A couple of years ago, I showed up for a group run at my local running store. I had never participated in their group runs before, but the store was hosting a special event that night and I decided to try it out. The four of us doing the shorter running route walked outside and loosened up while the leader asked about pace. When one woman responded with “nine-minute miles” and another nodded, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had been running most of my miles on trails rather than roads recently, and 11-12 minute miles were my norm. I was too embarrassed to speak up, intimidated by the other women and their ability. You can guess what happened next…. we started off, uphill no less, and I got dropped like a hot potato. I caught up at the first stoplight and, putting on a brave face, I told them not to worry about me because I knew my way around the neighborhood. When the walk sign came on, they left me in the dust.
I AM a Runner
Pace doesn’t make you a runner; what makes you a runner is a commitment to putting in the miles. I had been running regularly for a dozen years and was training for a trail half marathon at the time. I was and am just as legitimate a runner as the rest of that group. However, when the leader asked about pace, my silence spoke volumes about how little I valued myself and my needs relative to the needs of others in the group. In my mind, if I wasn’t as fast as these other women, then I didn’t deserve the group run experience I wanted. For a long time, I devalued myself the same way when it came to mental health. Growing up, I had “quirks” that I now recognize as symptoms of anxiety. I needed to take a shower before bed every single night to be able to sleep. I refused to drive on the highway for years after I got my license. In college, I would feel nauseous for days before a big class presentation. Sure, these behaviors and feelings were inconvenient, but I had friends, did well in school and at work, and stayed physically active. I didn’t make the connection between my “quirks” and the debilitating depression or suicidality I associated with “real” mental illness.
My Anxiety Matters
It took a new relationship with someone well-versed in mental health issues for me to realize at age 27 that what I was feeling was, indeed, an anxiety disorder. Still, I was reluctant to seek treatment because I didn’t think my anxiety was bad enough to deserve it. As my anxiety continued to build towards the end of my graduate school career, I finally allowed myself to be convinced to talk to my doctor. Over the course of the next year, I found a therapist I liked and started on medication. Suddenly, I was able to sleep better, relax more, enjoy time with friends and family more, and accept more responsibility at work. I realized that I had been struggling with anxiety my whole life, but I didn’t recognize it because I didn’t think it was big enough or bad enough. Now, knowing how much happier and at peace I feel when my anxiety is well controlled, I have learned that my anxiety is certainly “enough.” My experiences with mental illness are no less valid than anyone else’s just because mine are not typically incapacitating. So if you are questioning whether your mental health struggles are really “enough” to justify therapy, or medication, or even a label, then I am here to tell you that yes, they are “enough.” Seek the help you need, and don’t let anyone, including yourself, stand in your way.