Running, Mental Health, and the Importance of a Good Health Plan
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As HealthTrust’s Wellness Coordinator, my job is to help covered individuals use the benefits HealthTrust provides to them. But, until recently I didn’t realize the dramatic difference those health benefits could make in my own life.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I work hard, set high goals for myself and feel driven to achieve them. I started running when I was in sixth grade and was hooked almost instantly. I have run hundreds of 5K races, 13 half-marathons and four full marathons, recently completing the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2022 and the Chicago Marathon in the fall of 2022. I have set a life goal to run a marathon in all 50 states.
Running Toward the Light
In hindsight, I understand why I loved running so much right from the beginning; thousands of studies have found connections between running and improved mental health. Mental health issues run in my family. I first struggled with them in high school when I began suffering from disordered eating. Some days I would eat almost nothing; other days I would binge and purge. Some of my teachers noticed that I wouldn’t eat and one teacher even brought snacks into school for me each day and let me sit in her classroom during lunch so I wouldn’t have all of the triggering food around me. With counseling and many trips to the doctor, I did get my eating under control, but I still struggle from time to time.
At the end of high school I was sidelined by injuries to my foot and Achilles tendon, and eventually I had surgery that required me to stop running for nearly a year. When my doctors told me I would be lucky if I ever ran again, I was devastated. In choosing a college, I chose Plymouth State University because at the time they did not have a Cross Country or Track and Field team. If I couldn’t run, I didn’t want to be around it.
I hate hearing the word “no,” so I slowly started to run again, and to my surprise I felt no foot pain, even after my surgery, even after the doctors told me that I would never be able to run again. It is funny how life works out; that next year Plymouth State University formed their first Women’s Cross Country program. I was hesitant at first, but running always drew me back in and I joined the team. I was out there doing a sport that I loved- I was actually running!
A Dark Turn
In 2015 while I was still in college, I found myself skipping class to do nothing but lay in bed and watch the seconds tick by on the clock. I skipped cross country practice. I could not even find solace in running, the thing I loved most. I found myself just holding on for one more second, one more minute, one more hour, hoping to survive to the next day. I was depressed, suicidal and anxious.
I would get angry at those who seemed to live a “normal” life. What does it feel like not to feel sad all the time? What does it feel like to live life and actually be happy? What was it like to have a genuine smile and not have to fake it everywhere I went?
Getting Back on Track
Once again, a caring teacher intervened. A college professor called me into her office and asked how I was doing. I broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed help, and now I was opening myself up to it. I called my parents and my doctor and made an appointment with the school counselor so I could start to receive the help I desperately needed. When it started to come out that I had been depressed, some people in my life commented that it was all in my head: “What do you have to be depressed about?” I didn’t have an answer. I had a nearly perfect life. I was going to college and my parents were helping to pay my tuition. I had a job that I loved and I had friends. But it wasn’t enough. I still had negative thoughts swarming through my head.
After getting some help, and taking medication prescribed by my doctor, I was better able to manage my emotions. My teachers let me make up my school work so I would not fall behind in my senior year and the Plymouth State Cross Country coaches were more than understanding. They knew I hadn’t been acting like myself and were happy that I was getting help.
I returned to running and started to feel better than I had in a long time, but the negative – even suicidal thoughts – continued. I thought this was normal. After all, I was on medication and it was helping. I was running again and going to class. Maybe this was just the best my life could be.
A Life-Changing Opportunity and a Mission to Help Others
Everything changed in August 2021 when HealthTrust introduced the Corigen® Medication Safety Program, which uses DNA analysis to determine if an individual’s medications are safe and effective for them. I completed the test kit and to my surprise I found out the antidepressant I was on was not effective for me. According to my report, my body didn’t metabolize the drug effectively and the medication side effects could be contributing to my suicidal thoughts; it was in the black box warning on the drug. This information was life changing; I was able to get on the right medication and started feeling much better. Now I volunteer for a nonprofit organization called Still I Run, whose mission is to help runners with mental health issues.
Here is my message to anyone struggling with depression: Turn your problem into your purpose, turn your weakness into strength. Use all your resources, including your health benefits, to get the help you need. Depression is something I still deal with daily and likely will for the rest of my life, but I know how to manage it now. I take one step forward each day. I live by the saying, “Forward is a pace.” To me that means it doesn’t matter how slowly you go, forward still means forward (in running and in life). If you take anything away from my story, I hope it is that although life can throw you curve balls, it is what you do with them that defines who you are. I could have refused help. I could have gone down a different path. I could have quit running for good, but I didn’t. I am so happy to be here living each moment, the good, the bad and the ugly. Life is worth living. Get the help you need, hold close the ones you love and those who love you most, and never be afraid to speak up.
Krista Bouchard is HealthTrust’s Wellness Coordinator.
Source: National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7663387/