When I was twenty, I came out of my first relationship. I was devastated, inconsolable, felt the whole world was over, and just about every other young-and-heartbroken cliche you can think of. I had also just moved out of home, so my inertia meant I wasn’t paying my bills. Obviously, this was catastrophic.
Instead of going to work, I was scarfing entire Domino’s pizzas myself and drinking bottles of wine to wash them down. Instead of going out and spending time with friends, I binged on Game of Thrones and Arrested Development episodes until my eyes were sore. My flatmate at the time, Jake, tried to talk with me and check that everything was alright, but I would just laugh it off and say I was fine.
Jake was an avid jogger. Every morning, he was up at 6:05 am. I know this because he slept in the room beside mine and set his alarm much louder than it needed to be. One Thursday morning, his alarm woke me, and I instantly regretted the amount I drank the night before. I rushed to the bathroom to throw up as he climbed out of bed and snacked on a granola bar. With my head in the toilet and my tired eyes sagging, I heard Jake walk into the bathroom. He was wearing his tiny jogger shorts and jogger shirt.
“You alright?” he asked.
He wasn’t sure if I was joking. “I’m doing a short track this morning. Maybe you’ll feel better if you come. It’s easy, I promise.”
I laughed, hoping he’d leave me alone, but he didn’t. He just stood there, watching my unravelling life. I don’t know if it was his look of pity, my determination to prove that I wasn’t to be pitied, or if it was his little shorts on his cute legs, but I agreed.
That was the best decision of my life.
After the jog, which was only a few kilometres, my body felt dreadful. My gut hurt, my head was pounding, and I couldn’t stop coughing. But for some reason, I also felt pretty great. Jake asked me how I felt after the running—and I could barely believe myself, but I said that I felt great. I had a weird sense of achievement that I hadn’t felt in a long time, and I suddenly I couldn’t wait to go running again. After Jake helped me plan my first week of running sessions, I realised that I have always had a constant need to move forward. I starting jogging solo three or four times a week, finally enjoying time alone without thinking about my breakup. I went back to work and moved my life forward for the better.
There are plenty of things you can do to empower yourself. Before Jake had helped me find jogging, I felt a sense of movement and reward from building my relationship, and before that, I had focused on getting good grades to impress my parents. Of these things, jogging is the only one that is entirely up to me. Jogging is a constant in my life that I can control.
I’m sure you’re aware of the importance of exercise. The health benefits of exercise have been beaten into us by the media and our friends, colleagues, and teachers for our whole lives. But for me, it was more than the usual endorphin-rushing, my-body-is-my-temple way of thinking that got me back on my feet. What really helped me was the thought of having something to work towards, the idea that I was building something. Every time I went for a run, I got just a tiny bit faster. This sense of movement kept me going.
I later expanded into other areas of exercise: I now swim twice a week and indulge in yoga when I have a particularly stressful day. I love how I can really take control of my exercise. The whole process of motivation, looking for new ways to stretch my abilities, and the great health benefits help keep me excited for each day. Looking back, my melodramatic post-breakup depression wasn’t so awful after all—through the pain and Jake’s help, I discovered how exercise could empower me to live a better life.
Johanna Cider is a writer based in Wellington, New Zealand who is passionate about all things health, fitness and journalism. She loves going for evening swims and walking her dogs out in nature. Johanna has written for numerous New Zealand and Australian sites, such as Jumpflex AU. You can find more of her work here.