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Most Important Mile: Anonymous

mother runners from behind This Most Important Mile arrived via email a few weeks ago. I checked in with the mother who wrote it, making sure she was ready to publically share the trials of her daughter and family. She was, she assured me, but asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter, so we're honoring that wish. "One of the hardest parts of this whole experience is sharing," she wrote back, "We (the proverbial "we") live in nice areas, we have (generally speaking) happy, well-fed families. We have resources and good schools, etc. But drug abuse makes folks uncomfortable. As does mental health. It's hard to find that really good friend to listen and commiserate; it's a problem that's not in many families' repertoire for coping. And—and this is important—it's a problem a growing number of families are facing." 

One Monday this fall, I opened my daughter’s desk drawer to quickly shove the desktop contents inside before the cleaning ladies came.

I found heroin.

Yes, I freaked out. But with all my might and reserve, I resisted the urge to drive to her school and pull her out by her ponytail. When when I picked her up after school, I resisted the urge to scream at her all the way home. I resisted the urge to break down in tears in front of her, to show her how terrified I was. Instead, we—my husband and I—were the face of calm. We explained to her what we knew. The course of action we researched and were going to take. And what we expected from her.

On Tuesday I ran my scheduled 7 mile tempo run. My last hard run before my taper for my goal race.

The 2-mile warm up went well. I went over and over in my head the list of appointments I had scheduled, the list of phone calls I still needed to make, the list of hard conversations I still needed to have. 

Mile 3: the first mile of 3 at race pace. It’s a bit of an incline, but I got to my pace and tried to settle in. I started role-playing the tough conversations.

Mile 4: the straight-away. My pace slows slightly and I’m struggling to drop those last few seconds. The enormity of our situation sinks in.

Mile 5: This should be easy. I’ve trained for nearly 14 weeks, coming off a great spring training session. I should be hitting my race pace. But I can’t.

With every step, I’m thinking about my daughter, worried about the unknown, the implications this has for everyone in our family. My breathing becomes shallow and labored; my eyes well with tears. I stop with a half mile to go and just sit on the curb and sob.

I don’t know how long I sat there. Not that long, as I still had another child to see off to school that morning.

I’d like to say that I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and finished that run with the determination to make everything right.

But I didn’t. I ran home at a snail’s pace. Heavy heart, heavy feet.

Three years ago, when I started running, I thought that was hard. Getting myself back into shape. Waking up early regularly. Battling injuries and awful weather. Challenging myself to run that first mile, and then go further and further and further, to actually get to that half marathon distance. But I controlled that destiny.

Now I know, this is hard.

This—mile 7 and all the emotions that I'm carrying through it— is the most important mile of my life.

Turned out, it wasn’t.

My daughter attended an outpatient drug treatment program with ups and downs, but no relapses, and “graduated” after 9 weeks.

Amidst all this, I continued to train. I completed both my goal race and an extra—neither went well. It didn’t matter. We were finding our new normal.

Until we weren’t.

November 10, she called me from school in tears, afraid she might hurt herself. I can’t say I was surprised. Nothing at this point surprises me. Throughout her drug treatment program, I had wondered about underlying mental health issues, as her drug abuse seemed atypical of the other kids in the program.

Twelve hours later, she was admitted to a pediatric psych ward at one of the few hospitals that treats minors. She’s lucky she got a bed. It’s full of teenagers, and, so so sadly, a five-year-old.

Facebook is awash in pictures of kids in ERs with broken limbs and casts,; all with tons of “likes” and “oh-no” and “feel better soon” comments. But you can't post drug abuse and I-might-hurt-myself on Facebook.

Nothing equips you for the special psych ER room, empty save for one bed. Nothing equips you for the 10-hour wait for a transfer to another hospital, during which you can’t knit or write—needles and pens are dangerous—or even sit on the same bed with your hurting child. Nothing equips you for the scramble when you realize you’ll be stuck there for 10 hours, but your 10-year-old is waiting at home for dinner, your husband’s commuter train has been delayed, and you legally can not leave your troubled minor alone even though your house is .82 miles (via Garmin) from the ER. Nothing equips you for a diagnosis of major depression in your 16-year-old.

Nothing equips you for any of that. But you do what you have to do to move forward.

And for me, that meant waking up the next morning at 5 a.m., lacing up my shoes, and heading out. There was no scheduled tempo run this time around; I’m not in training for anything now. There were no tears either, as I think I’m completely dried out. But it’s important to run. To move forward. To take all those steps, as painful as they may be. I have no control over any of this, but running makes me the best parent I can be and puts me in the best position to help my daughter.

One by one I will take my steps, and make my mile. My most important mile.

The writer would be happy to connect with any other mother runners who are in similar circumstances; if you'd like to reach out to her, please email us at runmother [at] gmail [dot] com and we'll be sure she receives it. 

66 responses to “Most Important Mile: Anonymous

  1. Thank you for sharing this and starting the conversation – it’s so hard and not at all how we think being a parent will go. We found drugs in our kid’s room 2 years ago. As the situation unraveled we found out how long and how frequently it had been going on. We had no idea. Good grades blinded us to what was really happening. As a parent there are no words for how that feels – your child using drugs breaks your heart and scares you, being oblivious to it or unintentionally being in denial about the signs makes you feel like a failure. We kept it inside our immediate family, got the needed professional help and thought the problem was resolved. Until it reared it’s head again last year. But unlike the first time around I was approached by a friend who had heard the drug use was back. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there what it’s like – the helplessness, anger, the fear, the sadness, guilt. And then needing to put aside all of that crap to find the strength to help our child. I distinctly remember going for a run the following morning to a hill that I run hill repeats at. I couldn’t get to the top before I broke down crying and ran home. A year later, we’ve turned a corner again and I think the drug use is over. I have to type “think” because this has rattled my confidence as a parent.

    I hope the anonymous writer (and all of us) finds comfort in the responses here. We can’t know what others are carrying around unless we are open about it and then listen thoughtfully, without judgment. I admire her strength and courage to share her story.

  2. big hugs to you and thank you for sharing your story!

    I hope you are finding some solace in your running. they tell you to find a parent’s group but for many, those don’t help. taking care of yourself so you can be there physically and mentally for both your kids is the best thing you can do! (((hugs)))

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. Brave. These are the kinds of stories that NEED to be told. Thank you for giving others a voice to do the same. You’re right, these aren’t the stories being told on facebook or in our social circles…but every time someone like you takes that first step in telling your experience, doors are opened for the rest of us to do the same. My heart goes out to you and hurts with you…as a mother…a human. You tell your story and we as mothers listen and KNOW that this could happen to any of us…any of our kids. Mental illness…drug abuse…escape…personal pain…these things are REAL! So much more real than a broken arm on facebook. I hope we all continue to share and break the stigmas associated with difficult topics. Thank you so much. If you were in my town, I’d want to meet you for coffee and hear more.

  4. First, my heart goes out to you–you are living what all of us fear as mothers. Second, bravo to you for sharing this with us all. It’s a topic that needs public attention and I am quite sure you are helping others here. I’ll be thinking of you and saying a prayer for your entire family. All my best wishes to you.

  5. We need to talk about mental health issues more openly. My mom was manic depressive. My coworker son suffers depression. No one talks about this and its more common than you think. The son wishes he had any other disease so his friends would be more understanding. Why not just be more understanding about mental health issues? Until we all talk about it-make it the common thing it is, push for help, we won’t get there.

    Thanks for sharing your story. You are far from alone in this.

  6. Oh, I work in mental health, and have mental health issues in our own home, so, I can relate, I wish you patience and understanding. I also wish acceptance for you and those around your daughter, she needs that right now.

  7. My friend Kathy Brandt and her son, Max Maddox, cowrote a book about his growing up with bipolar disorder and depression. It is called Walks the Margins (or something close…Google them n the book) and is tremendous. I highly recommend it for both it’s message & lessons and also the quality of the writing.

  8. Thank you fur sharing. My father killed himself two years ago after a 7 year battle with drug addiction and depression. Running was and continues to be such an outlet for me. Prayers for you and your family.

  9. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your story. Many of us can relate as we struggle to raise teenagers. God bless!

  10. I am the mother of three girls, my eldest, 14, is struggling with undiagnosised mental health issues. No one really knows what is going on. She gets horrible headaches and stomach aches, cannot handle even the slightest disapointment in the form of “no” coming from her parents. She started councling last year and presented as a very normal teenager whos parents are overwhelmingly restrictive and contolling. Only, we aren’t. We have two other children who live with the same rules and face none of the challenges that she does. We sought out another therapist this year. One who much better versed in family dynmaics and anxiety issues. I see glimmers of hope and slices of coping skills being developed in my daughter now. But glimmers and slices are few and far between and I must consistently remind myself that 2 steps forward and 1 step back still still progress! It is so isolating b/c while friends want to understand, there is just no way to fully communicate the struggle. I cannot even fully express what it’s like in words. At times I feel utterly helpless to know what the right thing is to do to help her. I could easily wallow there. However, like this other mother, I set the alarm for o’dark 30, get up, lace up and go. Some days are like running through water, so slow and heavy, but thankfully not everyday. But the worst days are when I don’t lace up at all. Thank you for sharing and reminding me that one of my best coping strategies is to lace up and get out.

  11. i know exactly what you mean. We went through something similar this fall when when my son was diagnosed with anxiety. The phone call from school when the principal found him curled in a fetal position in front of the school because the fear was so intense he couldn’t walk through the door. The ER wait, the pediatric psych floor, even the scramble to find someone to watch the ten year old. Every day of waking up to this impending battle… Will I be able to get him out of bed today? Is the school going to call again? What if something happens that pushes him over the edge? I feel like I’m on a neverending tightrope walk, trying to find the balance of when to push him forward and when is it too much. Sometimes I feel like pounding out the miles is the only way I can breathe again. My favorite t shirt simply says Forward is a Pace, and I’m learning just how true that is. I’m praying for ya.

  12. Running is my therapy, my sanity keeper as well. I am so moved by your story and the struggles your daughter and your family face everyday. Keep running and know there are women out there who will be thinking of you on their next run

  13. Thank you for this. I lost my sister to a drug overdose and she was clinically depressed. I wish people felt they could talk about this more. If because of her loss thy I started running. I wanted to live my life and not just be here. Thank you for sharing. You have re motivated me this week and I will get up and run for you, your daughter and my sister in the dark, cold morning tomorrow because I can.

  14. you ARE strong! Blessings to you and for your family. I have a child with significant neurological disabilities – I understand how out of control life can sometimes feel. Just take onw day at a time and understand that none of us are immune – give your daughter a hug from me – I feel her pain and I hope she finds the solace that she is seeking. She is not alone and she is not judged. Peace be with you~ Jackie

  15. Thank you for bravely sharing your story. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be. As someone else mentioned, your daughter is lucky to have you as a parent, someone who is in it for the long haul and prepared to battle whatever comes her way. I’m so glad that you can get out and run so that you can be your best, strongest self for you and your family. Best wishes, positive thoughts and prayers to all of you.

  16. I too often skip past these posts, but am so glad that this one stopped me in my tracks. My children are still so young, but as a primary care doctor I see every day the impact of adolescent mental illness, and opiate addiction on teens and families. You are a fierce and powerful advocate. For your daughter and for others who are facing this now or have this in their future. We all need to do the work to make this world a safe, supportive, empowering environment for all of our kids. Keep moving forward, Mother Runner, one step at a time.

  17. thank you for sharing your story. Brings tears to my eyes and brings back the memories of some struggles we had with daughter as a teen. Bless you and your family as you take this on day by day.

  18. You are strong and brave and your daughter is blessed to have you. Thank you for sharing and I will be praying for all of you!

  19. I sit here crying, and thankful that you have shared your story with this communty. What an honest, amazng, emotional journey you have shared with us all. Sending best wishes to you and your family.

  20. Never before have I been so touched by one of these stories! As the mom of a 16 year old, I can only imagine the fear and pain the writer is experiencing. My thoughts and prayers are with you. It sounds like you are doing all the right things for your daughter…all you can do. I pray your daughter finds all the help she needs for a happy and fulfilling life. May God Bless You.

  21. Dear Anonymous –
    Thank you for sharing you very personal journey. At this time I cannot relate to parenting a child in this situation but have some familiarity. You are strong and brave. I can only hope that you have a good support network in place and are surrounded by love as you take each day. I am so glad that you shared this. Depression and substance abuse typically make people run for the hills when they should stay and listen. And care. And provide a shoulder or an ear or a cup of tea or a running partner. Or whatever it is that is needed at that moment in time to help you get to your next mile.
    Thank you again and no doubt you have already touched many in this mother runner community who will be thinking of you and your family in the days ahead.

  22. Dear Anonymous, I applaud your sharing your story, your reaching out to other mothers, and your working to take care of yourself through running in a difficult time. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  23. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for sharing your story. It is such a hard story to share, because there is stigma and judging that happens about us as parents.
    I’ve often wondered what my Most Important Mile would be. It could be the last mile of a 10 mile race, where I crossed the finish line and started sobbing, knowing our 9 yr old son was back in the intensive pediatric psychiatric ward after trying to kill us again because his psychosis was so bad. It could be the mile where I found myself having run to our church, and just sobbed and sobbed until I was all dried out because so many professionals have told us they don’t know how to help our son, who is now 10. It could be finishing a half-marathon with a friend and feeling completely free and useful to the world for once. But are those the Most Important? I guess they are all important when you use those miles to try to reset yourself so that you can face your child who is being taken over by mental illness, and try to advocate with professionals so that he gets treatment that may actually work, and try to keep the other two kids’ lives as normal as possible when they know it’s not. Maybe every mile is important because we as Mamas are actually doing something to care for ourselves, when it is so easy to get consumed by trying to care for the kids when mental illnesses are part of the lifestyle.
    I can’t relate to parenting a child with drug abuse issues, but I can relate to parenting a child with severe mental illnesses. It is exhausting, frustrating and disheartening. I am so proud of you, Anonymous BAMR, and all the other BAMR Mamas of kids with special needs, for keeping one foot in front of the other. We can do this.
    Love and peace,
    Cori

  24. Bless your hearts. Dealing with a child’s illness is never easy, and neither is staying on track with our own motherrunner training in the midst of struggle. I’m so glad you took care of yourself, one step at a time, so you can be fully prepared to care for your family. Best wishes to you all.

  25. You are so brave. You captured the pain, the love, the unknown so radiantly. I admire your willingness to post the truth because it’s so validating. I wish as a society we could make better sense of mental illness.

  26. Wishing you, your daughter, and family strength for this. So beautifully written and like others have said, I’m glad you shared. The BAMR tribe is sending you thoughts and love.

  27. thank you for sharing with us. I haven’t been through that myself but it makes me so sad that it’s so stigmatized because everyone needs someone to listen and comfort them; someone they can be honest with and open. I know illnesses like this aren’t something that’s peachy keen to listen to so I’m sure it’s hard to find a friend like that. I’m praying for your daughter and your family and praying for a friend to be there for you.

  28. I don’t always read these posts but I did today. And with tears in my eyes. I can’t relate. I have no words of wisdom or insight. But, I remember being that girl – not the heroin but the depression, the desire to unleash pain. I hope this brave, strong mother runner holds tight because there is hope. Many thoughts going out to them and anyone in this situation.

  29. I’m so sad for your trials, and even more so for your daughter. My husband and I have both struggled with circumstantial depression. It is a terribly consuming illness. I hope that you have people you can talk to about this struggle, or good friends who will hug you and cry with you even if you’re not able to share the whole story.

  30. Your words touched my heart. I wish you continued strength, both physical and emotional, as you and your family make your way through such a difficult time. Mental illness is much too stigmatized in this country. Thank you for sharing your story. Keep on, BAMR, keep on. 🙂

  31. Thank you so much for sharing. Mental illness and substance abuse aren’t “casserole illnesses,” are they? So glad you have those miles to help you navigate through. Keep running.

  32. I’m sitting here at work, reading your story, tears in my eyes. It puts things into perspective. Thank you for sharing and for opening up. I wish you all the best as you continue to run your miles, both on the road and with your family.

  33. Wow, this puts so much of life in perspective. God be with you as your family navigates this chapter of your lives. Addiction has affected many members of my family, and we are grateful that each one has come through well. They are the fortunate ones.

  34. Praying for you and your family. Keep running to be the best mom you can be. Your daughter will feel your strength. Could be any of us!

  35. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. You will be helping someone else and making others aware of these tremendous challenges – none of us are immune. Thank you.

  36. Thank you for sharing your story. All of us BAMRs out there know that it could just as easily be our families going through this kind of heartache. Know that we are with you in spirit.

  37. Thoughts and prayers to you and your family. I have family members going thru similar situations, both with addiction and mental health issues. You are not alone. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Thank you for sharing. I am sitting at work, fighting the urge to let years flow. Prayers for this mama and this family. So beautifully written.

  39. I am the older sister of a recovering addict. My later teens and early twenties were spent worrying about my brother and watching my parents silently attempt to keep every normal to everyone on the outside. Thank you for sharing! Stay strong, you are an awesome BAMR!

  40. I cannot imagine or pretend to understand what you and your family face each day but please know you are inspiring others and thank you for sharing your story. Even if it only helps one person, it is so important. Much love and prayers to you and your family!

  41. You are doing a great job! It is so hard not to lose yourself when your family is amidst a substance abuse and/or mental helth crisis. I commend you for continuing to take care of yourself, and for being such an amazing mother. It is so telling that your daughter was comfortable asking you for help, I wish you all strength on your continued journey.

  42. Thank you for sharing. I wish all the best for your daughter and your family as you work through this journey. It is something we all need to hear about and talk about. The problem is more prevalent than people know and only brave souls like you will be able to bring it to light so that we can try and find a solution.

  43. God bless you and your family. You are a brave and strong mother runner. Social media is all too often littered with the picture perfect fairy tale inaccuracies – thank you for sharing your story — you are not alone — especially in this community. Keep moving forward. Much love.

  44. This mother shows the true strength of a BMR! Most often it is the struggles that we can’t talk about that drive us to get out there and run. It is incredibly sad that this isn’t something she can openly share, I hope she knows that there are a lot of other Moms out there who would feel blessed to be there for her to just let it all out and talk. I know I would.

  45. Well, that was an emotional start to the day that I didn’t expect at all. I hope that this motherrunner knows that there are others out here who would grab and hug her and stand by her side, even though we are strangers. That we too have children, and that we never know what we might find when they open their drawers (or their hearts) to us. May she find peace on the road, and in her own home and heart, this holiday season, and through this tough time.

  46. Thank you for being so brave. Our family too is affected by childhood mental illness and it was always so hush, hush. You are an amazing, strong mother!

  47. MUCH love to this mother runner. This is such a beautiful and articulate essay that hits home for me. I think a lot of us use running as a way to process the struggles life throws at us, both past and present struggles. You really don’t know what kind of fight another person is going through and we all are fighting something. Stay strong mother runner, the tribe is rooting for you.

  48. God bless this mother runner – my heart goes out to her and her family. Her daughter is blessed to have this strong caring mother. She, her daughter, and her family are in my prayers that this struggle is overcome and that they move forward together in peace.

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