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)
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.