Thursday, October 20, 2011

Running as Therapy / Antidepressant

My friend Michael on Facebook posted this graphic yesterday, prompting a string of responses.

In close succession, NPR had a link to a story that now 1 in 10 Americans takes antidepressants and nearly 1 in 5 women aged 40-59! That's my demographic.

Then for some reason, this photo of me, taken in October, 2008 (three years ago if you want me to do the math) popped up again on Facebook causing me to think about my own relatively short running history in relation to antidepressants.

Few people know that I was on antidepressants for about 18 months and had stopped not long before this photo was taken.  I had a prescription-happy doctor and in hindsight, I wasn't depressed so much as incoming stress levels exceeded my stunted stress release resources. I had returned to school for my PhD, I had two young kids, we were building a house (that was a saga, yikes), and I was out of shape and unhealthy. I slept horribly and had stomach problems. Easy fix - antidepressants!! They are commonplace and no big deal, right?

No one ever suggested exercise or eating better. No one warned me that weaning off of antidepressants could have some very unpleasant side effects.

Fortunately I found running and training -- and a healthier lifestyle to go with it. One of the postings under the Running, Cheaper than Therapy image above was a woman who said I want to learn to run, is that weird? I jumped on that. NO! Not weird at all. Outside of being forced to run the mile once a year in school for gym class, I had never run until age 41 either. I had no running shoes, no clue, and all I could do was dare myself to run from one mailbox to another around a really small block. 

In the photo above I had been a runner for just 8 months and had finished a 15 mile trail race, my longest run at that point. I was genuinely happy (and sore!) throughout every fiber of my body. There is no pill that can make you feel THAT happy.

I'm not saying that some people don't truly have biochemical imbalances that can be helped by prescription antidepressants. I'm just saying I'm not one of them.

Running saved me. Running, and now triathlon, helped me find true joy and gave me the resources to better cope with stress. Are my stress levels lower now? Am I less busy? No way!! But endurance sports are my antidepressant, they are my endorphin rush, they are my quiet refuge from sensory overload. I am the happiest I have probably ever been in my adult life.

So now how do I/we get more people thinking "I want to learn to run" (or bike, hike, swim, etc) and then help them to make it happen? How do we change a culture that thinks pills are the answer to so many things including happiness? I don't really know, it's daunting. But I do remind my husband regularly that Triathlon is cheaper than drug addiction and rehab.

Run happy! 23 days till the Richmond Marathon!