After the diagnosis, the anti-depressants and beginning with the therapy, (in the Autumn of 2009), I started trying to implement some practical changes in my life to encourage wellness.
My therapist, Sam, suggested exercise.
At this time I probably hadn’t done any regular exercise since I was about 16. I had given birth to three beautiful babies and had experienced four pregnancies (I had a miscarriage in my first pregnancy when I was 23) since then.
I wasn’t massively overweight – but still carrying quite a few additional baby pounds. And totally un-fit.
After a few months of going deep and quiet (to read about this see here) I decided to venture out. Spring was on its way and I started running.
Living very near Sefton Park at the time, there were certain things in my favour – it is a park with wide pavements encircling it – the circumference is just over 3 kms, lots of people run there every day, oh, and it is ridiculously beautiful!
I am not a natural runner but over the last four years I have begun to enjoy it.
Initially I ran alone. Partly because I was crap at it and needed to stop all the time. I was embarrassed and preferred the anonymity.
Mainly I ran alone because it was excellent head space. I would often listen to a podcast of Radio 4’s Women’s Hour (just enough to entertain and engage me, but not too exciting). At this time I didnt really want to be left with my own thoughts, as usually they weren’t very helpful. Also the spoken accompaniment to my run distracted me from the pain my body experienced as I gradually got fit (or, a bit fitter anyway.)
It was quite encouraging the first time I managed to get all the way round the park without stopping!
The routine of running was good, it seemed to take the edge off my anxiety. Around this time, after a long day with the kids, I would struggle to relax in the evening. My brain wouldn’t stop. I would fidget and be very restless, unable to settle to anything. If Matt asked me what was up I would look at him confused as I couldn’t rationalise any of it, or pull my thought process apart to see what had set me off, or was worrying me.
(An aside: In a former life I loved to read to unwind. One thing that Sam had asked me, early in my therapy, was whether I had read anything recently. I realised – I hadn’t, not really for a number of years. When I thought about it I realised that the words would swim a bit on the page and I couldnt keep my mind on it. The most I had managed was an article in a magazine. Anyone who knew me as a teenager would be surprised at this….I had put it down to lack of time and sleep deprivation. Apparently this is quite common in people suffering from depression.)
Anyway, I now found that on the evenings when I had motivated myself to get out of the house and run, relaxation was a bit easier. I seemed to have burned off some nervous energy. I felt physically a bit in control which I think gradually increased my confidence that I could get other areas of my life in control – or at least that I could begin to.
The physical- fitness side of the running was good but absolutely the best thing about running was (and is) being outside.
As I ran, the seasons became significant.
When I started running it was almost dark (I went out as Matt returned from work at about 6, a couple of times a week). Gradually, over the months, the evening stretched and it became lighter. The park changed in ways I had never noticed before. It smelt different. I noticed every new flower, the snowdrops and crocuses, then the daffodils. Soon I was running in the light. Sometimes I ran past the allotments and loved seeing the activity gradually increasing, plots get tidied, bonfires lit and seeds planted.
I have a few particularly clear memories of moments on these runs. It was significant. An unusual clarity in my thought process.
It felt like I was, with creation, running from the dark of winter towards the light.
Although lots of other things weren’t changing for me, I still got very anxious and really wasn’t well, I felt encouraged by this.
I still find being outside is encouraging. It brings clarity. It calms me.
I don’t think it would be the same in a gym. Being outside, whatever the weather, suits me.
Away from the hectic; the day to day, the technology and the lists of things to do, the continual interuption from my wonderful children; being outside – even if only for half an hour- can re-align me with some truth.
The weather does it’s own thing. The wind blows, the sun shines, the rain soaks me through.
It feels as though all of creation is comforting me, motivating me… cheering me on.
Beauty conspiring to heal.
ps. I still run, about once a week now, usually with two great friends, but I cant say I am a running convert. It is not as painful anymore, but I do it because I know it is good for me. I don’t feel the buzz of endorphins post run. I can, on occasion, run twice round the park, (around 6 and a half kilometres), and that is enough for me. I am not a competitive person and I feel no need to sign up for any races. But as I pound the pavement, I feel more in control. I am taking charge of my physical state… I can take charge of my mind.