• Bryan Casey

Out-Running My Mind

by Bryan Casey


Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

High school is a time of change.

A frightening journey that takes developing, confused children and urges them to socialize. It's a four-year roller coaster of constant ups and downs. Students are labeled, and are defined by what they do. Some are popular, and others countdown the days until graduation and a few, like me, fall somewhere between the two. So, on my first day of high school, I went around to the different sports and club tables. And, like many, I obtained my four-year stamp. Runner.


Runner, why not? It’s an activity which anyone can do. Just pump your arms, move your legs, and you’ll be fine.


Being lucky enough to grow up in Upstate New York I had access to, well, nature. And what do you do with nature? You run through it. Every minute recorded on my watch, every mile added to my shoes, every drop of sweat down my back defined me; and I felt like I was able to obtain a sense of who I really was. Through this simple activity I gained life-long friends and I had something to look forward to during those eight hours of awkwardness.


However, things change, and our bodies and minds grow. Sometimes for better. And sometimes for worse.

When I raced my first race, I didn’t feel the stress. There was no pressure. My coach was reassuring, and my parents just wanted me to try my best. There were no standards. So, I just ran my race.


I kept my head up, my arms pumping, and my eyes forward. That’s a strategy in running, always keep your eyes focused on the next man in front of you and reel them in. Just like fishing.


Racing gave me this beautiful, intoxicating feeling, similar to when you were a child on the swing set. You’d scream at your parents, "higher, higher." Your mother, being a responsible adult, would keep you at a reasonable height, but your father. Fathers are different. Once in a while you’d get that one push, the seat would fall out from under you and it was like you were stranded in mid-air. Even as a child you knew you were destined to swing back down. But you’d push that thought aside and bask in the feeling. It was exhilarating. I loved it.


But as I continued to compete there was this thought in the back of my mind. Like a voice on an answering machine, activating as soon as I arrived at the meet.


"You have to run fast."

"I can’t believe you're so slow. Isn’t this who you are, what you love."


And it grew louder.


"Why can’t you be good? What’s wrong? Why can’t you breathe? Come on kid. My chest, what is that?"


And it would continue.


Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

Where was this coming from? What happened to the feeling of ecstasy which I’d usually get from running? I never had these thoughts at practice, or while I was running on my own. It was like a switch had been flipped, as soon as running became racing.


My mind had been invaded by some robotic entity and I was afraid. Afraid of what? I had no idea.

I didn’t know what to do, I needed it to stop. The voice had taken over my brain and now it was affecting my body. Sweat was pooling, limbs were shaking, eyes were watering and, of course, a nauseous feeling had taken control.


So, our bodies do what they are meant to do. They respond to this feeling in an attempt to make us feel better. And I certainly did feel better after doing it. After vomiting.


Before every race, I would sneak away to perform my high school running ritual. I needed to silence that voice in my head. I needed to steady myself and be able to breathe. And at that point, it was the only way I knew how. I threw up before racing. It was a normal occurrence to me.


It helped. The adrenaline kick, my pores opening, the tears in my eyes as I stepped up to that line. It reassured me that I was ready to run. And the voice would subside. And as soon as the gun went off, the voice would disappear.


At the time I was convinced that this was something I needed to do. "It’s okay, it’s just stress from competition. It’s just overthinking."


However, things change, and our bodies and minds grow. Sometimes for better. And sometimes for worse.

Now this, was different to me. The answering machine was back, but I wasn’t racing. "How strange," I thought. "Why do I feel like this?"


I would ask myself this question time after time.


I’m just going to hang out with my friends.


*Panic.


It’s just an interview.


*Sweat


I studied; this test won’t be hard.


*Vomit.


It’s just a presentation, it’s just a dance, it’s just a concert…it’s just. It’s just, and then it clicked. It’s just anxiety. Well, it wasn’t “just” anxiety.


It was consuming, it was frustrating, and I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. I did the only thing I could. The only thing that temporarily silenced my mind, that quelled my emotions, that made me feel normal again. I ran.


However, things change, and our bodies and minds grow. Sometimes for better. And sometimes for worse.

My senior year I ran so hard; I trained every day. I was fed up with my feelings of anxiousness and stress. I said to myself,"You know what, I’m not going to throw up before this race. I’m not going to do it."


It became a battle, and no matter the outcome of the race, or my time, just by simply not giving in to my anxiety, I had won.


The pressure was subsiding, and I was breaking personal records. I broke eighteen minutes in the 5K. I subbed five-minutes in the mile.


I was learning my triggers; I was adapting to my new mind. I learned new techniques to visualize my anxiety. I told myself, "okay brain, you’re confused. This stress you feel right now, it’s just a pin prick. A poke. An act that can’t break the skin. Right on the wrist. But you’re confusing it for a knife. Brought down, hard, against my chest. It’s just a pin prick. It’s just a pin prick."


And my knives subsided. And my stab wounds slowly turned into pin pricks. And I continued to run.

My race anxiety continued to fade, and my feelings of unnecessary worry evaporated little by little. That robotic entity in the back of my mind changed its tone. Instead of being a booming force it subsided, to a whisper.

Yet, a whisper can still be heard. Especially in silence.

It’s a daily task, for myself, to continue to quell that voice of anxiety. To snuff it out until it’s just an unintelligible murmur. I do this by filling my head with positive words and thoughts. Distractions, hobbies, and writing. I do this by running.


Not running from my anxiety. But running to calm my anxiety.


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