I’m a runner. I didn’t start that way. In middle school, I literally played sick so that I wouldn’t have to run the mile in gym class. I was chubby, asthmatic, and terrified of being embarrassed in front of the other kids. I attempted to play sports in high school, but did more bench warming than anything. However, I was now able to run several miles after months of practice. When I headed off to college, I began to realize that if I woke up in a bad mood, going for a run helped. I used to tell my roommate, that just happened to be my younger brother and best friend, “I gotta go run the angry out.” At that time 3 to 4 miles was the most I could run at a time, and that was just fine by me.
In my senior year, I had a friend that was a cross country runner. She convinced me that we could go for a six mile run. Since we were a part of a small group on a study abroad trip, I couldn’t hide from her encouragement. So off we went, and with a few running tips from her I realized that I was capable of a six mile run. I came to find our 6 mile runs so enjoyable, that I started going on my own. Because of her help, 6 miles became and still is my go to distance for what I consider a “fun” run.
In my next phase of life, I met and married my kid’s Mom. Her Dad happened to be a 5 time Ironman, previous marathon winner, and just a great training coach. With his help, we learned tips and tricks to start running 10 and more miles at a time. Including, how to take nutrition and supplements to maintain your body throughout a race. However, as parents of young kids, we didn’t really have the time to regularly run those 10+ mile runs. Then after some time, our marriage began to end, and I found myself needing the longer runs to think about and process the end of our marriage. During that time, I also began to envision the unknown future that lay ahead.
It was during that summer of my divorce, during one of those longer runs, that I decided to run a marathon. So I set out to train for a marathon. I used the tips and tricks that my two “coaches” had given me, including how to flip my socks inside out to decrease blisters, what type of energy gel to use when, and how to know if you should end a race early to prevent injury. At the end of that summer, I successfully ran my first marathon. I ran at the pace I trained for, finished well, and felt good about the accomplishment.
I know what you might be thinking, “cool story bro, but what does any of this have to do with mental health?”
Well here’s the point. Mental health is a lot like running, and each of those coaches was like a good therapist or psychiatrist/psychiatric NP. They helped teach me the tools and skills I needed to improve at running. Just like a mental health provider works with you to develop the skills and tools necessary to manage life’s challenges. Or sometimes overcome previous damages to your mental health such as childhood or adult trauma. These mental health experts can help you to treat the depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, or other problems you’re experiencing. The skills those coaches gave me were practiced while training for a race, and I used them when on almost every run and even more so during runs that were posing a challenge. This is a great analogy for the skills you gain when working with a mental health provider to treat your mental illness. You may use the skills you learn in many of your everyday interactions, but you will rely on them during the difficult times in your life. By going to therapy regularly, following the therapists’ recommendations, practicing the skills in day to day life, you’ll be able to call them up when needed. For example, during a personal interaction that is not going well. Or during a time when a past trauma trigger occurs.
Additionally, just like the advice I was given on when to leave a race or end a run if it was doing more damage than good. A good mental health provider will help you evaluate the relationships in your life. The work can help you by improving the relationships that are positive and sometimes by helping you walk away from the relationships that are causing you harm.
I think of the recommendations I got for using energy gels and exercise supplements during long runs, as similar to the prescriptions our nurse practitioners write. Like the gels and supplements, the give recommendations for medications that can help patients in day to day or life or especially during particularly challenging times in life.
These valuable coaches, just like our therapists and psychiatric NP’s, have been key to my progress over the past 20 years. They helped me learn how to navigate those challenges of a longer race. They helped me develop the mindset to put in the work training, even when I didn’t want to. Then just like a psychiatric prescriber, the right coaches gave me guidance on when I needed items beyond what my body could naturally produce. These manufactured replacements helped return my body to a state of balance from the disruption that a long race caused. A psychiatric prescriber can help by recommending medication to help you return to a more regulated, balanced state. Just like a marathon, adult life is like a long, rewarding, sometimes challenging run. When you take care of your mental health, practice the skills that a good therapist will recommend for your unique situation, and if needed follow the guidance of an expert psychiatric medication prescriber you can sail through the challenges and look forward to running the race of your life. These mental health experts can help you get relief from the mental illnesses that you’re suffering from.