Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Running Through Depression

I've never finished a run and not felt better than I did before the run.

But too often, when we need a run the most... (sigh)... we just can't do it.

When you're in a deep funk, you forget that running will make you feel better because you're pretty sure nothing will help you feel better. Ever.

So, you skip the run.

And you regret skipping the run. You might even hate yourself for skipping the run.

And the funk gets just a little deeper.

Rinse and repeat.

At first you can play it off to over-training, or a bad day, or you might even blame the weather. But it doesn't take long before you know that you're letting yourself down. And it feels like you're powerless to fix it.

Truth is, you aren't powerless at all. You just need to disrupt the cycle.

How do you fight the hopelessness of depression, pushing it back long enough to put on your running shoes and get out the door? You take the choice out of it. You make yourself run because you know it will lead you back.

The best way to lift yourself out of that dark place is to do something every day that makes you feel better about yourself. Everyday you remind yourself of the best version of you, the version that you want to be again. Everyday you get a little closer. Every day you feel a little better, even if just for a while.

But when you're in a funk, you aren't yourself. You literally are not in your right mind. You can't trust yourself to make good decisions all of the time. You need someone, or something, to keep you on track.

Here's what works for me...
  • Make out a schedule, something realistic, something very doable, something that will work for you. Do this at a time when you're feeling half-way decent.
  • Commit yourself to following it for a set number of days or weeks, 100%, without exception. It takes time and effort to climb out of a dark hole, and each day on the schedule is one step closer to the top.
  • Treat your schedule like a drill sergeant. Do what it says. Don't think about it, just do it. Skipping or cutting short is just an opportunity for self-loathing to join the party.
  • DO NOT think you can skip the schedule part and just run when you feel like it, because you won't feel like it.
  • You don't have to run every day. You don't have to run at all. You do have to do something else on the days you don't run, like yoga, or cycling, or swimming, or walking, or journaling, or reading, or meditating. Just do something that makes you feel better after you do it than you did before you started.
  • Be selfish. You need this time to get out of your funk. Don't let anything or anyone keep you from your schedule. It's like the flight attendants say... "Put on your mask first, then help others who might need help."
  • Enlist supporters. Have buddies meet you for an early morning run, or to drag you out for a walk at lunch. Tell the yoga instructor that you have made a promise to yourself to come every week for two months and just wait until you see the support you get.
  • If you stumble, don't quit. Pick yourself up and start over.
  • Even if you start to feel better, and you will, follow through with your commitment, complete the entire schedule. The early-onset euphoria will be replaced with a long-lasting sense of pride and accomplishment that will help you through rough patches later.
  • When you finish, enjoy your accomplishment. Be proud of what you have overcome. Look inside and around you and notice how much better you feel and how much brighter the world looks.
  • Then, set a new goal, workout a schedule, and take your next leap forward.
The runner that you want to see in the mirror is inside you. And that runner's ready to go. Just let him/her show you.

Ignore the doubts and the excuses. Put your shoes on and run.

It only takes a few steps to remind you that it really does make things better.

Good running,
Doug

PS - I'm not a doctor or a shrink. If you feel you are depressed, see a professional. If you need meds, take them. But also do something for yourself, every day.

Image from here.