A couple weeks ago I stumbled on Jessie’s Instagram account and instantly loved it. Here was someone running for her mental health, unabashedly. Every post she makes is about running, overcoming struggles, or words of inspiration to others. In everything she writes, you can see that Jessie is truly passionate about mental health and running. I am so honored Jessie said “yes” when I asked her if she would be willing to share her journey with the Still I Run community. Her story is one of empowerment and healing and I hope she will inspire you just as much as she’s inspired me.
I sometimes refer to my childhood as a series of unfortunate events. I went through some things I believe no child should have to ever go through. A grandmother who we lost to cancer, a special needs cousin Matthew who drowned, a grandfather who was murdered, and several other tragic events. Let me clarify something though, I did not have a bad childhood, by any means. On the contrary, I believe my parents did a wonderful job raising and loving us – I am very grateful for my childhood. But tragic events often leave psychological scars, ones I didn’t realize I was still dealing with until college.
This small-town Louisiana girl suddenly found herself smack in the middle of a big city, as a freshman Biomedical Engineering major at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. A great new adventure
soon turned into a nightmare. I found myself overwhelmed, beyond stressed, having frequent panic attacks, failing classes, studying 12+ hours a day and sleeping 3-4 hours at night… trying to keep up and to fit in. It didn’t take long for me to reach the point of needing help. Fall 2011, in my first semester, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and moderate to severe depression. I cycled through several different medications, before settling for one that worked the best even if it left me in a numb, nearly-zombie-like state most of the time. Coupled with therapy, it seemed to be helping. But I still wasn’t happy, the panic attacks continued – though far more manageable at this point – and I felt more isolated and more lonely because I had this “mental illness” that I couldn’t control. To avoid being teased and judged for taking medication, I stopped in January of 2014.I painted more, tried to enjoy the little things more, and that conscious effort definitely was a step in the right direction.
Fast forward to November 2015: A move across the U.S. to a city I’ve never been to, where I know no one, where I have no family and friends less than 8+ hours away via car, alone. My mental health deteriorated and I was back in the black hole I found myself in freshman year in college. Determined not to continue in the downward spiral, I decided to set a goal.
Several years back, my dad had trained for and run three marathons. I don’t remember him training, I don’t remember him being in pain or complaining, I only remember high-fiving and cheering as he ran past. I remember thinking “wow, my dad’s a superhero” as he crossed the finish line of a distance I thought to be impossible. Maybe… maybe I could do the impossible too. Maybe I could run a marathon. After talking with my dad and having his full support, I signed up to run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in May 2016 as a part of Team JDRF – keep in mind, I hadn’t run since high school (2011) at this point and could barely run two miles without walking.
There were definitely days where I would skip my run because I felt like my breathing was off and my anxiety was too bad, or I just didn’t feel motivated. But somehow, I did it. On May 1, 2016 I ran my first marathon – never having raced before in my life. Crossing that finish line wasn’t just overcoming the marathon distance, it was taking the first steps to overcoming my mental illness.
Running has become part of my rehabilitation. It helps me find peace and balance.It helps me combat the mental and physical effects of an anxiety disorder. It makes me feel weightless, worry-free, empowered, able to laugh and enjoy life in a way I haven’t been able to in years.It has given me the strength to overcome my own anxiety and, though it can still be difficult to do, speak out about mental illness and share my story. To be unashamed about the story I have.
Not everyone’s story is the same and sometimes it may feel as if your story is “less valuable” than someone else’s. Maybe you don’t have a dramatic before and after (kudos to those who do!). Maybe there was no tragic event that led you to running. Maybe you feel like you’re just someone who has a little anxiety and depression sprinkled in here and there, but you’d call yourself or your story “boring.” The fact is, it is YOUR story. The small daily struggles that make it up, are also the tiny victories that build you into the amazing person that you are. And sometimes the biggest transformations can never be captured in a photo, only felt with the heart. Never be ashamed of your story, your mental health journey. Embrace it, share it, run with it.