My Wake Up Call: A Reflection by Shawn Tjahaja

“...Hey, feeling good, like I should…Went and took a walk around the neighbourhood …Feeling blessed…Never stressed...” (Sunday Best - Surfaces)

By the time I crossed Boston’s iconic Longfellow Bridge, I was 10 kilometers in of the 22 kilometers I ran that day. With Surfaces’ Sunday Best blasting through my earphones, I couldn’t help but resonate with their lyrics, though the only difference was that it wasn’t a walk or the neighbourhood, but a run and Boston. But, I did feel good; it’s been three weeks since Boston lifted lockdown due to Covid-19 and here I was running the farthest distance I have run in almost a year. I am pretty sure that lockdown and quarantine was tough for everyone – the economy grinded to a halt, unemployment rates sky-rocketed, there was mass paranoia over how easily transmis-

Longfellow Bridge, Boston

ssible the virus was (and is) – it was a time of great uncertainty. But there is also an issue that is often overlooked that is associated with times of uncertainty, an issue that I, quite frankly, managed to succumb to.
This issue is mental health, and it was one of the reasons why I started to run straight after lockdown was lifted. (When I say mental health, I really am talking about my mindset because our mindset is the foundation of our mental health. This is NOT a call for help. I am NOT suffering from any form of mental illness. It was just that I was not happy with how my mindset had developed over lockdown).

I am no psychologist, but I believe that humans respond to times of uncertainty by fooling themselves and creating an illusion of certainty for them to take advantage of so that they can feel in control. With this innate response, further combined with quarantine, I fell into a repetitive, monotonous daily cycle that was not healthy for my mind and body. At the peak of lockdown, I was well in my comfort zone with no desire to drag myself out.

So how did I manage to break out of this cycle?

I think what I am about to say here is different for everyone. Personally, and without going too much into detail, I think that my stressor occurred to me when my sense of comfort and stability disappeared. Essentially, I experienced an event in which a large part of what made up my comfort zone was suddenly taken away during lockdown, and because of this it propelled me to redefine myself into a version that is more adventurous, lively and positive, and for me running was the common denominator that I associated with those three traits. Sports in general has had an enormous impact on my upbringing, it has brought me plenty of nostalgic memories, experiences that I cherish, and essentially all those cliche scenarios in how something you hold very dear to yourself “changes and shapes who you are today.” But I think my view of sports now as a college student compared to my high-school self has changed drastically. As a high-school student who took part in a variety of sports, my main goal was always to win, in the sense of winning in a competitive environment; I would spend all academic year training for competitions. But now, as a college student who is working on a degree that has nothing to do with sports, I did feel lost. My competitive nature slowly faded and I lost interest in many of the sports I competed in, this behaviour constituted one of the many facets of my comfort zone. And yet again, it was not until this 

pandemic and lockdown in which my comfort zone was greatly altered that made me view and shift my perspective on the purpose of taking part in sports. I decided to run, not for competitive reasons, but rather as an activity or a hobby that I can always turn to when I am feeling lost, or in need of mood booster. Recreational running has greatly improved my mental health and physical wellbeing. When we take part in any form of strenuous exercise, our body releases endorphins which are chemicals that react with our brain that brings a sense of happiness and positivity, as well as a stress reliever. Runner’s have a term for this called “Runner’s High” which is essentially a state of euphoria in which you have low levels of anxiety and you are less receptive to pain (muscular pain from all the running), and this “feel good” factor greatly improved my mental health.

 

 

So one of the major reasons why I run is to improve my mental health, to have a more positive mindset and positive outlook on the everyday challenges I face. With this of course, physical health will improve as well. But there are also other reasons as to why I decided to run, reasons that are more generic and not too involved with my mind or body, but still I believe are interesting.

@ShawnTjahaja Instagram Highlights

1. The freedom to roam.

Boston was in lockdown for 3 months, and during that time I was mostly confined to a room in my uncle and aunt’s house that I was staying at during the pandemic. Everyday, I would see the same furniture, sit on the same spot on the couch and look out the same window. My movement was confined by the walls of the house. I forgot what it felt like to be out. But now that I am running there are no boundaries as to where I can and cannot go.

2. A chance to see things from a different point of view.

As an Indonesian, I will definitely say that walking is not our preferred mode of transportation, especially back home in Indonesia. One thing I realize is that when we sit in cars and go from place to place in the city, we don’t really stop and take a proper look at our surroundings. We are travelling pretty fast and we don’t get to see our environment in detail. When I was running through downtown Boston, I truly felt as if this was my first time there, even though I often pass by with a car or the Boston T. I could hear people talking and street music playing, as opposed to the radio if I were in a car. I could smell the food and coffee that were served as I ran past restaurants and cafes, as opposed to the air freshener if I were in a car. These changes in perspectives made me feel more connected to the city.

3. Exploring new places.

Boston is not the biggest city, but it is still pretty big and there are so many places you can visit. I go to Tufts University, which unfortunately is not in the most exciting or vibrant part of Boston, and heading into Boston was always a treat for me (it’s quite a hassle to get there, and expensive too if you take an uber). When I run, I always try to find routes that would lead me to different parts of the city that I have never been to. Some of the places I’ve run to include: Charles River, Castle Island, Carson Beach, Fresh Pond, Spy Pond, North End, Seaport. I have been in Boston for two years, and I rarely ever have the chance to go see these places. I would say I saw more of Boston within the past month than I have in two years. I still have a long list of places I want to visit: Paul Revere Beach, Nahant Island, Deer Island, Mystic River, Middlesex Fells Reservation, Bunker Hill, and the Navy Yard, and really this desire of visiting these places continues to motivate me to run.
So, I have outlined a few reasons as to why I run. Some of which are much more personal and others more generic. The pandemic and lockdown really changed my perspectives on how I want to carry myself going forward. I wasn’t happy with the state of my mindset and I decided to change that. But in truth, sometimes your stressor does not have to be externally driven, like how mine was, if you gather yourself enough time, determination and will you too can break out of your comfort zone and start new things. I’m not the type that would look up quotes and try to mimic their wisdom and motivation, but there is one phrase that I truly believe in and have experienced it myself countless times:
“Starting is the hardest part, and the rest will follow.”
Hello, I'm Shawn and i'm currently in my junior year of college at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. I'm majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. By the way, my brother, Dylann Tjahaja, is really amazing and is so funny, talented, smart, handsome and all of the above. And no, I'm not Dylann writing this on behalf of my brother.
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Shawn Tjahaja

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