In the past I have raised the question, why wait until new year to start a resolution, why wait until the end of the year to reflect? Now I realise that the answer is simple, it’s because these events, holidays that come at the same time every year give us an anchor for our memories. Whether or not we keep a journal or a blog, we can manage without it at times like Christmas or birthdays (or whatever festivals occur in your society) because our memory will fix certain dates and events.
This time last year I had taken annual leave to prepare for Christmas, and I remember how disappointed I was to be ill! I had a horrible chest infection and spent 4days in bed coughing and feeling miserable because what I had hoped for was to get some lovely daylight running miles under my belt! I’m actually sitting in the same bed in the same room, which I suppose brings the memory back but this year I’m grateful to be well and just in bed because it’s warm and comfortable!
2017 hasn’t been a good running year for me though.
Less than 200 miles total and almost no running through the autumn and winter! In the previous 4 years I have averaged out at about a mile per day. Not much, but in all honesty not bad at all for a previously unfit un sporty non running woman!
So is/has running been good for me?
Certainly it has helped me to maintain a healthier body weight and lower body fat percentage. In the last 3-4 months with less running, I have regained quite a few unwanted pounds and along with them a few aches and pains which had disappeared with the weight, oh and the night time reflux.
I’m less sure about about the link between mental health and running. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have had some issues over the last year or so with stress/depression/anxiety. Coincidentally over the last few months I have finally started to feel more like my old self. Just a recognition that sometimes I feel quite content. Dare I say it, happy? For no good reason, just that my underlying mood is one of happiness rather than sadness, anger or anxiety? Also, I have regained my ability to disconnect myself from emotion – in a good way. When people tell you about things that upset them, it’s about being able to acknowledge and understand what they are feeling, but without getting caught up in the emotion yourself.
On review though, I can see that my issues with stress started when I increased my mileage, trying to train for a marathon, and have finally resolved at a time when I’m not running much at all. Does this mean that running is bad for my mental health?
Well I think there’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation going on there in that actually I might have increased my running for the ‘wrong’ reasons – a sign that my mental /emotional health was deteriorating.
Over the last year I have done an awful lot of exploration into issues about mental health, positive psychology and so on. I have read a lot, thought a lot, talked with friends and spent quite a bit of time practicing mindfulness meditation and chanting. What have I learned?
I have come to realise how much my sense of self worth has been tied up in achievement. The external recognition isn’t necessarily important (although it helps) but deep down inside there is a part of me that is always on the lookout for evidence for things in which I am ‘better’ in some way. I realised how ingrained this is when one day I was chanting with a group of Buddhist friends and I found myself counting how many ‘Nam my ho renge kyo’s’ I could do without taking a breath, comparing it with everyone else and feeling quite pleased with myself because I could do more……… seriously, what is that about?
In light if this it is easy to see how I got hooked on running- how great it felt to do something that I never thought that I would be able to do and to see the improvements – which come easily in the early days. At the same time I was able to accept that this was something in which I couldn’t compete with other people- although I could compete with myself! I wanted to be ‘better’ than I was last week, Last month, last year. I went to park run and noted with amusement what it was like to be someone who was always at the back, no chance of being a ‘winner’. There wasn’t anything else that I voluntarily did in life where I didn’t want to be one of the elite.
But even competing and comparing yourself with yourself can be dangerous. I wanted to do better, run further, run faster and when I didn’t achieve this I criticised myself.
There were good runs. The days where I enjoyed just being outside. Fresh air and freedom and occasionally the pleasure of getting into a steady paced run. The occasional endorphin rush on the treadmill, singing along to my favourite music. Now I’m not running, that is where the nostalgia is. In the good runs. Even in some of the rain lashed dark runs, the late night frosty runs there have been good moments just because they were good moments.
I suspect that achievement is like food. We all need food, we all need a sense of self esteem and achievement. But in the same way that some people have a bad relationship with food and can’t recognise when they are eating for the ‘wrong’ reasons, so it is with achievement: it is possible to greedily consume it, without savouring the pleasure, without realising it is doing you more harm than good. In the same way that you can’t just give up food, you can’t give up achievement, you need it on a certain level in a certain way to keep you healthy and happy. You can’t just cut it out of your life, you need to rebuild that relationship into a healthy one.
So moving on from this, what comes next?
Yes, I will be running, but it will be for fun and fitness. I will still want to set goals and achieve them, but I want the feeling to be ‘I enjoyed that’ rather than ‘job done, tick the box, what’s next?’. It will be difficult, because sometimes you have to push yourself to make progress, to be able to get the genuine, intrinsic enjoyment factor. So the skill will be in recognising a pleasurable ‘push’ from a ‘drive’ where the motivation is fuelled by anger or insecurity.
Similarly in life, I’m trying to work out what I genuinely enjoy doing for its own sake. Which achievements are the gentle push of stretching my abilities, which are driven by the need to ‘prove’ myself, to purely boost my ego.
This has been a very candid blog. I sometimes worry that I over share, that I leave myself vulnerable by revealing what I think. Unusually for me I have sat on this post for a few days trying to decide whether to share it, so why do it? Because some of you readers are my blogging friends, who understand, who give me support who may have been through similar things. To you I am giving back, sharing my trust. Thank you! Some people will find solace from reading this because maybe they are alone and it helps to know that someone out there is in the same boat. To you, you are welcome, I hope that it helps. Some people are blog voyeurs -you know what I mean – well, knock yourself out!
I pinched the image below from ‘who are you really, the surprising puzzle of personality’ by Brian Little. An interesting book which explains how what we choose to do in life interacts with our inborn personality traits. I like the book and I particularly liked this image!
Happy Solstice to you all! If you are in the northern hemisphere like me, yay, it gets better from here for the next 3 months at least! If you are in the south, enjoy your long summer day!