Keeping It Real, mental health, Running

My Running for Mental Health Journey

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that saw mental health as a part of overall health. When I was a freshman in high school, my mom realized that when I said “I didn’t feel good” and wanted to stay home from school that my mental health was what needed attention, and I started therapy. I was told by my therapist then that I had “episodic depression” (I realize now that my diagnosis was probably adjustment disorder) and I saw a psychiatrist to start taking anti-depressants. I didn’t attend therapy or take medication for long (although I probably should have) – and I have had recurrent depression and anxiety throughout my life ever since.

I have been seeing an incredible therapist for several years now that has helped me to really dig down deep and work on and process a lot of things. Recently I had an extreme depressive episode that had the people closest to me and my therapist very concerned. I finally made an appointment with my doctor to discuss medication and have been on an anti-depressant for a few months now. Even though I run and write about breaking the stigma around mental health, I was concerned that I would not be taken seriously, that my symptoms weren’t severe enough, that I didn’t meet the criteria to be on medication. When I went to my appointment I was given the depression screening and when I really answered honestly I realized, yes, I am depressed. Both my therapist and my doctor explained to me how my anxious feelings were most likely a symptom of these episodes of depression. I kept myself busy to distract from feeling low and when I just couldn’t take it anymore I would either fall into a depression or experience anxiety.

A question I get asked a lot is, “Did you always know you wanted to be a dietitian?” And the answer to that question is a very firm no. In fact, I did not even know what a dietitian was until I was in college. Before that, I had always dreamed of being a teacher or being a therapist. The fun part about being a dietitian is that I’m actually ALL of those things, and what I teach and counsel about is FOOD. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that (for me, at least).

As a dietetics student, I felt like I had to look a certain way to be taken seriously as a dietitian. If I was going to counsel patients on eating right and exercising then I should also be eating right and exercising, and they wouldn’t believe me if I wasn’t the right body shape. (Oh, if I could go back and slap some sense into that young, naive college student, I would!) Instead of using running as a way to feel good in my body, I started running as a way to burn off the food I ate, which provided barely enough energy to sustain a child. My final year in college I could not sustain running, eating the way I was eating, and studying for my toughest classes, so I stopped running.

When I started my career as a dietitian working in the mental health field at a treatment center for eating disorders and substance use disorders, I was doing some “fake it ’til you make it” thinking, trying to change the way I approached my own eating and exercise. This time I wanted to be an example to my patients that food wasn’t good or bad, and that exercise wasn’t punishment for what you ate, but a way to enjoy what our body does and feels like. My first 5k back to running after dropping it for almost four years was a race for mental health awareness and suicide prevention – the MOM Race.

I left that job to work a full time job in long term care which took me to a new city. After a couple of years living here, I discovered a vibrant running community. I had always run by myself and had “imposter syndrome” thoughts about being a runner – I didn’t think I was fast enough, good enough, etc. I finally took the leap and joined a few online running groups and eventually I went to a local group run where I met some of the most amazing people. Through one of the online running groups that I joined, I met a friend who introduced me to a rather new community – Still I Run.

Still I Run began in 2016 and is “community of warriors promoting the benefits of running for mental health”. I loved the message, the mission, the idea behind this community, and I immediately became a part of it. I started to learn that running could help me on days when I felt depressed and anxious. It was a time I could spend thinking or not thinking, I could be with nature and I could explore my spirituality.

I have participated in the Still I Run May Run Streak for Mental Health Awareness month since it’s first year in 2018. I have friends who have done run streaks for years – I save my streaking for this one month because it is a cause that is near and dear to me, not only because of my own mental health journey but because so many people around me have also struggled with their mental health. Two friends of mine died by suicide in high school – every May I run to remember them, and also to remember that I came close to having that same story. My story goes on, though, and still, I run.

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