The Other Topic That Needs to Be Included When I Write About Running and Catholicism

Today I realized how connected all of the different forms of my brokenness are. I have embraced running and Catholicism, because they have healed my mental health and body image issues.

It all started as I was prayed the rosary yesterday. Like every Tuesday when I pray the rosary, I reflected on the Sorrowful Mysteries. This includes the crucifixion. But for the first time, I thought about my own crucifixions. Specifically, how the death of some of my identities and resurrections from those “persons” have turned me into someone who may look completely different. Yet all of those versions of me have formed who I am today.

Let’s be honest – runner and Catholic were not ways I would have described myself in high school. I actually hated running. I used to wear a back brace for my scoliosis in middle school. So high school runs just gave me horrible flashbacks about running around outside with a bulky plastic mold making my clothing stick out. And although I was dating a Catholic boy in high school, and my mother taught Spanish in a Catholic high school, I was Jewish. I didn’t realize I had any mental health issues then. But now I can definitely see how my insecurities and anxieties caused me to form unhealthy, codependent relationships with friends and family.

In undergraduate, I didn’t even really claim any religious identity, since I wasn’t connected to my Judaism anymore. I couldn’t find a Jewish group that I liked on campus. My favorite groups were actually my Classics Club and the group of girlfriends I formed in the last three years. As for running – I was finally getting there. I picked it up for short distances, off and on. Mainly whenever I was going through a broken heart. Because controlling my body and how it looked was how I coped with my anxiety in college. I exercised to look a certain way, and I was constantly on some sort of diet. Yet, oddly enough, I also became promiscuous and claimed that it was because I loved my body and could decide exactly what I wanted to do with it. And what I wanted to do with it was gain pleasure – even though it never really felt that good and I never was satisfied. Most of the time, it was just the opposite. I felt lonely, unloved, and unloveable. However, there is always redemption. And in this time, the redemption is that even though I didn’t truly love my body, it did help me to learn more about it. This is where the seed of natural birth control and fertility tracking was planted in my mind.

Then came graduate school, when I recognized my unhealthy mental states. I started going to therapy. I became an Episcopalian and started going to my college campus. I formed a great group of friends in Christ. I began to run more seriously, and when I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon, there were a few people from my Christian small group that were there to greet me. I was still worried about being single, feeling that I was missing something, but I was beginning to heal. I could go much longer without dating anyone, or really doing anything sexual. I even went off birth control for a while because – well, I wasn’t having sex. This is when I truly noticed things about my fertility that made me excited and confident about my body. I think now that the Episcopal Church was where I needed to be because, at that point, trying to follow the Catholic “rules” exactly would have literally driven me crazy. Because I would have seen them as rules. I would have felt so unworthy because I wasn’t perfect that I wouldn’t have been able to hear and feel the love that God has for me.

After graduate school, I decided to explore the Episcopal faith by serving as an Episcopal Service Corps Intern in Los Angeles. This was exactly what I needed to see when it came to justice and social issues. So often, we judge people because we don’t know their experiences. I think my time in LA taught me that I must always be open to what other have to say because I can never know what they’re going through. This includes being open to God. Even now, I think my openness to learn more about the things in the Church that I disagree with is because of my time in LA. But, there were also some residual issues with feeling unloveable during this time. I have one big regret that was a result of a choice I made when I was feeling low. And I have a much smaller, but still significant moment that I can see as a shift in my perspectives. In any case, running was the way I decided to cope with these situations. I signed up for Team in Training and raised money for cancer research. Running showed me how much stronger I could get with just a little bit more work every week, as well as how much stronger people who seemed to have so much less than me were. It gave me a group of friends that weren’t as focused on night life and all that entailed, but rather getting up to run for a just cause. I began to love myself and my body because I could run. If someone couldn’t respect my running habit or who I was? That was their problem, not mine. I ran my second half-marathon in LA, as well as my first full marathon. I haven’t looked back ever since.

By the time I landed here in Kentucky, runner was definitely a part of my new identity. And I would say that my body image and sexuality issues were healed very quickly through God’s grace. I entered into a relationship where I didn’t have to worry about if who I was or the decisions I made about my own body would make him leave me. He respects me and loves me, just as I am. And yet we also push each other to be better and help each other grow into the best version of ourselves. God also immediately began using my job to show me how rich the Catholic faith is, both in its historical context and in its ideals of justice. God then used running and the high expectations of my job to demonstrate that restrictions and discipline are necessary and loving – not judgmental or hateful as I thought they were when I was Jewish or Episcopalian.

Now here I am. A blogger writing about running and Catholicism and – because I now realize how relevant this is to my journey – mental health and body image. The latter makes sense, since TOB is something I want to explore. But mental health is so intertwined with the body. So stress, anxiety, and how these have resulted in body image and sexual issues may come up more often.

This is just a rough timeline about who I was and who I’ve become. And it may not make a lot of sense right now because of that. But this is just the beginning of me exploring that. I just realized I couldn’t write about my body only from a running perspective. And that if I’m talking about my body and soul, I need to also write about my mind.

This blog, like myself, is a work in progress.

-Johnna

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