• Kelly Tietjen

How Running has Helped my Mental Health

If you’ve followed or known me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve had generalized anxiety since I was a kid. I’m a little fuzzy of when I was exactly diagnosed but if memory serves me right, it was around 6th grade, so 11 years old. All throughout my childhood up until my 20’s I felt really self conscious about it. I figured every one had anxiety and I shouldn’t think I’m any different. I shouldn’t take up too much space with my mental illness. Not too long ago I realized that I had been grieving my diagnosis my whole life. I was in complete denial that there was anything wrong. I’d go on medication and then decide swiftly after that it wasn’t for me. I fought my mom on therapy. When I had panic attacks, I hid it. When I was depressed, I ignored it. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I fell into the deepest depression and state of panic of my life that I realized I needed to fully acknowledge my diagnosis and do something to care for it.

I went on medication for a while and it truly did help. I started meditating, seeing a therapist again and acknowledging when I was feeling down or panicked. The biggest change I made though, was running. I’d always been a runner. Never on a team like track or anything like that, but leisurely. I’d go to the gym to run on the treadmill. I’d run around my neighborhood. I never tracked it though and it was never for very long. I have no idea the miles I ran but I do know that it wasn’t many. Long distance running was completely new to me.

I’m not entirely sure how I got inspired to run long distance. I have friends who have ran marathons and I’d always admired that level of tenacity and hard work so, I decided to join them. I signed up for a half marathon and began training around the end of 2019. Then I decided, why not go all the way and sign up for the Chicago Marathon. I’m a bit of a weirdo like that. One challenge isn’t always enough for me. I noticed a huge difference in my mood right away after just one week of training. I was sleeping better, I felt accomplished and motivated, best of all, I felt much more at ease. It doesn’t stop there. There are constant surprises in my running. Some days I find I’m running a personal best and that alone gives me a jolt of joy. There are days I’m glad I even got out the door, maybe I was feeling sad or anxious, but I got myself out there anyways. THAT brings me joy.

Running makes me feel like a superhero. Even when I’m slow. Even when I’m running 10 seconds and walking 2 minutes in between, I still feel strong. There’s something about setting a goal like running even just 3 miles, and accomplishing it that makes you feel like you can do anything. The biggest mental breakthroughs I’ve had are when I’m running 10+ miles. I’ll explain why.

It’s funny, I always thought of the physical toll running must take on your body, but in my experience, it is so much about your mind. It’s a mental battlefield really. Your legs aren’t what propel you anymore after a certain mileage, it’s your determination, your “enoughness” that gets you to 15 miles, to 20, to 26.2. It’s an exercise in self worth and self confidence. I’ve never felt more unstoppable in my life. For someone who started a career in the arts at age 10 and was told she wasn’t enough every day for almost 2 decades… you can’t imagine how powerful that is to finally have a tool that makes you realize that you are.

Since today is World Mental Health day, I thought it was vital to share what made me go from hopeless to superhero. I’m not saying running is the only tool to get you there. This is just my experience. All I’m saying is – if you’re battling any kind of mental illness and are looking for ways to cope with that, give running a shot. It sure doesn’t suck.

Self care, self flare.



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