It was 3:59 p.m., and my hands held my track bag, ready to leave. I counted down the seconds for my College Now English class to end. It was time for indoor track practice. I was racing against the clock as I rushed upstairs to the girls’ locker room. In its emptiness I changed into my running clothes and shoes. I took one last glance in the mirror, smudged with fingerprints and lip gloss, and pulled my hair up into a ponytail ready to run.
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. My therapist understood I had cracked under pressure but I couldn’t come to terms with it. I was an honors/A.P. student with after-school college classes and the captain of the girls cross country/track team. I was an accomplished person who thrived on competition and I could handle it all, or at least I tried to.
Anxiety is feeling adrenaline constantly flowing through your body, waiting for the unexpected to happen. It’s the sensation of biting down on a sour green apple, its juices tingling the glands at the back of your mouth. But for me, this tingling would flood through my entire being, putting me on the edge every day. Anxiety is being a television not able to connect to its satellite – instead of watching the scheduled program, you’re left with grey, noisy static.
The locker room is where I forced myself to stop my anxiety, if only for a few seconds while I changed. These seconds were special, remembering why I ran and finding my motivation. But while getting ready before a particular run, I couldn’t stop it from creeping in, taking a seat next to me on the wooden bench in front of my locker. I took deep breaths, counting my tingling fingers as I went.
At practice I decided to run at the back of the pack, keeping the slower and injured girls company. Five minutes into the run my throat began to feel tight, making my breathing difficult, and my heart sped up faster than it should. I had to stop. It was the beginning of an attack. As I walked, trying to catch my breath, I shook my head at coach and he understood. The team ran on without me and I lost sight of them through my tears. I finally understood I couldn’t do it all.
Anxiety hit me in my most sacred place. I would not and could not let my anxiety define me as a person, but more importantly as a runner. It became my motivation in therapy to focus on the now. Four years ago, I realized I could take control of my anxiety by being in the present. I began living in the moment – enjoying the little moments, surrounding myself with family and running like it could be my last run.
Running is indescribable. It’s flying without leaving the ground, it’s finding your inner animal. It’s running in the rain with sweat stinging your eyes, hearing thunder in the distance and feeling alive. When you run, it’s the only thing happening at that moment. There are no worries, only your legs moving you forward. Running became my salvation.
Anxiety was inevitable, but at practice I took my starting position at the front, waited for the whistle to blow, and ran over my anxiety. I was no longer afraid of running into my anxiety because I had control. Instead it fueled my competitive nature and helped me become a better runner.
There are still ups and downs to having anxiety disorder. It’s an everyday battle to keep it in check, and there are certainly bad days. When these occur I remember running and the peace it gave me. The summer before college began I decided I wouldn’t join the school’s team. High school had been difficult – balancing academics, running, and my anxiety. I knew that college would be even tougher, making my anxiety worse, so I chose to only focus on schoolwork and my personal life. Running was put on the back-burner — reluctantly.
Although I don’t run regularly anymore, I still consider myself a runner. It’s always been a part of me and has helped me through the worst times. Running has been my safe place – in Central Park, over bridges, on muddy trails and concrete roads. I created a haven within myself on hundreds of runs, and when an anxiety attack comes my way, I run to it.