Confession: I Race To Fight Depression

Depression is a real disease. I live with it every day. No, I have not been formally diagnosed and I have never been on medication for it either. This is a genetic issue that killed my father, his father and his father’s brothers plus countless others in the lineage. I know this because I watched it. I saw first hand what depression and self medicating can do. It can kill. Now he also had other issues I won’t go into but it was palatable and real. It was what ultimately what tore apart our relationship and his 18 year marriage to my mother.

Now, I know self medicating is not the answer. At least not with controlled substances. So after some serious mistakes and run ins with the law, I decided to change my life. I knew I couldn’t live this way and I certainly couldn’t go down the same path as my father. I swore a personal oath that I could never go that route. So I changed. And you can too.

Running and triathlon gave me a freedom I can’t explain. When I signed up and crossed the finish line of my first 5k in May of 2013, I knew I had found something. When I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon, I felt something in me change. My training couldn’t even really be called training. I mean, it was but it wasn’t any kind of organized, regimented or planned. I just kind of got in the pool. I thought I was gonna die after 1 lap. But I was determined and simply added to it. Same with running my first quarter mile. When I got on the bike for the first time in over 15 years, I knew I would just break in half. I just KNEW IT! But I didn’t. And I rode. And I practiced and I registered and finished. It was that simple to me. A task to be completed. But I digress….

I was forever changed by that finish line. My husband and 2 small children were there to cheer and see me cross which I loved but if I’m honest, if they hadn’t been, my joy would have been the same. I had finally found something. Something that was mine. 100% all mine! I didn’t have to share it, I can do it on my own, I can train at a gym that watches my kids, and I had time to do it. I was a stay at home mom and caregiver. This meant I finally had something to get me out of the four walls I felt trapped in.

Depression is an unexplainable loneliness which can often breed a sense of feeling trapped. It’s hard to imagine when you have so many people around you, even people who love you but you simply don’t feel like enough. You’re not good enough for them or the attention you seek. For me, I am constantly thrill seeking and thusly, looking for ways to make those I love proud of me. This is a fruitless venture. Not because they aren’t but because once they recognize me and tell me so, I’m on to the next way of doing so again. Maybe it’s a bigger event or harder challenge or more extravagant project.  Whatever it was, I was on a never ending trip down a path that lead to nowhere. I would realize this and self medicate. I would self medicate with alcohol and allow my inhibitions to fall so I could seek the next thrill without fear of repercussions or failure. In short, I’d get drunk and do as I pleased. This is bad and certainly not a way to deal with your problems. It was also a great way for me to manage stress. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a stressful person. I understand and empathize with those suffering from anxiety but have never really had an issue with it myself. I’m pretty laid back. My demon is definitely depression. I get sad and lonely and beat myself up about not being enough, so I’d drink and hang out with poisonous people who didn’t care about my well being and dig myself a hole deeper than I wanted but didn’t care much because I was fucking depressed! I was already sad about my situation so what did I give a shit if it got worse? Again, I digress….

So here I was, depressed and lonely as a stay at home mom (which, if you know any stay at home moms, talk to them. It can be a VERY lonely place whether you suffer from depression or not. Maybe you never have but BAM you become a sahm and all of a sudden depression creeps into your life) to a toddler and pregnant. I knew the moment I had another one on the way I had a choice: Keep going down this same road OR make my own damn road and make a change. Well, I’m not one to cower in the face of a challenge. I’m way too damn competitive. So I stepped up and decided to change. My triathlon story is short and not very exciting so I’ll save those gory details but I can tell you that it saved my life.

 

It was that thing, my niche, my thrill beyond thrills I had been seeking for so long. And it was all just for me. I could internalize the thrill of crossing the finish line as something that was there for me. But then they kept cheering. And I found a thrill in cheering for others as well. This was something I needed. Something I’d always wanted but didn’t know how to find. Then I was hooked. My first season I raced 6 or 7 times. It was nuts but I was a junkie for that thrill. I found that by the end of the year though, I was dogging that last race. I was tired and feeling run down. The next season, I found a tribe. A group of folks who loved to race and train like me. Their racing resumes were much more impressive but that only challenged me further and got me excited for the future. Hanging out and training with these people gave me hope and filled that void. I had people to admire, look up to, follow and talk to for long hours on the bike or run. It was incredible! And what a nice community!! “What are you training for?” is always the first question out of any fellow racers mouth when you meet them. OMG! Are you serious? You’re actually interested in what I’m training for?! I was shocked and elated. THIS is when I fell in love with training. It got me out of the house and I was able to commune with nature, not a bottle at a bar. I met people who were interested in what I was doing and who I was SOBER! I was able to exercise and watch my waistline deteriorate, not my brain or my well being. I gained self esteem, self confidence, and a sense of purpose.

Now I was not the depressed type with suicidal thoughts. I dealt with that as an adolescent but not an adult with 2 kids. I knew I had a reason to live and keep going, I just didn’t want to do it sober. I was too lonely. But when I drank, I didn’t care. Even when I was at home alone. Now I still drink socially, but I recognize the difference and I am comfortable saying no. I no longer feel the need to party or lose my inhibitions and act like an idiot because these people know me sober moreso than they know me under the influence. They know the real me. The functioning, training, athletic me. This lead me to try my first 30 day stent without alcohol. I did it and was blown away that I could. Even through my period! And I felt GOOD! I slept better, woke up feeling better and was able to deal with more obstacles or problems that came my way without panic or pull towards the bottle. It was so liberating! I think my first drink back after that was for a birthday party or something (I honestly don’t remember). But that first buzz after a month off was scary. I didn’t sleep well that night and felt like crap after. I knew this was a choice now. My body had finally lost any semblance of tolerance and cleaning out my liver and bowels of toxins and junk was possible AND I felt better too.

But back to depression. Does the demon still rise? Absolutely. That thing doesn’t just evaporate because I have a renewed sense of purpose. It still lurks and lingers. But I’ve found a new weapon against it. Quitting sugar. When I did my first Whole 30 three years ago I was blown away by what it did for me. Changed my life! Changed how I approach food and my entire mentality towards food. I was no longer just feeding my body. I had to fuel it. This was incredibly important. Especially as an athlete (I still get flustered every time I think of myself in this context because I NEVER thought in a million years I would ever look at myself as such. Even as a youth playing soccer, I was never an athlete. I was just a dumb kid running around kicking a ball who could run pretty fast. But I never developed my skills or thought of myself in an athletic light) who needed to think about my GI tract and how it might affect my event. So I changed that too. Losing sugar allowed my hormone levels to equalize (this isn’t just about calories people. It affects your hormones more than you know) and my moods to stabilize. I was no longer moody. My anger and depression all but evaporated. I was happy! I had found inner peace between racing and this healthy lifestyle eating. It was incredible and I realized what so many in the industry had been saying about this being a lifestyle change. Not just a diet. Sure those are hot button words now that people roll their eyes at but I wanted to tell my story against depression so that others might identify and maybe be open to making similar changes.

This is not a blog to sell you racing. It may not be for you (or maybe it is). It’s more just an insight into the changes and improvements I’ve made that may lead to some you may have thought about. Maybe you battle depression, maybe not. Maybe you battle anxiety or other mental disorder that cripples you from achieving whatever dreams you may have hidden away. These dreams are possible! Or maybe you simply haven’t found that THING that is yours; your niche. But don’t stop. Don’t stop searching for it. Maybe it’s not fitness related. Maybe it’s art or music or a business venture or moving to a new place or something else. Whatever it is, find it. Do not be afraid to try new things, be open minded and experiment. Get up, get out and find others that are as passionate as you about something. It’s possible! You CAN!! Crawl out of your hole, or same four walls and GO! Living a healthy lifestyle is for EVERYONE! Not just the rich and beautiful. Sure I have chosen an industry to make a living in that relies heavily on aesthetics and superficial things controlled by time, but I don’t believe in that. So I push forward, the world be damned. I am the fittest, healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been and I intend to only improve upon that. I’ll never stop striving and you shouldn’t either. Don’t settle! Find what lights you up and sprint towards it. You’ll find that you are much stronger than you ever imagined. Your power is fathomless and you can do anything. Go find it. I believe in you. You should believe in you too.

Find what lights you up and sets your soul on fire. Let it consume you in its flames.     

 

Carrie Giordano