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How running changed my whole understanding of what recovery is by Hope

4.30am – BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

The alarm goes off, I roll out of bed, cold, tired and fed up. But I have to go. I have to pull myself together and get myself out on that run. If I don’t the consequences will be worse. My brain will spend the day ruining me and making me feel like a complete failure. One foot pounding in front of the other, my eyes go fuzzy, my head is throbbing, but I have no choice. I am already dreading my alarm going off the next day, but know full well that before that even happens I have to run again later on.

That was my life for so many years. Trapped inside my own brain letting anorexia dictate everything that I was doing. I saw no way out and whilst I began to hate running I thought this was the only solution. The only way to be okay with life. Little did I know that the more I listened to that voice in my head, that voice of anorexia, the voice that I thought was my best friend. I longed to make it happy and allowed it to suck me in deeper and deeper.

But I didn’t realise how dangerous this was. I didn’t realise that by letting anorexia dictate my life was slowly killing me.

Fast forward 4 years after that friendship developed and you will find me lying in a hospital bed. My heart came close to stopping so I had no other choice but to be admitted to a mental health hospital where I spent a year of my life recovering.

The thing about exercise and eating disorders is that it becomes a bit of a minefield. What for me had started out as something I was very good at slowly became this dangerous obsession so you can’t really blame the hospital I was in for not letting me exercise. A long 9 months in hospital with the odd 30-minute walk and I longed to feel the wind in my hair, that cold sharp feeling of dry sweat that you get when running. But would this ever be possible? Would I be able to generate a healthy relationship between food, my brain and exercise?

I was lucky in hospital as Mandy, one of the nurses, took me out for a few runs a week when I was 9 months in to my admission. And it felt amazing. That first run and that complete and utter freedom. But what next? Do I eat the same amount of food? Or more…? I had no idea. I had completely lost all my understanding around food and being able to listen to my body. I ended up asking Mandy these direct but for me silly but essential questions.

Getting back in to running and exercise helped me to increase my confidence. I realised that I would be much better at running if I fuelled myself in the right way. It was trial and error at first but over time I began to learn what I should eat after exercising to get my body back on track. It has also helped change my understanding around food and fuel. I don’t work out any more to lose calories or lose weight but to be a healthy individual. I work out to give me that thinking space and to help me process life.

I do still have to be mindful of my exercise. I have this tendency when life feels challenging to think that doing more exercise will somehow solve how I am feeling. It will fix the situation and make it all okay. When this happens now I feel confident about getting back on track. I tend to go back to my Personal Trainer to get me back on track and make myself have enforced rest days.

As individuals we need to be mindful and in-tune with ourselves so that healthy exercise and eating come hand in hand. We need to be able to tell if we are exercising out too much or for the wrong reasons. We also need to be mindful of the messages that society constantly bombards us with. These aren’t healthy. We have a duty of care to tackle this in our own day to day conversations so that people can use exercise as a positive and not as a way to punish ourselves.

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Thanks to Hope for sharing this with us and you can follow her on Twitter - @HopeVirgo #MentalHealthMatters

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