[[Happy to return to the Running Through It series; today, Cathy, a Colorado-Springs-based #motherrunner shares the story of her teenage daughter Lily, who suffers from anxiety + depression. "Lily has always told me it is ok to share her story," says Cathy, "She wants others to know what living with anxiety and depression can be like."]]
When my children were younger, the days were full of joy, energy, and play. We stayed busy with friends, library reading programs, hiking our favorite trails, messy craft projects, and knock-knock jokes. I tried to find the balance between not too busy and not too much down-time.
Really, I was like any other mom who was trying to do her best. And yet, when my daughter was 8 years old, a tiny voice whispered in the back of my mind, “I think there’s something wrong with Lily.”
When all you want is for your kids to be happy and healthy, that tiny voice scared me beyond words. And as another year or two went by, despite my best efforts to silence that voice, fear began to creep into my heart that, indeed, something was not right.
Lily, who had always been a spitfire and was adored for her strength, began to seem unable to control her anger. Her separation anxiety when she was away from me, which had seemed normal for a toddler, morphed into crippling anxiety about leaving our home. Her silly sense of humor, which had always entertained her peers, started to alienate her as she began to have a difficult time relating to others. By the time she was 10, we were seeking help with a counselor, and not long after that, while her world continued to deteriorate, a psychiatrist.
When Lily was in 5th grade, our lives imploded. At this point, her anxiety was so bad she could not go to school. Her anger was so random we were walking on eggshells. More days than not, she curled up on the couch and cried for hours on end. The diagnoses came with the weight of the world—Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and probable Bipolar Disorder.
It was too much. She was suffocating. We were suffocating. The walls closed in.
About this time, my running began to take on a more meaningful role in my life. I had been running since college, but always for fun and always casually. When Lily’s illness started to consume our family, running was no longer for fun, it became a necessity. To get outside and breathe fresh air, to feel my legs burn and my arms pump, to remember that I was someone outside of this miserable illness that was swallowing my daughter, and to prove that I could run 5 miles, 7 miles, 13 miles.
The more chaotic the mental illness symptoms were, the more diligent I became in practicing self-care through running. I failed miserably in self care in other ways, like letting people help us—this is a whole other issue entirely, but it’s hard to talk about mental illness still to this day, and people were put off by Lily’s symptoms—but I made sure I could still run, often getting up at 4 am when Lily was most likely to be asleep.
The past several years have been excruciating. Lily is enrolled in an online school so she can stay home, but she needs much assistance from me. Most of my day is spent as caretaker to her. Each week is filled with counseling appointments and therapy. We are on our 4th counselor and 3rd psychiatrist. Insurance is a nightmare, while psychiatrists and counselors switch practices, retire, and sometimes just aren’t a good fit. Most don’t take our insurance and we pay out of pocket. We have tried multiple medications, some with horrific side effects, and seen minimal success.
We have rearranged our lives, lost friends, ended family vacations, questioned our faith, enacted a suicide prevention plan, and learned not to plan for things more than 24 hours in advance. But the very worst of all is that Lily has been robbed of some of the best years of her life. She has had to watch former friends move on in the world, go to Homecoming and Prom, start to practice driving, and earn more independence. She wishes more than anything to not feel sad, to not feel anxious, to not feel incapable, to not feel worthless.
Lily is now 17, and I can happily say that she has experienced more stability from her illness recently. While other parents cheer their children’s grades or college acceptances, we cheer for Lily’s ability to walk into a store by herself and purchase something. We cheer for days she gets dressed and takes a walk. We cheer when we see her smile. We cheer her endless courage and relentless fight against a misunderstood and monster of a disease.
In a word, she is spectacular.
When it comes to mental illness, routine and health are vital. I have found that routine and health are vital for caretakers, too. Even better, for me, were running goals. During one of Lily’s harder years, I decided to begin heart rate training with the Train Like a Mother Club.
I ran my first marathon, and I was hooked with the training plans and accountability from so many other amazing BAMRs. On Lily’s worst days, when nothing went well, I could tell myself, “At least you got to run today.” I could continue to care for her because I had taken the time for myself. When my marathon training was finished, and my first marathon was successfully under my belt, I wanted more. More structure. More goals. More love.
Four training plans later and this fall I finished my first 50k, essentially giving mental illness the middle finger. I want to go longer, farther, higher, harder. “Come at me!” I inwardly scream at this disease. “You can’t stop us!” In 2019, I want to run my first 50 miler.
There is no end with this illness. There is no cure. We hope and pray for long seasons of stability, and we brace ourselves for when the bottom falls out. I doubt I will ever reach the finish line of this particular race, and that is why I am so, so grateful to be a BAMR and have other finish lines to cross. I celebrate them with you.
And to all the other mothers out there who are raising a child with ongoing medical needs: Run.
Buy the running shoes even when the medical bills pile up. Run.
Invest in a goal race to keep you looking forward to something. Run.
Run for your own sanity.