I’ve always wanted to be a runner. In a fifth grade DARE program essay, I wrote that I wanted to run in the Olympics. I did a little track in middle school, and I’m pretty sure I even ran a 6:30 mile at one of my meets.
In my 20s, I made several stabs at getting into a consistent running routine. For a while, I lived on the beach, and I would run along the coast after work. When I moved inland, I started meeting up with a friend before work to train for a half marathon. It was hard to stick to any program though, especially because most of my late-20s was spent diagnosing and treating ulcerative colitis and a torn ACL. And the bipolar, of course. There was always that.
The Background on My Bipolar
I was diagnosed with bipolar five years ago, in 2013, while attending an intensive outpatient program. I welcomed the news–it explained the grandiose highs that punctuated my long periods of suicidal depression. It also explained why I often turned angry and even physically aggressive. In 2014, I landed my dream job as a copywriter for a hospitality company. Initially I was an excellent employee. In reality, I was probably hypomanic. Everyone morning I woke up, pumped to go to work and fulfill my mission of making the company successful. I produced pages upon pages of copy. I swapped witty jokes with my team (I’m not normally funny). And, in true hypomanic fashion, I thought I was dazzling and fascinating and on a trajectory to become a marketing VP. Two years in, however, I was 50 pounds overweight and compulsively eating all the junk food that came through the office. I had stopped working out because my full-time schedule and sleep needs (I sleep 10+ hours a night) wouldn’t allow it. Most importantly, I was severely depressed. My work output suffered and my boss couldn’t figure out why her most prolific employee was now struggling to complete her assignments.
A Breath of Fresh Air from IBPF
It was in the middle of this situation that I got an email from the International Bipolar Foundation advertising a webinar called “The Bipolar Coach.” I was delighted to discover that the coach they would be hosting was actually based in North County San Diego. I made sure to tune in. Paul Carey’s story rocked my world. Over the course of an hour, I laughed and I cried as Paul shared his struggle with bipolar and how participating in and then coaching a community running program had changed his life. The Lucky 13 program was started by Tri-City Medical Center in 2009. Every year, 13 participants with severe medical conditions are selected to train for and walk or run the Carlsbad Half Marathon. Along the way, the team members develop deep bonds of support and are equipped with skills to live their best lives going forward. Listening to Paul’s story, I knew I wanted to train with him. He got it. But how to make it happen? I knew I wasn’t in a position to apply for Lucky 13. I was barely able to hold down my job, and the nagging pain in my ACL had only grown worse with my weight gain.
Hitting Bottom Was the Best Thing for Me
Tales from the Newbie Runner
With encouragement from my PT, I applied for Lucky 13 in spring 2017. I had a great phone interview with Paul and felt excited about the prospect of running my first half marathon. However, my mood was still pretty unstable, and I ultimately pulled my application from consideration. I didn’t want to commit to something as audacious as Lucky 13 and not be able to follow through. With Lucky 13 on the back burner, I started running on my own. At first, I did more walking than anything. But even with this modification, I noticed that on the days I “ran”, my depression lifted a little. Not only that, but I was able to do more around the house and was less likely to cancel whatever plans I had made with friends. I decided to train for a half marathon, just to give myself a goal. I did okay for a couple weeks, but then I kept hitting mental blocks. Even though I knew running had a positive impact on my mood, I often prioritized other commitments (I’m looking at you, Laundry) or let my mind talk me into staying in bed. I sometimes went weeks without working out at all. Even worse was the fact that I couldn’t seem to run/walk more than six miles at a time–and I was supposedly training for 13.1 miles! My body felt strong and capable, but I would hit the six-mile mark and have zero mental energy left to go further. I felt lonely and lost. Somehow, in spite of my irregular training and rather short “long” runs, I managed to cross the finish line of the half marathon in March 2018. I felt pretty pumped about my performance, but I wanted to feel proud of my training too. So I applied for Lucky 13 again, this time believing I was ready to take on the challenge. I had struggled on my own but I knew that with team support and expert coaching I could show up to Lucky 13 in a way I hadn’t shown up to anything in years.