Truth be told, I wrote this post about a year ago. I’ve been waiting for the “right” time to share it, but something in the back of my mind was always afraid to. Today, as I gear up for a thirty-week training program for my first full Ironman, I feel compelled to share the reason why I decided to do this race in the first place. I also wanted to share my story because it might give someone out there hope and perhaps help them find the light if they’re lost in the dark, as I once was.
“Triathlon heals broken things, all you have to do is try.”
If you have ever met me in person you may have noticed the scars on my arm. Most of the time I avoid conversation about them. If someone asks, “What happened?”, I have learned to change the subject or just answer “Oh, you know, when I was a kid…” and attempt to change the subject as quickly as possible. The truth is, I suffered from depression and self-harm for most of my childhood and throughout my teen years.
I didn’t have the most perfect childhood, but then again, who does? I was raised by a mother who suffered from severe depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder herself. Over the years it developed more into, what was then called, split personality disorder or now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). I’d rather not go into the dirty details about it, but I will say it lead to some pretty scary situations when I was younger. The police were involved several times and there were open CPS cases against my mother. Over time I think we all began to see that her home was not the best place for any child even if CPS didn’t agree. My older brother and sister both moved out when I was about 12 and shortly after I was sent to stay with my older brother, who was still just a young man himself.
Over the years I attempted to remain close to my mother. As her illness worsened she was prescribed more and more medication. The cabinet under her sink looked like a pharmacy and I remember her in and out mental institutions many times. When I got into high school, I attempted to move back in with her, but we fought endlessly. She would have episodes where she wasn’t herself, but one of her alters and it frightened me. She attempted suicide a few times during these episodes and, once in particular, I remember having to remove the knife from her hand. Because of the medication she was on, she would also have seizures and blackouts and would need emergency assistance. It was about this time that I began to self harm. It was a very dark time for me. I had been sad and scared for so many years and it was confusing for me to understand her behavior. Both my sister and brother, who had always been my protectors, moved out and I was all alone with this “person”. I honestly didn’t know how to handle it. Being a teenager is hard enough, but when you live in constant fear, you cope in strange ways.
I moved back in with my brother for my sophomore year and things seemed to get better. My brother encouraged me to begin running cross country and try out for sports. I remember my coach really taking me under his wing. He was the first person that really showed an interest in me because of something other than my family troubles. He believed in me and, with his direction I lettered in cross country that year. Running became my outlet. It became the thing I did to survive. My brother and sister were both always by my side, but running was truly my escape. This birthed my love of the sport.
The time came for me to move out of my bothers house. My sister agreed to have me move in with her and her best friend. She had been through her own struggles, living in several different places over a short period while she struggled to finish high school and learned to support herself. By then however, she was stably providing her herself, in college, and roommating with her best friend in the house her mother had left for her. That year I was granted educational guardianship of myself so that I could join a work/study program and begin to support to myself. Honestly, I was just a kid and did what any kid would do; I went a bit crazy. I moved out and barely finished high school, but I did it with the guidance of my sister and her friend (who is really more like family now).
I decided that I didn’t need to go to college and charged head-on into the working force. I was caught up in adult life, but I was still very much a child. I stopped running, moved out of my sister’s after graduation and became very depressed. I knew I needed help so I made the decision to see a doctor who then prescribed me the anti-depressant Alprazolam or Xanax as its commonly called.Even now as I look back at it, I can’t recall anyone ever telling me that medication wasn’t the cure. After all, I’d seen my own mother take what seemed to be an endless supply of medication. In fact, I distinctly remember her and her doctors telling her she would need to be on medication for the rest of her life.
Over the next couple of years, I developed a dependency to these drugs. The more I took them, the more numb I became. My life seemed to spiral down further into depression and I took more and more medication. The time came that I too was having blackouts. I had started self medicating and I wasn’t taking the pills as directed. I was still self harming and anytime I felt anything at all, I took a pill.
Eventually there weren’t enough pills. I knew that I couldn’t stop taking them because when I did I would get sick with dizziness and nausea. I reached out to my family and finally asked for help. My sister and brother helped get me the treatment I needed. I was admitted to the hospital to complete a medically supervised detox for a week to wean myself off of the medication and then I entered an intensive out patient treatment. There I finally had the chance to talk to someone and begin working on me. I learned that self medicating and self-harm had been my only outlets and they were self-perpetuating. I also learned that I had stopped feeling anything at all. There was no happiness, there was no sadness, there was just emptiness. I also learned that I didn’t have to feel this way (imagine that!). I didn’t need to be empty to survive because I could learn to FEEL and LIVE again.
I can’t begin to explain what it’s like to have to learn how to feel emotion again. To learn how to cope with real heart-ache head on and sober, feel happiness and joy again and to be filled with the emotion that had been suppressed for so many years. I had so much help from my sister. She too struggled with her emotions regarding childhood but was always steadfast in her therapy to work through her feelings. Without her guidance, I don’t think I would have found the strength to make it through that time.
After about a year of therapy, I felt like I was starting to become me again. I finally decided to go back to school and I started living my life. My sister, who was now working on her PhD, was there again guiding me back to a positive life. I signed up for college classes, got an apartment, and tried to be a normal person. I poured everything I had into my education. I had a few relapses that first year and I stopped going to my counselor due to insurance issues, but I managed to maintain my recovery.
I met my husband about a year later and we got married. He had two small children and I was incredibly excited to have them in my life and be a mom for the first time. I also started running again and really began to remember how much joy it brought me. My husband was so supportive and we even got the kids involved and we all raced our first 5k together. After I completed my first half marathon, I knew that it was time to begin my journey. For so many years I had robbed myself of life. Here I was, with a family who loved me, I was in school bettering myself, and I was still maintaining sobriety!
For the first time it felt like there was endless possibility. I knew I didn’t want to waste this life! I decided to throw myself full force into running and that eventually lead me to triathlon. Things got pretty hard there for a few years. As I continued my education, I found myself struggling to balance work, school and family life. At one point I was in school full time, working two jobs, and trying to find time for my family. There were some pretty hard days. I can say without a doubt that training was the only way I coped. It gave me hope to have a race on the horizon. I gave me purpose and reminded me that the stress was worth it.
Every race was a celebration of my life and everyday I decided to go out and train, regardless of the reason or mood, I was celebrating my life. There was so many years that I didn’t think I could do any of this. There were so many times that depression clouded my sight of the future or that medication kept me from having hope. It felt like there was no tomorrow. It felt like I didn’t deserve happiness. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Today, I celebrate my life. I graduated college with a degree in nutrition (which I’ve also discovered is my passion). I continue to race triathlon, as you already know. This year I am celebrating 10 years free from depression, self-harm, and addiction. Of course there, are days that I feel down or scared but I know now that I DO have a positive outlet. I know that depression does not have a place in my life and neither does medication or self-harm. If I ever begin to feel those things again, I turn them right into training fuel. I look at my family and I cant even begin to think of what my life would be like without them. I’m strong for them just as much as I am for myself. Everything I do is for them. I want my children to see me and be inspired to do great things. If they ever experience self doubt, I want them to know that there is a positive way to work through their struggles and that medication is NOT the answer.
So here I am, about to train for my first Ironman. Why? Because this has been my journey. When I was little my brother told me about this thing called “Ironman” and said it was the hardest race in the world. I remember him saying that only the strongest athletes could do it. Here I am with years of triathlon and running experience under my belt, years of recovery and mental toughness built into my story. I know that I am that strong athlete!
When I cross that finish line, I truly believe it will be the ultimate celebration of life. Every training day spent represents a hard day that I chose to live through. Every time I made the choice to step out on the pavement or exhaust myself in a pool, I was choosing life rather than the vices that once held me down. I was choosing to keep going even when things felt unbearable. I’m grateful for my past. Without it, I would not be who I am today. The strength I gained from my experiences with addiction and self-harm have brought me to where I am today in my training. I have an Iron will and I know that I can overcome any obstacle. Crossing that finish line means so much more than becoming an Ironman; it means that I am so much stronger than my addiction ever was.
I’ve also decided to dedicate my journey to become an Ironman to a cause that is near and dear to my heart. Shatterproof is a national organization committed to protecting people from addiction to illicit and prescription drugs. More than that, it strives to end the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease. It is an organization that truly understands that addiction is a profound public health crisis. One of their many initiatives it to reduce prescription misuse and abuse. They advocate the mandate that both prescribing professionals and dispensing pharmacists utilize their state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and mandate prescribe education on evidence-based prescribing standards.
I will have more information coming in the near future regarding the local fundraising events I will be hosting throughout the year. For now, if you would like support my cause by making a donation, join my team to help raise funds, or just leave me a message of support please feel free visit my Shatterproof Fit page here for more information. I hope you’ll take this journey with me and help spread the message that #weareshatterproof.
Priscilla is Dallas/Ft. Worth based nutritionist and blogger.