If I haven’t gone for a jog in a few days, I start to get edgy, antsy. Even my husband and kids will notice it. I’ll be pacing the kitchen, acting crabby, and sputtering complaints every which way until someone will practically throw my sneakers at me and say, “Go! We need you happy again.”
I started taking long, vigorous walks as a teen. I was coming out of an awful period of high anxiety and panic attacks. Exercise was pretty much doctor’s orders. Getting out of my house helped me get out of my head. Walking helped me sort out my thoughts, release them into the open air.
The endorphins helped plenty too—they brought me back to my happy place. Exercise is not the only thing that helps keep my anxiety at bay (and anxiety is a beast that doesn’t always care how hard one works to keep it away), but it remains an essential ingredient in my wellness.
I’ve been a regular exerciser for over 20 years, and while it certainly keeps my soul and body healthy, getting skinny has never been the primary goal—or at least it isn’t anymore.
In my pre-kid days, I was certainly more focused on having a chiseled body, sometimes obsessively so. But something about getting older and becoming a mother has shifted my focus away from that. Women in my family are curvy. I’m never going to be skinny, and the times I’ve gotten close to that were when I wasn’t eating enough or was exercising too much—not for joy, but for the sole purpose of achieving a body type that wasn’t even attainable.
Now what I want most is to be happy, healthy, and sane. I exercise so that I don’t go totally bat-shit crazy on my kids, to alleviate the stress of being their primary caretaker. I exercise so that I can keep up with my kids as they run down the block, so that I can live a long life, and so that I can be an active grandmother someday (hopefully!).
A few years ago, soon after my second child was born and my life as a mom reached a new intensity, I started to have dreams about running. I had never been a runner before, always a walker. But in the dreams, I was running, almost floating up to the sky. It was amazing and liberating.
With that, I bought a jogging stroller and tried running. At first, I couldn’t go more than a few blocks without feeling like my stomach was in my throat. So I walked a few blocks, then ran a few. In a couple of months, it was almost all running. And when my baby started getting older, I began running without him.
At first, I admit, I thought that going from walking to running would help me lose those last five pounds of baby weight that hadn’t budged since my first child was born almost 10 years ago. That didn’t really happen (I think those pounds are just part of me now). But just the act of doing something I never thought I could do has been gratifying and really beneficial in terms of managing my lifelong tendency toward anxiety.
Sometimes if I’m having a rough time, I’ll go running and repeat the words “I can do this, I can do this” over and over in my head. It definitely sounds corny (especially sharing it here), but running is a perfect metaphor for life, for overcoming the obstacles that are inevitably thrown your way.
I’m grateful that my family understands my need to get out there and pound the pavement a few times a week. As soon as I come back from a run, my kids can see the joy and calm return to my face. They start climbing all over me, covering me with kisses.
Because kids are weirdos, they don’t seem to care that I’m drenched head-to-toe with sweat—which reminds me: Another bonus to fitting in my jogs is that I am pretty much forced to shower. I truly have no excuses at that point. And because my kids are into the whole “let Mommy exercise so she doesn’t lose her shit,” they will (mostly) leave me alone while I shower after exercising.
A long, quiet shower? Maybe that’s the best reason of all to exercise.