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Using running to combat OCD by Serena

I was diagnosed with OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder when I was 22, looking back I can see symptoms stemming back to my early teens that many put down to teen angst. OCD is an unusual illness, it’s the one most people think they know the most about and to be honest, so did I, assumed it was linked to being clean or orderly, meaning when I was diagnosed I was somewhat confused. I was thrown into medication and CBT but quickly moved out of the treatment and thrust myself into self-medication, alcohol, unhealthy relationships and denial, couple this with low self-esteem and a desire to be skinnier/taller/prettier/smarter and we have a pretty toxic mix. This continued until I was 25, mother nature was cruel and my metabolism dropped, I took after my dad with an easy to gain belly that plummeted me further into depression which is the unwelcome cousin often accompanying OCD.

I started trying out different exercises, Zumba DVDs, everyone at work was cycling so tried this but nothing stuck yet I didn’t want to be the woman that restricted food so exercise was the only option. I had run a Race for Life in my early 20s think 5k isn’t that far, it took me 42 minutes, I ran/walked it and felt stupid towards the end but fast forward a few years and I thought I’d give it another go. Downloading the C25K app, I laced up an old pair of cheap trainers, a cotton shirt, some loose shorts and headed out, the first session was simply run for a minute, walk for 90 seconds about 10 times but at the end, I was sweating, breathing heavily but elated, I had done it, I kept to the programme and by the end ran the 5k in about 30 minutes, I was in love. I downloaded the next app, C210K and soon completed that and was then downloading running apps, buying new gear and slowly upping my miles. 6 months later and I joined my local club, daunted as I’m not great at meeting new people, a great side effect of an anxiety disorder but I resolved, went to my first interval session and promptly fell asleep as soon as I got home from exhaustion.

Over the last four years running has shaped my life, living with OCD I’m frequently consumed with dark, violent thoughts that make me hate myself, doubt myself but simply getting outside for a run provides a distraction, shows me what I’m capable of. My mental illness is not at all visible, my mind is my own worst enemy, it taunts me that I’m not fast enough, I’m not going far enough, that I look stupid but then I see someone else running, they smile and wave and I’m elated I share this with strangers. Having OCD sometimes ruins running for me, OCD is defined as intrusive thoughts that we feel compelled to remove by doing something and it attacks the things you love, I can often be found in a spiral fearing what I’m capable of and worst outcomes, running has been a victim of this. I can have times when running becomes a chore, I have to do it, I have to do a certain amount of miles otherwise I’ll stop doing it and if I stop, I’ll get fat and if I get fat, people won’t like me anymore. It’s an odd train of thought but one common amongst the OCD community that run, we’re torn, do we run and get rid of the thought giving into OCD or do we not run and live with severe anxiety and guilt?

On days like that, I run, but not as far as I feel I should do, I run as far as I want to satisfy my love of running whilst not giving into OCD. It’s impacted racing, I’m tense with anxiety and my head forces me to stop and walk, as I’m battling the ‘you can’t do this, you’re not good enough to do this’.

But I can, my love of running always wins, it’s given me a new family, my running club and the online community are some of the most supportive people I have ever met and even those without a diagnosed illness have days where their head gets in the way, we’ve all had it and we can all do it. Running has shown me some simple pleasures in life, seeing an owl or deer across the field, the frost early in the morning, a far away lightening storm or 50 runners in fancy dress as we head out for our annual Christmas run. It’s given me a routine, club meets 3 times a week and gets me out of the house into the fresh air, it’s given me perspective, my slow is another’s fast and my sprint is another’s gentle jog. It’s given me frank conversations, people truly open up and become friends for life, it’s shown me what the body is capable of, 4 years ago I couldn’t run for a minute and now I happily go out for 13 miles on a Sunday morning. It’s shown me that no matter what, no matter how low I get, how bad everything seems, I can move, I can run.

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We want to say a huge thank you to Serena for sharing her blog and being so open. #MentalHealthMatters

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