I can hear myself now, “this is not me. This is not how it’s meant to be”. I am curled up in a ball in my bed, living a complete shadow of the life I had dreamt of. I was very aware that something was not right with the picture in front of me that had become my life in my mid to late twenties. At this point, I had only been back in Canada a handful of years. Prior to this, I had lived in Wales, UK for 7 solid years (starting in my teens) and had returned to Canada at the age of 24 almost having to start all over again. I had no credit, few friends here, no job, and in leaving Britain, I ended my first serious long term relationship. It was tough. I had my mother, sister and brother-in-law all in my corner and I did know that I had support. I also didn’t return to Canada completely empty handed. I had two degrees in tow and some good resume starters. For all intents and purposes, I had a number of things already in place and could have thrived from this point.
And for about a year I did. I found a job and some of my old friends from my youth but something was wrong inside. I was not talking about any of it to my family despite my knowing that they were there for me. I didn’t tell them that I was struggling. There are a lot of things that I can say were most likely contributing factors to my downward spiral. In the time that I resided in the UK, a lot did not go well, including a physically abusive relationship. I never took time to deal with the emotional aftermath of that. I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to, or at least I didn’t think I did. In my youth, prior to moving to the UK, I had had episodes of depression and so I knew that this was something I struggled with. I had once had solid ways of coping prior to moving to the UK through the arts. When I moved at such a young age, I slowly lost that. I was so immersed in surviving that coping with the sadness would get lost. I did end up with some great friendships that have stood the test of time and in my later years, I have realized that I missed out on their support because I said nothing to them. For much of my time in Wales, I had lived independently of family and now, back in Canada, I struggled to talk to a family that I once valued so much.
I was hurting inside. I had a lot that I had not processed. A lot. Instead of taking the time to get help, I began distracting myself with some very unhealthy relationships and friendships. I could feel my identity and pride slipping away but it was a slow burn and certainly didn’t happen overnight. I began getting involved with substance abuse, would sometimes sleep all day, had no motivation and often didn’t eat for days. Over the years that would follow, I slipped below the poverty line and was diagnosed with Anorexia and eventually Major Depressive Disorder. At what I thought was my lowest point, I was admitted into a psychiatric unit after I made a serious attempt to end my life. I remember having to drink the coal that they give to anyone who has overdosed and thinking, I am scum. I didn’t come out of wanting to die for many days after discharge. At some point, however, I figured the worst must be over. I was wrong. The worst was coming. I was weak, underweight, addicted, traumatized and didn’t have a lust for anything.
Tackling this was not going to be easy. The journey forward was an uphill battle. For the next few years, I now had to face the mountain that I had built up and climb every inch of it.
As tough as this was, in hindsight it is a journey I am most proud of and will forever be grateful for. Each step up was a step towards really living. Learning to taste food and enjoy it, learning to talk to others, learning to be authentic, learning to be dependable and reliable, and most importantly learning to live with depression. I stumbled a lot during this climb up the mountain. I used to cope with music and the arts so this once again made an appearance and I would furiously paint out my pain and sing with local musicians. I felt I needed more or something else to get the painful energy out. I had often admired athletes and was forever inspired when I was younger watching the famous track star, Donovan Bailey, shoot down that track and see that absolute happiness when he won the gold. I remember often wondering what it would take to get to that level of endurance. Sometimes, I’d see people running in my neighbourhood in Toronto and wonder how they were able to do this. I had never grown up doing any kind of sports. I truly believed it was probably not meant for me. I had drilled it into myself that I was an artist and an academic. That was a pretty accurate description of who I had been from a very young age up until that point. I’d often lament on this and wonder momentarily if I could run but would quickly push it out of my mind that this would “definitely be impossible” because running was for “tough, strong people not people like me.” I remember walking past a Running Room and looking in the windows wondering what it would be like to be so physically healthy that I could run. I’d swear that the people that went in there were definitely super athletic and incredibly perfect. Not like me.
It took me time to push open those doors. I am talking years before I even got close to thinking it was even in the realm of possibility. I certainly was not going in there until I was physically stable enough and mentally prepared. Three years ago, I felt I was ready. It had been a number of years since my body weight had stabilized and so had my life in general. I had met and married a wonderful man and we had built a beautiful life together. I felt ready to finally take on this challenge. I decided to join a “Run To Quit” program hosted by the Running Room to get people butting out the cigarettes and lacing up the shoes! Even though I had committed, I still almost backed out at the 11th hour. On the very first day of the program, I called my husband panicking. I suddenly was over taken by anxiety and it was telling me that this was a bad idea. That I would humiliate myself and most devastatingly, that there was no way I could do this. I could barely climb the stairs without getting winded. What was I thinking?!
I had set it in my mind that I was not an athlete and my depression was certainly enjoying this self doubt. I was now challenging that identity and boy, was I taking on a fierce competitor in depression. Depression did not want to let it go. My husband told me to go. To just try. He said the most important thing that I could have heard in that moment: “You can totally do this.” He had no way of knowing that concretely, but I believed him and that is what matters. I took a cab to the Running Room that night and I won’t lie: it was hard. Not just the running but the going there part, too. When we introduced ourselves, I told everyone that I was nervous and didn’t think I could do this but wanted to give it a shot. Everyone else had said they had some race goal like running a marathon, and so I added to my intro that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do a race.
That night we ran for approximately 20 minutes in total. I remember one lady in the group clapping after we finished and turning specifically to me and saying, “See…you did it!!”
I had done it! I was smiling ear to ear. I was so proud. I ditched the cab idea on the way back and walked home with a totally new identity. It was the missing link and I now was feeling so determined.
Three race seasons later, here I am. I have now worked with an incredible trainer and have crossed that finish line 25 times. In fact, as I write this, I have registered for another 7 races and am readying myself for another half-marathon and am attempting the mother of all races – the full marathon in October 2019.
I cannot describe for you exactly what running and athletics has done for me because it’s almost an indescribable feeling. Feeling the strength and resiliency of your physical body is both amazing, life changing, and, I would argue, necessary. Knowing what my body is capable of has changed the way I treat it. By combining my love of the arts with the world of sports, I feel I am surrounded by healthy ways of coping and living my life to the fullest. I didn’t know what that meant until I started running.
I still have depression. It didn’t go away. It’s something that I have had to accept may never leave. I may always struggle with things in a more intense way than those who don’t have the condition. Maybe I’ll always be the person who struggles with my mood. However, I can say that when I was in my twenties I was right about one thing: I was not meant to live like that. That wasn’t how it was meant to be. I didn’t know how to get out of it in that moment, but more than wanting to end my life I just wanted the hurt and sadness to end. I know that now. I have often said that the key to understanding mental health conditions is not to see them as death sentences but rather as life sentences. Depression is one part of my life sentence. So is running, the arts, my community, my wonderful family and friends. Depression is no match for that.