Fear is the primary motivator of the human species. This is why advertisers use fear to sell products. Fear that we won’t look as good as we should to sell make-up, hair replacement formulas and clothes. Fear that we will embarrass ourselves in order to sell underarm deodorant, denture adhesive and teeth whitening products. Fear that we will be seen as unsuccessful to sell cars, jewelry and watches. This is also why politicians use fear to sell themselves. Fear of their opponent and what they will do, fears of the deficit, fear of the future, fear of people who aren’t like you.
I have run some of the most competitive trail races across the country. I have won a US National trail title and a North American mountain running title. I have been on multiple US Mountain Running teams competing at the North American and World Mountain Running Championships. By all accounts I am an accomplished athlete; I’m well educated, fit and healthy and lead a comfortable middle class life. I have loving and supportive friends and family. I am proud and happy with my life. Despite all this, when someone tells me how incredible I am and how much I inspire them, I feel like an impostor.
They don’t know that I become paralyzed with fear if I think about driving on the interstate. That the thought of sitting in an intersection causes me to have a panic attack. That I have to plan my walks, runs and bikes around town to avoid all bridges. That I am afraid to be by myself on the trail because I may stop breathing. I have been battling panic attacks and chronic anxiety since grade school. I have struggled with sitting through classes and walking up stairs in high school. Even though I drove for many years with no problems, over the past 5 years I have been afraid to drive. So what do I know about fear? Well, a lot. Fear plays a major role in my life.
Through the years running has provided me relief from obsessive, scary thoughts and has calmed my monkey mind. The trails have been an escape from the stress of life and a way to refocus and prioritize. But what happens when running is the cause of anxiety and leaves me dead in my tracks, stranded on a mountain top shaky and unable to breathe? How do you overcome such debilitating feelings to keep pursuing what you are most passionate about?
Every day I step out the door is an opportunity to face my fears. Some days, I have no problem, other days I am literally afraid to cross the street. Anxiety is weird and hard to comprehend if you have not experienced it firsthand. I hope to share some of my experiences with anxiety and how it affects my running and life in general through this series of posts. My hope is that by being transparent with my struggles you will gain some insight into what it is like to live with anxiety, or if you have anxiety yourself, to know that you are not alone.