Half Marathon Reflections and Learning To Trust Myself Again

A little over two years ago I completed my first half marathon in Indianapolis. I finished in about 3 hours and 20 minutes, a pretty slow pace for a run/walker. A woman ahead of me who powerwalked the entire race with a venti coffee beat me. But Matt and my parents showed up to support me, and I enjoyed the experience, knowing that that length would be my “marathon” for the foreseeable future. (Matt runs his marathons in less time than it took me to complete the half marathon)

Hungry Finisher

At that time, I had been recently diagnosed with OCD and was about a month away from being diagnosed with chronic depression. I was (literally) failing my coursework and barely making research progress in graduate school. I spent most of my days sleeping or watching Law and Order on Netflix. I watched every season of SVU in about two months.

The only thing I managed to keep doing during that time was run.

I don’t know why that was the one thing my mind and body held onto, but it was the only thing that consistently got me out of my apartment without outside encouragement from friends, meetings, or compulsive prompts to indulge in my binge eating disorder. Even the latter turned to delivery foods at some point, minimizing my time outside away from my cat and couch.

I’ve been exercising since I was a child. Since I established the habit at an early age with various sports, I’ve never been one to hate exercising. It’s relaxing, I can magically clear my brain, and I feel better afterwards. At some point I made the transition from organized sports to running and yoga, but I was still happy with my new fitness outlets.

The day after my half marathon, I stopped exercising. I no longer had a pressing goal, and I could barely make it off my couch as I continued to sink into the depression that eventually led me to quit grad school. I participated in the Chicago Shamrock Shuffle 8K for the second time in the spring of 2012, but I didn’t do any prep leading up to it, so I walked it. Slowly. Over the next two years, I fell out of my exercising habit, and the idea of going outside or going to the gym became a chore. I gained 40 pounds. I started sweating from walking around town or vaccuuming my apartment.

But it crept up on me, somehow. I made a concerted effort to stop judging my body for its looks in undergrad and instead focused on what my body could do. Suddenly, my body couldn’t do the things I thought it could. Sometimes it couldn’t even fit comfortably in an airplane seat, or on a rollercoaster. I’d heard of people with anorexia having body dysmorphic disorder, unable to see the thin person in the mirror, but I’d never heard of it in the other direction. My therapist confirmed that, indeed, it can work in the other direction, and that what I see in the mirror is likely not what everyone else sees. I have to rely on pictures and physical signals to mentally register that my body is shaped differently than the way I see it (or perhaps, than the way I remember it).

I went hiking again yesterday with the same group from last weekend. With half a mile and 1000 feet left to the summit, I had to turn around (and thus, so did Matt). Overexertion left me dizzy and throwing up. I tried a few more feet before sitting down on the trail, disappointed. Our 9-mile loop hike became an 8-mile out-and-back for Matt and me.

But I realized, during our silent two hour walk back to the car, that this 8 miles was the longest I had walked since the half marathon. While the elevation was not as intense as it could have been, it was still more strenuous than the “hills” on the Indianapolis course. Sure, I didn’t get sick during the race, but I was ravenous in the last mile, stopping briefly to eat a hotel sample container of peanut butter before pushing myself to the end for a free Jimmy John’s sub, or two.

I’m learning to trust my mind and body again. Perhaps unsurprisingly, during my first round of OCD therapy at Purdue I learned that my brain was out to trick me. Wtf, right? If I couldn’t trust myself, who could I trust? Then to find out that my brain and eyes don’t even see the same body in the mirror that I have is mind-blowing. It’s right there, how can I miss it?

Years of dieting have also ruined my relationship with food and thereby my trust in my body’s ability to feed itself, so my therapist is having continue the Intuitive Eating approach that my nutritionist at Purdue introduced me to. That’s another post, though.

For now, I’m continuing my slow movement back towards my healthy. I don’t know what that will look like for me, personally, but I hope it involves a strong body and mind.

New Website Update

ImageHi all! I’ve been busy getting ready for the launch of my new website, The Irrational Mind. The site is not fully live yet, but you can get a feel for what to expect on my launch date: August 1st!

If you sign up for the newsletter you’ll get a copy of my free ebook (pictured above)! The catch is that the ebook will not be live until August 1st, at which point I will remind everyone to go back and download it again.

I’m really hoping this will be a great community to discuss mental health issues with a focus on personal development. Spread the word and follow me on my @IrrationalMinds Twitter!

Announcement: New Website

Hi all,

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of a website I’ve been brainstorming for awhile. This August, I’ll be introducing a blog on Personal Development with Mental Health Obstacles*. I love reading various personal development blogs, whether they focus on escaping cubicle nation, traveling the world, or on day-to-day improvements to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed as I browse these blogs is a necessary level of optimism and go-get-em attitude, which is terrific. It’s difficult for anyone to work on self-improvement, since we all have our own mental blocks and obstacles. For those of us struggling with various mental illnesses, however, there is an extra step to get through.

I’ll be using this website to offer personal and expert-level advice on self-improvement with mental health issues. Our life is not all about our diseases, be they physical or mental. Everyone wants to improve themselves. I want to focus on the crossroad between the medical/counseling approach to managing your mind and living the life you want.

The new website will *not* be replacing this blog! I doubt there is much crossover between those interested in things I have to say here and those wanting to review their life goals (but maybe I’m wrong!).

Get excited. I am. 🙂

 

*Website/domain name is still to be determined

Neanderthals

Last night, Matt and I watched a NOVA episode about Neanderthals. We had previously watched a documentary on Netflix tracing human evolution that discussed the relationship between Neanderthals and homo sapiens, so we thought we were pretty up-to-date. For those of you unaware, Neanderthals are thought to have evolved separately from the homo sapien line; eventually the Neanderthals died out, leaving humans behind.

As far as I knew previously, it was assumed that humans had wiped out Neanderthals through war with our more-developed brains. It also helped that we outnumbered the Neanderthals ten to one at some point. What we learned last night is that the most recent hypothesis for Neanderthal extinction is interbreeding. Geneticists have found that our DNA is close enough to that of Neanderthals to have mated and produced fertile children. This was previously considered highly unlikely, given that other interspecies offspring (e.g. mules) are often infertile.

Not only did we breed out Neanderthals, we actually still have some Neanderthal DNA mixed in with our human DNA. Certain races/heritages (i.e. South American and Asian) were more likely to have  components of Neanderthal DNA given the locations in which our caveman ancestors lived so many years ago.

EvolutionOfMan

I’m sure many of you have seen some version of the “Evolution of Man” comic, showing us crawling up out of the primordial ooze to become upright hunter/gatherers…and ending with a picture of a man hunched over in his cubicle in front of a computer.

What happened?

I’m not here to hypothesize on the whys of where we are today, but the show last night got me thinking about the consequences of this progression. We did not evolve to sit in front of a computer all day, eyes fixated to an endless stream of information that we can access almost anywhere. The show last night said that our caveman ancestors were able to bench press 300 – 500 pounds! For comparison, today’s man, on average, can bench press slightly less than his own weight if not training, while a man regularly lifting weights can bench press almost his own weight.

These realizations have led to increased interest by many in a Paleo diet and lifestyle, which includes CrossFit, a form of exercise based around tasks that early humans would have been able to do. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at my cubicle with a heat wrap on my back from typing all day while sipping on an overpriced coffee drink pumped full of sugar to get me through the afternoon.

Imagine telling our ancestors–even 200 years ago–that we would live such sedentary lifestyles, on average, in developed countries that we now have to make time out of our day to go to a room and move around for awhile. We call this room a gym. Also, because we have so much food available to us, we actually have to restrict ourselves from eating because it’s making us even more out of shape. Oh, but just because we’re eating a lot does not mean we are well nourished. In fact, many people in developed countries are now  fat and malnourished due to a diet of convenience foods. All of these things add up to a depressed population, with one in ten adults in the United States suffering.

But that’s ok, because we now have pills to fix all these things. Or cover the symptoms. Same difference, right?