The One About Mental Illness

Hi friends! So, I realize its been awhile since I wrote anything new on here, and it’s been hanging over my head for quite some time. Races have come and gone with no reports written, seasons have changed, and life has just marched on, as it tends to do.

I’m going to share the secret reason with you regarding why I have not written a blog in so long. It’s something I have sort of touched on before, but never really gone into in any kind of detail. You see I have this thing called anxiety that is with me on pretty much a daily basis, and this other thing that visits me periodically called depression. Just putting these words out on my screen has cause an exponential jump in my anxious feelings because these are things I tend to keep pretty much hidden from most people who are not part of my inner circle. As much as mental illness gets sort of talked about these days, there is still a stigma attached to it because, quite frankly, unless you live with it or are very close to someone who has it, it is very difficult to understand. And on top of that, it also means something very different to each individual who has it…my anxiety might not feel the same as someone else’s. My depression might hit me in a different way than yours. These things are so complex, and how we feel and how we deal with these feelings are so different for everyone.

I used to deal with my anxious feelings by eating. I’d eat my feelings, and then I would feel worse than ever. The more I ate my feelings, the worse I felt, and that would often signal the onset of depression, during which I would eat more. After many years of that, I realized that was not the way, and I switched over to exercise, and more specifically, running. Running is my meditation…the rhythm is soothing, and it gives me time alone with my thoughts to work things through. And while it does help, it is not the be all to end all in my battle with anxiety and depression. Counselling has also helped…acquiring tools to call upon when things feel bad. I have come to an uneasy acceptance with my anxiety. I realize it is never going to go away, but most of the time I can manage it.

The black dog that is depression is another story. He sneaks up on me when I am least expecting it, stealing all my ambition and motivation, and I sometimes spend days doing little more than lying on the couch watching Netflix, and eating, and sometimes drinking wine when I am in the throes of a depressive episode. This past winter was a particularly  bad one for me. There were a lot of stressful things going on around me which I was also a part of, but were out of my control, and despite my best effort, I just shut down. I didn’t go out, I didn’t see friends, pretty much the only thing that got me out the door most days was a run. It was a struggle on many days, but I did manage to keep up my training for the most part.

So, why am I deciding to share all of this now? I am actually feeling quite panicky about posting my struggles out there for the world to see, but I feel like it is important to not keep silent. According to the World Health Organization, 264 million people across the globe suffer from an anxiety disorder. In addition, over 300 million people worldwide will suffer from a major depressive episode sometime in their lives. As much as we might like to think we talk about mental illness, given these staggering numbers, I don’t think we talk about it enough. We still hide it, at least I know I do. And while it is really hard to help someone who keeps their condition hidden, we must still all make the effort to reach out to someone we know is struggling. If an acquaintance, or a friend, or a loved one starts acting differently, seems sad, is isolating themselves, or just doesn’t seem like themselves, talk to them. Even when they say they are fine, if they don’t seem fine, they probably aren’t. The important thing is being there for that person. Don’t abandon them because they are refusing your invitations or stop answering texts, and don’t take it personally when they keep saying no. Don’t pressure them to do things. Just keep in touch with them, let them know you’re there for them, be an nonjudgemental ear for listening or a shoulder to cry on. You probably can’t solve their problems, but you can let them know they are not alone.

If you’re reading this and you are suffering from anxiety or depression or anything else, you don’t need to suffer alone. Find that friend with the willing ear and strong shoulders. See your doctor. Muster up all your courage and go to counselling and actually do the work. Practice self care…run, go to yoga, take walks, eat healthy, meditate, do something that is just for you and makes you feel good. Maybe some days the best you can do is to bathe and get dressed. If you’re having a really rough day and that’s all you can manage, count that as a victory.

As far as how things are currently going for me, well, the back dog has disappeared for now for the most part, but the feral cat of anxiety is always around, waiting to pounce on me when I least expect it. I’m much more open about it to my inner circle these days, but I still like to try and manage it on my own. Mostly I can use the tools I have acquired to keep it under control, but at other times I am a big sobbing mess dealing with it in unhealthier ways like drinking, over eating, or online shopping. And for the really bad times there is medication. Sometimes just knowing I have the meds if I need them is all it takes. Finally, probably my strangest way of self soothing is something my family calls my “running away from home bag”. In my purse I keep a ziplock bag with my keys, my drivers license, and a credit card, while hidden away somewhere in my house is a big envelope full of cash, which I take out and count on stressful days. I don’t think I’m ever going to run away for real, but just having these things at the ready is very calming for me because in unpleasant situations, when my fight or flight reflex kicks in, my gut reaction is always flight. In fact, I have long since felt like running away to do races on the other side of the world is kind of like controlled flight. I can run away for a week or two and leave everything behind, and then when I come home I’m ready to face it all again.

So there, now you know my secrets. I know this blog post is not really about ultra-running, but in a way it kind of is because running really far is a great coping mechanism for me in dealing with my mental issues. I’d love to hear from you about your struggles and how you cope. Let’s talk about it!

Just keep moving forward!

6 thoughts on “The One About Mental Illness

  1. Carolin, you are an inspiration to so many!!! Thank you for sharing and bringing down the stigma. It is because of brave people like you who share their knowledge and experiences that others can begin a journey of understanding and compassion. And our small world is made a little better.

    Hugs, big hugs!!!

    Like

  2. Thank you so much for sharing. I know that it’s not easy but it is so important that we continue to talk about mental health. And the description of the ‘feral cat’ of anxiety really is perfect – that’s exactly what it feels like for me!

    Like

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