Running and Anxiety…

Another one of those posts that has been a long time coming…another post I hate to write because I have to expose my vulnerability. But it’s necessary. Events of the day made it so, pushed me to the edge I guess you’d say.

(image from Google image search)

I’ve always struggled with anxiety–I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself and worried about letting people down and not being “good” enough (whatever that means). It got really bad in high school, I was pretty much a mess–very high strung overachiever constantly on the verge of breaking down; my brain was chaotic, spinning with negativity that I tried to drown out with a constant flood of activities. I tried to not be home, not be alone, in hopes that being distracted would make me feel better. It did not work. I ended up in therapy, and eventually on meds, which at that time I needed far more than I wanted to admit. They slowed my mind down so I could function almost normally.

I went to college. Came off my meds, and found other ways to cope. The college environment, for all it’s challenges, was much better to me. I was much more suited to it than I had been to high school, and so I did well. Still struggled, but it wasn’t as bad, I could manage. And I do to this day. I’m still an overachiever, I’m still really hard on myself. But I function mostly normally in society. In some ways–a lot of ways–running really helps. Effort is rewarded, even if I’m not particularly “good” at it. I can see improvement which encourages me to keep going. And chemically speaking it helps keep a hand on the anxiety that wells up with the fears that I’m not “good” enough.

But sometimes, for all the confidence that running has given me, the anxiety rears its ugly head in my running life. Today was one of those days. I still have a lot of social anxiety–I don’t know where it came from, I definitely was not like this as a child–I’m very uncomfortable in groups of people where I don’t know anyone and the activity is unstructured. I tried going to a few of the Saturday group runs and they didn’t go particularly well for me. I could never hang with the pace group I set out with. I didn’t know anyone, so I usually ended up alone, worried about getting lost (which only added to the anxiety I felt). Eventually I stopped going. Figured it just wasn’t for me, I was meant to run alone. Even when I’d run with friends in the past we’d always had our music on, we didn’t talk, so it was fine. It was what I knew. Then I started going to the Wednesday night group, and slowly I made friends. It was a smaller group, more intimate, less intimidating. I ran with some different people and gradually warmed up, talking more, and I found that I really like running with people. Eventually (and I’m talking after several months of running together) they talked me into giving Saturdays another shot–they’d all be there, after all. So I did. And it has been really good for me–if I know that even one of them is going to be there, it’s worth showing up for because it eases that anxiety about not knowing anyone, running alone, and ending up lost.

Then today one of my people suggested that we join up with another group on Wednesday. I could not keep the anxiety from welling up inside me. I was never so thankful for the buffer of the internet where I could carefully choose my words, type and delete, and not show the panic in my face as I fought back tears. It’s not the change in location that freaks me out, I can figure that out, but that group of unknown people. The familiar dread of my earlier Saturday group runs–where I couldn’t keep up, where I ended up running mostly alone, worried about getting lost, etc–came rushing to the surface. I was shaking, trying to keep my composure at work, pissed at the friend (who has only ever come to one, maybe two runs himself and may not even come on Wednesday) who was egging the group on. I wasn’t the only one freaking out, but I felt like a jerk, which only compounds the anxiety.

I chatted with a couple of the friends–one who was also unhappy/uncomfortable with it and the one who was egging it on even though he is likely not to show. That helped some, took the edge off to know that I wasn’t alone. I could get some of my fears out. Get some perspective. The friend who suggested it relented–sort of–about all of us going, though she hopes we’ll reconsider, she has one person going with her at least. I explained that I need some time to wrap my head around it, but I’m not actually saying No. And at this point, I’ve basically decided to go. I’ve found that the things I resist the most in my life are the things I need to do. Worst case, I don’t like it and I never go back–I’m trying to be open though I am skeptical. But the fact that my core group will be there, so I won’t be alone, will make it okay. If nothing else, we’ll stick together and look out for each other, and run someplace different.

Until next time, friends.

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