Student Life

I went jogging every day for a week. This is how it affected my mental health.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAT VELLA

MONDAY

Where are my joggers? I don’t even know if I own dedicated ‘running’ shoes. I’m already regretting this. I chuck on my sweats, plug in my headphones and tumble down the stairs of my apartment. What music does one listen to whilst running? Hip hop? Rock? Classical? I’m distracting myself. Just start Kat.

Off I go.

I hate running. My steps are clunky and laboured. I’ve never understood how people do this for fun. I decide to head to the local park. I’ve been kind of like trotting now for five minutes and I can feel sweat slipping down the back of my neck. Is that normal? I am THAT unfit? The chattering dialogue in my mind won’t leave me be.

I don’t get why people like doing this.

TUESDAY

“It hurts. You’re too old. Just stop, you can’t do this.”

Oh my god, just shut up and run.

I focus on my breathing. I read somewhere you should focus on exhaling and your body will do the rest. After a few minutes, my body feels like it’s tuning into a rhythm it’s always known. My legs are carrying me forward, my softly clenched fists swinging to and fro, I feel myself start to relax and grow tall through my spine with each step. I think about how much my body does for me despite how cruel I have been to it over the years. Starving her, abusing her with cigarettes and alcohol, never getting enough sleep and of course, the never-ending reel of horrible words standing in front of the mirror. And still, with the slightest of creaking and stiffness, she carries me around this park, lap after lap, selflessly. Maybe I should appreciate that.

WEDNESDAY

As I peel myself out of bed, I remember why I wanted to do this. Three months ago, I was on the train after work, frantically scribbling on student papers in my lap whilst sandwiched between two commuter zombies. I just started crying. And that’s how it all started. Every day on the train after work, my distant emotional exterior couldn’t hold back what was bursting to get out. I just cried and cried, hoping to get it all out before getting home and having to explain myself to a worried partner. Pretty soon the crying was accompanied every day waking up with a sense of dread and a feeling of impending doom. I’d wake up tired but wired with nerves despite it being a normal day ahead.

I thought this was part and parcel of the job. I was a teacher so, you kind of accept the stress, the exhaustion and the after-hours workload as part of the job. I thought this was just a natural reaction to all of that.

Soon, one glass of red with dinner became five, attempting to take the edge off a noisy mind and constant butterflies in the stomach. This was the final straw really. I woke up one morning, hungover, stressed, beyond exhausted and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I had anything to look forward to anymore.

THURSDAY

Today I feel proud of myself for getting out of bed without pressing the snooze button. I even organised my clothes before I went to bed. I can’t say with any certainty if it’s the exercise that’s working its magic in my brain or if I’m just feeling good today, but I will say, I am a little excited to run this morning.

Cold air fills my nose as I suck it in. With each thump on the footpath, my body eases into the rhythm and soon I feel lighter, but not in the sense like I could break into a sprint more like in the way I’m not carrying around a fifty kilogram bag of bricks anymore.

I don’t think today. Actually, I catch myself going over my schedule for the day as I round the park for lap number three but I decide to put that away for later and surprisingly, I do.

I notice the bird sounds today, the magpies warbling happily, the miners warning me away from their nests. Despite my ears aching from the cold, I feel warm. I’ve never been a morning person but today, I can understand why people get out of their beds for this.

FRIDAY

I used to look at morning joggers through the smudged windows of my morning train with sneering disdain. I viewed them as belonging to some dorky, ultra-zealous exercise cult that would prefer to spend their mornings sweaty and uncomfortable than tucked warmly in their beds. I don’t know if I would put myself in that category yet, but I do think I have opened my mind a bit. I’m not going to proclaim that running is the miracle cure here, I think there have been many things that have contributed to me recovering. For one, my incredibly brave, unshaken partner who has cuddled me, listened to me, at times fed me and bathed me all while seeing his partner suffering. He is quite literally the definition of a “rock”. But I will say that I will continue to run every day because it makes me feel proud that I am doing something good for myself.

Featured image: Running, Max Pixel/CC

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