'This will be my year,' I thought. My body had virtually packed in from the energy zapping effects of my regular anxiety medication. I knew I wanted to change things as my body image was poor and my confidence low. I had my vague plan of becoming fitter and more active, but then a post caught my eye on my Facebook feed. It was about R.E.D January (Run Every Day January) – a challenge to run or move your body every day in January to raise money for Mind. "This is perfect!" I thought. This is some mystical sign from the universe saying I need to do this!
My friend added me to the R.E.D January Facebook group and as I scanned through the posts I saw that everyone seemed to have the same positive goals I did. I learnt a bit more about the philosophy of R.E.D January – how it was a social movement to beat the blues, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
On days where I was out for a run and getting out of breath and tired, I would imagine the other REDDERS were running along beside me
My first run was a short one with lots more walking than running. I was quite disappointed with how quickly I got tired, but I got home with a salmon pink face and a huge smile of pride plastered all over my face. I posted my first selfie with excitement. My post quickly attracted lots of likes and then comments started to come in from people congratulating me. It was such a brilliant feeling. I had all these happy hormones flooding my system, plus all this added praise and support from these kind strangers confirming how well I’d done.
When the weather was particularly January-like and I craved to just stay under the duvet and hibernate, I would scroll down my Facebook feed and see the post-run pictures of people who'd already ran that day. Some had even got up at five in the morning, in the dark to run before work, braving the wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures. I'd feel like I had to push myself to go out and exercise because I didn't want to let team R.E.D down, as well as the generous people who were sponsoring me.
Being part of team R.E.D very much changed how I viewed what I was doing. It wasn't just a personal challenge that affected me and me only. I was aware I was part of a bigger picture and I had to be there to cheerlead my virtual friends who I also wanted to see succeed and do well and stick with this challenge. Committing to running, walking, biking or swimming every day when a lot of us were not used to exercise was a big adjustment. But knowing I wasn't alone, and other people were also finding it challenging at times helped me feel less isolated and reassured me on days where I was tired and didn't have much physically to give.
I felt I'd taken a giant step towards conquering my PTSD
On days where I was out for a run and getting out of breath and tired, I would imagine the other REDDERS were running along beside me. Thinking of them helped give me that extra burst of energy to finish a run.
My highlight came a week into January when I took part in my very first park run. This was a 5k timed race at a local park which took place every Saturday. I never even knew it existed! I was so nervous the night before the run, and the other REDDERS who had done park run explained to me what to expect and reassured me how friendly it was. It was the first time I'd ran in a group since PE lessons at school, so as I lined up with the other lycra clad people, it felt strange but exciting. I'll never forget that run, and the finish line moment was just amazing and made me so emotional but in a really nice way.
I hadn’t done anything that had made me feel so proud of myself for years and years. I felt I'd taken a giant step towards conquering my PTSD and getting back in control of my future again after a long period of illness and hopelessness. There were many magical moments in R.E.D January that I'll never forget. Things like running confidently, happily and with strength past a location where I'd very nearly taken my own life. What a turnaround that was.
I've experienced first-hand the buzz running brings, and its boost to my mental health
The overwhelming feeling I got from being part of R.E.D was pride in myself. Also a feeling that I mattered, that I was valued, and that I belonged. I would sometimes post in the group about my emotional difficulties when I was having an especially challenging day for whatever reason, and the people in R.E.D just 'got it.' R.E.D was a safe place to share so I felt secure.
So now here I am. R.E.D January is over, but my optimism has remained. Clutching my medal in hand I realise my body image is better. My overall health and wellbeing is better. My depressive bluesy feelings have lifted, plus I've gained a whole gang of friends who I have plans to meet in person one day. Being part of the R.E.D moment has been life changing for me. I stand several stepping stones away now from the illness that once defined me, feeling well on my way towards recovery. So I will continue to lace up my running shoes and pound those pavements, because I've experienced first-hand the buzz running brings, and its boost to my mental health. Now I'm most definitely not blue. I'm RED.
There's no doubt exercise is good for you, but it's important to remember that you could be at risk of over exercising.
Exercising is usually a beneficial thing to do for your mental health, and can be helpful as part of a long-term recovery or treatment plan. But there are some situations in which you might need to take extra care in case it starts to become a problem for you.
- If you have an eating problem:
If you experience an eating problem such as anorexia, it may be tempting to over exercise as a way of controlling your weight or burning calories after eating. (See our page on treatment and support for eating problems for more information).
- If you have compulsive or addictive feelings about exercise:
If your exercising is starting to take over your life – for example if you feel anxious if you miss a session, or if it's becoming more important than work, family or friends – you could be developing an exercise or training compulsion (sometimes called an exercise addiction). Having an exercise compulsion can be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and can often accompany an eating problem.
Find out more information about exercising safely
If you'd like to take part in your own fundraising event for Mind visit this page of our website to find out more.