I've been attempting to write this post for more than a month now. Every time I wanted to do it I was either busy with work or feeling bogged down by a black cloud over my head. If you've ever experienced depression you know what the black cloud is, and it's just the thing I wanted to discuss in hopes of helping anyone else who may relate to my experience.
Growing up I got the nickname Smiley from a librarian at my town's public library. When I got to my freshmen year in high school I earned the nickname Giggles from the girls I played soccer with, and soon that nickname was used widely by many of my friends and it was often shortened to "Gigs." So it's easy to say I was a genuinely happy person.
During the fall of my senior year, 2007, I woke up one day feeling unusually strange. I couldn't really explain how I felt but it was similar to the feeling you get when you ride too many roller coasters and feel dizzy but also silly from the adrenaline rush. As the next few days came and went I started to feel uneasy. I remember playing a tennis match and all I could focus on was my mom's voice as she watched and I had to tell her to be quiet just to concentrate. Suddenly the world wasn't feeling real. I walked to get sandwiches for my mom and I one day to a local sandwich shop and couldn't remember walking there or back. I would look at myself in the mirror and I couldn't focus on what I was seeing, I couldn't recognize myself, I would tug at my clothes because I couldn't physically understand if I had gotten dressed that morning. I couldn't look at anyone in the face because my mind couldn't read their expressions or comprehend what they were saying to me. By the sixth and seventh days I was just a mess of tears and constantly asking my mom if I was dying. Then suddenly, I was fine after those seven days.
A month later, it happened again. We went to an Ear Nose and Throat doctor, my family doctor who laughed and told me my problem was that I was a vegetarian at the time, and with the same span of seven days it came and left and I was worried it would come back again.
Sure enough, month three came and so did all the symptoms I felt the two months before. It was at this time that a kid I went to school with died in a tragic accident and as I saw others crying at school I couldn't handle not having any sense of reality while my classmates were torn up over the news of the death. I remember crying and my teacher asking if I needed to see the counselor to which I told her what I was experiencing and that I couldn't even feel sad about the death because my head felt crazy. She sat with me a minute and told me this was obviously cyclical if it was happening seven days a month, and then leaving for three weeks. My mom and I started to do our research.
My symptoms matched up pretty well to Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and so we went on to the OBGYN. She didn't seem to believe that what I was experiencing was real and labeled me as depressed. Looking back she wasn't all wrong. PMDD lasts for seven days and causes many of the symptoms of depression but these symptoms lift at the onset of a period. I was put on a birth control that was the only one that helped ease these symptoms, but it was also the most deadly pill on the market. I've had anxiety since I was like five, so any greater risk of death was just monumental in my brain and it's a thought I still struggle with as I'm reminded by others that the only thing that helps me live a somewhat normal life is also the thing that could end it.
I have had episodes of the disorder in recent years and they've lasted beyond the seven days, or they've come at different times of the month. I've read that PMDD can become chronic depression and I have struggled with thinking of myself, Gigs, as a person with depression. But that doesn't make any sense. Depression isn't a thing to be ashamed of. I didn't do something to become depressed, I had an awesome childhood, I've been blessed in so many ways to be where I'm at today. I have realized that not everyone gets it or understands what depression is, whether it's an ex boyfriend who told complete strangers that I had a disorder that made me "crazy," or to see society treat depressed people as if they're lazy or aren't trying hard enough to just be happy (hard eye roll to that comment). It's been important to find the right people who aren't closed minded and naive, and those people absolutely exist.
It's now been 10 years since I had my first PMDD episode and I've made progress in ways and I've struggled in other ways. But four years ago I began running. It was a way for me to clear my mind, to raise my endorphins, to get away from my bed after struggling a bout of depressive behavior. But it didn't fix my depression.
My first full marathon I ran in December 2014 in a cloud of depression. I drove to Memphis in a fog and remember struggling (and crying because of it) just to figure out how to park. I remember running and not realizing how far I had already ran or how far I had left to go. I remember feeling sad when seeing signs for a little boy who had passed away fighting his battle against cancer, but even that was a foggy memory just seconds after seeing the sign. When I finished the race though, I remember feeling proud. I never stopped my feet, I ran a steady 11:13 per mile pace and when I crossed the finish line I felt like I had done a great thing, even in my fog.
So running hasn't "fixed" me. And after ten years of struggling with the idea that I am inadequate, I realize it's because I'm not broken. Yes, I would love to not have a depressive disorder, one that has created other issues in my personal life, I wish I didn't have to take a pill everyday just to make sure that I can wake up and drive places and carry out a job or even just a conversation. I still struggle with crippling anxiety in certain situations and I haven't always had support from friends and people who I loved. But running is just that balance that I needed to help me when I was in the struggle to realize that I am not worthless. If I can run 26.2 in a cloud of depression, I believe I am stronger than my head let's me believe when I'm at that lowest low.
The Cure - Lady Gaga
"And if you say you're okay / I'm gonna heal you anyway / promise I'll always be there / promise I'll be the cure."
This song is super relateable to me and my struggle with depression and anxiety. And again, while running hasn't "cured" me, it has been a nice place to land when everything seems to be pushing down on me. I still have terrible and hard runs and I feel like maybe I'm not really a runner when I try to run in the Tennessee heat in the middle of August, but when I train right for a race and cross that finish line I know I've done something for myself to improve my quality of life.
Something has happened in the last few days in the running community. Suddenly people have become really angered by Kelly Roberts, Run Selfie Repeat, a person who has helped me on days I struggled with the black cloud.
At the end of the day the dispute seems to be politics, but it's really been weighing on me. I have watched videos on people talking her down, I've read comments and articles doing the same. And it's making me embarrassed for the one sport that has always seemed to lift other athletes instead of openly choosing to be negative about them.
At the heart of the issue, I have listened to Kelly's podcast and I have heard her apology for cheating in purchasing a bib for a race. I have also been sad to hear Kelly call herself on MANY occasions "not a good runner" because the reality is that she is much faster than me which has made me wonder if I'm a terrible runner if she's not even good. But to believe that Kelly even thinks of herself as an elite would prove that a person doesn't know the first thing about Kelly. But to now hear people who are near elite status say things negatively about her makes me feel like the leaders of the community I love so much think of me as inadequate since I'm not even as good as Kelly.
But I don't care what they think of me. I have battled ten years of thinking that I'm less than others because I have depression. However, I don't think it's right to see a portion of the community ganging up on someone who has said her apologies and even more so, has helped countless people overcome body shaming and self esteem issues, and me on the days I didn't want to get out the door for a run because I just wanted to sleep. So many times I could feel the depression laying on me, I would see there was a new podcast episode from Run Selfie Repeat and it would get me out the door. I have laughed listening to Kelly. I have cried. I have related to her when she talked about having a job that was soul crushing because like her I am a creative mind and I struggle to live in the 9-5 that society deems acceptable.
I'm not a part of Oiselle. I don't plan to be. I don't buy their products, and I only know a minimal amount about what they're all about. But without their branding behind Kelly, my depression may have swallowed me up the past few months. I went through an extremely hard situation, but because of Kelly is able to focus on her mission to help other women feel confident, I was able to listen to a podcast that got me out the door and helped me find some inner strength. I realize my thoughts won't change anyone's mind, but I can't stand to know that I didn't say my peace on the matter. Kelly has apologized for the bib, she has now realized that pacing someone is frowned upon (folks have helped me before and never were chastised for it, so being a public figure has to be so freaking tough), and I really don't believe she has ever done anything to be malicious. So running community, how about you stop being so bitter, accept the apology and let things go. If bad behaviors were to continue, okay, but everyone makes mistakes. I didn't know my first race that you should wear body glide (such a fun lesson to learn!), I didn't know you shouldn't run multiple people wide in a race during my second full marathon, I didn't know taking photos during a race would make some so angry when I did it during my fourth full marathon. We can only learn by trying. Stop being mean. Train hard. Be nice.