The Long Walk (Windsor, England) Photo Credit: Rochelle Bell
Leaving New York for England in 1985, I only saw the excitement in everything that could be. For someone who loves to jump in at the deep end of experiences, I was in my element. I would get to learn about people, a different culture, (even though we shared the same language) understand different points of view regarding the world, make new friends and throw myself into living English everyday life. I would also be surrounded by ‘that accent’! The day after my last exam at college, I left the US. I left my parents, sister, brother, grandparents, friends, cat and my employment; basically, anything that was familiar to me! I arrived in beautiful Windsor, was in awe of the castle sitting right in the middle of town and was filled with a huge sense of adventure which I thrived off. I loved the pub, Sunday roast dinners, and understood the acerbic humour. Navigating and adapting to English life was a fun challenge, but there is a flip side to everything.
The flip side
Familiarity and routine ceased to exist for me. My everyday life changed and there were no familiar safe friendship groups or family relationships to hand. The everyday essentials and choices I was used to such as food in the supermarkets, 13 TV channels providing me with lots of entertainment, tumble dryers (remember this was 1985!), Levis, pepperoni pizza, shops staying open late, and showers were gone. Even finding an automatic car was an undertaking. I ended up with a little green mini with its steering wheel in the wrong place and with a choke, I continually broke. Driving on the opposite side of the road was novel and very scary! I had a few driving lessons, and in typical English, manner was asked by the instructor, very politely, “What side of the road are we on?” Since I was busy concentrating, I responded with “Huh?”, I was then yelled at to get on the correct side! The English humour, which did make me laugh, could also make me feel somewhat low, lonely, daunted, anxious, unsure and insecure because it is filled with sarcasm, irony, and – let’s be honest – offence. (Apparently, it means, they like you – who knew?!) At the time, it was difficult to not take it personally as I was 22 years old, learning to be me, learning how to adapt to a new culture and wanted to do the right thing while trying to appear cool, calm, collected, and sophisticated.
Routine is good
In New York, I had a routine. I would wake up, go to college, work, finish my day at Lucille Roberts, the local new aerobics studio, go home or see friends. Nothing wildly exciting, just a structure to my day and knowing what was going to happen. Knowing I was not enjoying the emotions I was now feeling, I decided the best thing for me was to recreate my routine as best I could because then, perhaps, I wouldn’t have thoughts/behaviours that included: excessive worry, restlessness, staying asleep, loneliness, and an increasing lack of self-confidence, which I now understand was anxiety. Routine seemed an instinctive thing to do to make myself feel better.
Routine is a good thing. However humdrum it may seem to prioritise routine over spontaneity, since spontaneity can be great fun, it really can be useful because routine is comforting. The research behind this says that when we organize ourselves and know what to expect, it’s easier to actively work towards counteracting the thoughts and symptoms of mental health issues like depression, bipolar, and for me, anxiety/isolation.
Journey to running
That’s where my journey to running began. Having no spare cash to join the one fitness studio in Windsor, I replaced those workouts with running because it was free.
Wake up, get out of bed, walk up to Windsor Castles magnificent, sometimes intimidating Long Walk with its 2.65 miles/4.2k avenues of trees and go for a run. Return to my flat, have a bath, dress in jeans that I had ironed, get in my little mini which I still continually broke, drive to a new job and make new friends. I began to feel more settled as my morning routine developed. I knew what was going to happen (mostly), and it helped remove feelings of anxiety. The act of having a routine and making things familiar helped me to remember the previous me. I was taking control and I was getting back to my somewhat confident self – as much as you can be at 22.
With this new routine, I realised how much of a difference running made to me physically and mentally. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t very good at running or got stitches in my side, or that I didn’t go very far. After a run, I felt brighter, energised, and more confident. These feelings helped me to adapt to my new life and handle English humour. As I felt more sure of myself and mentally stronger, my running improved. The stitches went away, I ran further, longer and I started to set myself small running goals. The Long Walk and running became my constant companion for the last 33 years when life is throwing me curveballs, and I need to ‘get routine’.
All these years later, it’s fascinating for me to scroll through social media and view all that is posted about running and mental health. When I felt anxious, lonely, and isolated, I thought I was the only one. I believed every other person in the world was more confident, witty, outgoing, happy and socially skilled than I was. I believed anybody could handle anything better than I could, even if it involved moving countries and starting a different life. My personal thought is ‘How times have changed!!’ It appears the feeling and emotions I experienced, and sometimes still do are common! All those years ago, it was not expected to voice these thoughts, but now you can! And what’s more… it’s ok.
I came across Run Talk Run whilst researching mental health, running and exercise on the internet. I knew I wanted to be part of it. If RTR had existed, I would have joined. I would have loved to be part of a community that provides no judgement; only friendship, warmth, support, laughter, and camaraderie. Since becoming an RTR run leader, I found however small my group may be on the day, there’s lots of light-hearted laughter, silliness, eagerness to catch up on our busy weeks with aspirations voiced as to where people want their running, and their life to take them. The best part is, knowing you aren’t alone, we all speak the same language.