Take The First Step: In Running, Faith, and Mental Health
By: Maria Abbe, Running Myself Together
I spent my high school and college years singing, dancing, and acting on stages across upstate NY and at Belmont Abbey College. My heart leapt with joy each time I encountered the temporary escape of creating a new character, of bringing to life a playwright's words through costume design and monologues and belting as loud as my soprano voice would carry.
“One day,” I told myself, “I will be on Broadway.”
Well, it’s 2018. I graduated college five years ago. I live in the south. And I’ve traded my leotards for Sauconys.
Yes, I’m a runner now. It’s funny how things change. How they don’t play out like we imagine when we’re mapping out our futures. But let me tell you, running has been one of the biggest blessings in my life.
My Journey With Mental Health
Years ago, I found myself entrapped in an eating disorder. I was just entering my Freshman year of high school and I was starting to get very involved in theatre, and with theatre comes being on stage in front of hundreds of people… in a leotard. Or so this one particular play called for. Thus, my “rational” 15 year old brain thought it’d be a good idea to go on a diet before the play opened so that I looked my absolute best up on that stage. Diets are a slippery slope, though. Especially when one is so young, and it’s not regulated by doctors, or even needed for that matter.
And I struggled with an eating disorder and the lies it told me for many years.
But as the years ticked on, I worked hard with the support of my family and faith to seek help and break free from the entrapment of an eating disorder. And today, I can say I’ve succeeded, I’m free. But throughout those years I also battled with anxiety and depression. And sometimes, I still do.
The Power of Running
While in college, I had a few friends on the cross country team. Every now and again, I’d go on a run with them. I wasn’t too serious about it and mainly did it to burn off whatever the cafeteria was serving that day.
But as my anxiety worsened during those years, and I felt myself slipping… fast.
One day my mind wouldn’t stop racing, so I laced up my sneakers and headed out the door. I ran five miles. For the first time. Ever. I can’t remember if I even made it the whole way without stopping, but I do remember telling my therapist with the utmost pride and glee what I had accomplished. And most importantly, I remember telling her my mantra throughout the entire trek. “Don’t look back. That part is over. Keep pushing forward.” Seems simple, right? But not only did that mantra push me to my five mile goal, but it so heavily translated into my personal life and the mountain I had been climbing for the past eight years.
I’d Found What I Needed. Thank You, Jesus.
From that moment on, running has changed my life. It’s taught me the value in taking care of my body and just how much my body can handle. It’s taught me that God can be found everywhere - in the laughter between two friends running together, in the finishing of a race, in the tears that stream down your face when you think you just can’t go any further.
And I’ve learned that when I run, my mind quiets down. My racing thoughts match my racing body and I’m able to sit still and focus on what’s around me.
Why Am I Telling You All Of This?
You don’t have to be born a runner to start running. You simply have to start. You don’t have to have a total breakdown to seek mental health help. You just have to start.
And surely, you don’t have to listen to the world’s monotonous mantra that you’re not good enough. That you have to look like the women on magazine covers or you have to get straight-A’s or that you have to work in a high rise in a city to be successful.
Christ is in you. You are enough.
You just have to begin to believe it.
Maria is the effervescent mind behind www.runningmyselftogether.com, a blog on faith, running, and mental health. After years of struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression, she now helps others who are facing the same trials find their passion for running and know their worth in Christ. She’s an RRCA certified run coach who, while never being a runner growing up, has come to see the immense value running can have in a holistic approach to living a good, healthy life.