Nichole connected with Still I run a few weeks ago over Facebook and I’ve been impressed and inspired by her ever since. She is truly passionate about running and mental health and I think you’ll love her story as much as I do. Nichole, thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your story!
I run for mental health! My journey of recovery has brought me here and I’m writing in hopes to spread awareness about mental health. My name is Nichole, and I am a survivor of depression and PTSD. I continue to manage it daily. I’ve always enjoyed running since I was a child. I even ran competitively throughout highschool and college. But it was the pressure of depression that almost crushed me mentally and physically (not those 400 repeats or stepping up to that starting line).
My story begins when I lost my brother to suicide. I was a junior in high school when it happened and didn’t get the help I needed for it. So instead I developed coping mechanisms, I just tried not to deal with my emotions. I had to work through shaking or crying at night due to the PTSD from my brother’s death and I continued pushing those feelings down deep, going on with my life. Eventually, the symptoms seemed to subside or so I thought? In my mind, I did not think I was suffering from depression or anxiety. I just felt sad about the whole thing and I never really talked about it to anyone. As you can imagine, it was a sensitive subject.
In college, I joined my cross country team and I even ran myself to the top, earning a partial scholarship. I was proud of that accomplishment, but even then, I still didn’t feel happy. I can now look back on that and say that the running helped, but I still had not dealt with my emotions properly. I continued to focus on running and school by pushing through everything. I did that while not realizing that someday my feelings and emotions were going to come bubbling to the top.
It has been 23 years, and I was not aware that I suffered from depression until these past few years. I wish I could blame it on a rough patch in my marriage, job loss, or some other event, but it’s the depression that triggered a response of crying. I was unable to figure out why I was having such a hard time. I was baffled when I kept getting these physical symptoms. I just slowly stopped running fast and my pace kept getting slower and slower. I felt as if I was running through mud, and each step was like lifting a weight.
I went to the doctors and did a lot of blood work to see what was wrong. They diagnosed me with hypoglycemia, low Vitamin D, and dehydration. I thought “Ok, I can fix this” and then move forward with my life. I changed my diet, increased my Vitamin D, and balanced out my hydration. I continued to try and run and push through these horrible feelings inside. In addition, I disconnected from my friends, which in hindsight was another symptom.
I kept running thinking that I over trained or was in some kind of running funk. It was as if my favorite food had lost it flavor! I just couldn’t understand what was happening to my body. I had always enjoyed running and pushing myself, but now I was tired. So I stopped running and things started to get even darker for me.
I felt like this was not normal for me and I knew something was wrong. I was developing more intense signs of depression, but I still didn’t realize it. I just kept pushing through the feelings (like I have always done in my past). Then my thoughts went to very negative emotions and I started not caring about myself. I just didn’t care anymore.
Every negative feeling I had just hit me like a ton of bricks. I had failed at my marriage, failed at work, failed at my running. I thought I was a failure, loser, and worthless. I even stopped eating and drinking and normally I have a hearty appetite. This was my body and mind’s way of hitting rock bottom very quickly! In my mind, I was metaphorical drowning, in a weighted vest, with all of these emotions I’d had over the past year. I needed a real life vest quick because I did not realize I was suffering from depression.
I had masked the pain I was feeling for so long and so well that nobody knew how bad I felt inside. I was becoming numb. I have since opened up about it hoping to break down barriers of talking about mental health. I feel no shame in admitting what happened to me. There can be a strength in finding our weakness and admitting it.
I thank God, family, friends, and some very good counselors who supported me as I slowly got the helped I needed. They took their time and we gradually figured out what happened to my mind. There wasn’t an instant fix, but rather a “go at your own pace” approach. I started to feel better each day! And yes, sometimes there was the occasional setback. I really had to give myself time to process my feelings.
I realized my recovery wouldn’t happen overnight and it would take work, time, and patience to heal these unseen wounds. I poured over numerous blogs and videos; realizing I was not the only one who suffers from this disease. I learned about how the brain works. I also learned that talking about mental health is a strength and not something to be hidden. I began to stop seeing myself as a failure and began to open up about my disease.
I had one psychologist tell me that runners just keep going and will keep getting back out there even when they get knocked down. He encouraged me to walk at least 2 miles daily and even told me even though I felt bad, those feelings could change and I would continue to improve.
I thought about what he said and decided my perspective and attitude needed a new outlook about how I approach mental illness. Yes, I was frustrated. Yes, I felt bad. But my psychologist was right about runners! We don’t quit! I remembered my runner friends and how they worked through their injuries to heal themselves! I did my best to get a treatment plan together and was going to channel all the energy that I used in running into my mental health. I have heard the expression if you want to change your life become a runner. I believe it!
I metaphorically flipped that switch. My parents and spouse really have been the rock in my life, giving me the support I need when I have a hard day. They could not understand everything, but listened and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. Slowly, I opened up to them about how I had really been feeling and they listened to me. I even started reaching out to some of my friends that I had disconnected from the past. One friend in specific would call me daily. She would push me to get back out there to run or walk and telling me not to worry about what others think of me (carrying some extra pounds made it more difficult).
The running helped my brain, along with all the new tools I learned in my intensive therapy. I learned how to manage my thoughts with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Art Therapy, and mindful meditation. In these classes, they stress the importance of consistent and structured exercise, diet, vitamins, and 8-10 hours of sleep. I learned how to respond and not just react in life. It’s definitely okay to talk about your feelings.
I have found that with God, family, friends (including support groups), and counselors that we can survive and recover. I hope by writing this that it will give inspiration, and help raise awareness about mental health (brain thing). One of my favorite quotes is by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You cannot stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” My surfing involves a road and some running shoes!