The Road to Happiness

Paula’s story (Paula Pruszynska, 28)

“In my mid teens I began to realise I was different. I lacked the confidence I saw in my friends and suffered anxiety in social situations. I felt angry at myself for not being funnier, prettier, thinner, more popular. Over the years, self-doubt, self-pity, and anger slowly turned into self-loathing. I pushed friends and family away, and for the next 10 years I was on and off medication, shutting myself off from the outside world. The severity of the depression came in cycles. At my worst, I would be completely withdrawn. I had no energy, slept all day, stayed indoors, ate junk food and didn’t bother washing or cleaning. Suicide was always an option. But I didn’t have the guts.

In 2011, I undertook cognitive behavioural therapy, and a course in mindfulness. To discover I had an illness, and that the depression did not define me, was the most amazing revelation. I began to feel better. I resolved to learn how to maintain my mental health, and that’s where running came in. I had never exercised, but my sister – a keen runner – swore that anyone could do it and that it would make me feel better. She finally managed to drag me out on a couple of one-kilometre runs. She was right. Even on those short, slow plods around the block, the natural high was incredible. Joy, empowerment, freedom, achievement and satisfaction are but a few of the words I can think of to describe the experience.

But although I could feel the benefits, I found it hard to motivate myself to run in the cold and dark, when dinner and TV beckoned. So I decided to enter the London Marathon. It was drastic, but I’d felt the benefits from the first run and needed a push to keep it up. I got a charity place to run for The Mental Health Foundation, a cause I’m passionate about. From that day, I had no excuse. I had only eight months, and I could only run a kilometre at that point, but my sister helped me every step of the way. By Christmas I could run a half marathon relatively easily.

The more I ran, the fitter I became, the more I enjoyed it and the happier I was. I had a goal to work for. I had to eat properly and take care of myself. Friends and family all noticed the difference.

In April 2012, I crossed the line in 5:17, raising nearly $3400 for the Mental Health Foundation.

Running will always be a huge part of my life. It’s as plain as daylight that running improves my mental health. No matter how bad you feel, or how much you don’t want to, if you can make yourself do just two or three miles, it’s more than worth it. For those precious minutes I’m not in my head anymore, there’s peace from negative thoughts: I concentrate on my breathing and the pounding of my feet. It’s like meditation.”

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