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Make your voice heard and share how mental health has affected your life

Long before I was diagnosed with major depression in my mid-30s, running was my self-medication of choice. The initial draw of the sport was the opportunity for solitude that it offered: the chance to slip betimes away from everyone and everything, to get out of (or deeper into) my head, letting the rush of scenery and serotonin drown out the darkness of the day’s ruminations.

 

While the loneliness of long distance running provided temporary refuge, the enduring mental health benefits I have reaped from the sport are ultimately the result of the relationships I have formed through it. Running with someone tends to breed a unique form of friendship, empathy, and trust. It may simply be the result of a mutual love for what others may consider an absurd pastime, but runners connect with one another in ways that I have never experienced outside of the running community.

 

Depression is a condition whose natural byproduct is isolation. It can fool the mind into believing not only that we are utterly alone in our pain but that we deserve to suffer in solitude and silence, that meaningful connection with another person is as unmerited as it is unattainable. The tragic and elusive punchline is that the opposite is true: rather than alienating us, our collective capacity to endure grief, loss, heartache, and hopelessness is perhaps the most universal human experience and can be a wellspring of empathy and a source of healing ⎯ if we are courageous enough to be vulnerable. 

 

Vulnerability tends to come more easily when you’re surrounded by people who are used to and not deterred by being humbled. Being a part of the running community involves the voluntary courtship of failure; it requires the mental strength to risk falling short of our goals, the wisdom to accept and learn from those shortfalls, and the resilience to get up and do it all over again.

 

In such a community, I don’t need the veneer of stoicism I wore for most of my life to hide the fact that I experience emotions very powerfully and viscerally. My runner friends and I know what it takes to continually push ourselves to be better, and are therefore more open to connecting with one another about our struggles and our triumphs, in running and in our personal lives. The more time I’ve spent among the running community, the more the community has transcended running.