I recently joined an online group of runners who are all working toward qualifying for the Boston Marathon. It's a private Facebook group of ~150 runners sharing workouts, bragging about successes, and even commiserating on their failures in community with one another. Last weekend, we had our first member successfully "BQ" in her local marathon, and it was so much fun to watch members from around the country rally around her in celebration. At times the group is downright silly, and at times it's profound. It's another example of how social media can be used to create real connections between people, and I love being a part of it.
At some point yesterday, one of the members posted some "before and after" photos of herself, demonstrating how running has transformed her physically. Within a matter of minutes, she'd opened the floodgates, prompting others to open up and share their weight loss stories. The photos began pouring in, along with amazing tales of hard work producing profound physical changes. Naturally, it got me thinking about my own experiences of transformation.
If I posted a photo of myself here from ten years ago, alongside another that was taken today, you wouldn't say "Wow! Look at the difference!" Like anyone, I experience some fluctuations in my weight, but it's been mostly stable throughout most of my adult life. I'm in better shape than I've ever been, but you probably wouldn't know it looking at me. Nothing to see here, folks.
But that's not to say that I've not been radically transformed through running. I struggled with an anxiety disorder all of my life, and when I was around 30 years old finally recognized it for what it was, and decided to do something about it. I began psychotherapy, and when I hit a "wall" with it, my therapist encouraged me to see a psychiatrist to address the physical symptoms of anxiety that were standing in the way of my successful treatment. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the physician she referred me to happened to be a distance runner, and cued right into this tool that was at my disposal. He prescribed some new medications, but he also prescribed a renewed focus on self-care. Running became more than a hobby. It became an essential feature of a three-pronged treatment strategy that got me through a fairly acute episode, and has helped me successfully manage my anxiety ever since: medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exercise. I no longer require medication on an ongoing basis, but I know how to recognize when my chemistry is changing and I'm in need of a little "tune-up." I learned a great deal through talk therapy, but it's easy to let those old thoughts and habits creep in, so I get a "refresher" from time to time. And of course, there's running.
If you looked at my "before" and "after" photos, you might not think that a whole lot has changed. But the new ways that I think, the way that I feel in my own skin, and the new ways that I experience the world around me would be unrecognizable, if they could be captured in images. I'm grateful for access to good medical care, and for a support system that has encouraged me through these changes. And for my mental health, and for so many other reasons, I will forever be grateful for running.