Running and Recovery – Just for Today

About eight months ago I had a turning point in my life. Instead of hiding from and burying my fears – a trait I’d gotten very good at over the years – I began to learn to face them head on. In addition to therapy and medication, I recently discovered two more things I want and need to do to take better care of myself – the first is getting regular exercise and the second is attending a 12-step program (for friends and families of problem drinkers).

Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr
Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr

Knowing that exercise would be beneficial to both my physical and mental health, I decided to start the Couch to 5k program – walking/running sessions of 20 to 30 minutes three times a week, which allow you to work up to running a 5K at the end of two months. (I figure if I write about it I’ll be more likely to follow through with it, accountability and all that.)

I should stop here to say I am not a runner. I’ve never been very fond of running and recall dreading having to run “the mile” in gym class my freshman year of high school. I developed a pretty nasty case of shin splints (probably from running in Keds, but c’est la vie). However, recently I’ve been inspired by several of my friends, also in their 30s, who have taken up running. Heather and Nicole both just ran their first 5k – The Race for the Cure. Alison has also taken up running. Julie recently confessed her “drug” of choice in dealing with depression – exercise – and she ran a half marathon this past weekend. Then there’s Sonja my triathlete friend who’s ran, biked and swam in more races than I can count.

While running isn’t something I usually enjoy, I want to give this a try, a real try.

I did my first session early Sunday morning – a five minute brisk walk followed by alternating between running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds for 20 minutes. The weather was about perfect, sunny and warm, but not too warm, and it felt good to get out of the house alone, doing something good for myself. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

As I ran my thoughts wandered to the 12-step meeting I recently attended. I thought about the parallels between running and recovery – both my recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my recovery of being an adult child of a dysfunctional family and the relationships I’ve had with addicts over the years. Both running and recovery require patience. Both running and recovery require perseverance. Both running and recovery can be overwhelming at times, but you have to focus on one day at a time, one run at a time, even if it’s just for 60 seconds.

I did my second running session on Wednesday morning. It was the complete opposite of Sunday, rainy and cold. I wore my jacket with the hood up and gloves on to keep my hands warm. I stayed pretty toasty except for my legs, which froze. (I’ve since learned of base layer tights which I am going to have to buy, especially if I’m going to be running through the winter.) My glasses were covered in rain drops and fogged up as my body temperature rose. There were lots of fallen wet leaves and branches on my path. Again, it made me think about my road to recovery. Some days the sun is shining and the path is clear and everything seems right on target and other days there are clouds and fog, it’s cold and the obstacles on my path make it easy to lose my footing.

Whether I am running or working on bettering myself mentally and emotionally, the challenges will always be there. It’s not always easy. It’s often hard work. I can’t prepare for every obstacle, but I can learn to let go of my desire to control everything. I can go with the flow. I can do my best.

When I’m running, I try to concentrate only on getting through that particular 60 seconds of running. I don’t think about running a 5k in a few months. I don’t think about running for 10 minutes at a time or even 5 minutes at a time. I do my best to stay in the moment and focus on those 60 seconds. (It reminds me a lot of labor and giving birth actually.) Just like in my life, I can’t wonder what the future will hold, but I can live in the now.

There’s a daily meditation that’s part of the 12-step programs that begins “Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately (and in the past it would seem) and it really sums it all up for me. Yes, I want to be able to run a 5k someday, but just for today I will focus on getting through those 60 second intervals at a time. Yes, I want to be healthy emotionally and mentally someday and perhaps not need therapy or medication, but just for today I will stay present and do my best. Slow and steady wins the race.

Other women who have done or are working on the Couch to 5k (C25k):

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety. It’s something that we all experience from time to time. Usually it’s a healthy response, a normal bodily reaction to stress. But for some of us anxiety becomes a way of life, a never-ending cycle of fear. One fear begets another fear begets another fear and it continues in a vicious circle, wearing us down, making us feel unable to cope or exist in a “normal” way.

Photo courtesy of BLW Photography
Photo courtesy of BLW Photography

Anxiety did that to me. I can say “did that” now because I am (finally) in recovery from generalized anxiety disorder. Notice I did not say I am recovered from it, but I am actively working on my recovery.

The thing about anxiety that I’ve come to accept is that it really is all about fear. People with an anxiety disorder often fear a lot of things, including that they are going to die. After all, this seems like a perfectly natural response when you are dealing with very real, often very frightening physical symptoms on a regular basis. There were a handful of occasions where my symptoms – heart racing, dizziness, tightness in my throat, tingling/numbness in my hands, feeling like I was going crazy or about to die (just to name a few) – were so severe that I seriously considered going to the nearest emergency room (and I know many people with anxiety disorder who do), but instead settled for calling the doctor on-call (after office hours).

I am very tuned into my body and any little (or big) thing I’ve felt over the past several months that was not “right” would lead me to believe there was something very, very wrong and if I didn’t find out what it was, I could die. This is why I’ve been on a quest having literally thousands of dollars of medical tests done (thank God for insurance) to prove to myself that I’m healthy. Because without that proof, I would always have some doubt in the back of my mind and play that most detrimental game of “what if” (a favorite of those of us with anxiety disorder) and the cycle of fear continue.

Does this make me a hypochondriac? I don’t know. It kind of feels to me like anxiety begets hypochondria or at least it has in my case.

Does the threat of being labeled a hypochondriac make people less likely to talk about their anxiety disorder? I would guess yes. Although I’ve had people comment on my anxiety-related blog posts stating they’ve dealt with anxiety too, it doesn’t seem like that many people are “out there” blogging about it. At least I had a hard time finding people writing about it. I think that’s due largely to the stigma attached to it and the worry of, “What will people think of me if they find out?”

The road to “wellville” for me (which has been a very slow process over many months) has been a mix of many things. I initially swore off medication, thinking “it’s great for other people, but not something *I* need.” I had planned to get better “naturally.” Medication didn’t fall into the “natural” category in my book. I worried about what kind of example I would be setting for my kids if I took the “easy” way out. Yes, that is kind of how I viewed it. However, after a couple of months of crippling anxiety and being at the point where I could barely function, let alone take care of my kids, I accepted that at THIS time in MY life, medication was/IS what I NEED. It took me a while to come to grips with that- that I needed a chemical substance to allow me to heal, but I’ve made my peace with it. I’d much rather be taking a medication and able to take care of my kids, than be stuck in bed or afraid to leave my house literally frozen with fear, wondering and waiting for the next panic attack to hit.

In addition to medication (Zoloft and very occasionally 1/2 of a Xanax), the laundry list of things that are helping me recover (in no particular order) includes: sleep, finding more time for myself, yoga, exercise, abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, educating myself by reading books and web sites about anxiety disorder – what causes it, who it often affects, how to deal with it, etc., seeing a therapist on a regular basis, reiki, taking vitamins and supplements, and reducing my commitments. It is my hope that by doing all of these things as needed on a regular, continued basis, I will eventually be able to go off the medication and live an anxiety-free life once again. The medication is just one of many tools in my recovery toolbox.

Recovering from anxiety has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced – far harder than going away to college or giving birth unmedicated to a 9 1/2 lb baby at home. And I don’t know that I will ever be fully recovered. I think it will be an on-going process for the rest of my life. If I slip back into old habits, I feel quite sure the anxiety would return.

Will this experience make me a stronger person? I don’t know about a stronger person, but I think it will make me a wiser person. When I am able to better realize my limitations and better care for myself, I am a happier person which can only make those around me happier too. And by knowing my limitations, I can better realize my potentials. The cycle of fear can be broken. Not effortlessly, not overnight, but it can be broken and there is hope.

I initially worried that by taking medication I would be setting a bad example for my children, but I now know that by taking care of myself (including taking medication), I am setting a good example for them. I am showing them that I believe I am important, that I value myself and my health. Nowadays I can have fun with them and laugh again and I think they find that matters far more than anything else.

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Cross-posted on BlogHer

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