Maybe you’ve heard this joke:
How do you know if someone is a runner?
Don’t worry, they will tell you.
It’s true that runners love to talk about running, but there are many similarities in our stories and there is value in sharing them. I will tell you mine and I would love to hear yours too!
Several years ago, I left my corporate job to be home with my boys. I did not make this decision quickly or take it lightly. I spent a year contemplating whether I would thrive or regret it. I worried I’d give up my career only to learn that being a full-time mom would leave me depressed and unfulfilled, as I had seen happen for others. I worried about letting go of my identity as a working professional and becoming “just a mom”.
But corporate life did not allow adequate space for family life, so I took a leap of faith.
With this change, I gave up the opportunity to grow in my career. I gave up a large salary. I gave up my independence. I gave up focusing on any one thing for a period of time longer than a baby and toddler would allow. I gave up adult conversations and hallway collaboration and accomplishments. I gave up my work community. I gave up who I knew myself to be.
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” (Buddhist saying)
Big decisions are hard because they cut the future in half. One path or another- you can’t have both. Giving up the road not taken creates an opportunity cost. We miss out on all that road had to offer and there is discomfort and grieving in that.
When I left my job, I bought a necklace with a pendant that said “Superhero” on the back.
It took the place of my corporate ID badge around my neck and reminded me that I was strong and able to do hard things.
To say it took me some time to adjust to becoming a stay-at-home mom would be to quickly glance over the enormity of this change. I left my job exhausted and overwhelmed and in a haze of sleep-deprivation and postpartum depression. I learned that starting a new life routine means paying attention to every detail of the day and making decisions continuously. Nothing was on autopilot yet and everything commanded my full attention and quickly depleted my energy. On top of that, having small children can be a challenging time, especially if you’re prone to anxiety. I had to learn to become an “imperfectionist” (a term I’m lovingly borrowing from Kristin Armstrong).
I was (and still am) immensely grateful to be with my kids. I have not regretted this choice for a single second. Being a mom has been my greatest privilege and biggest joy.
But I also needed to learn to tend to my physical and mental health.
After I left my job, I joined a women’s bootcamp group in the park and met some wonderful women. We worked out together, ran together, and trained for triathlons together. “Tri training” was a regular part of my weekly schedule and I quickly learned that there is great joy to be found in connecting movement (especially outdoors) with community.
Running isn’t something that came easily for me. In elementary school, I sat out of PE on running days because of asthma. In high school, I hid behind the bleachers on the track to avoid it. When my gymnastics coach started making us run at the beginning of practice, I decided gymnastics was no longer for me. But just because I’m not great at something doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly valuable for me.
When I wasn’t with my training friends, I ran at sunrise near my house. Greeting the day on the trails was exactly what I needed. It gave me time alone and exercise and a dose of nature during the peaceful hours before the world woke up. I savored these miles. Running at sunrise became my church.
Even when I woke up feeling groggy and dreary, I just needed to get outside and start running. As my body warmed, so did my mood. I’d settle in to my pace, my favorite song would come on, and I’d run. Sometimes I would pause halfway to see the morning light through the branches of an old grove and take a few deep breaths before running home. Some miles later, the cobwebs would be gone and my heart would be happy.
Tending to mental health can look very different for each of us and will likely evolve as we move through different phases of life. I don’t mean to imply that running is all anyone needs. Therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is helpful and medication can be beneficial too. There are many ways to take good care of ourselves. For me, adequate sleep, time in nature, and exercise are the most effective tools. They are the basics. The big rocks. The things I start with and return to.
I like to think of my mental and emotional health care as having two sides:
emptying out + filling up
The idea isn’t to stuff big emotions and cover them with toxic “good vibes only” positivity. It is about facing the hard things and moving through them (or “emptying out”) in a way that is healing, while fortifying (or “filling up”) with things that move me toward the way I want to feel.
Moms Run to Empty Out
Having a practice of emptying out first thing in the morning is an incredibly helpful way to start the day. This can be running or other training, yoga, journaling, or maybe a writing practice like “Morning Pages”.
Sometimes we just need to clear the cobwebs of sleep or the chatter of an over-filled mind. Other times it can be heavier, like processing hard emotions. I find movement to be especially good for this and there is something magical that happens when I work through things in my mind while my body is full of the endorphins of a morning run. Just like the morning light zaps the energy of middle-of-the-night worries, running helps to take the power away from heavy thoughts as I burn them for fuel on the trails.
Moms Run to Fill Up
Filling up can be anything that feels like joy, freedom, strength, connection, or moves you toward the way you want to feel or the life you are working to build.
Some things to consider:
Doing something regularly that makes you feel unapologetically like a badass :-)
Alone time for introspection and rest
Spending time in nature
Working hard at something that matters deeply to you
Group exercise or training that offers like-minded community
Running does all of these things for me. It is my emptying out and my filling up, but it isn’t the only thing I need.
Like any long-term relationship, my love of running has evolved. The way it serves me has changed. As I have gotten older, I’ve leaned into strength training because it is so important for healthy aging. I’ve even taken breaks from running for various reasons, but I always find my way back. It is where I know myself best. The familiar rhythm of my cadence and breath is where I recognize myself even as life changes around me. Running gives me a home base inside of myself.
A note about mental health: Dealing with heavy emotions can be a lot and therapy can help even if you’re not at “rock bottom”. I encourage you to pursue that option if you’re having a hard time managing on your own.