10 years ago something happened which changed my life forever. My ex-husband was given 5 years to live.
He was type 1 diabetic, smoking and drinking heavily and spirally out of control. He needed a goal, a focus to get fit and healthy. Small goals rarely lead to big changes, so it had to be worth it. It had to be something momentous. So he signed up for the New York Marathon.
As I watched him train, I could see all these positive changes happening in his life. And I wanted to be part of it.
But my life was a mess too. I was drinking at least a bottle of wine a night to numb the pain of never feeling good enough. I ate 500 calories a day and survived on coffee and gum. On days I was hungry, I would gorge on sweets, chocolates and cakes, then make myself sick up to 10 times a day. Weighing 7 stone, I was fragile, a bag of bones and my hair fell out. I was always cold, sick and fainted regularly. And I slept. A lot. Some days I felt so anxious and depressed that I couldn’t leave the house.
On paper, my life looked amazing. Successful design career, VIP parties, champagne lifestyle, extensive travel, great wardrobe, party girl central. But backstage there was a dark side. I spent all my money on retail therapy and small luxuries that I thought would make me feel better. And it did. For a while. But the fix eventually faded and I was left tired, lonely and miserable. Except what didn’t fade was the eating disorder. A manifestation of years of self abuse and self critical thoughts and behaviour. I never felt good enough, so I simply gave up trying.
I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t know where to start or what the changes were I needed to make.
Fear of disconnection
The fear of disconnection or exclusion can far outweigh our desire to change. We all have things we want to do but put off. Knowing that we want to change, need to change, but we don’t know how. Afraid of making that first step for fear of standing out. Making ourselves vulnerable and open to exposure or judgement. Human nature makes us want to feel part of something. To fit in. Be accepted. Liked. Its less risky to be part of a crowd, not standing out and being ridiculed. So our natural default mode is to stay just under the radar.
But what if we don’t want to do that? What if we want to experience amazing things in our life and achieve our goals? Imagine a world where we are all living to our best capabilities and beyond.
Sometimes we are not courageous or strong enough to make those changes on our own. And thats ok. The ability to change comes from unexpected places. Success leaves clues. So why don’t we follow someone else’s change instead? Become a follower to a leader. This can be just as brave.
So thats exactly what I did. I followed my ex-husbands lead and joined him on his journey. But it was daunting and I didn’t know where it would lead or even worse if I would fail. But I had to start being the change I wanted to see. So I signed up for the NY Marathon too. The next day I started running.
Running for medicine
The more I ran, the stronger I became. But it was a slow process. I started by running for 1 minute, walking 1 minute, until slowly I built this up to 30 minutes running in 6 weeks. You have to be patient and understand it is down to consistency. The power of a habit is intense. Just as you would commit to a skin-care regime or clean your teeth before bedtime. You have to keep doing the things that work. Over and over, if you want to see change happen.
Over time, running began to give me an experience of massive mental wellbeing and a new found control over my life. It helped me find clarity on decisions to make and started to calm the negative voices in my head.
It shaped me to start loving myself again. I started to feel better about who I was and tried to worry less about being perfect or if everyone liked me. I began writing a gratitude journal to note down all the things I was grateful for, to appreciate the smaller things in life. I also listed the achievements I made everyday, no matter how small, so I could reflect back on these positives when I was having a bad day.
I learnt that dieting didn’t work. By running I was just replacing one addiction with another, so I realised it had to be a balance of exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness. My mind finally started working with my body. Through running they were able to re-connect and the results were amazing. I still weighed the same as I did in the height of my bulimia, but I looked healthy and happy, not grey and tired. My skin was rosy and shiny, not spotty and red from poor nutrition. I was taking control of my life one day at a time. People thought I looked 5 years younger.
Some days were harder than others. When the alarm sounds and your instant reaction is to press the snooze button. I find running on those days more important. Because you know at the end how amazing you will feel. I have an A4 piece of paper stuck to my bedroom wall with a key sentence to remind myself what my inspiration is for running, to remember what I am fighting for. This is really powerful when your mind is telling you no.
Mind and body
I could never afford professional help so I had to find a way to get well on my own. To take control of my own life and be accountable. Something I had never done before. Running was a free medicine and I could take it whenever I liked, as long as I was sensible. Being ill for such a long time made me want to see how my body would work and look when it was functioning at its peak. I used to think I ran to stay slim. But it actually became about mental clarity and strength. Strength of mind and body. It gave me belief that I could get through the days, whatever life threw at me.
We are all much stronger than we think. We need to take that leap of faith and trust our own abilities. It is not easy to make these changes, or to even know what these changes are you want to make. All we can do is try and be the best version of ourselves.
Running a marathon gave me the belief that I was stronger than I was. It gave me the courage & strength that I could do anything. The possibilities could be endless and I wanted that for myself after so long doubting my self and feeling a failure. I had no idea at the time the magnitude that decision would have on the rest of my life.
We all have challenges in life and we need to be brave enough to ask for help. When we do, like I did, we can be surprised by the reaction and the nurturing that follows. It takes guts to stand out. To stand up and join in.
Life throws us opportunities, some big & some small, and it is how we react to these opportunities, and whether we decide to take action or not, that governs the outcome of our destiny. Many of us let these opportunities simply pass us by, consciously or unconsciously, and carry on living a life of safety. Free from challenge to live outside our comfort zone. Afraid of the criticism we would receive from friends & family for being different. For wanting different things. Upsetting the apple cart.
Think of the one thing you would love to do most in the world. What do you need to get you there? Maybe running can be the small change you add to your life that will enable the big changes to start happening.
Marie House: Formerly a fashion designer with bulimia and anorexia, Marie is now a coach, author and speaker on managing stress, fear and anxiety. Following her 15 year struggle with an eating disorder, she is now dedicated to helping others take control of their thoughts and behaviours to manage everyday life events that can feel so intense they can make you feel powerless, paralysed and out of control.
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