by Louis Solano
You are not alone – this is true during a road race and in our everyday lives.
My story began during the summer of 2009. For many years, I suffered from depression and anxiety, for which I did not seek help. Some days, the anxiety was overwhelming, like I was drowning. Other days, the depression felt like a 100lb weight crushing my mind and body. One day that summer, I attempted suicide. I didn’t commit and that’s when I knew I had to ask for help. That day, I began my own journey to believe in and love myself.
I immersed myself in running during this time to help conquer my depression and anxiety. Years later, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful before I turned 30 – so, I decided to run a marathon. Up to this point, I had never raced more than a 5k, and although this seemed to be a daunting task, something inside me gave me the willpower to tackle it. I researched and chose a training plan, followed it as best as I could, and in 2014, I ran my first marathon in Corning, NY.
I traveled by myself that weekend and just as the race began, a beautiful, cool breeze blew past me. While running the 26.2 miles, complete strangers were cheering me on. On one street corner there was a brass quartet playing the “Rocky” theme song. On another, a local business owner was standing outside handing out water to all the runners who passed by. Even though they all were complete strangers to me, I believed they were there to help push me along the way. There were times I needed to walk and catch my breath. And every time I did, I heard people chanting – “You got this!” and “Keep going!”. So, I did – all the way to the finish line. The high I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It’s a feeling I still get every time I cross a finish line.
A few years later, I joined a running group. I didn’t know anyone and allowing myself to open up to others was difficult at first. Over time, I slowly trusted and welcomed these fellow runners into my life – not realizing at the time that these people would be helping me through tough times and also joining me in celebrating the good.
A couple of years later, my Dad passed away. He was my first best friend and to lose him was heartbreaking. Shortly after he passed, I was sitting outside on my deck when I felt the warmth of the sun shining down on me, and a cool breeze blanketing me. I truly believed this was his way of reaching out to me, comforting me and letting me know he was by my side.
A couple of weeks after his funeral, I ran the Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon. As I ran the course, there were several times I again felt the sun radiate on my face and a light cool breeze run across my back. Although my Dad was never able to see me race in person, that day I felt him, and he was saying “Keep going, I’m proud of you.” To this day, I have kept running a priority in my life and have recently set new PRs in a few races. The greatest moments have been seeing my friends at the finish line sharing in my accomplishments.
Sometimes I think about that day in 2009 and realize that if I had fully committed to what I was attempting to do, I would have missed out on a lot of joyful moments and amazing friends. It hasn’t been easy – I’ve had moments where I’ve stumbled (and sometimes fallen) but I have picked myself up, dusted myself off, and I kept going. I have accepted that my recovery has not been (and will not be) perfect, but I also know that I can make mistakes, because I will learn from them, and move forward. Instead of focusing on the missteps, I focus on where I want to finish.
It’s hard for people with depression or anxiety to always “see the forest through the trees.” At any moment, the anxiety can rush back in like a tidal wave or the depression can sneak up and snatch you like a predator. There are times when it may feel like your pain is only yours to bear; like no one in the world will ever understand you. If you are suffering, please remember, there are people out there who can help. If you feel like one professional is not working for you, seek out another. Keep seeking them out until you believe they are the right fit for you, and you are getting positive results.
Equally as important is to be true to yourself. It’s not always an easy thing to do (especially during these last few pandemic years), but it will be worth it in the end. If you don’t know who you are, then explore yourself – don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, try new things and find what brings you joy.
For those who do not suffer from depression or anxiety, I ask this one thing of you – be understanding and be kind. You will not always know everyone’s story, so what you say or do may have a profound impact on them. Sometimes a person just needs an extended hand or an ear to listen and nothing more. Someone who opens themselves up needs a genuine person to be there. There is nothing more beautiful than two people allowing themselves to be vulnerable. Regardless of your story, there is always hope. You are not alone because we are not alone.
Louis Solano (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Latham is an avid runner, hiker, and longtime nerd (aka Trekkie, Marvel/DC Fan, and Star Wars Fan). He is a Research Scientist for the NYS Office of Mental Health. I would like to dedicate this article to my Dad who made me into the person I am today and to the group of friends whose friendship I cherish.