Running: A Mental Health Journey

By Amy Leon
Amy Leon

Note: This post originally appeared on

If I had seen someone running (summer or winter)  11 years ago I would have told you those people were nuts.  Who would do that to themselves? 

I was a self proclaimed couch potato. A single mom, working a stressful job.

Like so many people, I had been to the gym off and on, but it never stuck.  I always found ways to circumvent going.

It all changed when my daughter was around 10, and I really got a good look at myself.  I was so focused on taking care of her, that I had forgotten that I mattered too.  I signed up for the gym through work, and slowly started going.  I eventually signed up with a trainer and we started working on getting me healthy and strong.  It was through this journey that I seriously wondered if I was burning out at my job.  I found it hard to wake up and get out of bed, I was cranky, and I was just not happy.  I started looking into this personal training thing, and wondered if I could do something like that.  I felt great when I worked out with my trainer and we had a great time.

I took the plunge and decided that was an avenue I was willing to explore.  I loved working out with my trainer and thought what a great way to spend your days, helping people get strong and reclaim their health.

So, I left my 9 to 5 and did my course to become a trainer.  I began to work at the local Women’s Only gym.  Things were great for a while, but there came a point when I started to feel like I didn’t want to get out of bed, I was not pleasant to be around, and I started snapping at my daughter.  I wasn’t prepared for the financial strain when I first started out in this job.  My dad had some health issues.  Things seemed to be falling apart around me.

My mother suggested that maybe I needed to see my doctor.  She said  I wasn’t myself.  I put it off.  I was just a little stressed.

Then it happened.  I yelled at my daughter one morning as I drove her to school.  I had forgotten I had an early morning client, and my workplace called.  We had to rush around and when we were in the van she asked me a question and I snapped.  She didn’t deserve it, and I felt ROTTEN.

I made an appointment with my doctor.  I went to see her in between my clients.

That was the day I was diagnosed with depression. June 17, 2011.  That was the day my life started over.  I didn’t realize that at the time.  It was a rough go.  I was put off from work, and really had to fight to get myself out of bed.  My meds made me tired and foggy. It felt like it wasn’t an improvement.  I had to fight hard to reclaim my former self, or was it my new self?

My doctor told me I needed to do physical activity as part of my treatment.  I could start out walking.  I did and it was helpful.  

I will tell you this, I didn’t want to move. At all.  There were days I went back to bed after I got my daughter ready and out the door for school.

I had done some running as part of my gym routine, and I even ran a 10k race a little less than a month before I was diagnosed.

I tried running again not too long after I was put off of work.  My body was not ready.  I ached, and it felt like I was running through molasses.

I did get back to working with my trainer and I eventually started running again.  It was something I could do that didn’t require any pressure.  I felt free when I ran.  I could think through some of my problems.

I eventually went back to my 9 to 5 job, and my running continued to be a big part of my life.  I ran at lunch.  It is a great stress reliever, and gave me time for myself.

I started signing up for races, and sharing my ups and downs with the folks I met online and in real life.  The running community has been a big part of my mental health struggles.  They are always there to share their stories, and to get me through the rough times.  It’s like an extended family.

I know when I am hitting a rough patch with my depression, because my desire to run diminishes.  I stop sometimes altogether.  One thing is for certain, I always return.  Running saves me. 

It is running that made me feel comfortable speaking about my mental illness.  It was a running injury that started my blogging journey.  It was my blogging journey that led me to using other forms of social media to share my story.  We are not alone in our battle.  We are a collective voice, and we are stronger than we think we are.

I am doing good today, and I am helping my daughter manage her mental illness (she was recently diagnosed with depression herself ) when I can.  She has a great support system and is seeing a therapist.  Things are not always sunshine and roses.  We have some pretty rough days, but we make it through.

I have at times fallen off the running wagon, helping my daughter and getting her into therapy took up  time.  But being there for her was the most important thing for me.  Sometimes, life sends us where we need to be.  

I am slowly getting back to running, and am in the process, with some running friends, of setting up a non-profit running group to help combat the stigma associated with mental illness.  We are the Road Warriors, and I am very excited to start this journey with my fellow runners.

Running doesn’t “cure” my depression.  Running helps me battle my depression.

Running makes me feel strong.

Running frees me.

Running saves me.