How Running Helped Meg Huwe Regain Control of Her Mental Health
Pacing. Sweating. Hiccuping.
It was 2019, right before the holidays and Meg Huwe, a 26-year-old native of Kansas City, was having a full-on panic attack at her therapist's office. Over a period of time, she had become anxious and overwhelmed. She started seeing a therapist four or five years ago just for wellness maintenance, but now she really needed the help.
"I was going through an existential crisis and found it hard to place myself," she said. "Depersonalization and derealization had become normal. All of a sudden, I was scared to do things I loved – like taking road trips."
As someone who found solace in nature, getting away and traveling to a place that exuberated natural beauty was part of Meg's action plan for regaining mental health. She and her friends planned a road trip to Colorado, but the thought of being in the car for hours on end was enough to send her over the edge. They chose to visit Thailand instead. Little did they know, that trip wouldn't happen, either.
And Then, 2020
By the time the pandemic hit, Meg was taking antidepressants and therapist visits had become virtual. She was working from home and didn't really see anyone outside of her roommate and boyfriend. While this new way of life could've been detrimental, it helped Meg take control by establishing a routine and diving back into an activity that would help her get well: running.
"I first started running in high school on the cross country and track teams," she said. "I always liked cross country better because of the trails, distance, and sense of community. Track just kept me in shape."
Meg always wanted to run a marathon. Being injury prone coupled with the mental exhaustion of training always stopped her from giving it a serious shot. Although she couldn't exactly pinpoint why, Meg realized that she needed to run now more than ever. In March, she started running.
"I didn't have the excuses anymore, especially with working from home," she said. "There was no morning drive or rush hour home. I could just get up, do what I needed to do, and hop online in time for work. Plus, I did a round of physical therapy the year before so I was confident in my body's ability."
A few months later, Meg and her roommate ran a half marathon and that was the beginning of her training for a full marathon. The preparation was intense. For 20 weeks, she took on a staggered plan that included alternating 10 to 12 mile runs with 16 to 18 mile runs.
"Everyone was going through their own pandemic blues," she said. "Running gave me my joy back. I was feeling like myself again."
The Big Lessons
In October, almost a year to the date of her panic attack, Meg ran her marathon. The 26.2 miles was just a fraction of the whopping 658 miles total she ran that year. The realization of just how far she ran was a testament to how far she had come in her journey of self-care.
"Before I started running, I wasn't full of a lot of love for myself," she said. "The more I ran, the more I realized how strong I was and not just physically. When you're out there hitting the pavement, all you can do is think, reflect, and process. There's no room for negative talk or self-doubt because once that creeps in, you won't finish the race or at the very least it'll slow you down. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other and keep moving."
Running also taught her how to balance being a go-getter with either taking time out to rest or running just for the love of it.
"It's not always about hitting a goal," she said. "It's okay to want to beat your personal best, but when that crave to outdo myself becomes the biggest motivator for why I want to run that's a sign for me to evaluate why."
While Meg hasn't had any more panic attacks, she added that running was just one tool in her arsenal of achieving mental health.
"I still take my antidepressants because it's what's best for my sleep patterns and appetite," she said. "I also have a strong support system of friends and family who want to see me thrive and with who I can be open, honest, and vulnerable. Therapy will always be necessary, even if it's not as regular as it used to be. Meditation is good, too. Running is my thing, but there are so many different methods of exercise. You just have to find what's right for you."