I have anxiety. WOO.
Who doesn’t really, though?
I call it “Loud Brain,” when answering friends who repeatedly ask, “How do you stay so dedicated to working out?” or, “Why is it such a big deal if you can’t run right now? So what?”
Okay. *takes deep breath* Here’s why it’s such a big deal:
It’s loud as shit in my head. Picture walking into a large, crowded high school lunchroom. You’re the new kid.
Sounds ricochet off concrete walls. Some conversations are crystal clear, others muted; everything a constant, distracting hum. Occasionally, someone in the back stands up and starts shouting. Your focus shifts before bouncing back to a word that pops out of another discussion like the sharp crack of a firework. It’s all just exhausting, incessant racket.
These noises are your thoughts in Loud Brain, floating by on quick clouds that zip away right as you reach up to grab one. You’re constantly on edge, awareness heightened, poised to catch thoughts with your Butterfly Net Thought-Snagger. Sometimes you snatch the right thought at the right moment; others, you just miss, spending the rest of the day grasping air for echoes of lost ideas. Interestingly, this is how I feel about writing pretty much all the time.
Occasionally, my stomach joins the Anxiety Circus Act, clenching at the slightest disturbance, my startle response heightened to a ridiculous degree. My phone vibrating can be enough to generate the Squeezed Sponge Feeling in my gut. You know that complete, horrifying dread when you nearly miss a step? It’s that, but on flat ground. Sometimes you’re even sitting down, and your body is just like, Pew pew, alert alert, there’s nothing wrong but we’re freakin’ out anyway how fun is this?!
But when I run…
I lose myself in the cadence of my feet. I surrender to the in-out huffing of my breath. I let my thoughts go and become nothing but movement, and I push, harder, faster, feeling the edge of my limit, feeling the burn in my chest, legs, the energy drain slowly taking me over…
And then the voice in my head shouts, “We gotta stop! Stop now! We gotta quit! We can’t keep going!” So I push harder, run farther, faster…
Until I become One Body of Stubborn Determination, Quitter Voice drowned out by, “Oh yeah, bitch? Quit? WATCH ME. Challenge me. Test me.”
And then my Running Mantra takes over.
“Dig deep. Push.”
I tuck my thumb into my fist and squeeze three times, shaking out my shoulders, pulling my belly button in, preparing my knees to lift, my feet to shift, readying for the final go, the sprint, the all-out until I can give absolutely no more, digging down into the tips of my toenails to find that last bit of fight, and then… I let go… and I fly.
The high starts.
It hits before my legs stop. A tsunami-sized Wave of Calm engulfs me. Loud Brain is off. And for the next few minutes – or hours, if I’m lucky – everything quiets. I feel collected. There’s no noise. The cafeteria is empty. No one shouting, no sounds buzzing in my ears, no thoughts ping-ponging back and forth, no desperation to catch things that appear so uncatchable. Loud Brain becomes Ocean Tide, the quiet shhhhh starts, and I float home. And for the next hour or so, I’m more relaxed than any other time in my life.
Anxiety manifests in many ways; I’d peg mine as “general.” I battle the Social Anxiety Bitch (Wait, what? But you’re so outgoing. Yeah, you can be outgoing and still feel all fucked up inside while you’re friendshipping the crap out of new people), among other fun Side-Car Anxiety Buddies.
No matter which one is along for the ride, running takes the edge off; running keeps me from my anxiety-driven, self-destructive habits; running breaks me out of my brain cage and gets me to let go in a way that nothing else can; not hikes, yoga, 50-mile bike rides, swimming, long walks, surfing or any of the other things I’ve desperately tried to replace running. Running gives me my heartbeat. Running is my “How to Human” manual.
So “the big deal” is that Loud Brain crushes my soul feels, and if I’m not watchful, I start wrecking myself amidst the chaos. Running is my healthy coping mechanism. Running is my therapy. Running fills me up with all the good stuff.
Figure out what positively inflates your parachute so you can better Human your way through life. It makes all the difference.