Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Running through loss

Running has changed my life.  In the weeks and months after Quinn died, darkness and depression filled my days over and over again, but I kept faith that I could fight it.  It was hard though, to keep this faith, because I knew that my brain was changed and different after Quinn died.  I was desperate and searching for a way to regain my balance. 

During my 6 week post-partum doctor appointment, I asked if I could start running again.  She said yes.  “So…I can go home right now and run?  Then run again tomorrow?”  I asked.  “Absolutely,” she responded.  That day, I went on my first run (well, “run” is a strong word.  Let’s call it a shuffle).  When I got back from my shuffle, I felt a little better.  I felt like I could beat the grief and not let it take over me in the form of depression.  That feeling lasted the rest of the day, but then I woke up the next day once again filled with darkness and depression.  My body was so out of shape, from nearly a year of being on “restricted activity” during my pregnancy, that my body didn't allow me to run every day. 

Run to heal

For a few weeks, I managed to go on my shuffle “runs” a couple days a week, and was on an emotional rollercoaster.  On a running day – lighter thoughts, feelings, and hope trickled into my head.  On the days that my body was so sore I could barely walk down the stairs, deep sadness and darkness crept back in.  My poor husband had to deal with me as I traveled up and down on this emotional journey.

Now, 6 weeks after the doctor’s OK to run, my shuffles are turning into jogs which are slowly starting to resemble a “run.”  I can go further and more often, which keeps my mood more consistent, with fewer trips on the ups and downs of the rollercoaster.  Moreover, the effects of running have been lasting longer.  Now, the positive feeling I get from a run doesn't disappear the next day, but often lasts until my next run, where I recharge my brain. 

I believe and have experienced that running has reprogrammed my brain.  I've heard that running boosts endorphins in your brain, but what I’ve felt is different.  I believe running has actually changed my brain.  I am a huge proponent to exercise and so curious about its effects, that I looked into it a little more.  I found a lot of articles comparing the effects of antidepressants on the brain to the effects of running - which releases endorphins and stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, both enhancing mood. 

Run to heal

Still, I thought there was something more.  If you haven’t experienced severe tragedy, it may be hard to understand, but I felt like part of my brain died and now it is growing back.  Studies have shown that running stimulates the brain to grow fresh grey matter, which has a big impact on mental ability.  The article says, “A few days of running led to the growth of hundreds of thousands of new brain cells.”  In order for the brain to stay be healthy, it needs the growth of fresh brain cells, which happens while running. 

Wow.  I have experienced first-hand the psychological and physical effects of running and how it can actually change your life, but I’m inspired now more than ever to stick with it and to be an advocate for exercise.  Running can change your brain and literally change your life.
PS – I just came across another article that explains how meditation also creates new grey matter in the brain.  Another one of my beat the grief efforts!


The articles I mention above are as follows:

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