Ice has never really been my friend, but our relationship really hit a slick spot in December of 2013. I had trained for countless hours, mostly alone, for the Metro PCS Dallas Half-Marathon. I ran in freezing rain, sleet, and snow; I ran even after already running 800s and 1200s for our daily track workout. And I did all of this for nothing, because two days before the big race an ice storm hit Dallas and the race was cancelled.
I was heartbroken. I stayed in my room for hours crying because all my hard work had been wasted. Forget about the fact that every runner would be in danger from freezing temperatures and hazardous conditions – I wanted my medal. Within a few days the organizers of the race sent out a message that would become a beacon of hope. My medal wasn’t lost; I simply had to run in 2014 and cross the finish line. My mind went to work. “What if I can’t run it next year? What if I’m too busy? Who am I kidding? I HAVE to run it. I HAVE to get that medal.” And so, I decided right then that I would run the 2014 half-marathon, if for no other reason than to get the medal that meant more than any prize in this world to me.
Medals and marathons, however, soon became the farthest thing from my mind. The months flew by and before I knew it I had graduated high school and was peering through the door of a dark, musty college dorm room. In another instance my family was gone and I was left all alone. Tears became my closest companion from that point on. Let’s skip the formalities and get straight to the truth – I was miserable. All I wanted was to give up and go home, but in a few weeks I started classes and life seemed okay for a minute. Or so I thought.
Anxiety. It’s one small word, yet it’s had a huge impact on my life since the summer after 3rd grade. On May 20, 2005, we lost Jarid. He was invincible in my eyes; he was strong. I didn’t understand how he, of all people, could suddenly be gone. With every passing day, I struggled with these questions. With every passing day, my fear of death grew stronger. With every passing day, I was getting closer to THE day. The day I had my first panic attack. The first day that anxiety would win.
My friends could never know. No one could ever know. I learned to hide it, and through hiding it, I learned to control it until I was in a “safe place.” That place was always with my mom. I can’t count how many nights she spent doing absolutely nothing but calming me down. There’s no telling how many hours of sleep she’ll never get back. I thank God that He gave her to me every day. As long as I had my mom, I knew it would be okay. I drew strength from her and my anxiety took a seat on the back burner. I flourished in my last years at Velma-Alma and I was truly happy. I felt like I had finally won.
Ada and Velma are exactly 64.9 miles apart. Distance was all my anxiety needed to make a comeback. My mom couldn’t help me. She wasn’t there to hold me and say it was okay. My panic attacks returned. My life became fear. Fear became my life. I spent nearly every night curled in a ball, clutching to my bible for dear life. I gave up on everything. I gave up on the half-marathon. I gave up on the medal. I gave up on running, period. That’s when I knew it was bad. I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live like this anymore. After months and months of avoiding it, I made the scariest decision of my entire life. I chose to seek help.
My legs have never been heavier than they were taking those first few steps through the counselor’s door. I had cried all morning, taking breaks only to pray and call my mom. It was something I had to do alone. I had to come face to face with my anxiety. It’s absolutely terrifying to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror, but that’s what I did. I clung to God with every fiber of my being and somehow I found a little bit of hope again.
About two months before the marathon, I got an email that all the spots were almost full. I threw my phone down and ignored it, but I couldn’t get it off my mind. I gave in and filled out the information and paid the registration fee. Before I could even catch my breath it was December 14th and I was standing in a crowd of 20,000 people listening to the count down. In what felt like minutes I was running. My body wasn’t fully prepared for this race, but my heart was as strong as ever. I felt like I was soaring when I crossed the line and when they put the medal around my neck it was pure euphoria. I beat anxiety. I beat myself. On that day, I won.
Running and battling anxiety have a lot in common. Some days, it’s easy. You have the best run of your life. You beat your personal record. The crowd is cheering for you and everyone’s so proud. But some days, it’s all you can do to breathe. On those days, you need to slow down, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop. But the days runners live for are the days it’s hard. On those days, you get out of bed, lace up your shoes, and put one foot in front of the other. You face a hill that looks impossible to overcome, but then you do. When it’s all over you look back with sheer amazement at what you just did, what you’re capable of. You know then just how strong you are.
Every day will be a new day and it’s up to me to decide if I’ll win or lose that day. I know I won’t win every time. I’ve never met a runner who’s never lost a race. But when you lose, you don’t quit. You get up the next day and put your whole heart into improving. My newest medal means more to me than anything I’ve ever won, because on that day I won. I will also win the second I choose to hit the “publish” button. I will have told the world that I’m not perfect and that I do have a battle to fight and I know there are people who will judge me. But, if by reading this you can find hope to face whatever darkness lives in you, then everything I’ve suffered will be worth it.
“To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.”
Isn’t it ironic? To cross the finish line, you have to go through it, not around it. Keep hoping. Keep fighting. Keep running.