As I hit Costco last Friday morning--seriously, that place is never not busy, especially this time of year—I remembered meeting Paula there a few years ago, and I wanted to dig up her post from 2012 because her transformation of body, mind and spirit reminds us all that it's never too late to make a change.
This August, I was doing a Sunday morning run at Costco and was recognized in the produce section. The woman was wearing running clothes and that unmistakable, post-race grin. Turns out, she had just set a PR in a 5K, and had recently become a runner. We had a nice chat about running and how to use up five avocados before they go bad, and we went on our respective ways.
Later, she emailed us to continue the conversation.
I really appreciate your honesty in your blog about your ups and downs, your real-life challenges with “doing it all,” and especially with your depression. I struggle with depression, too. I’ve had more bad years than good years, and it can so totally suck sometimes. When I started running a year ago, and 50 pounds ago, I was on tons of meds. The only time I was happy was when I was in bed sleeping. I found your blog, saw that you try to manage your depression with running, and decided that I wanted to do that, too.
I wanted to hear more—and knew her story would resonate deeply—so I asked her to answer some questions. Warning: It's a long post, but I didn't want to cut what I feel are important details. (Example A: running can help depression, but it doesn't cure it.)
What I love is she finally decided enough was enough, and she had to make a change--and her change is ricocheting through her daughter. Although it can be hard to believe at times, we all have that power within us. But enough from me: Let's hear from Paula, a badass mother runner if I ever knew one.
Dimity: What prompted you to finally start running? Was it one light bulb moment/comment/thought or were you just sick of yourself? (Sounds harsh, but I think you know what I mean.)
Paula: I started running in August 2011, I was 44. I had hit rock bottom with my health, and I was pretty sick of myself. I was already on many meds and my doctor called me one day and said that some blood work revealed that I had a fatty liver. He wanted me to get some biopsies and go on some more meds. It completely freaked me out. I was sick and tired of feeling like crap all the time. That day, feeling completely desperate, instead of driving to the lab for blood work. I drove to my gym and hired a personal trainer and told him I wanted to start running. That day changed my life.
D: Do you remember your first run?
P: I started running/walking at first, and I hated, hated, hated it. I wanted to be a runner, but didn’t think I could do it. But my trainer believed in me, wouldn’t let me off the hook, and made me run (and so I hated him for a while, too). I gradually increased the minutes, started getting used to it, and finally didn’t hate it as much. I gradually worked up to 45 minutes, and in December ran my very first 5K. That was completely amazing. By then I was hooked.
D: So you felt like a runner then?
P: My most favorite run EVER was Christmas Day, 2011. My husband, Dan, and I decided to go for a run about midday. It was so cold, but we bundled up and headed out. We did a loop that ended up being 5 miles. I was able to do that whole loop without walking. I was shocked and elated. By the time we got home, I could hardly breathe because I was all snotty and teary because I actually ran that whole loop. Finally, I felt like a runner.
D: Beyond depression, what were your health issues you treating with meds, pre-running?
P: I was on two high doses of antidepressants/anxiety meds. I was on meds for high cholesterol. Earlier in the year I had been treated for Barrett’s esophagus, which is where your esophagus gradually narrows with scar tissues and makes swallowing food very difficult. (It’s generally caused by acid reflux, which I had no idea I had.) I’d had a procedure to take care of it, but was taking meds for that and was told I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Since I’ve changed my eating and lost all this weight ,I’m no longer taking meds for that and have not had any problems.
I’m now off of all the meds except one small one for depression. My cholesterol and blood pressure are totally normal. My liver is normal. My esophagus has healed and is completely normal. I rarely have migraines any more. I’ve lost 60 pounds so I don’t hurt all over any more. It’s amazing.
D: How do you think running helps your depression?
P: Running has helped me both physically and mentally. Physically, it’s given me an outlet for dealing with my stress. No matter how crappy I feel before I go running, I always feel better after a run. I never thought that being a sweaty mess could make me feel so good. I have more energy, so I’m more active.
But the mental changes have been the most life changing. Mentally, I’m in a better place than I have been for years and years. I feel better about myself, I believe in myself, and I feel strong. Somewhere along the line of growing up, becoming a mom, working, etc. I kind of lost myself. I had no self confidence and didn’t believe that I could be any different.
But I’ve learned that I can improve myself, I can do hard things and I can be the person that I’ve always wanted to be. It’s been totally empowering. I am strong enough, both physically and mentally, to do whatever I want to do. I’ve never in my life felt strong. But I do now.
Just yesterday I was having a rough day. After work all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and eat potato chips. Then I thought to myself, “don’t think, just GO!” So I pulled on my clothes and shoes and went. I ended up doing a 10-mile loop that I’ve done often. On that loop is a very big hill. I’ve not been able to go all the way up it on any of my runs so far without walking.
Yesterday I told myself that I.can.do.this. So I (slowly) ran the whole way up. And when I got to the top I turned around and looked down at that big freaking hill and gave myself a big old hoo-rah because of my bad-ass-ness! That pulled me out of my funk and turned my day around. It was awesome!
I still have tough days. For sure. But I try to not let myself panic, because I know that it won’t last. I try to get a run (or a nap) in or a date with my husband. It’s OK to have a bad day, to admit that you’re just not feeling yourself, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
D: Did you make other changes in your life besides running?
P: I completely changed my diet. I quit eating crap all the time (I still indulge, just in moderation). I work hard to have a good balance of protein and carbs. I learned that my body runs much better if I get enough protein in my diet. The biggest change was with sugar. Even when I thought I was eating healthy, I learned that I was eating way too much sugar in my yogurt, oatmeal, milk, fruit, etc. I switched to almond milk, Greek yogurt, oat bran, and cut sugar anywhere else that I could. I even cut way back on “natural” sugar, like fruit.
I have learned that when I eat crap I feel like crap. When I feel like crap, I eat crap. It can be a pretty vicious circle because I really love junk food and don’t like a lot of vegetables. But it is so worth it when I feed and fuel my body correctly.
D: I know my mood goes south easier in the winter, when the days can be bleak and it’s harder to run. Does that happen to you? And if so, do you have a plan for this winter?
P: In past winters, I’ve always kind of curled up, both mentally and physically, and just tried to endure the winter. I literally just felt like I closed down. Since I started running I’ve been able to battle that better. I’m not an early morning runner, my favorite time to run is in the afternoon. So, I have some warmer running clothes and plan to keep running in the afternoon after work. (I get home at 3:30 so have plenty of time to run before sunset.) I can always run at the gym, but have promised myself that if the sun is shining and the wind isn’t screaming cold, I will run outside in the afternoon. I need all the sun I can get.
Dimity: What are your running goals for 2013?
P: I would like to run a couple of half-marathons and a couple of full marathons. I’ve started doing some trail running, so maybe a couple of trail races in there. I’d like to break 2 hours for a half. My best time so far is 2:04. I can beat that.
My youngest daughter is a senior in high school and for her senior project has chosen to train for and run a half-marathon. In preparation for that we are running four 5K’s that lead up to the half-marathon in March. I’m very excited to train and do this with her.
She also struggles with depression, and self doubt, so I can’t wait for her to catch the vision and realize that she is strong enough to do this! Watching her cross the finish line will absolutely be the highlight of my year. It means more to me than any other race I will ever run.