Running and My Mental Health

By Jenna Schifferle

May marked an important event: Mental health awareness month. This national month has been observed since 1949 as a way to shed light on mental health issues facing our country and to promote overall wellbeing, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit group.

The broad umbrella of mental health issues can range from depression and anxiety to mood disorders and trauma. What’s more, mental health affects everything — from the way you feel to the way you interact with others and with life. While there has definitely been progress in this area over the years, one fact remains: A stigma still exists when it comes to talking about “it.”

For as long as I can remember, I have always read too deeply into things, often to the point that it leaves me locked in anxiety. My brain likes to analyze everything at nauseating speeds, from 16 different angles. Couple that with an unrelenting drive for perfectionism, add in a dash of insecurity, and it often results in days where I dread getting out of bed or where my body feels too heavy to do anything. Imagine being on a moving sidewalk that’s locked in high-speed, when all of the sudden, the bottom drops out. That’s what life feels like sometimes.

It has taken me years to recognize that I’m not alone in this. There are people across cultures and continents who wrangle with their own mental health, often in ways much worse than I do. But I’ve come to know through my own story and the stories of those around me that there is power in the struggle for mental health. You develop a certain set of skills when you push past the depression or when you learn to focus through the fog of anxious thoughts. This makes us stronger, even on days when it feels like it might not get better. (It DOES get better, by the way).

For me, running helps. After running for hours on end, I’m often too tired to do anything more than shower and eat. I force my body to race as far as it can so that my mind can finally stop racing. And, with a few exceptions, it works. I come back to life after a run and find a sense of peace and present-mindedness that can often be impossible to find. During every race, I conquer my demons, and I am reminded of how strong and relentless I really am.

Sure, there have been races where I’ve broken down and started sobbing, overwhelmed by the loss of my grandparents, and runs where I’ve stopped cold because I didn’t think I could do it anymore. But I keep showing up, and I keep going back to it. Moving forward matters. And sometimes? Well, it’s hard for depression to keep up.

What works for me may not work for you. Everyone’s mental health is different and should be treated as such. But I encourage anyone who’s struggling to find something that makes them feel invincible. Maybe, like me, it’s running. Or maybe it’s art. Or dance. Or even reading a good book. Whatever it is, find what clears your head and do it. Then, do it again. You might just find that somewhere inside you, there’s a hero who’s waiting to catch you when the floor drops out.

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“Writer on the Run” is a monthly column written by Jenna Schifferle of Cheektowaga. She chronicles her experience training for the Chicago Marathon in October.