Today is Veterans Day and most appropriately Caitlin Jones recaps her recent Marine Corps Marathon experience on October 25th. However, she also shared the progress that she made to get here there. November 8–14, 2015 is Mental Health Wellness Week, Caitlin talked about suffering from depression. Depression affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year (source). Thanks so much Caitlin (IG) for sharing your story.
—- Caitlin Jones —-
Twenty-one months. Contrary to popular belief, that is not just the last time I “really” raced. Twenty-one months is how long it has been since I’ve been harboring a really huge secret. CAITLIN HAS SECRETS? BUT SHE’S ON TV, THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE! Yes, it has been twenty-one months since my brain commenced on what has become the longest battle with depression I’ve ever endured. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety on and off, very privately since puberty. Ranging from atypical dissociative behaviors, thinking everyone hated me, and plans A, B, and C on how to kill myself when it finally got too much to handle.
Yes, this is why I’ve been acting “irritable” and yes, this is why my training has been almost non-existent and my running an excruciating chore. That’s what depression does to you—it’s a black cloud that literally sucks everything you love about yourself and your life out like a vacuum and replaces it with an anvil that sits on your chest. Once you’re good and down on yourself, you begin to start what I like to call the “spirals of worry”… a worst case scenario is every scenario in your head, the anvil gets heavier, which makes your breathing impaired which then gives you the spins until you can only see through a tiny pin-hole and eventually throw up. These are my panic attacks. This was, at its worst, a three-reps a week occurrence.
These, riddled with thoughts of “everyone hating me,” and “I’ll never get any better” are what made taking daily showers and making it to work at a reasonable time seem like I deserved a gold medal. Then, in spite of it all, I signed up for three marathons within this time. Anytime I came close to “goal pace” in a workout or an extended period of time in a race, I eventually would spiral and sabotage myself into failure. Disappointment after disappointment, I admit to putting more thought into my “escape plan” than into my marathon prep.
Eleven months. That’s how long ago after great encouragement from a dear friend and my therapist; I finally “caved” after my long time aversion to drugs. I began what would become a journey of trial, error, weight gain, and relief. Starting antidepressants and psychiatric medication is a lot like training for a marathon. You have up days and you have down days—every day is a “workout” and “every mile counts.” You can’t get your PR without putting in the work.
The training for mental health is extremely rigorous and just like a rainy or snowy day; sometimes it’s tempting just to “skip it.” That includes changing how you eat (which is why I became a vegetarian), deepening my yoga practice, practicing daily silent meditations, seeing my therapist twice a week and my psychiatrist once a week, committing to a fixed daily medication schedule, seeking out opportunities to be made accountable for showing up (which would force me to leave my house), and employing an emotional support animal. Before explaining this long training cycle, I have to take a minute to thank some special people on the team who knew what I was going through and went out of their way to help me stay on track. At the time it all seemed like a never-ending vortex of despair.
First and foremost, I have to credit my sister Megan. Whenever the “depression was talking” as my therapist likes to say, and I thought no one would miss me if I were gone, I would just think about Megan. One time when we were kids I packed up a knapsack with a puzzle of the 50 states, a few pairs of underwear, and some Pop Tarts and said I was running away to Idaho to grow potatoes (the map had facts about each state on the back). It was about 9pm and our mom had already put us to bed. Megan was about 6 and she was a very sensitive kid. Well, I’ll never forget she just started wailing. Then she grabbed one of my legs and was begging me not to go. Whenever Megan would employ her “tough love” and force me on a long run with her, or criticize if I had alcohol (a no-no if your medicine is not yet regulated), or just sleep over my house to make sure I would shower the next morning and get to work on time— then I’d remember running away with the puzzle and how much this one person would miss me. Even if I wanted to give up, I knew how much it mattered to Megan that I got better even though at first, I’d think she was a bully and get mad.
Next, I need to thank Tatyana, my neighbor and now one of my closest friends on the team. Your dragging me out the door from watching trashy reality television for runs and long talks reminded me that not everyone hates me and I can still keep up with the fast-ies on a good day. You’re one of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever met (it’s because we’re both Leos)! Never once did you make me feel like I was weird or damaged because of anything I was going through. You also were an amazing support for Megan who was taking on so much of the burden I was carrying and were probably more of an older sister to her than I was at that point. Thank you so much for being there. Without you, Megan and I would probably hate each other by now.
Last but not least, Coach 40. It still amazes me that after so many missed workouts, you still will make me a plan to “BQ” no matter what point I come to you and admit where I’m at emotionally. Your belief that I can still make a come back and achieve my goal is honestly the only reason I think it could happen too. Thank you for all the time and dedication you have to our team and this sport. The “check-in log” system is literally the only reason I would get out the door on some days because I knew “Chris was looking.” Thinking not just of miles and workouts but also of how I can work on my “mental strategy” with positive thinking and visualizations really were a huge part in digging me out of the hole of depression.
After two failed attempts at a BQ (NYCM 2014 and M2B), I knew I had the odds stacked against me going into the MCM. If I ran 100 miles in that training cycle, that would be a lot. None of them were at pace. My nutrition was a mess. Physically, I was the least prepared for this race than I was for ANY race I’ve ever ran in my life. So, I had two choices: quit OR find another reason to run besides the finish time. The latter became my race-day strategy. I printed out a 3:30 pace bracelet which I knew was laughable–and then I wrote names of people I care about under each split. That mile was “for them” as a gift, or an apology, or a tribute for a specific person. Then, anytime I looked down to “see how I was doing,” I would think about that person and “what they’d be saying right now” or what they’ve been through in life or why I’m so grateful to know them. With this plan in place, a miracle happened: I never stopped running. It was the slowest pace I’ve ever run in a recorded race. The finish time is not one I’d engrave on the back of my medal but I NEVER STOPPED, I slowed down to a trot at times uphill or when the blisters from running with cotton socks in the rain (RUNNER 101 FAIL) got painful, but I was running a pace and it was FORWARD.
38 times. The number of photographs MarathonFoto captured of me SMILING while running what was probably the most grueling race of my life. It was physically taxing but I couldn’t NOT love every second of this course more. Literally, as I was crossing “the Bridge” which many fear at mile 20-22, I said to myself, “I hope this NEVER ENDS” and meant it. The guy next to me wincing looked at me like I was making a cruel joke. Maybe I was, but for as hard and painful as the run that day was, I’ve woken up far too many consecutive mornings feeling pain much worse with no promise of glory or a sexy Marine with shiny bling at the end. Many have heard me describe my first marathon experience as “Christmas morning” and I’m thankful enough to say, this year’s Marine Corps Marathon brought me back to that joy. The joy I find in my sport and in my life.
Finally, all the hard work and “training” was starting to pay off! Waking up in the morning and not wishing you didn’t is not just a relief, it’s down right exhilarating. You become thankful for the small smiles you get through the day—a cute baby or dog walking by, donuts, text or phone calls from friends, and even a quick recovery run. Thankful not just because reasons to smile exist but also because you remember too vividly what “lifting weights” to feign a smile feels like. Letting a smile and a sense of peace just become a natural part of my daily face—that’s what this race means to me. When I look at that sexy, shiny piece of MCM bling on my wall—I don’t think about a BQ opportunity missed, I think about overcoming the longest stretch of darkness I’ve experienced. I survived; even though I didn’t “conquer the course” I conquered my depression and that is a medal I will prize for the rest of my long life.
1,324 Whippets. That’s the number of teammates and friends following our Facebook group. I’m sharing my story with each and every one of you because statistically, 1 in 5 adults suffer from mental illness and too many suffer in silence. Psychology today marks November 8–14 Mental Health Wellness Week and if I’ve inspired just one person to start on the daunting road of mental wellness, then the time I spent typing is well worth it. Believe me, it IS possible and so worth it once you come out on the other side.