Running with OCD (Sarah Morris' Story)

Updated: Sep 2


1. Tell me a bit of background on you. (Where you grew up, interests, hobbies, etc.)

I was born in New Jersey because my father went to Princeton, but his job sent him to work at Eastman in Kingsport when I was young. I grew up as a home school student in Fall Branch, TN, but transitioned to real school in 4th grade. From there I grew up playing basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, and running—any sport I could get my hands on. In high school I narrowed my focus to volleyball, basketball, and track, but soon eliminated it just to volleyball as I was trying to earn a scholarship for college. I stuck with running and working out to stay in shape for volleyball, but I stopped competing. Our Sullivan South Volleyball team went to the State tournament twice, and I was recruited to play for King University to get school paid for. Once volleyball finished I picked up quilting and other crafts and trained for my first marathon during my first year of teaching. After I completed that, I left running by the wayside and didn’t pick it back up again until last December.

2.. What made you want to become a teacher?

I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in other peoples lives while serving them…humans are built for human connection, and I believe we can help make each others lives better if we drive on that connection. That’s what I try to do as a teacher.

When I was home schooled I always played school teacher with my dolls and bears…would set up actual lesson plans for them, haha. When I went to real school, I had a bit of a tough transition, but my 5th grade math teacher inspired me and pushed me to love math. When I met my 9th grade math teacher I knew I wanted to pursue teaching…she inspired us and changed my outlook on life. I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to spend my life serving others like I’ve been put on this earth to do—without dealing with blood or stitches like nurses or doctors do LOL!

3.. What do you love most about your job?

My favorite thing about my job will always be the kids…after four years here, I can remember each class and how much they enriched my own life…the kids I have encountered are going to save the world. Every person I meet that asks me about my students, I will always tell them I have the best in East Tennessee without hesitation and I really believe it! I love getting to have an impact on my future generation.

4. How long have you been running? Why do you do it and what made you begin?

I started running as a little girl with my dad on the weekends. I loved getting to do hard things…and I really liked to win. I continued running through middle and high school because I wanted to do the hard thing that most everyone hated. When volleyball took place of most of my devotion, I forgot about it. But I’ve been running since last December and haven’t stopped since! I run for me. That is the easiest answer. I found myself in a dark and scary place last December and knew it was up to me to get myself out of there. Teaching is hard and I think the real world forgets how hard it can be on us teachers. Teaching is my passion but there are a lot of days when I just go home and want to beat myself up for what I’m not doing right or the best. I started running after school and found it to be a good stress relief. I wouldn’t stay awake for hours in bed reflecting about my teaching day, thinking of all the things I had done wrong, I would go right to sleep and be ready for a new day. PLUS, I’m super competitive and I’m always looking to do better and be better than the person I was the day before—running is a quantifiable way to be better!


5. What races have you competed in? How often do you run?

I finished 10 races in 2019 as my entry year back into the running world. January-March I only ran 3 times a week. I was still trying to learn how to balance my mental health. In the summer I ran almost every day because my mental health was at an all-time high with it being summer break and spending my free time quilting. This previous semester I ran 100+ miles a month about 4-5 times a week, and this year for 2020 I plan on running 2020 miles. My friend Brandi got me into the Run the Year challenge for 2020—which I should easily complete it if I run about 6.5 miles a day including a few rest days. I’m injury prone and can’t run every day and have neuromas in my feet.

6. How does it improve your life?

Running improves my life because it helps remind me of who I am…sometimes I come home from a battering day at school and I feel weak. I feel beat up. I feel not the best. Before running, I would take these feelings and become immobile on the couch or bed for the rest of the night until the following day of teaching. With running, I take these thoughts and I work through them with quiet time with God as I run. He helps remind me of who I am and that I am STRONG and that I am CAPABLE. BRAVE. MORE than a job. I still have dark days. Mental illness and depression runs in my family and I have to be careful of how I take care of myself. I was sexually assaulted in high school and dealing with that hasn’t been the healthiest journey. I haven’t been kind to myself. I carry around feelings of guilt and shame everywhere I go. My repression to that experience led me to live a life of “oh gosh, what am I doing wrong/what have I done wrong” because I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time and blamed myself for a long time…the beginning of my running journey last December opened me up to those raw feelings I had stowed away for so long. In the summer when I felt great about myself, I decided to try seeing a therapist because mental health is important and I knew I wouldn’t always feel great when school started back up. I knew I would have trials in my job like any other person does, and I wanted to have more tools in my toolbox to help manage my emotions other than just going for a run. I broke down and made connections to how I behave in life and how its connected to my past…and she helped lead me to realizing I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is not who I am, but its something I carry with me. Since this past revelation in the summer, I made connections to how I obsess or have compulsions about how I behave to certain situations. This helps me choose how to behave more appropriately…and with running, it is a stress relief that helps the compulsions not feel as strong. Some days I specifically don’t run because I feel like it’s a compulsion that I’m forcing myself to run when I’m hurt, but that is what this journey is all about—learning how to be healthy and do the healthiest thing I can for me. If I’m not healthy and my best self, I can’t expect to be the best teacher I can be for my students. My students deserve the world and they deserve the best teacher I can be. Running helps me be who I was put on this earth to be while remembering who I am…I went from a person living in fear of doing things wrong to a person focused on how much I could do right and how much I could carpe diem—seize the day. I find myself saying “it is what it is” when I make a mistake now and I try to forgive myself. The past few months have been the kindest I’ve ever treated myself. I know winter is approaching and a touch of seasonal affective disorder, sometimes known as seasonal depression, is going to trigger feelings of guilt for me, but I believe my therapist has given me tools in my toolbox to help survive it. My husband is supportive of me and treats me like a queen…he is a strong rock when I am feeling like I am in a dark and scary place.

7. Anything you want to add?

I think its important for people and my students to know that they are capable of anything…If I do anything as a person, I want them to know and see that they are strong. Its been a journey for me to get beyond what has happened in my past, but its not something I’m ever going to just get over one day—I just carry it with me and it helps me learn and grow as a person. Any student can come from any kind of background and they are capable of overcoming who and what they are…only if they believe and work really hard. Sure, there is a stigma towards people who see therapists, but I wasn’t in a healthy place. Giving every little bit you have to your students all day long and then coming home to hide in your bed isn’t a healthy coping mechanism…I’m so glad running and seeking out therapy found me when I needed it most. I want people to know that it is okay to struggle but it is not okay to throw in the towel. With teaching I know I’m going to have plenty more dark days…but I’m passionate about what I do with helping my students and my kids. Any kind of passion is met with suffering from time to time. But people need to find that thing that helps them feel like themselves again. That is what running has been to me.

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