I’m proud to announce that I have been re-selected as a 2023 Still I Run Ambassador.
Still I Run is the country’s only non-profit running community that works to promote the benefits of running for mental health while also working to defeat the stigma, raise awareness around the topic, and help others get started running for their mental health.Still I Run mission statement
One of my favorite programs at Still I Run is their Starting Line Scholarship. Four times a year, aspiring runners are awarded scholarships to begin their running journey. Still I Run provides coaching and supplies to get a runner to the start line. I think it’s just a fantastic resource, and I wish I had that available when I was first starting out.
Mental health has become a recent topic of interest, which is a refreshing shift from how it used to be treated as a taboo subject. I see a lot of changes in the university system to provide accommodations. I see neuro-diversity celebrated in the workplace. It’s a far cry from how it used to be brushed under the rug.
My mental health didn’t become a focus in my life until 2005. Prior to then, I was a victim of childhood sexual assault (spanning about a decade) and military sexual assault. It didn’t really come to light until 2005 when I nearly passed out on my way to class on my college campus. I didn’t really see doctors regularly because I didn’t have insurance nor did I have the money, but I knew that my school had a student health center. I stopped by for a visit to see if I could get some answers about my headaches and migraines. As part of the health screening process, the doctor asked about sexual assault history. I had answered in the affirmative and subsequently had a mental health hold placed on my record. I was required to be seen by a campus psychologist or psychiatrist for a course of treatment before I could graduate. At the time, it seemed a bit like overkill but I wanted to graduate, so I did what I was told. I was also given a prescription for ibuprofen, which I disregarded. (About 15 years later I would finally make the connection between my migraines and my birth control pills.)
Around that same time, I was struggling a lot with self image and self worth. I had sudden bursts of energy and bouts of deep depression. I had traveled abroad a few times to Thailand to visit family and complete an internship, and a lot of social commentary circled around my weight. My weight had gone up and down over the years, but had mostly been trending up at that point. At some point I was pre-diabetic who was visiting the fast food drive through lane a few times a day during my work shift. After returning alone from Thailand from a particularly brutal family trip, I decided to use some of my inheritance money to splurge on a gym membership, something I was convinced would help me exit the diabetes fast lane. When signing for the membership, I was also pressured into purchasing really expensive personal training sessions. I decided to back out of that part of my purchase and the trainer bullied me and said “you’ll be fat forever if you don’t get these personal training sessions.” That certainly stuck with me for a long while.
As a way to lure myself to the gym, I decided to cut my home TV time in favor of gym TV time. I watched a lot of TV at the time, so I ended up being on the elliptical for at least an hour a day. Eventually I cut out home showers and told myself that I could only shower at the gym. That meant that I’d be at the gym at least once a day. 30 minute elliptical sessions became 45, then 60, then 120, then 180 minutes. I started becoming interested in the classes they had, so I decided to add cycling in the mornings and then the elliptical at nights. Instead of relying on fast food drive throughs, I went to Costco and stocked up on weight loss shakes, romaine lettuce, and chicken strips. I’d have a weight loss shake in the morning and at night. For lunch, I’d have as much lettuce as I could stomach, along with exactly 6 chicken strips. I didn’t allow myself to have salad dressing but could have a squeeze of lemon. As this was going on, I had exactly one friend who showed concern for my disordered eating, who eventually stopped talking to me as my behavior continued to spiral. When I finally got down to what I thought was my goal weight, I decided to cut even more calories and have one weight loss shake either in the morning or at night, along with half of a 300-calorie snack for lunch. It was around that time in my journey that I passed out on my way to class.
I went in to my counseling sessions open to talking about my journey. It did not help that my psychiatrist was rail thin. She’d point out the flaws in my logic, and at some point she even showed me that my wrist bones were just larger than skinny people’s bones and that no amount of dieting would get me to where I wanted to be. She put me on antidepressants, and we tried a few in good faith. The thing about disordered eating is that it typically is a proxy for control. I could not control what had happened to me so many years ago, but I could control this part of my life now. I doubled down on this to my detriment.
I eventually went back to Thailand to finish up my internship and noticed that people treated me much differently after I had lost a lot of weight. In fact, they were much nicer to me. That stung but also continued to reinforce my behavior. I eventually graduated from college and started working full time and received health benefits. I decided not to continue seeing a doctor about my psychiatric issues and stopped my meds cold turkey. (For the record, that’s a really bad idea.) I became really paranoid about some sort of “permanent health record” that would follow me around and cause issues later on down the road. Instead of medication, I tried to fix it with a healthy amount of exercise…just an hour or so every day or every other day. I tried to keep myself in check, and tried my best not to slip into old bad habits, but it was a herculean effort.
I eventually engaged in a lot of risky behavior that threatened my health and safety, and this continued for many years until I got my first “big girl” job. A real job, with real impact. One that relocated me far away from the source of my trauma and provided me with a fresh start. A year or two after I started this job, an immediate family member had a bipolar 1 psychotic break and was hospitalized. It was then that I quickly decided to get serious help for these mood swings. I saw myself being hurled into the same path of destruction. The problem was that I’d typically start seeing doctors when my depressive episodes were at their lowest. I’d be medicated, and I’d meet with a therapist weekly. The fog would lift, and the medications would be decreased and my therapy sessions would be scheduled farther out. I’d drift into periods of hyperactivity, to then be dragged back into my depressive lulls, and thus back into the doctors office. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and adjustment disorder, but somehow it wasn’t quite right. No one could put their finger on it. Focusing at work became nearly impossible, and at one point I left my job (in a rather unsavory way) to move to another state and start anew.
Upon arriving in the new state, I decided to find a psychiatrist right away after my insurance benefits activated. She immediately diagnosed me with bipolar 2 disorder and ADHD, and prescribed medications that softened the blow on both ends. My hypomania decreased and my depressive spells were less low. It felt like there was a wet blanket on the flames of my temper. My symptoms didn’t go away, but I could notice them coming on and do my best to mitigate them. I stopped randomly crying while driving to and from work and in the shower. I finally felt…normal. I could finally look at my reactions objectively and try to course correct my behavior.
Since then, life has thrown a lot of punches at me. After infertility, my mental health certainly took a hit. My psychiatric meds had to shift, which resurfaced some of my prior behavioral issues. The constant barrage of hormone medications and experimental treatments have thrown my body chemistry into disarray. For the most part though, running and psychiatric medications have kept my life stable enough to do things like hold down a full-time job and stay married. My doses won’t go back to perfect levels until my infertility journey is over, but in the meantime, they are as good as they can be and I can accept that.
Running was one of the healthier ways I reconnected with my mental health, and that is why I felt it was so important for me to rejoin Still I Run again for 2023. Running has been one of my healthy outlets for my bursts of energy. When I have had bad days, I grab my running shoes. When I have my good days, I still grab my running shoes. My treadmill desk has been a lifesaver recently, giving me a way to burn off anxious energy during the workday. I hope to bring that message to aspiring and current runners, and to connect them with all the wonderful resources that Still I Run provides.