Running Helped Save My Life
Running to me is like water to a fish. It’s like a sixth sense that overshadows the other five senses. It’s the way I’ve learned to connect to my inner self: You know, that passion for life that comes from the soul. It’s my way of connecting with Earth, and escaping a world dominated by drama, judgment and negativity.
However, most important of all, running literally helped save my life by helping me find my purpose.
By the time I turned 20 years old, I was beginning to spiral into the deepest pits of depression. I hated my career, and it began to show in my work ethic. I had lost someone due to a very unexpected tragedy. I had been betrayed by others who said they would always be there, but they vanished in the wind. Truthfully, I even betrayed myself by allowing others to convince me to make business decisions that I didn’t feel were right. I woke up every morning disgusted with myself and went to bed every night with a prayer that I would simply not wake from my sleep. It finally got to a point where the disgust stopped, and I simply didn’t feel anything, anymore. The terrifying truth is: I went through all of this and hid the pain from everyone I knew with a smile.
Wearing a Mask of Happiness
Before depression, I believe people would have described me as humorous and always smiling. Ironically enough, they would’ve said the exact same thing when I was at the darkest points of my life. For more than 5 years, I did a great job of covering it up. When I finally opened up, the vast majority of people were honestly stunned. I’ve joked that I deserve an Oscar for that performance, but honestly, as I write this, I still don’t know how I kept things under wraps so well.
And my depression went a lot farther than hurting on the inside. I attempted suicide three different times over the course of the five years. Somehow, I still kept that covered up—even from my own family.
I’ve heard a million times how suicide is a selfish move on one’s part. To those people, I just pray you never have to find out. Did I ever think I would end up in that mentality? Absolutely not! However, I did.
The Turning Point
Fortunately, my final attempt was my turning point. It was a sunny August day. Warm but not hot. Actually, it was a bit on the cooler side for August in East Tennessee. Really, there was nothing about that day or even that week that “triggered” me. I just woke up and decided enough was enough. I was tired of waking and not feeling any emotions. I merely existed, and nothing more.
That day, I drove to a cliff that has a special meaning to me. Lots of happy memories there, and I had hoped that would be enough to change my mind. However, my distant happy memories had simply changed to painful recollections of a life that would never be.
If you are reading this and struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You matter! We need you! Don’t give up! Call now.
I sat down and wrote out a substantial letter. A letter that was meant to be my final goodbye. Pain and tears poured onto the pages. I finally said everything that I had bottled up for so many years. After completing the letter, I walked to the ledge. I looked out at the beautiful scenery, but still, I didn’t see beauty…only pain. Then, out of nowhere, I heard a notification on my phone. I probably had 800 from that day, but none caught my attention. That single tone woke me up.
The notification was from a post someone made on Instagram. Strangely enough, I don’t even receive Instagram notifications, so it was obviously a miracle that it caught my attention. I sat down, read the post and cried like a baby. The post itself didn’t have anything to do with depression or suicide. What it did have was a positive message that I needed at that very moment. I gathered my things, drove home and finally opened up to my family about what all I had going on.
The Therapeutic Power of Running
From that point, I immediately began therapy to unravel the years of pain. My therapist suggested finding something small to give my life some happiness. “Find something that makes you happy, and run with it.” I apparently took that challenge too far and re-embraced running as a part of my life. (I used to love running but had stopped when my depression peaked.)
My love for running officially began again when a coworker asked me to join a group that was training after work for a half marathon. I thought maybe that would be something I could learn to enjoy again.
It wasn’t long before they convinced me to run the half marathon with them—after only 3 weeks of training. The race itself was the definition of a disaster. I rolled my ankle about one-third of the way in. I got stuck in the longest prayer in the history of prayers. (That’s a story for another day.) I even forgot to use the bathroom before the race, and after drinking tons of water, that proved to be a big mistake. However, after a difficult journey to the finish line, I made it. That very moment… I felt joy and pride in myself again.
Two weeks later, I was running another half marathon. I even shaved about 30 minutes off my previous time. (That’s not that big of an accomplishment if you knew how bad my first time was.) Another race followed and then another. Until finally, my friends stopped asking what my weekend plans were and simply asked where I would be running that coming weekend.
On the trails, it was like nothing bad going on around me mattered. I simply was at peace, running in nature. I even decided to take my runs to the next level to start listening to audiobooks on my runs verses music. Believe it or not, it actually helped my finish times.
Nothing could ever convince me to go back to those dark days. However, I would not trade them, either. By opening up about my depression, I’ve witnessed so many others who were struggling open up about their own journeys. It’s sad because, with so many stigmas surrounding depression, they have always been afraid to speak up. I’ve since started replying, “If we don’t open up…who will? If we don’t take care of each other…who will?”
After seeing the power I have in sharing my story, I knew I had to do everything I could to share it with as many people as I could. So in 2019, I’m traveling across the country to run 50 different races and tell my story. It will be tiresome, stressful and costly, but I believe the importance of sharing surpasses all of those cons.
I hope you will follow along on my journey this year and learn about ways you can help support the mission. You can find me on:
How Can You Help?
(An Editor’s Note from Racertrips)
There are multiple ways to support Nathan’s #50FORLIFE Campaign:
- Follow him on social media and help spread the word by sharing his posts and using the #50FORLIFE hashtag.
- Donate to his GoFundMe campaign to help offset the cost of race entries, travel, food and fuel.
- Buy #50FORLIFE swag—t-shirts, backpacks, even a plush running cactus—on his website, RunningCactus.com.
- Become an official sponsor for part or all of his 2019 journey. Email Nathan for details.
Nathan is a 25-year-old runner from Knoxville, TN. He’s completed 3 marathons and countless half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks. He primarily runs road races, but prefers a good challenging trail race. He returned to running in 2017 after a serious battle with depression. Running gave him his life back, and he loves sharing his story! In 2019, he is embarking on a 50 Race Challenge, during which he will run 50 races over the entire year. He is so excited to have this opportunity to share his adventures across the United States. When he’s not running, he’s either cooking, listening to music/playing piano, traveling or idolizing Dolly Parton. (“Isn’t she a gem?” he says.) Oh.. he is also chasing around his two dogs: a Dalmatian named Pongo and a German Shepherd named Jafar.