How Long-Distance Running Helps Me Find Happiness Despite Depression

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I’d set my alarm at 7 a.m. and I’d wake up all right despite having had a sleepless night. Within a few minutes I would get up. I’d get ready, put my lunch box in my backpack and walk to school.

“What a nice day! Today is going to be great!”

I’d wish I could say that. Maybe the sun was shining bright. Maybe the temperature was just right. I wouldn’t notice. Everything around me was painted in grey. The clouds looked dark. A gloomy feeling covered my surroundings.

When lunch break started, I’d take a few bites from my sandwich. The leftovers, more than half of my sandwich, would go into hungry seagulls’ tummies. I would chat with my best friends, occasionally laugh. My heart though remained heavy.

Class time would approach, and I’d be back to my own “little dark world.” I’d wonder why it was so painful for me to watch everyone around me do such “normal” things like laugh and giggle? Jealousy and frustration would build up so much. Why couldn’t I feel like them?

I could not remember what happiness felt like.

Each day during my high school, the whole sequence kept repeating. I was going through a lot of pain, sadness, and hopelessness, but then one day… I met someone. No, actually I had known this person for a long, long time.

I hated exercising, not to mention long distance running. This lady neglected all of that. She did not try to understand the world I was living in, but she forced me to go to the park with her and made me run. One thing I knew was that she cared about me.

At first, I hated every minute of it. It felt like pure torture. I could not even run 800 meters. “How will this help me feel better?” I thought. A few weeks later, I found an answer.

The kind lady always slowed down to run the first bit with me to help me cover more distance every day. After the daily set goal was reached, she would leave me on my own and I would fall back to my own little dark world again, but it felt different.

I started hearing birds singing, noticing them flying and enjoying their flights. I looked up in the sky and saw the bright sunlight. The air I breathed in seemed slightly more refreshing.

I believed those were the first steps I took on the road to happiness.

Now, about three years later, I am a runner, and I am making a lot of progress on this road. There are times I still struggle and go off track, but I know if I keep running I will be able to get back on the main road somehow. Sometimes, help and encouragement is needed for me to push on, but that is OK. Even though I have to fight to feel, it is worth the effort. I will keep going.

I hope my story gives you a positive feeling even though you may feel like there is no hope in darkness. I do feel that way as well a lot of times. I still believe there is a reason for me to face the challenge. I want you to believe you can fight too.

For now I can finally say…

“What a nice day! Today is going to be great!”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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How I'm Learning to Combat Depression With 'Little Victories'

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It’s strange to think that one day long ago certain things that I did every day didn’t seem that significant. That getting up in the morning was just getting up. That remembering to return a movie was simply that. These little things I did every day weren’t anything more than what they were. This all changed the moment I let the darkness in and depression took ahold of me.

I went through months of not being able to eat, sleep, or function. I let my body waste away, and I sat motionless in the center of my bed staring off into space because being human just seemed too much. I lost myself completely, and it seemed like there was no getting me back. Every day things seemed to be pointless, and getting out of bed was a task I could no longer conquer.

Slowly I started to fade out of that and return to everyday activities, but I still felt hollow. It’s a strange feeling, to go from feeling so much to nothing at all. You feel vacant, like the person inside said, “To hell with you!” and jumped ship. I went through months of that as well.

One day, I was watching slam poetry videos when I came across one that focused on the meaning of a good day — how you and I both have different meanings — and something inside of me changed. It was like a light switch went on and my brain suddenly functioned again. That’s when I created the “little victories.” I was learning to love life again through the celebration of small things. Everything you do is a victory some way or another.

I started with waking up. I’d gone through so many months of disappointment when my eyes opened to see sunshine. But that changed because there was so much to be grateful for. The following morning I woke up, and the first thing I thought was “this is a little victory.” And it sparked from there. Every day things became victories, reasons to celebrate. The reason is important though. I’d come back from hating everything, including myself, where there was no celebration for getting up, no celebration for brushing my teeth or putting on clean clothes, and it was all disappointment. Implementing the victories helped me work towards taking ahold of my life again.

A few months following that I finally felt like myself again. Breathing became easier, and it felt good to open my eyes and greet morning with a smile. I felt victorious because through celebrating the small things in life, I regained a hold on mine and kicked the darkness to the ground.

So for anyone who struggles with the hassles of everyday tasks, just remember, you can find a victory. It may be something you couldn’t do yesterday. Try to tackle a new one every day. That is how I work towards becoming me again, a better me, and a healthier me. Be victorious.

Even reading this is a victory.

Follow this journey on Calm the Chaos.

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A Letter to Parents of a Child With Depression

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Dear Parents,

I know how hard it is for you to have a child with depression. I know how hard it is for you to watch me in pain and not know how to help. I know how hectic your lives get. I know neither of you are perfect, and you have your own struggles to face every day. I know you try to understand what I am going through, but I have to let you know there is no way you ever will, but I will try my best to explain it to you.

Every morning I fight a battle within myself to get out of bed. Some days I easily prevail, and other days the depression wins and I cannot will my numbing limbs to move. The day continues and constantly I can feel the pull within me to go back to bed. My love of school has vanished and has become another area where I let myself down. My mind doesn’t work like it once did, and I can’t keep everything straight. I make bad choices in my never-ending search to find moments of happiness. You may think I am actively throwing my life away when really I am just trying to keep my head above water. When I call you spiraling out of control, it’s because I don’t know who else to call and I am scared that depression is going to win. I know those calls are scary to get, but I need you to remind me I am still alive and breathing and I can win the next day. Remind of the times I’ve done great, and put things in perspective because in those moments I cannot see anything except for darkness and I need you to shine a light. Once I can breathe again I would love to work on building foundations and structures to help me swim back to shore, but in that moment of struggle, the thought of all the work it will take to get back to shore is terrifying. When I am scared and underwater I say and do things I regret, I have a hard time communicating and am sensitive beyond belief. I know it is not easy, and sometimes I don’t deserve it but sometimes all I need is a bright light to guide me to the surface — a light of hope that I am still me, that I am not a failure, and that it’s OK to not be perfect.

You are the brightest lights in my life, and everything you do for me never goes unnoticed. You have loved me at my best and at my worst, and I will always be grateful for everything you do.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Complicated Truth of My Anxiety and Depression

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I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend. We briefly touched on the topic of mental health, and he told me how it can be hard to be a person of faith who lives with depression and anxiety. He told me how medical treatment felt like a “lack of faith.” This small conversation struck me to the core and I really started thinking, digging deeper into my own experiences.

In my experience, our society doesn’t address the topic of mental health as much as it should (or so I have personally experienced). People still genuinely don’t understand mental illnesses or the stigmas that follow them. What are they like? How does it affect your faith? Can you really not control it?

As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, let me just tell you, it is complicated, it is messy, it is hard for others to live with, but yet… somehow… it can be beautiful. The truth of the matter is, people don’t really understand what it means to depressed or how to interact with somebody with depression.

Depression is a dark cloud that covers your head wherever you go. It’s like being stuck in a rainstorm, with no control over the rain or cloud that follows your every move. For me, depression is not necessarily extreme sadness, but nothing at all. It’s the lack of feeling; the sensation that is complete numbness. That’s why so many people turn to self-harm or other deteriorating forms of escapism: they’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.

Depression is a lack of appetite for life, when no matter how hard you try or how great your life may truly be, you can’t change the fact that you don’t care. But you do care about not caring, you want to care so bad… but you’re just stuck inside your body with no way to escape the constant nothingness.

Depression can be oversleeping, lashing out at friends for no reason and sinking into self-destruction that you’re too transparent to care about. Depression is hopelessness, guilt and restlessness.

And honestly, that shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of. Yet sadly, so many people experience shame, guilt and silence associated with mental health because our society just doesn’t truly comprehend the seriousness or effects of these illnesses. People struggle alone because they’re uneducated and don’t feel safe in coming out about their disorder.

Before I go any further, I’d like to say I’ve struggled with anxiety as well. Anxiety, in the singular sense, and social anxiety.

Anxiety is being afraid of asking that question in class you genuinely want to ask, but knowing everybody would look at you, and hear you, and know you exist if you did ask that question, so you don’t. Even though your question is very important and you’ll end up fumbling around, overthinking every next choice in that class, never knowing the question to your answer.

Anxiety is waiting, not eating your apple in class, even though you’re hungry, just because people may watch you eat or hear you chew. People could judge you, and besides, you don’t want to be a disruption. So you don’t eat it, or better yet, if you do eat it, you wait until every last person has trickled out of the room to throw it away.

Anxiety is being a small child on vacation, asking your mother what the plan for the day is every hour, even though you already know what the plan for the day is, but you just need that validation.

Anxiety is constantly asking what time it is, just in case hours have passed, even though the last time you asked was three minutes ago.

Anxiety is feeling like somebody is sitting on your chest, pinning you to the ground, to the point where you’re unable to breathe.

Anxiety is physically shaking in your core whenever you think you might be making a bad decision, or doing something that feels risky and unnatural to you.

Anxiety is feeling alone and out of place in groups of more than three people who you’re not fully familiar with. Are they judging you? Do they secretly hate you?

Anxiety is waiting for somebody to acknowledge you or invite you into the conversation before you talk, even if you’ve been there for an hour and had so many things to say, simply because you can’t bare to make the first move or put yourself out there. Don’t get me wrong, you wan’t to put yourself out there so bad… but there’s something inside of you that will physically and mentally not allow you to.

Now let me say this: anxiety is different for each person. It wasn’t until recently I was able to look back on my life and connect the dots that all pointed to anxiety. Someone else’s anxiety may look totally different than what I just described, but no matter the difference, it’s still valid and needs to be addressed.

All you can do is be there. Be present with that person and wait for the wave of anxiety to pass.

As you can see, the topic of mental health is something I’ve become passionate about. And I think you should too, because it affects so many of your loved ones, friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers and classmates… but the reality of it is that most of those people probably struggle in silence.

In a time of depression or anxiety, it’s like you may be stuck in a tunnel with no sign of light on the other side. I’ve learned over the years the depressive or anxiety inducing moments and chapters will pass. Nothing is the end of the world.

But sometimes it doesn’t pass.

And that’s OK.

So you just keep on keeping on, hanging by the threads, trying your hardest to balance life.

And after that, when it does pass, you go back to life.

Now with all this being said, what can we say or do for those who may be struggling with a mental illness? Here’s a tip: don’t tell them it’ll be OK, or to get over it. Don’t compliment somebody to make them feel better by placing a band aid on their gaping wounds. Instead, show up in that moment when they are struggling. Don’t say anything at all. Instead, listen. Be present in the moment. Hold their hand and give them a hug. And when you don’t know what to say or do, just be there with them in that moment.

And to those of you reading this thinking that I’m either “crazy” or just a really intense writer, I strongly urge you on behalf of all of your loved ones and strangers: just show up.

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Why Using Humor to Answer 'Are You OK?' Helps in My Mental Illness

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We live in a society where “How are you?” has become a greeting instead of an actual question; it is sometimes said in passing with no real expectation of an honest answer. Those times, it is asked only out of social nicety, and from my own personal experience, I can say that when you have a struggle with chronic mental and physical health conditions you get tired of saying “I’m good thanks!” when you really just feel frustrated saying the words.

Sarcasm and satire have always been my favorite style of humor, and the thought of being able to smile and give someone a quirky answer that didn’t taste like acid on my tongue was very appealing. Humor has been my saving grace; even in the midst of depression I can normally still see the funny side to things, and during the bad pain days, I can be amused at my own misery and melodramatic tearfulness.

So with the above in mind, I set about thinking up some new answers to reply with when heedlessly asked: “How are you?” Generally, one of two things happens — the person stops and laughs, or they just don’t even notice what you said. But sometimes, something surprising happens — a conversation starts up! No matter the end result though, it can be amusing and you don’t have to feel like a liar.

These are some of my favorites:

1. I’m awesome from my ankles down.

2. I didn’t read my name in the obituaries today, so I figure I’m not too bad.

3. Upright and still breathing!

4. Good, but I’ll get over it.

5. Fine so far, but there is plenty of time for everything to go wrong yet!

6. Tilt your head and stare at them for a second, narrow your eyes, look puzzled and say “Why do you want to know?”

7. I hear good things, but you should never trust rumors.

8. Smile over the top sweetly and say, “I’m so happy I have to sit on my hands to keep myself from clapping.”

9. Look nervous and reply, “My lawyer says I don’t have to answer that question!”

Is humor a magic panacea? No, it cannot obliterate the trials we face or the traumas we may have been through. It is true a simple smile doesn’t cure our depression or anxiety, and laughter certainly doesn’t take away chronic pain or other health problems. However, the one thing I have always found is this: when I can embrace the issues I’m facing with a sense of amusement, then that mirth can help to dull the agony that would otherwise take over. It does not cure the problems, but it does make it easier to cope and live alongside them.

I would encourage everyone to find the lightheartedness in the darkness in any way they can. It can be difficult, but it is worth it.

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When I Realized I Overworked Myself to Distract From Depression

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I would like to say that my workaholic tendencies stem from watching my father work as much as he did during my upbringing, that as a child I was a sponge and what I witnessed was then ingrained in me and I was bred this way. Sure, I can place the onus on my upbringing and that lens was shaped to see life from this perspective. I can then say it is because of the world I live in — this narrowed view that we must “do” more, and when busy equates to success, resting is no option.

Fast track 30 years later and I have learned to take ownership of my actions, behaviors, and my life. Realizing now my addiction to keeping busy was only a distraction from the inner turmoil and dark pit of depression that was often too comfortable to sit in. So I resided to working as much as possible to cut the probability of crawling into my darkness.

Not surprisingly, the work I did was never satisfying. It leached the life from my soul and dampened my spirit to the point that I lost touch with what fulfilled me. Looking back, it astounds me how I did it. The resilience to keep going despite the dragging weight of depression on your back and the anxiety choking at your chest. You just keep going. For someone like me, who kept piling on the tasks, you begin to understand that when you do stop, everything will hit you like a car crash. From knowing this, you do not stop. You lack the appreciation of rest. And you quickly believe you are unworthy and undeserving of anything more.

The reality though, is there comes a point in your life when you do wake up. It’s as if the universe is nudging at you, reminding you there can be more to life than this. You catch a glimpse of what a nourishing and fulfilling life can look like. Once you feel this, nothing will ever be the same again. This feeling begins its rise to the surface and sits there patiently waiting underneath your skin, but the pressure to be released into the world is palpable.

The warrior within you stands up and says this is enough.

You are enough. You are worthy of more than this.

So I humbly accepted that I played the role in working myself to the point of illness. I will not point the finger at my father or my upbringing or the fast-paced world I was born into. Hell no. This is a story of a woman taking ownership and taking back control of her life. I am a woman who has lived dark days where the depression has carved deep lines into places where no one can see. Instead of the shame I riddled myself with in the past, I now see that as courage.

I have vowed to take space and step away from working too much. To sit and converse with depression and anxiety, to embrace those parts so familiar to me. To ask. To understand. To question. The vulnerability in creating space after years of distraction is just as difficult as the first time I walked into my well of depression. The intimacy of learning about yourself, really honoring all parts of you, shadowy, awful pieces you may feel shame about, it’s beautiful. And I believe when we create space in our life, the universe will rush in and gift us with profound change.

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