle or challenge in front of me I have the strength buried deep within to handle it, to face it head on.

I guess that’s the point of this blog.

Running is much more than putting one foot in front of another, it has instilled within me a belief in myself that I never realised existed before.

I’m not fixed or cured. I’ll never be that, but I am a much ‘better’ person because of running.

Apologies for the length of this post, and well done for sticking me out until the end, but thank-you for doing so. I hope I’ve helped or inspired you in some small way.

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