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Author and journalist Bella Mackie on how running helped her mental health

I’ve been an anxious person my whole life. I think it’s common with things like anxiety and OCD for it to present in childhood. I remember those feelings as a kid, but not knowing what it was. I think a lot of people, when they’re finally diagnosed with depression or anxiety, feel relief.

People with a mental health issue get good at keeping it a secret. As a kid, I had OCD behaviours, like turning the light switch on and off. Later, I got adept at making excuses for things. I didn’t fly or take the tube for a long time, and came up with excuses.

I don't remember why I decided to go running. But I know I was embarrassed, because I did it at night. It was down an alleyway and I just kept going back there because I was too ashamed to run anywhere else, as I thought people would laugh and shout at me. You realise, though, that it’s a load of balls. No one is looking at you:everyone’s on their phone.

I don't know why I went back for a second run. Perhaps it’s because for those three minutes I felt a bit less teary, and a bit less focused on what was going on inside my brain. I always say that running is a chance to run away, but you get to come home.

With running, you incrementally improve every time you do it. You’re hitting these goals and feeling proud of yourself. And it gives you this sense of independence, which for someone like me, with agoraphobia,I found to be the most mesmerising, intoxicating thing in the whole world.

When I was writing my book, Jog On, I read a lot about dualism: the idea that the mind and body are connected. In the modern world, we’ve separated them: we see our minds as the primary thing to be prized and our bodies as vessels that carry our minds. We forget how much impact the body has on the brain. Running was my way to get my mind out of the driving seat and put my body in control.

Before running, I was the most unfit person you could meet. I thought people who exercised were odd. I’d spent gym lessons at school smoking cigarettes. I did no physical exertion until I started to run, aged 30.

Running taught me not to be scared of things. Within a month, I was running through central London on my own, and I hadn’t been there on my own for years. And every time I did it, it enforced the idea that I was fine. I started to do other things that scared me: getting in lifts, going away on my own, trapezing. Now my motto is: if it scares me, I have to do it. I haven’t had a panic attack in six years.

I'm an anti-wellness proponent. I eat ice cream after every run. I drink loads of Diet Coke and wine. I’m a really unhealthy person who runs every day. I’m never training for anything. I’m not a racer; I’m not interested in personal bests. I’m a really crap runner. I do about 12-13km every day, and that sets me up for the rest of the day.

(06/23/2020) Views: 281 ⚡AMP
by Runner’s World
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