If we’re being honest, we can all scroll back on this blog and on my Instagram page and see that after the 2017 NYC Marathon, things took a turn for me, and running took a backseat. Depression, being laid off, injury after injury – hell, I even tried telling myself that I don’t even like running anyway. But thanks to the pandemic (stay with me), I started working on my mental health and built a stable foundation that I now find myself ready to build upon even further…
… by setting a GOAL.
I’ve gotten back into running on and off over the last few years, but each time, that *something extra* was missing to keep me on track. I’d stick to a routine for a few weeks at a time; to look slightly better for an event, or to get my form back in order for a shorter race. But I never clicked back into the long-term “I am a runner”, feel-weird-if-I-don’t-workout mode that I lived through for basically all of 2009-2017.
Part of me thinks it’s because my goals weren’t big enough – I could brush off really getting into training for a 5K because those are still relatively easy for me, and I even bowed out of a half marathon at one point because I didn’t have the strength training base to build my mileage quick enough post-injury. But what it really comes down to is the fact that I didn’t set any goals because I was doing all of that work with a layer of anxiety on top of it all. Which is kind of miserable.
But recently, I jumped at the opportunity to do something I’ve been contemplating since 2018 or 2019, and I find myself in an interesting position of actually having that motivation to work towards a goal…
Every. Single. Day.
I can’t share what it is just yet – that’ll happen June 1st – but I promise that you won’t miss it because it’s all I’m going to be able to talk about for a good long time.
What I can say is that it has filled me with a motivation that I didn’t know I had. To never waste an opportunity to move my body. To make the healthy choice. To get it right. To be stronger every day, in every way. I haven’t felt a focus like this since I don’t know when. And I love it.
I’m so excited that I’m surprised you can’t hear me vibrating from here – but once you know why, I think you’ll be vibrating with me. So just hang in there, and tell me in the comments: have you ever had motivation smack you in the face like I have? How did you feel about it? Let me know!
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you most likely know that I am a big proponent of mental health awareness. Having struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, I’ve tried a lot of different treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Thankfully, despite a few wobbles of ~6 months here and there, my mental health has remained relatively stable since the early 2000’s when my anxiety manifested as severe OCD that left me holed up in my college dorm room for days at a time, bleeding from hands that I washed close to 100 times a day. Back then, Zoloft paired with a good therapist helped get me back on track, and I remained relatively stable until… a few months into 2020.
I don’t need to go into detail about that dumpster fire here; I have already recapped my struggle during the early stages of the pandemic and had nothing but good things to say about Effexor when I finally started it in April of 2021. And now that almost a year has passed, life on medication has just continues to get better, even if I don’t post about it here on the blog or on social media often.
The combination of Effexor and therapy finally allowed me the mental space to begin the monumental amount of work it would take to become the best version of myself.
In short, I was able to organize my thoughts in a clear and concise way that made me a better wife, friend, daughter, coworker, and advocate for myself. Our marriage improved. We celebrated 10 years married in August 2021!
I found and started a better job (all remote, better pay, and SUCH a better culture). I spent 3 months on paperwork and phone calls to roll over all 5 of my various retirement funds into one account. I started using a budgeting app to get our finances in order and paid off 90% of our credit card debt by September. And finally, most importantly, in October we were able to make an offer on our very own house – which we closed on December 1!
But while I was busy doing all this WORK, running and working out fell off my plate. I know that some people run or workout through their challenges, but I’m not them. After working 8-9 hours a day, I needed all of the energy I could spare to work on myself. And I never realized how many of my own needs I’d ignored until I finally had the mental space to explore them. I’d lived with anxiety and depression for so long that I didn’t realize what healthy felt like until I got there. I explicitly remember asking my doctor, “THIS is what you all feel like ALL THE TIME? Why did no one TELL me??”
There’s no end to the work I’m doing on my inner self, but as I find more of a balance, I’ve started working out and running again. The runs are short, the workouts hurt, but they’re happening and consistency is the name of the game now. I’m trying to move once a day in some way, even if that’s a 15 minute walk on the treadmill.
I signed up for a few races in the spring – and I even threw my name into the NYC Marathon Lottery! I find out if I get in on March 30th, and I still don’t know if I want to see that charge on my bank account or if I’ll be relieved when I don’t see it.
All that’s to say – tentatively – that I’m back! I’m ready to share myself with you all again, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride as I see where it takes me. Either way, thank you for sticking around this long (can you believe I’ve been running this blog for EIGHT YEARS?) and cheers to many more happy miles!
Real talk: I’ve only run a handful of races since the NYC Marathon in 2017.
Yes, I know running races isn’t the only thing that makes one a runner, but when I had previously been running at least 2 half marathons a year, along with countless 5K’s and 10K’s sprinkled throughout the year, every year since like 2012, that’s a big drop.
This was due to a number of factors: I lost my job a few months after the marathon and fell into a depression. A new job a few months after that left little mental time for training, but I still did a few shorter distance races here and there. Then I was sidelined by an injury and nerve issues in 2019 that lasted for nearly the whole year. And then we all know what 2020 brought.
2021 brought a lot of changes. I went unofficially gluten- and corn-free. I started limiting my alcohol intake. I went on a new anti-anxiety medication. I dropped about 15 lbs. I started seeing a few new doctors and had bloodwork done, which helped me uncover a few things that needed to change – and gave me some possible insight into some of those nerve issues I’d had previously.
Back in 2019, my mileage dropped and my running decreased because my legs used to twitch and even give out on me while running anything over 3-4 miles. It felt like little electrical shocks shooting through my calves and my feet, and sometimes even in my hands and arms. I had every test imaginable done: MRI’s, EKG’s, and even an EMG nerve test where they stuck a needle in my leg and moved it around to find and test different nerves. Basically the only test that I DIDN’T have done was bloodwork.
Fast-forward to now, when I started seeing these new doctors. After hearing about my history, one recommended I start taking a B12 supplement, and lo and behold: B12 deficiency can cause exactly the types of nerve issues I was having back in 2019. Obviously, I can’t go back in time and get bloodwork done to see if the two things were connected, and I haven’t run more than 4 miles or so anytime recently to see if the twitching will return, but I’m taking my daily vitamin and feeling cautiously hopeful about running longer distances very soon.
All that cautious optimism has me thinking about the future – which also involves looking back at my past. When I was running a half marathon every spring and every fall, I was almost always training for some race or another. It was a lot of work, but I had found a good balance between running and life, and felt stronger and more confident in general when I was running regularly.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I’m blinded by the Effexor. Maybe I’ll try running and fail at mile 5 again.
But maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll get to mile 6, and then mile 7, and mile 8. And before I know it, I’ll be at mile 13. And maybe I’ll get that confidence back.
Either way, I’m finally excited for whatever happens.
Hey there! It’s been a few months. Where to begin?
When we last left off, things were going relatively well. I started seeing a therapist in October and was making good progress in my mental health. Together we cultivated a toolbox full of anxiety management techniques and dug into the ideas of acceptance and mindfulness. As a result, my running improved greatly. By December, cutting out gluten and corn in September had helped me drop almost 20 pounds, and I had more motivation to keep it up.
After the dumpster fire that was 2020, I was ready to enter the New Year with high hopes. Or rather, I planned to tiptoe into the year quietly, so as not to spook it and send it running, on fire, into the barn, thus starting a blaze that would level the entire city.
The fact that I haven’t blogged for 5 months tells you all you need to know about how that worked out.
Two days before New Year’s Eve, we were faced with a family emergency that threw our little team of two into chaos. Then just as things started to calm down on that front, my mother came down with COVID. With a lot of stressful nights and careful watching, she is now back to 100% healthy. We’ve continued to work through a handful of other unrelated issues since then, but after the 1-2-3 punch that was January-February-March, I made a change and wanted to share here.
I started medication again.
I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression since age 12, and went on Zoloft back in 2003 to manage severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the medication made me gain much of the weight that took me years to lose, it worked. I am a big proponent of medication for mental health, but for some reason, kept telling myself that I didn’t need it this time. I had found running and acupuncture, and I was in therapy. Shouldn’t that be enough? It sort of was, until I found myself in crisis around the end of February.
The best way I can describe my tipping point is that it felt like I was working two full-time jobs. In addition to working 9-5 for money, every free hour was spent working on my mental health. Every thought was focused on my own thoughts. My mind was in constant motion from one anxious thought to the next, with no safe place to land. I moved in and out of depressive states that put me in some dark places. VERY dark.
But if living with anxiety and depression at that level was like treading water endlessly, starting Effexor was like grabbing onto a life raft and finally feeling the relief of not having to try so goddamn hard for the first time in months – years, really.
With Effexor, I still have anxious thoughts. But instead of the anxiety flowing through my whole body and causing a physical reaction in my clenching stomach and sweaty palms and racing heart and shortness of breath, the thoughts… stay in my head. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s fascinating. The medicine “opens the window” and gives me the mental space to work through the anxious or depressive thoughts using the tools that I’ve developed over 7 months of work in therapy. It’s still work, but it’s not as stressful, and it’s easier to let those thoughts pass and return to regular thoughts.
It’s also not some magic bullet, either. I was faced with a hugely stressful situation last week that created a swell of anxiety that not even Effexor could stop. The day was rough and I spiraled, thinking that it was a sign that I had backslid into my old ways, the medicine was useless, that nothing could fix me. But the window had been “opened”, and after a day or so, I was able to approach the situation tentatively and work through it a bit. It was a good reminder that while meds are helpful, I am also stronger and better equipped to handle anxiety than I was a year ago thanks to therapy.
We decided to try Effexor because its mechanism of action is similar to Zoloft, which I had a good experience with, but also includes norepinephrine to possibly improve my energy levels and attentiveness, which had been impacted. And despite being worried about weight gain, Effexor has had the opposite effect of the Zoloft and I’ve lost a few pounds already. I don’t feel the need to turn to food for comfort, and nighttime snacking (which was my Achilles heel) is all but nonexistent. It’s motivating me to move more but not affecting my sleep. I wish I’d started this stuff years ago.
I say all this with an asterisk: just because I am having a good experience doesn’t mean that it’ll work for everyone. I’ve had people message me about it but don’t want to sound like I’m pushing this drug or overselling it. This is just me explaining how it’s helped me and keeping the conversation about mental health going.
In December, Olympic runner and filmmaker Alexi Pappas shared her story of depression and the importance of treating mental health issues the same way we treat physical ones. She referred to them as “mental health injuries”. That phrase stuck with me.
As runners, we are often sidelined by things like shin splints, hairline fractures, or torn ACLs. But we treat those injuries with things like physical therapy and medication. Why don’t we view mental health struggles the same way?Having a mental health injury isn’t a weakness in the same way that pulling a muscle isn’t a weakness. They stop us in our tracks, take time to recover from, and in some cases, there is often a chemical – physical – imbalance, and medication like the one I’m on can be an IMMENSE help. But yet, the stigma around it remains.
I’m tired of being anxious and depressed and feeling like a prisoner in my own mind. Now that I found the combination of things that seems to work for me in this moment, I’m going to talk to anyone who will listen about it, in the hopes that it helps even one person take that step and get help for themselves, whether that’s through therapy or medication or both.
And that’s what’s going on in my world these days. How are you doing?
In my 10 years of running (happy runniversary to me, btw), I’ve never hidden my love for the treadmill. Yes, running outside has its perks, and I’ll always love it, but having my pace set for me, music/Netflix/water at my fingertips, air conditioning, a bathroom nearby… everything about the treadmill appeals to me. I don’t find it boring like so many other runners I know who call it the “dreadmill”.
For basically all of my running career, I had various gyms at my disposal to get my treadmill runs in. And then, COVID-19 happened. Gyms were shut down temporarily, but the longer they stayed shut, the more the thought of working out/breathing heavily with a bunch of strangers in an enclosed space with a windows that don’t open became unthinkable.
That’s why I threw out a lifeline on Facebook one evening in the form of a question I asked maybe once every year in the off chance that someone might reply:
“Does anyone have a treadmill they want to sell or get rid of?”
Fast forward two weeks, and behold: my virtually brand new baby.
An old friend from high school that I hadn’t spoken to since 2000 had been wanting to get rid of her treadmill for two years. A few months after buying it, she found herself unable to use it, so it sat in a spare room gathering dust all this time, seemingly waiting for me. After a few days of measuring and rearranging furniture, my husband and I picked it up on August 16th, spent a few hours sweating and swearing to put it back together, and just like that, I had my first treadmill.
Coupled with the Peloton app I’d discovered a few months prior, this was the game changer I had been waiting for.
All of the times I’d said that I’d run more “if I only had a treadmill”? I wasn’t lying, even to myself. Now that I have it, I have been so much more active in the 2 months since it became a part of my life. Every morning – or maybe every other morning some weeks, if I’m being honest – I get up, roll into running gear, brew some coffee and make my way to the treadmill where I get a minimum of 20 minutes in before my day starts. Sometimes I walk, sometimes I run, sometimes I do a bit of both.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was working out sporadically, with anxiety and depression creeping in on the edges of my mind basically every time I stayed stagnant for too long. This machine – while some might call it a bore or a bastardization of what running really is all about – has given me an outlet that I didn’t even know I needed.
What do you think of the treadmill? How have you managed to cope with running through the pandemic?
I haven’t done guest posts here on the blog before, but when my friend Jimmy reached out about wanting to share his experience with running, I jumped on the opportunity. Jimmy and I work together, but more importantly, we share a love of working out, Star Wars and all things pop culture – seriously, when he was cleaning his desk one day he gifted me with a little Darth Vader Funko Pop and his set of Kylo and Rey figures to keep watch of my stuff when I’m not there. A few months ago we had a nice chat about how running helps us both, and now he’s sharing his story with you guys. I hope you enjoy!
It all started around New Year’s Eve. I felt like I had been hit by a ton of bricks. Work had been very hectic for the final 6 weeks of the year. It was non-stop. I felt like I didn’t have a chance to come up for air. I kept telling myself, “All you have to do is make it until the 24th & you’ll have a whole week off for yourself.” Well, when that day came, I felt like I couldn’t get out of that gear that had kept me going through those final weeks of 2019. I couldn’t relax. It felt like my heart was going to beat through my chest.
After a few days of dealing with this uncomfortable feeling, I decided to go to the doctor to see if it was an underlying condition. I explained to the doctor what I was going through & if I should be worried. She was very upfront with me & explained it was stress-related anxiety. Me? With anxiety? That can’t be the case! I thought I was invincible. No one is invincible & that’s OK! We discussed a plan of action that included changes to my diet & exercise regimen. I have always been self-conscious about my weight. That certainly was not helping the situation.
I organized a schedule. Thanks to the hospitality of my girlfriend’s mother, I was able to prepare chicken on their grill each Sunday for the upcoming week. I am a creature of habit, so getting into a groove was not an issue. During this time, I discovered how much easier it was to go to the gym after dinner than it was heading over right after work. You need a little bit of a recharge. It was an excellent way to get the blood flowing. I was sleeping much better at night. Everything was going great; work had calmed down a bit after the new year & my new diet was helping me reach numbers on the scale (not that it was the ONLY goal of this endeavor), I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I was feeling FANTASTIC. Then we were all hit with a right upper cut.
This pandemic arrived like Thanos in Wakanda. It was very difficult to adjust at first. How was I going to get all the right ingredients for my diet with the stores being ransacked? How was I going to exercise without being able to go to the gym? Workout like I had been for the first 3 months of the year. I was knocked down on the mat & I didn’t know how I was going to reach for that turnbuckle. Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Well, I had to take a stand. I was not going to let this situation consume me. I was able to find healthy alternatives.
I have been very lucky all my life. My grandparents live right next door in a tiny, brick house. It was always great for birthdays & anniversaries. Just a few paces across the lawn. They have this small weight room set-up in their basement that my father & I use from time to time. It has become a good friend of mine since quarantine began a month ago.
I began a new workout schedule. Just happy that I had a place to let my frustration out after a long day at work(ing from home). Something was missing, though. When I found out what it was, I couldn’t believe it.
I pulled the cover off the treadmill in the basement like it was the DeLorean & decided that I was going to start running. As a younger boy, I DESPISED distance running. I’d rather play a game of pick-up basketball or football. Times have changed. I decided that I was just going to go for it. I’ve got to tell you; it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My mind feels so clear when I’m on the treadmill or just on a jog around the block. Each time I strap up my shoes, I want to reach a new milestone.
It does not feel like I am running AWAY from my problems, rather running TOWARDS them. I have been feeling much more confident. I feel more comfortable walking around the house with my shirt off (sorry, Mom & Dad). Yes, I am still dealing with anxiety & the other facets of everyday life, but running & working out regularly have helped me control them. Another thing I did notice that required correction was the incline setting on the treadmill. I kept hitting my head on the basement ceiling. Oh, well, a tiny roadblock that was easily fixed with the flip of a switch.
Everyone handles issues in their life differently than their neighbor. There is no instruction sheet. We must find ways to cope, either on our own or with some help. It is OK to get some help. There is no shame in that! Running has become the sword that I fight these battles with every day.
We are going to get through this pandemic. There are good days & there are bad days, such is life. My hope is that when we come out on the other end, we’ll be better off. I certainly will not take the little things for granted just like how I used to view running as a chore, I now see it as a hobby.
Until then, I hope everyone stays safe & healthy. We’ve got this!
My last post in October was about how I was excited to be in the middle of a strength training plan that helped me drop some weight and get back into fighting mode. At the end of it all, it really did work: I lost about 15 lbs and a handful of inches and it was just the kickstart I needed to get through the holidays with a healthy mindset.
we even threw a hell of a roaring 20’s themed NYE party!
Then January brought a health scare that I talked about a bit on Instagram, when I found a lump in my breast and went through a month of testing before finding it was benign. That month brought new levels of anxiety that I wouldn’t wish on anyone: migraines so bad that I ended up in the ER one morning at 3am, a pinched nerve in my back/chest that my doctor had me get an Xray for, and itchy hives all over my body. Working out took a backseat, so yes, I dropped off the face of this blog, and gained some of the weight back. But once the anxiety cleared and the results were in, I returned to working out pretty regularly.
Then the coronavirus showed up.
I’m not going to clog up your feed with any hot takes on this bullshit, but I’m also not going to sugarcoat how I’m handling it. We’re blessed in that my husband and I both still have our jobs, and we’re working pretty much 8-5 every day, just to maintain some kind of schedule, and to KEEP those jobs. It’s been a struggle here, much like I’ve heard from other people. I’m not glad it’s happening, but I am glad that it’s shining a light on the importance of being aware of your own mental health and taking care of yourself when anxiety is at an all-time high. It’s a shame that it took locking us all up in our houses to realize it, but here we are.
I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day. But I’ve been working out to maintain my sanity, whether by shutting my laptop off in the middle of the day and going for a run around town (while I’m still allowed to) or by carrying handweights around the house every hour when my watch tells me to stand up (while I wish I’d gotten a treadmill before all this happened, I sure am glad I got an Apple Watch for Christmas). I’m also still doing my good old DVD and playing Just Dance on the PS4, and using my watch’s 7-Minute-Workout app a few times a day just to get my heart pumping.
If I can laugh at anything about this whole thing, it’s the fact that suffering from extreme OCD in college – to the point where I washed my hands 50-60 times a day and bled from cracked skin on my knuckles for months at a time – has prepared me for the contamination fears we’re all experiencing today: I can track what needs to be disinfected and know exactly how to open every kind of door without using my hands. Score one for living with an acute anxiety disorder for 3 years.
But I just figured I’d pop on here and share what’s going on over here in the hopes that it reaches someone – anyone – who might need a little pick me up. I know it seems dark right now, but trust me. We’ll get through this.
Although most of you have probably figured it out by now: Since the NYC Marathon, I’ve been pretty disillusioned with sharing my running journey online.
*sarcasm* shocking, right?
I guess it comes down to the fact that I started to get tired of playing the game, especially around Instagram.
Looking back, the amount of time I spent on that app is embarrassing. I wracked my brain coming up with a creative Instagram-worthy photo angle for every run. I wasted a half hour after every run selecting, editing, and captioning a picture. I worried about what I wore because I’d already worn black for my past three runs and needed to inject color into my IG feed. I found myself sitting at dinner in a restaurant with my husband, with my nose buried in my phone while I picked out hashtags. I was injured, but I still went on painful runs – sometimes just to “keep the feed fresh”.
And even though I did those things, I still lost followers.
Then I lost my job and fell into a depression. For those of you who haven’t had the good luck (again with the sarcasm) to experience depression, my idol Carrie Fisher summed up what it feels like with heartbreaking clarity while in the middle of her own manic episode in Bright Lights:
“You know what would be so cool? To get to the end of my personality and just, like, lay in the sun. I’m sick of myself.”
At my lowest point, I was so sick of my self that Instagram seemed like a cruel joke. I hardly felt inspirational. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror, let alone take yet another picture of myself and share it with 16,000 people – the majority of whom I have never and will never meet.
I lost the courage to even try.
Because I dropped out of the game (and yes, it is most certainly 100% a game that Instagram will always win because they control what accounts get exposure), I lost nearly 1,000 followers since November. And I’m losing more every day. I can’t figure out the algorithm no matter how much or little I post or what hashtags I use.
But a funny thing happened since I came out the other side of that whole depression thing: I finally want to run more.
After nearly 10 months of being disillusioned with running in general and not even thinking about racing, the other day I got an email from the Run Newport folks about running the Newport Half next month and actually got excited.
The thought of a half marathon gave me butterflies.
I got the jimmy legs thinking about the thrill of the starting line.
I started looking at training plans.
While I’m in absolutely no shape to run the Newport Half (because it’s in less than 6 weeks and I haven’t run more than 4 miles in about 10 months), I’m probably not going to be running it (but I WILL have an entry to give away, woohoo, stay tuned!). But I WILL start slow, starting now.
It’s going to take courage to try again, but I’m ready.
I’ve committed to run 2-3x during the week after work and slowly build up my long run mileage on weekends. The plan is to get to 6 or 7 PAIN FREE miles for a few weekends in a row before I even sign up for something.
It’s not a plan, per se, but it’s more than I’ve done in 10 months, so there you have it.
Once it became more of a plan in my mind over the past few days, I found myself excited to blog about it – and even more excited to share my story on Instagram once more.
I don’t know what race I’ll be doing or even when I’ll run it. Throughout training, I won’t spend a half hour picking out the perfect filters or an extra half mile trying to get the right running selfie after every run. But I WILL be sharing my journey again, and I’m excited to have you along for the ride if you’d like to join me. ❤
Real Talk: The TCS New York City Marathon left me turned off about running. With having to put our cat to sleep the day after the race and dealing with injuries for months post-race, I never felt that post-marathon high.
I deleted almost all of the pictures from that day off my phone. But for some reason, I couldn’t delete this one: the Mile 26 marker.
I still remember how I felt when I snapped this picture. Every inch of my body hurt. It was dark and rainy, spectators had all gone home. When I saw Mile 26 I thought “Who cares. There’s no triumphant final push left in me, why should I take a picture?”
But I did, and every time I clean my camera roll, I still won’t delete it. It took me 7 months, but now I know why: because it was the lowest point I’d been at in months… BUT I KEPT GOING.
I got that medal. I pushed through a mental and physical hell I created for myself over 25+ miles through the five boroughs of NYC and I survived, just like I’ve survived every other “lowest” point in my life. It’s a reminder that there’s always something to look forward to, even if I have to go through just .2 more miles of hell to get to it.
When you get to your Mile 26, just keep going. I know it hurts. But it’ll be worth it.