Being brave is scary.
Telling the truth is hard.
What will people think?
What will they say about me?
You will often hear me say that one of the main reasons that I run is because it keeps me sane. And that is very true. The endorphins, camaraderie, goal setting and pavement pounding do make a huge difference in my life. I feel healthier, thinner, and all around happier.
But running does not solve all of my problems. And that is because I suffer from debilitating anxiety and depression. I am going to tell my story here because secrets make us sick. The more we talk, the less power these things have over us. And because I am guessing that some of you deal with your own secrets you sometimes need to run away from. You are not alone. WE are not alone.
I had my first anxiety attack at 12 years old. Always very sensitive, I felt things so much more than other people. My mom had dumped the tween disaster area of my room on my bed and as I was going through the mixture of barbie dolls and glittery make-up, I found I couldn’t form words and my head felt funny. I went downstairs to tell someone and couldn’t talk. And I couldn’t walk. Eventually I passed out. Later in the evening my parents took me ALONE to the mall shopping because they had no idea what to do with me and knew one on one time would help. We never called it an anxiety attack, but now that I have had many more, I know that is exactly what it was. No one ever talked about it again.
At 21, after being broken up with by a boy I was head over heels in love with, I started going to the counseling center at my University. Three months later, my mom had to come pick me up from school because I told her I was suicidal. I spent three more months in therapy every day until I could return to school in the fall. We never told anyone what I had done.
At 26, the panic attacks started again in earnest and I began to make terrible choices. I started another round of treatment with the goal of curing whatever was wrong with me. Therapy, medication and Al-anon put me on the right track. Life got better. My choices were stronger. I ran a marathon. Within 2 years, I declared myself cured.
Much to my surprise… The anxiety, quickly followed by crippling depression, returned after the birth of my son in 2010. The bad choices came back. I just knew I was doing everything wrong as a mother. I didn’t feel the same way everyone else did. Thankfully, this time I knew where to go and what to do — I recognized the signs.
Since coming back to life over the past two years, I am much more open with my story. A dear runner friend shared the perspective that because we do not look at one another when we run, we are able to share things we might otherwise keep hidden. I love the idea that we can share our stories with our friends out on the trail without fear of judgement. And I have always felt that to be true.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that mental illness is as much a part of me as blue eyes and a love of chocolate. And it is OK. From the bottom of my heart, I wish the stigma were not as strong. I wish medication and treatment were not held against job applicants and parents in custody battles. I keep thinking, perhaps if we found the courage to tell our stories on the trail or in our homes or with our friends, that would begin to change.
I believe in the power of change. I believe that we have the power to make a difference. That is why this April I am running the Loudoun Half Marathon with an organization called “This is My Brave“.
Our mission is to ignite and actively promote―through community programs and social media― a positive, supportive national conversation about mental illness for those who live with, or love someone who lives with, a mental illness. Through the sharing of stories and experiences of those in recovery, we expect to provide a sense of community and hope; and encourage others to share their stories. We believe that each time one of us shares our story, there’s another crack helping to break down the stigma of mental illness. Right now, it’s time to be brave and bring mental health issues into the spotlight because they’ve been in the dark too long.
I hope you will consider making a gift to this fundraising effort. Thank you for allowing me to be brave and share. It is terribly important to me and I am humbled with gratitude.