I felt shaky walking home, not so much because of the physical feat (granted running 13.1 miles is no joke), but because of what it represented. Four months ago, I was a shell of a person. Beaten down by both an unsupportive and insensitive partner and an unsupportive and insensitive institution, I was left last May with no self-confidence and very little sense of value. This was in spite of having survived the difficult third year of the PhD and becoming ABD (All But Dissertation) and struggling daily with autoimmune, hyperthyroidism, depression and a host of other physical and mental struggles.
To put it simply, four months ago, I hated myself.
Three and a half months ago, I decided I couldn't live like that anymore.
The journey from no confidence to a strong sense of confidence (hey, I'm still a work in progress!) I realize now had three important components.
Endorphins really do make you happy. I know first hand how hard it is as someone who suffers from depression to exercise, but if you can, it will change your life. To add to Elle's statement, happy people also stop shooting themselves in the foot. Happy people take care of their health because it means they can exercise better. I still love my bacon and beer indulgences, but I also know they must be balanced with a lot of water and healthy stuff, or I will literally die at Bikram class, and I won't be able to run more than 3 miles. Best, advice? Find a friend and pick yourselves up together! I did a 30 day Bikram challenge with an old friend, and while exercise some days still isn't easy, on most days I look forward to it. And if your not a gym person, find something else, like kickboxing or dance classes. It really doesn't matter what you do as long as you find yourself smiling at some point in the process.
At the same time I started exercising again, I also found passion for my work again. This has been probably the most productive summer of my life. I read more than I did while studying for my doctoral exams, I wrote more than I ever have in a month. And I have collaborated with more people at this point than I probably have in my lifetime. Passion is contagious, and it feels wonderful to share it with the world.
Lastly, one of the most important aspects of my recovery was giving back. I didn't realize this at first, but in taking care of a loved one this summer, I began to take care of myself. And that feeling of being useful can be as wonderful as a runners high and much better than sitting on the couch binge watching TV. Since then I have began volunteering at various organizations invested in issues of labor rights and cultural expression, and I have realized the type of Professor (and person) I want to be, someone who values community and service above all else.
As a result, I have even decided to dedicate my running to various causes. On Sunday, I ran the Susan Komen Race for Breast Cancer to raise money for treatment and research. As someone who has seen cancer afflict many men and women in my own family, running with survivors, with those whose loved ones have passed, and even those in treatment was something that will stay with me for a long time.
Next weekend I will run again, this time against hunger in NYC. Unfortunately in this food capital, one in six (including one in four children) are going hungry. There is no reason why in a city as prosperous as NYC there should be hungry. My run feeds 10 hungry New Yorkers, your donations (https://www.crowdrise.com/melissacastillo2) feed more.
It is really easy to find races that at least partner with charities. For example, my Aug. 29, Warrior Dash supported St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and my upcoming half mile supports the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
And that's why that half marathon meant so much. It didn't mean I was some sort of fitness guru (though I am getting in pretty good shape!), it meant that I believed in myself. I believed I was strong enough physically and mentally to complete another lap and then some. I believed I deserved to win at life too.