Guest Blog: Diamond In The Rough

It’s always fun to ask a random member of the tribe to write a blog about their experience at November Project, or anything they want for that matter. We are still waiting for that epic “When I lost my first tooth story…”.

Joking aside, this blog post is perfect. Perfect for May – Mental Health Month. Perfect because it’s raw and relatable. Perfect because it goes to show you that we aren’t just half-tired zombies congregating in random parks, fields, stadiums all over the world.

We are flesh and bones. We are bundles of nerves. We are emotions. We are HUMAN.

Our guest blogger is a Diamond in the Rough (also the name of our workout this morning) … This is Rachel.

Rachel Gysbers with The Mountain Sexual Award 4.0
Photo Credit Thai Truong

“I love running.

You wouldn’t know it if you looked at my race times – my marathon PB sits firmly at 4:45 and it was a huge accomplishment when I ran my first half in under two hours. But running has saved my life.

Growing up, I was never much of an athlete. I joined my high school’s minuscule track and cross-country teams in order to convince myself that I was at least doing *something* active, even though my training was lacklustre and my times were easily the worst in the province of Ontario. Running felt very much like a chore, something I forced myself to slog through. I never ran more than I had to. During my undergrad, I didn’t even bother to exercise, exhausted from balancing school and working on the weekends.

All that changed when I went to grad school and got hit with some major depression. I’ve always been a relatively quiet, anxious person (I step out of my comfort zone every week at November Project in more ways than one), but halfway through my master’s degree in science I began to feel empty – or rather, not feel anything at all.

I couldn’t figure it out. I loved my school, my friends, my lab, my fiancé, my cats… objectively, I had a pretty awesome life. But it started taking longer and longer to persuade myself to get out of bed in the morning. I would go out or play board games with friends and by the time I returned to my apartment, I managed to convince myself that I was a worthless bag of feces and that everyone secretly hated me. When I didn’t feel empty, I was plagued by relentless thoughts of how everything could go (and was going) wrong. And of course, this was cyclical – the more I slacked off, worried, and avoided social contact, the worse I felt about myself.

I was functioning (barely). But I wasn’t happy, and I remained that way for months – a hollow shell of myself, to the point where I could barely remember who I was anymore. I didn’t want to die, per se… but I certainly didn’t appreciate being alive.

I’ll spare you the details about finally seeing a therapist and taking medication, but with the help of my partner, I managed to seek help. On top of that, I started running again – very slowly over short distances, but I was doing it.

Running felt different this time around. I have infuriating tendencies to ruminate and over-analyze personal situations and social interactions to death – and I found that a run might start out with that, but if I ran long enough, I wouldn’t want to think about those anymore. I wanted to focus on the moment. Over there, that’s a funny-looking cloud. Feel that chill wind coming off the lake. Look at all the goose poop around here – is it even possible to avoid stepping in it?

A few of my close friends took up running around the same time, and I am forever grateful to them. We did a 5K fun run together, then 10, then 15… and I looked on in awe as I floundered to finish my 15K and there were runners along the course coasting through a half-marathon. They were gods. I remember telling my friend, “That’s so LOOOONG! I’ll never be able to do that.”

Later that year, I ran my first half-marathon. Months later, my first 30K. The next year, my very first marathon (in Portland, Oregon, which was the most excruciating 5 hours, 37 minutes and 45 seconds of my life).

Numerous life setbacks have happened since then (who hasn’t had those?), and I still have moments where I sink back into that cavern of anxiety and depression and don’t emerge from that cave for days. But when that happens, if I can manage to convince myself to go out for a run, I find that suddenly I can manage to do so much more. I want to get faster, sure, but more importantly, running helps me feel content, grateful, and present.

I don’t mean to imply that one can exercise oneself out of depression and anxiety – everyone is unique, there are lots of diverse ways to improve your mental health, and you might need to try different combinations of different things to see what works for you – but running is a vital thing that helped me. Life will continue to hammer me, and I’ll continue to get back up. Hopefully, a lot of wonderful things will still happen on my life journey. But no matter how great or how shitty the journey, I promise myself one thing – I’m going to be running it.”

Rachel in the ROAR Huddle
Photo Credit Thai Truong

Rachel, you are a true gem and we are so glad you are here.

ROAR! November Project Vancouver

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