My journey with running and OCD

  • Creator
  • #67656

    Hi all!
    My name is Austin, 24 years old and from Washington State. Most of the activities I enjoy doing center around being outside. I grew up hiking, camping, and skiing. My late teen years I got more into climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. The last several years my main focus has been on trail running, while also enjoying slower paced activities including hiking, backpacking, and birding/ecology.

    Although I’ve dealt with some mental health issues over my life, for the most part I was able to either handle them, or avoid the events that triggered them. This all changed in early Spring of 2021. Despite not ever dealing with any chronic injuries, and no knee injuries, I started to obsess about my running form, and maybe that it wasn’t correct, and I would injure my knees. Despite 2021 being my best year statistically (1,240 miles and +250,000′ of elevation gain), I was constantly obsessing about how my legs moved and compulsively trying to control them to make sure I didn’t get injured. This resulted in me never really feeling the enjoyment I had before, and making me feel quite depressed at times.

    In November of 2021 I finally decided to see a Psychologist who specialized in sports anxiety, as both myself and the Psychologist thought that was what I was dealing with. We spent time focusing on my obsessive thoughts, trying to figure out the root of where they came from and trying to disprove them. At first this helped a little, but I slowly got worse and worse through the winter. I had reached a point where I could not so much as get up from the couch and walk to the kitchen without thinking about my legs and without trying to control them. For nearly 100% of my waking hours it was all I thought about, and this has led me to truly feeling like I have forgotten how to run and walk normally. Ironically it’s caused me physical discomfort in my knees and legs as I try to constantly figure what is right. All these thoughts led me to believing I had lost this activity and enjoyment that has meant so much to me, and has led me down a road of feeling hopeless and depressed.

    A month ago I started to do some more research online, and started reading about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Many of the articles I read, although not specific to my obsessions, reminded me very much so of what I felt I was going through and how my brain worked. Despite OCD being one of the most debilitating mental illnesses, there is a therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) that is shown to be effective in 80% of patients. No other treatments (besides adding in medication) have any research to back their effectiveness, and traditional talk therapy (what I had been receiving and what most providers do) can even make OCD worse. I decided I needed to get different treatment than I was receiving, and switched providers to someone who specialized in providing ERP to OCD patients, about a month ago.

    My OCD has not improved as of now because I have just started this therapy, but I feel more hope that I could get better, and can feel that I am finally on the right track. I am still in a very difficult place, but I wanted to share my story to bring awareness to OCD and the treatment that is available. There are many misconceptions about OCD. That it’s just a personality type or that it only manifests in ways as being organized or obsessed with germs. The reality is that there are many different subtypes ranging from the well known of Contamination OCD, to others such as Harm, Scrupulosity, or Somatic (a focus on body sensations/actions) which is what I have. About 2.5% of the population is estimated to have OCD, while a recent study came out that estimates 5% of college athletes have OCD. OCD being more common in high level athletes seems somewhat unsurprising. Although some characteristics of individuals with OCD could be helpful with sports performance, OCD itself is unhelpful in all its forms, and often very debilitating.

    If anyone reading this has also been dealing with obsessive thoughts (they can revolve around practically anything, and compulsions can often be very subtle mental ones) I want to encourage you to look into OCD, and possibly ERP therapy. I wish I would’ve known more about this disorder a year ago, as I would’ve saved myself so much distress, and most likely would never have gotten as severe of symptoms as I’ve developed (although there are many with much worse symptoms than myself). There are two resources I would recommend checking out. The first is International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (IOCDF). They have many articles written by top OCD Doctors, as well as a database of providers who treat OCD and are certified in ERP, the gold standard of treatment. Another resource is called NOCD. They also have many articles and resources on their site, as well as offering teletherapy with a trained OCD specialist. NOCD is the company I have started my therapy with, I’ve been more than happy with the company and my therapist so far. They also accept many insurances, and have payment plans for those paying out of pocket. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I’ve had a very positive experience so far, so I wanted to recommend them.

    Thank you for reading about my recent journey, and I hope this reaches someone that has been dealing with OCD, and this can give them hope that there is treatment, and a path out there for them to feel better.

    Happy Trails!


  • Participant
    hiker on #67705

    Thank you for posting, Austin. I wish for you all the very best in dealing with this disruptive disorder.

    Jane Mackay on #67709

    Austin, I’m really sorry you’re dealing with such a difficult challenge. I hope the ERP therapy enables you to regain the joy and freedom of running and life. Thank you for telling your story and sharing the information about the treatments and resources.

    austin.boese57 on #67754

    Appreciate both of your kind words and taking the time to read my story. Best to you both and wish you well in your adventures!

    Mariner_9 on #67759

    Thanks for sharing your story, Austin – it takes courage to do so. I wish you well on your recovery. Happy trails!

    Anonymous on #67797

    Hi Austin,

    Thanks for sharing you story. This was meaningful to me, because I have suffered from OCD and ADHD since I was about 12 or 13. I’m 49 now, and have been on medication and in therapy for about 20 years. It’s been a long process. H ere are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Maybe this can help you on your own journey.

    1-The first piece of advice comes from Pete Dickinson, the excellent physical therapist associated with Uphill Athlete. Pete helped me recover from an athletic injury and surgery. He said, “Progress may not necessarily be becoming pain free, but being able to do more with a manageable level of pain.” In a similar fashion, your OCD may never go away completely, and your goal may be simply learning how to manage symptoms and live a full life. Who knows, maybe your OCD will disappear (Yey!), but probably not. So, perhaps think of this as a long winding road with many ups and downs.

    2-It can be exhausting. Mentally, physically, financially. You know this. But the people around you may not know this, or understand completely, and that can be hard, especially for your closest friends and loved ones, which constitutes and added burden on you, because of what you know you are putting them through. There’s really nothing to do about this, it’s just something you need to accept, try not to beat yourself up about, and try to manage as best as possible.

    3-Be prepared for people to dismiss or minimize your struggles. For example (I’m sure you’ve experienced something like this) if the topic of OCD comes up, people might say, “Oh, I’m totally OCD! I always check to see if the stove is off, or the door is locked!” It’s almost like OCD has become a buzzword for any kind of slighly-above-average conscientious or systematic behavior. Fair enough; there’s probably a spectrum. But, as I’m sure you’ll agree, OCD is much more debilitating than checking to see if the door is locked. The same is true of ADHD. It’s fashionable to dismiss ADHD as a modern diagnosis promoted by over attentive parents with unreasonable expectations who want an explanation as to why their normally energetic children won’t sit still in class and earn good grades. But, if you suffer from ADHD, you understand that it basically guides your entire life. I was only diagnosed as an adult. The diagnosis really helped me put my life in perspective, or understand some parts of my life.

    It can be especially hard for others to appreciate your struggles if you are outwardly successful or normal. For example, I have a wife, a child, a job I love, good friends, a little financial stability and security, I’m a lifelong athlete, and so on. Maybe it’s the same for you. In some sense, this shows that my (or our) condition is not really that serious. After all, there are people with OCD who need constant care in an institutional setting. However, judging people on their outward appearance of success, or, more importantly, judging oneself on one’s outward appearance of success, risks minimizing the daily struggle to maintain everything, the incredible investment of time and energy, the psychic cost, to keep it running smoothly. It’s like the adage about walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes. I always wonder to myself, “What would people think, and how would they react, if they spent a minute inside my mind?” So, as above, try not to minimize your condition, and give yourself come credit for lacing up those running shoes and heading out the door every day.

    Feel free to email me if you want to discuss the intricacies of OCD ( I’m happy to share publicly as well if anyone is curious, but that’s not my intent here.

    All the best, Bruno.

    austin.boese57 on #67964

    Thank you Mariner9 for taking the time to read my story and for your well wishes:)

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with OCD and ADHD, and for your advice. A lot of what you said has really resonated with me, especially of learning to live with it, and still engaging with the life you want to live as best you can. Often I feel like I’m fighting so hard to get rid of these thoughts, when now in therapy I’m realizing I need to be able to sit with them and not try to push them away or argue and engage with them. With my particular obsessive thoughts, I’m now trying to have the mindset of “Yes, I’m aware of how my legs are moving, yes it doesn’t feel right, and yes I may get injured. But I can accept these thoughts and feelings, and not compulsively try to correct them or figure them out”.

    I also resonate with your comment on judging yourself based on your outward appearance of “success”. Especially last year I was so focused on getting my mileage in (my meter for success), that I kept pushing down the feeling of how truly miserable I was. Although I love putting in lots of miles and accomplishing physical feats (as I’m sure all of us on this forum do), that’s not the reason I love running and being outside. But I convinced myself for months that as long as I was still performing well, I was ok. It wasn’t until this issue really started to affect my physical performance, that I realized I needed more help. I think it’s an important perspective for everyone regardless of having a mental health issue or not, that being “successful” (by whatever metric you measure that) isn’t the only thing that matters, and often times success does not directly correlate to happiness. In 2020 my longest run was only 17 miles, compared to 34 last year. So yes, I was more successful in my running endeavors last year, but I was much less happy, and if possible, I would’ve gladly traded in some of those miles for a more enjoyable and happier experience.

    Thank you for sharing your story Bruno, it was very helpful to be able to hear your advice, and that there are others in this community who also deal with mental health issues. I wish you the best in your journey and endeavors!


Viewing 6 replies - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • The forum ‘Your Athlete Stories’ is closed to new topics and replies.