Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Part 1: My story #iamnotashamed #mentalhealthmonth


This is a recent hashtag I came across during #mentalhealthmonth (May) that I really felt.  Deep down.  I wrote a post.  I edited the post.  I hesitated.  That's when I knew.  I even had some anxiety over it.  I didn't have time to write, time is so fucking impossible to regulate and obtain these days. Particularly for myself.  I knew I needed to release this burden.  But my hesitation let me know that maybe this hashtag struck a chord.  I wanted to use it.  I want to be unashamed.  But the truth is I feel very deep shame.

My depression has cycled off and on since I was 16.  I think that was the first time I sought help. Sometime right after I started oral birth control, which I would later learn was a direct contributor to my anxiety and depression.  I am very hormone sensitive.  Even the slightest fluctuations send my brain into a tizzy.  Ok, into a personal hell.  I would not learn this until graduate school.  Thanks, Neuroendocrinology seminar. And thanks to my amazing colleague who happens to be a former ob/gyn.

But I digress.

I wrote this.  I wanted to share it.  And I am going to. I am not adding a disclaimer or a warning.  This story is mine.  I own every bit of it.  I hold no one responsible for my experiences.  I do not blame anyone for their responses or reactions. Continue reading if you wish, with the knowledge that being fully transparent hurts. To write, to share...is to relive a little.  Sometimes a lot.  Hence my recent anxiety.  I do not write this for your entertainment or help.  I write this because somewhere out there someone is suffering silently, and they feel alone.  I write so maybe they read this in their darkest hour and know that I am here.  Many are here.  Right beside you.  You are not alone.  Please seek the help you need. You are loved. You are worth it. I love you.

And so I begin...

I was 15 the first time I cut myself. I used a razor, making small and barely noticeable lines that would bleed briefly before turning tomato red.  I am fair skinned so they were obvious.  Surprisingly it was rare anyone noticed. If they did I blamed my cat.  No, seriously.  People see and believe what they want to.  It's not their fault.  Sometimes I would make words out of them.  Loser and love were my favorite.  You can speculate why, I don't really remember.  I once cut a word deep enough that it took a little over a year before I could no longer trace the lines.
I was not suicidal.
I was sad.
I was overwhelmed.
I was disappointed with myself constantly.
I was not in control of my life.
The external stress was suffocating and cutting helped me breathe.
But the truth...my boyfriend raped me. I was told it was my fault by my best friend and a trusted adult. The shame overwhelmed me. So I locked myself down inside.

I was 17 or 18 the first time I REALLY thought about death.
Still overwhelmed with the need to control my life. Still reeling from what happened to me and my "apparent" role in allowing it to happen.
Still feeling like a failure.
That's the only curse word we acknowledge in my house now.  The only forbidden one.
When I began college the anxiety slowly began to take over.  A student in my year committed suicide.  I realized I needed help.  I withdrew from classes and started seeing a psychiatrist.
I got on meds and endured every side effect possible.  Nothing worked.  I tried them all.
And then I quit school, or rather I did not return after summer.
I looked for jobs, worked at a daycare, allowed myself to be conned by an older man and eloped 2 hours away from family.
I was 19 the first time I called the national suicide hotline.
I didn't want to die then, I wanted to escape.
Being verbally assaulted with all of the negative things I had been telling myself for years sucked.  It was a bad place to be. Locked out of my house.
I lied and said I was suicidal.  I just wanted someone to rescue me, but he had me convinced no one would.  No one loved me.  They took me to the hospital.  I lied some more.  Yes, I wanted to harm myself.  I signed myself into the psychiatric ward.  Did you know that is how it works now?  Sign yourself in but good luck getting out.  He visited me once.  Fucking ass.  They put me on a lot of meds and sent me to group therapy.  I don't remember any of it.  I was too drugged.  It was worthless but I was safe.  I remember a woman.  She was a friend I think.  I wish I knew if she was ok.  If she got help.  I remember telling the doctor I lied to get out of the pain he put me in.  I remember threatening a lawyer if they didn't let me out.  Apparently they only keep you so long before they will release you.  I won't discuss my thoughts of that process or system here.  But I will say it is why I went back to school later...

Asshole was too high (marijuana) to come get me.  I hitched home and called my parents.  They came of course, because they love me.  He did not.

I was determined to recover. I filed the divorce papers myself, by myself.  I didn't want help to undo my mistake.  I took our dog across 3 states to him so he had nothing to come back for.  I reconnected with old friends, not the good ones. I fell into their bad habits.  I self medicated with drugs, random sexual encounters.  I almost died from a drug over dose given to me by my "friends."
And so I decided it was time to really recover.  I sought out a therapist again.  I had a good job.  I went back to school.

Here my story takes a turn.  My therapist helped me see myself clearly.  We battled some demons, we conquered some mountains.  We tried more meds.  My love (now husband) suggested perhaps my birth control was to blame.  I investigated further.  Apparently this is a thing.  I quit everything cold turkey (I do NOT recommend or support this, please consult your healthcare provider).  It took about 6 weeks before I realized how different I felt,  Really different.  I started running then too.

Running saved me.  I saved me. Real love saved me.  I was not alone.

Graduate school derailed me some again.  So much stress.  So much uncontrollable.  Back into therapy.  Never stop working.  We managed.  We worked through.  And then we wanted a baby.

I cannot believe I didn't see it coming.
If hormones impacted me so much, what did I think pregnancy would do? Postpartum depression hit hard.  Lack of sleep plus wonky hormones plus desperate desire to not leave my baby at home or with a stranger.  Why couldn't I just be with him?

Why could I not just be a mommy?  THIS is what I was supposed to be doing...

This story takes a lot out of me.  You think you have worked through it and then you share it. Just like that, the emotions return.  Hard.  Heavy.  I will finish telling it.  I promise.  But for tonight I leave yu with this...I work every day.  Some days are easy peasy.  Others, not so much.
I am learning that sometimes it is ok to not be ok.
I am learning more about what I can and cannot handle.
I am learning when I need a break, a time out, a run.
That is the key.  To never give up.

That, and to never be ashamed of being human.

Because that is what we all are.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Running socks, running buddies, and just a lot about running

A few weeks ago I did the unthinkable.  I, Jessica the introvert, sent out a beacon via the interwebs.  "Desperately seeking a trail running buddy."  And I FOUND one!  Our first run together was a few weeks ago, a beautiful Sunday trail run.  And with a goal to just slowly get out there, maybe 3ish miles, we managed almost 4.  It was a great match. The conversation flowed, the running was challenging but fun.  I could not believe my luck. We ran again this past Sunday, and today she is joining me on the road.  It is different running with someone.  You must allow yourself some level of vulnerability.  Runs can be beautiful, and then you have the urge to spit or need to pop behind a bush to pee.  Neither of which has happened yet, but these are considerations.  A running partner, like any relationship, is about balance and trust.  If one of you needs to work some stuff out you could end up dragging your partner along on a killer run, potentially injuring one or both of you along the way. Or perhaps you wake up not feeling like those running shoes, but you already committed.  Are you really going to let yourself down AND someone else?  It is a great responsibility.  Not to be taken lightly.

And I don't.

My last post I briefly mentioned going into business with my husband, venturing into the realm of fitness and health at a level I have never been.  I have been searching myself for how this fits with my life goals, with the person I want to be. Yes, I have a degree in exercise psychology. Yes, my PhD focus was on the neuroscience of exercise.  Fabulous and exciting.  So what?  I can cite all the damn research about why exercise is this amazing thing, how it is comparable to medication and psychotherapy in the treatment of anxiety and depression.  The psychological and cognitive benefits are quite vast.  It's role in neuroplasticity is epic.  And don't get me started on how it helps with the aging process and traumatic brain injuries. Don't believe me? Here is some science backing it up: Sciency Stuff.  The point is, we know.  Science knows.  The hard part is translating this beyond the overly simplistic approach that exercise and physical activity (yes they are defined differently) are GOOD for us.  And damned if I have that figured out yet.  But then I started running with a buddy.
I started actually communicating with another person while running.  It is then I began to realize just what I was capable of offering.  I can talk about exercise and physical activity  effects on mood/psychological health/cognition to a degree, but more importantly I am physically capable of SHOWING the benefits.  I am a running example.  I am not perfect, I have my days.  Stress is a nightmare for me that plunges me into depths of anxiety unbearable for me and those closest to me.  But I am managing my life.  One day at a time.  One mile at a time.  For me, running with someone is a HUGE step.  It is evidence of how far I have come.  As a person, as a runner.  It shows me I have levels of confidence in myself and my ability to run that I never had before.  I don't feel any anxiety over the newness of being around someone.  I only feel the thrill of a run.  It allows me to be more comfortable.  More at ease.  More myself.

As I embark upon this giant leap into the unknown universe of business owner and movement professional I am becoming increasingly aware of how mine and my business partner's roles differ.  Where he is all about the body, I am more into the mind.  Which makes us a perfect blend for a wholistic approach to movement.  It takes more than just the physical ability to move ourselves, it takes the desire to,

Got your socks on?  Then put on your shoes and run. It is never too late to start moving.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Getting down to business

 The mornings I wake up and immediately throw on a pair of running shorts are some of my best days.  Those are the days I allow my body to take charge, before my mind has even awaken from slumber, before caffeine has coursed its way through my system.  Usually this action of wardrobe choice will lead to a good run, or at the very least a day filled with constant activity.  With two littles under three, activity is rarely something I lack.  There are some days I only sit when they are asleep.

Yet it is the days when I actually make it out my door in my running shoes that really take me places.

To recap why I began blogging let's go back to the beginning.  If you did not join me from the beginning of my journey into writing, openness, mental health acceptance...allow me to recap. I have battled with anxiety and depression since puberty.  We can skim the contribution of hormones and oral contraceptives to this battle, as that's a whole other discussion. So off I go to college, worn out from a pretty rocky adolescence of too demanding of an education and too emotionally charged life experiences.  I lasted all of one year at Emory University before calling it quits on college.  Yes, I quit.  I needed a break and I took a 2 year one.  Again, we will skim over the plethora of life lessons afforded during this time...including that time I married a con artist who verbally abused me, that time I almost died from a drug overdose, that time I woke up and realized I may or may not have been sexually assaulted by a work colleague...yea, some break, huh? I pulled through the shit and managed to land an ok full time job that I could not progress in.  Not because of any inadequacies or incompetence of my own, but because I had the audacity to be a young female.  In a blue collar, boys club world...I didn't get the chance to be boss.  So, in true Jessica fashion, I said 'fuck em all' and set off to educate those asshats on just what brilliance looks like.

There I was, a full time employee taking night classes at the local state college, and kicking ass.  Take that you ignorant sexist pricks.  Fast forward a bit and I transferred to a private college that offered the degree I wanted at night, and I began my journey into psychology.  Discovering myself along the way.  At this point my family noticed and offered me the chance to quit my job and pursue my degree full time, and so there I was back in school again.  In 2008 I completed my BA in Psychology at Wesleyan College, but that was not the turning point for me.  My dream began in my final semester, while working on my senior thesis.  A dream I all but shelved during graduate school as I ventured into a less people-centric exploration of the brain. Yet two failed career attempts later I find myself ready to transition, ready to stand on my tip toes and bring down that dream.  It's a little dusty, but hard work and dirt have never scared me.

I started wanting to incorporate exercise into cognitive behavioral therapy when I first learned there was such a thing. That people actually did just that.  One internship with some really hard cases and I decided I didn't have the chops to work with people.  But perhaps I just needed a different approach.

Somehow my journey has brought me full circle. 

On the brink of training for my first marathon (that's 26.2 miles for you running newbies), having just been conned again...this time over a job that was clearly too good to be true...I began evaluating what I wanted in life. 
I want to run. 
I want to live. 
I want to love and be present for my family. 
I want to educate others on the optimal abilities of our brains, brought about through healthy lifestyles and activity. 
I want to be free from the stress of working jobs that just don't quite fit me. 
I want to write. 
But how can I do this? 

Insert my husband's dream to one day own his own facility.  To begin his own business.  To be himself.

Insert my ability to learn, organize, instruct, train, mentor, support.

Insert my need to continue on my journey towards a stronger sense of self, adapting my life to incorporate less stress. 
My desire to help others, perhaps not in a clinical sense, but in a human sense.
As someone who has been personally affected by mental illness and taken the time and energy to find the regimen that works for me, it seems only fitting that I share what I have learned along the way.

All of this to say I am not quite done learning, growing, and changing.

Why not take on another title while I am at it?
Coach Mama, PhD has an unique ring to it.

Ware taking a big step.  Some may even call it a big risk. 
 But what is adventure without risk?

I never fathomed in my 33 years that I would be training for a distance of 26.2 miles, nor did I ever imagine I would step out of my comfort zone and embrace a more non-traditional career. 
Let alone start our own business. 

A family business. You read that right.

But I am fortunate to have an amazing partner.  One whose own dreams I fully embrace and believe in, as he does mine. 

Together we will do great things. 
Together we will learn to move mountains, not carry them. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Let's try running, maybe we get somewhere

You think I run to regulate my brain chemistry, maintain my physical appearance, empty my mind of worry and stress, escape. Fair guesses...

You are wrong.

I run to breathe.
Inhale, Exhale.
Repeat indefinitely.

I run because to not run is far worse.
I run for inspiration.
I run to teach my children what strong looks like, and how strong their mama is capable of being.

I run because I can.

I run.

This is not about whether you like running, or if YOU run or not.
This is not about you at all.

Perhaps my stories sound familiar, seem similar, or are simply very relatable to you.
Ultimately it is just me and my journey you are reading about. 
My choices.  My mistakes.  My victories.

Feel free to tag along, it is why I write, to share openly with you.

Hell, sooner or later you might even find yourself running. 
It adds a little adventure to life.

Be strong. Be RAD.