— Mental Health Matters

How running the Boston Marathon helped me let go of my anxiety

Courtesy of Matt Trappe

On Monday, April 17th of this year, I did what a limited number of competitive runners are able in their lifetime — I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line. With tears in my eyes, I thought of all the things that happened leading up to those final moments, and all that would change because of them. Thanks to an invitation to join the CLIF Bar team for this historic run, my initial excitement quickly waned as I realized all the steps necessary to get from my acceptance to that emotional finish.

Because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the word “yes” often comes with a lifetime of baggage.

It’s difficult to explain to others how hard I fight to appear “normal,” and how desperately I wish to succeed at doing so. My anxiety is all-consuming; a never-ending ferris wheel spinning my thoughts ’round, while my OCD works to keep those thoughts in check by way of unusual tics (such as tugging at skin), and the PTSD attempts to cut them both off at the pass with a firm “no.” Because the world is too scary to answer anything else.

These disorders have come to believe they’re protecting me from danger, though the older I get, the more I see they’re merely keeping me from living.

Courtesy of Matt Trappe

When I received this generous invitation, from a company whose ideals I admire and whose products I love, I didn’t hesitate in my “yes,” and at first, that scared me, too.

How could I be so quick to take a risk? I decided to go with it, even though within the same few days, my husband was offered an out-of-state job he’d applied for, and accepted. Needless to say, my anxiety was already high because of all these big decisions (this race) and changes (an impending move)— something my OCD thrives on to gain some sort of order.

After decades of different therapies, medications, breathing exercises, and (fill in the blank), running had been my only true form of meditation — a real source of healing and serenity not found through traditional tools. As an out-of-shape mother of two, I survived a brutal postpartum depression (PPD) with my firstborn daughter and suffered two miscarriages before finally having my son. Throughout all of this (10 years in the making), my weight ballooned, my self-esteem plummeted, and my anxiety — along with the other disorders — became magnified.

Running saved me in more ways than one.

Courtesy of Matt Trappe

The moment I registered for this marathon (which makes my third big race within five months), I wondered a lot of things: Could I manage my anxiety through the whole weekend? What would I learn about myself in doing something so far out of my comfort zone? Most of all, how could I pass such an incredible opportunity up — despite my anxiety?

The answer is, I couldn’t.

None of the other details mattered right then because something inside told me to go for it: The race. The out-of-state move. All the choices I’d normally scoff at because they meant facing my fears head-on. This time, I refused to give in to my disorders. This time, I wanted to conquer my fears so that, when I returned home, I’d feel triumphant; not just for running Boston, but for letting Boston transform me into the woman, wife, and mother I know I can be.

Thus began a 4-day excursion into the great unknown.

A gorgeous city I’ve never been to with people I’ve never met, running a distance my body felt a bit too fatigued for, and yet the more I fought through the discomfort and succumbed to the experiences, the less anxious I felt. My long weekend began with an early flight (and layover in D.C.). I’m not a great traveler to begin with, but on the second plane, I got sick.

Once we landed and my stomach settled, I had my first Uber fiasco. Coming from the midwest, my husband and I have never used this service. The result was a double charge, confusion, and an anxiety headache. An hour later, my first Uber ride was over. Thankfully, the hotel was expecting us (a fear I’d concocted in my head)(thanks, anxiety). We had the entire day to ourselves to tour the city, which helped relax my nerves for the events to come.

And with the itinerary, I’d have lots of time to second guess everything.

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