Over the course of 60 Days of Better, we’ll be following two people who decided to seek Better in their own lives. Their journeys are very different and very inspiring and along the way, Newton became a part of helping them find Better.
There is a lot of research out there claiming that exercise can be effective as an anti-depressant. And you know what? It’s true! It’s a fact I discovered myself a year and a half ago when I started running.
For a number of years, I’ve suffered from a relatively mild, but chronic form of depression, known as atypical depression. It’s always been mild enough that I could function. In fact, for years I didn’t realize I was suffering from depression. I just assumed I was lazy, moody, and somehow defective. Things came to a bit of a head when I slid into a major depressive episode, precipitated by a period of upheaval and change; finishing grad school, moving to a new city, and starting a new job. What should have been an exciting time in my life turned into just the opposite. I felt sad and angry more often then not. I lived in a state of constant fatigue and lethargy. I had difficulty concentrating, and often felt like I was in a fog.I put on weight at an almost frightening rate, and my hair turned to straw. I developed a debilitating social anxiety, and began isolating myself. The worst part, however, was the apathy. I completely lost my will to do anything, and would sometimes spend hours at a time just sitting and staring, because I couldn’t think of anything that felt worth doing. I didn’t care that I was putting on weight, that I never went out, or that I had isolated myself from my friends.
When the depression started to impact my job performance, I knew it was time to get some help. I went to a doctor and was put on anti-depressants. They helped alleviate some of the more acute symptoms, took the edge off, and gave me enough energy to function. They also made me numb and emotionless, and didn’t help with my apathy, social anxiety, or negative self-talk. I knew that I needed more than medication to get out of the hole that I was in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford therapy, and I just didn’t have the energy or power of concentration for self-help books. One night, out of sheer desperation, I tied on a pair of running shoes and went for my first run in years. It wasn’t pretty. I probably only ran a mile, and I was puffing and wheezing and creaking the whole way. But it sure felt good! For the first time in months, I felt like I had actually accomplished something. So I kept doing it. I found a friend to run with, and we were doggedly out there pounding the pavement at least three times a week. I loved the fact that I could see my progress in terms of weight loss, miles, and most importantly, mood!
The wet blanket of apathy and fatigue began to lift, and I actually began to feel optimistic, and to enjoy my life again. Every time I ran, I felt a sense of peace and well-being. My fatigue was now a healthy, normal fatigue, and I had new found energy to go out and DO things again. The biggest impact of my running was the effect it had on my confidence and self-worth. I was a runner, and I could pound out miles that not everyone was capable of. I felt strong, and confident, and this confidence transferred over to all aspects of my life. I got a bike and began cycling to work. I took French cooking lessons. I started dating again. Most importantly, I felt normal, not defective, broken and incapable.
Six months after desperation drove me to tie on those running shoes, I completed my first half-marathon. It was hard, but the emotions I felt when I crossed that finish line were incredible. Joy, accomplishment, pride, and disbelief that I had just run 13.1 miles! I was one of those people who could run a really really long way, and it endowed me with a belief in myself I’d never thought to possess. So now you can see why I believe in running as an anti-depressant. It’s not just about the energy boost it gives you, or the endorphins, or the weight loss. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment, strength, self confidence and joy. Running can take you places you never dreamed you’d go, like the finish line of a half marathon. Whether you suffer from depression or not, running has the power to make life better, and make you a better person. When I started running, I had nowhere to go but up. A year and a half later, the only question is, where to next?