This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
I vividly remember the last time I ever ran.
It was a warm summer day in 2020. I put my headphones in, picked my favourite playlist and hit the sidewalk.
We were in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and running was one of the only times I left the house. It was an opportunity to move my body and get some much needed vitamin D — until it became my worst nightmare.
Near the end of my run, I felt a sharp pain in the arch of my left foot. I knew that I should probably stop, but given my stubborn nature I decided to finish my workout anyway.
Once I got home, I iced and elevated my foot, and waited for the pain to subside. I’ve always been an active person, and given my penchant for movement I’ve been lucky to have avoided injuries in the past. If my muscles became sore, I’d pop an Advil, rest — and all would be well. This time I wasn’t so lucky.
I had severe plantar fasciitis, a common condition affecting one in 10 Canadians. It causes inflammation to the band of tissue supporting the arch of the foot. Tears along the tissue caused stabbing pain in my heel and the arch all day long, but was particularly terrible first thing in the morning.
I tried everything, from a cocktail of medication, anti-inflammatory diets and physiotherapy, but still the pain persisted. The simplest tasks, such as making dinner or getting dressed became a challenge. I could only get around with crutches or on my hands and knees for months.
A few weeks later, the condition spread to my right foot, likely due to favouring the right side of my body. As a result, I couldn’t put any weight on both of my feet at all. I was scared, angry and isolated.
After a few weeks of being non-ambulatory it took a massive toll on my mental health.
"No matter your situation, you have the power to take control."Julia Ranney
According to the Canadian Psychological Association, physical activity improves mental health by improving cognitive function, self-esteem and feelings of well-being.
My doctor told me that for a few months, I need to continue physiotherapy, buy custom orthotics and get cortisone injections (which did provide relief, but was not a fun experience).
They also told me it could be a year before I could walk or run again. I panicked — no running for a year? How was I supposed to look after my mental health without my beloved exercise regime? I realized that without my ability to move, I had no idea how to take care of my mental health.
What I did know was that I had to do something about it.
Although I still have some foot pain, and I've made the decision to quit running, I am in a much better place than I was at the onset of my diagnosis.
Thanks to a stretching and strengthening program, patience and supportive footwear, I can move around (almost) like a normal person.
Although the past couple years have been a challenge, I’ve found new ways to cope that don't involve exercise. Here’s what I’ve learned about maintaining mental health, that have nothing to do with movement:
1. Focus on the things you can control
Although I was unable to move my body, I learned that I could control my diet and outlook. I fuelled my body with nourishing, healthy foods, which made me feel better physically, and thus helped me emotionally.
I surrounded myself with interesting books and listened to podcasts instead of mindlessly scrolling social media. Importantly, I learned that no matter the situation, there are things you can do to keep you in a positive headspace.
For one of the first times in my life, rest allowed me to settle my thoughts and reflect.Julia Ranney
2. Rest is productive
If you’re like me, the only way you feel productive is to work 12 hour days, do the laundry, clean the house, prepare meals and clear your inbox (in other words, the impossible). "Hustle culture" has always been my identity — that is, until fasciitis forced me to take a back seat.
For one of the first times in my life, rest allowed me to settle my thoughts and reflect. It made me focus on what actually makes me happy, and allow myself to let go of the things that don’t.
3. Meditation actually works
I always heard about the benefits of meditation, but it wasn’t until my diagnosis that I took it seriously.
During this time, I learned that meditation is so much more than sitting and controlling your breathing. Uncertain how to start, I downloaded the Headspace smartphone app. After a few sessions, I felt calmer and more self-aware. I became more in tune with my body and mind, and started feeling grateful for the things that I can still do, such as read, sing, learn, and connect with my friends and family.
That said, meditation might not work for you, and that's OK too.
4. It will get better
No matter your situation, you have the power to take control. Injuries or other traumatic life events don’t always last forever, and even if your situation is chronic or life-altering, there are ways you can improve your wellbeing and quality of life.
As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety for many years, my friends and family have been an essential support during my recovery. Take advantage of your network, and know that you aren't alone.
You’ll need to put in the work, and it will take time, but it’s worth it. Your body and mind will thank you.