Rock Bottom: A Solid Foundation to Build Happiness On by Owen Milnes

I started running in the summer of 2011 on a whim because I thought it would help me stay in shape for wrestling. What I did not know then was that I would absolutely fall in love with it and quit wrestling after a few practices. Since November of 2011 I have been solely a runner, and I suppose I always will be in some way. It’s strange isn’t it? How what seems like a hobby can consume your life and manifest itself as part of your identity? It’s beautiful and also tragic, because when you’re physically unable to do the thing you love most in the world it takes a toll on your mental health. This is the story of how I sank into a near two-year depression, the story of how at the end of my first year of college I was absolutely miserable and ready to transfer, and most importantly, how the Running Club at the Ohio State University changed all of that.

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I suppose I should start at the beginning, or at least the beginning of my problems. Towards the end of my senior year cross country season, I had started to notice a pain at the bottom of my right foot, right below my big toe. I did not say anything about it, I had just broken 17 for the first time and I had a very real shot at being on a state-championship team. Nothing would stop me from doing what I had worked for 4 years to achieve, not the fact that I limped off the course after every race or how it worsened weekly. Sadly, a state title was not in the cards. We got second despite my best efforts, but one runner ran poorly and said that the team that won deserved it more than we did, and that he was happy with how he individually did and that’s what mattered. On the podium at National Trails Raceway in front of God knows how many people, I cursed him out, and we did not speak for months after that. The day after the state meet the girl I was going out with decided that she was better off with another guy she was simultaneously seeing because I wasn’t cool enough.

After that awful weekend, I took time off from running to let my body heal up and my foot got better. I resumed running again, intent on making it to the state track meet. I was still exceptionally unhappy with life- my relationship with my father was deteriorating, my heart was broken, and I honestly only had one friend at school, my best friend on the planet, Ed Walsh. I trained through December and January with minor aches and pains in my foot, running a PR in the 1600 on January 21st, a PR in the half marathon on January 22nd, and having a killer tempo workout on the 24th after a massive incident with a lot of the people on the team. On the 25th, I ran an easy run by myself in the afternoon and everything seemed fine with my body until about 4 in the morning when a sharp stabbing pain in my foot woke me up.

I panicked. I attempted to walk downstairs and get help but when I put pressure on my foot, I buckled. I limped down the steps using half of my foot and later went to the hospital for an X-Ray. They found no breaking or fracturing and gave me a boot to wear, telling me that rest would fix it. It didn’t so I stopped running indefinitely. Instead, I woke up before 5 AM every morning to drive 25 minutes to go swim for an hour before school started. After multiple misdiagnoses I went to see a foot doctor in early April. He immediately identified it as sesamoiditis, or damage to the sesamoid, a very tiny bone on the ball of the foot. The only way to fix it was surgery. But, I could at least attempt to finish out the track season and have the surgery over the summer before coming to OSU. I could potentially run at the state meet and then be able to join the Running Club when I got to school.

I attempted to get back into the shape I had been in but ran awfully every race and was in considerable pain for every run. Due to how slow my times were, there was no way to justify giving me a District spot- so I ran what I thought was my last race at our conference meet and shed a few tears on the cooldown. I had given everything and worked for years to run at State, and everything fell apart.  But, on the bright side, the teammate who choked at the State Cross Country Meet and I were speaking again. He was also going to OSU which comforted me because I would have one kind of friend who ran on campus. But then he keyed my car. The same car that I had gone out of my way to drive him for free in. On June 25th, I confronted him about the keying and he laughed as he admitted it. I punched him in the face, he drove home crying, and we haven’t spoken since. So there went my one kind of friend at OSU. Whoops.

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I had the surgery on July 7th, and I was walking again within two weeks. But on the day before I was to move in to Morrill Tower I noticed that my foot was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t walk on it and a red line ran up between my toes and pus oozed out of the incision. My fever was 105 degrees, so I was taken to the doctor, given antibiotics and a knee scooter, unable to move in on Move-In Day, so I had to move in on that Sunday. I didn’t want to take the scooter, so I took crutches. I crutched my way to the involvement fair, immediately searching out for the Running Club table. I talked to Will Herriman there for about 3 minutes, and I liked him a lot. And then, as I was making my way back, one of my crutches broke. I was stranded at the top floor of Thompson library until my roommate came and rescued me. Absolutely devastated, homesick, crippled, and excluded, I called my mom for help.  For the second time that day, she was there within two hours, with the knee scooter in tow. I was mobile, but miserable. I tried to make friends, but I just felt awkward and pitiful, so I mostly secluded myself in my room until I could walk- which wasn’t until nearly a month later. At this point, most people had already made friends, and I felt really uncomfortable and awkward trying to. So, I further secluded myself in Morrill Tower, talking really only to two of my roommates, FaceTiming my mom and sister every day, spending every Sunday on the phone for at least an hour on the phone with Ed. When I wasn’t doing those things, I was searching for solace in the wrong places, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to run. Everything would be okay if I could run.

In mid-November I resumed running, but I felt pretty weird about just showing up to Running Club without knowing anyone mid-way through the semester. It was only for a couple of weeks, so I planned on starting up with them at the new semester. I went home for Winter Break, running every day with the high school teammates who didn’t key my car, and I was considerably happier than I had been. I got back to school and went to the first Running Club practice at the French Fieldhouse, where I met Ellis Farson and Shashank Sawant. I’m not sure if he remembers this or not but talking to Ellis made me feel more reassured because he was also new. But, I was completely confused as to how the practice was set up and decided to leave early. My confusion, mixed with the state of my mental health as well as my still broken heart and general homesickness led to me deciding to not come back. I would train and run on my own and would hopefully make new friends some other way.

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However, I was still miserable. I could run, but school was beating me down. I was a CSE major at the time, and I absolutely detested everything about it. I let the fact that I hated everything about my situation mix with the fact that I had absolutely no friends other than one of my roommates who spent the majority of his time with his girlfriend. I let how much I missed home and having friends mix with the fact that I lived in the worst dorm on campus with worst roommate on the planet. I spent every day in a funk, just waiting for the weekends so I could go home just to have some semblance of happiness.  And because of this, my grades absolutely suffered. I barely passed 2 of my classes, I finished the semester with a 2.5 GPA, and a cumulative 2.99. I needed a 3.0 to keep my scholarship, but I didn’t care as it wouldn’t be evaluated until the end of the next year anyways. Before that semester I had never gotten lower than B. I finished with zero As. It bothered me in a way, but I didn’t care since I hated everything I was doing. I just wanted to be happy. Towards the beginning of April, I realized that I needed to take a break from CSE, most likely a permanent one, so I switched my major to undecided. I knew that I just needed to go home, have friends to run with, and just get my head on straight. I got home as soon as I finished my last calc exam, which I failed. I didn’t care, I had survived my first year of college, I had survived rock bottom and that was a win as far as I was concerned.

I kept running over the summer, talking to my friends about their college experiences, and they told me all about the new friends they had made. I didn’t have any stories about fun times with friends, because I didn’t have any friends. I just said I was really busy with school this past year, when in actuality I spent way too much time sitting in my dorm room completely miserable instead of being proactive and doing something to solve my problem. I wanted to, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go to a Running Club practice and say “Hi, I’m Owen.” Which isn’t like me. I wasn’t myself and I hadn’t been in far too long. Not since that weekend in November 2016. But yet, I didn’t talk about my problems, I just trusted that running would fix them somehow. I knew that I would find my people in the Running Club, and I was hesitant on whether or not I would attempt to be a part of the Running Club again. I was desperate to hold onto what made me happy in the past, and was terrified that either A.) Everyone in the club would absolutely hate me like everyone I went to high school with or B.) I would constantly be comparing the experiences I had on the club to those I had with my best friends in high school and just be miserable constantly.

I decided that I would give Running Club a chance on the day before the Welcome Week run. I ran into Shashank at an Honors Event and he convinced me to come by the run. I did, and I still felt kind of awkward. I tried to fit in, but even when I felt like myself, I always had trouble doing in high school and middle school at first. I kept going though, hoping that I could make friends by just simply being around people. On the Friday before Labor Day, I ran a 5K cross race at Kenyon with one of my friends from high school who convinced me to go home for the weekend, where my car broke down. Since my car broke down, my mom and sister drove me back and we stopped for food somewhere in Polaris. We sat on an outside patio, and I started thinking about school, and how I needed to adjust again, and how much fun I had had at home that weekend and I guess I looked off because my mom asked me a simple question and then it all came out.

I told her how I was miserable, had no friends, hated OSU, missed home, and that apart from group projects I really didn’t talk to anyone. My mom told me that if I wanted to transfer I could, and that she could get me into the University of Mount Union where she works, and I could start that next day and commute. I wanted to transfer, I would be back with my friends and my family, I could go back to how things were when I was happy. I thought that that would make me happy, but I also thought that being able to run would as well, and I was more miserable the semester I could run that I was the semester I couldn’t. I didn’t really trust my brain to make such a life changing decision, so I decided that I was not going to give up that early on the Running Club or OSU. Amy didn’t raise no bitch after all, I was not going to quit school I was going to quit being miserable all the time. I was sick and tired of being unhappy and knew that I could be happy. I told her I would be fine, and she dropped me back off at school, and I went to practice with a mentality that I was going to climb out of rock bottom- whatever it took.

It was rough at first- I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but was getting an idea. I was going to social events, talking to people, and slowly making friends. On the drive back from NIRCA Regionals in Shelbyville, Indiana, in late October, I had a very good and lengthy conversation about life with Evan Sergent, which helped me clear a lot of things up in my head. As time went on, I started feeling more comfortable around the club. I had acquaintances to say the least, and friendships were developing slowly. I felt less awkward around the people, and could feel myself becoming more outgoing, albeit by force at first, but it slowly became more natural. I was starting to feel like myself again. When winter break came, I even ran with some club guys from my hometown.

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I got back from break, excited for track. I ran with the club every day and was feeling pretty good overall. I had switched my major to Journalism, with minors in Media Production and Analysis and Music, Media, and Enterprise, and I was taking classes that both interested me and were applicable. But, I still felt somewhat outcast, until Brady Woods sent an invite in one of the GroupMes to run on the treadmill on a particularly cold day with him and Matt Newman. I decided to join them. I had talked to both of them a couple times before, Brady moreso than Matt, but they had convinced me to sign up for Buckeyethon with them and they seemed genuinely friendly. We ran about 9 together and ended up doing a long run together a couple days later- the first of what was referred to as a friendship run, and for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I belonged.

The trend continued, and I added more friends and did things where I could say “oh yeah, me and my friends did this today.” I spent less time in my dorm room, I made better choices, and stopped searching for solace in places I shouldn’t have. I had come out of the shell I had put myself in for years- and it all happened within the course of about a month. By the end of February, I had fully embraced the Running Club and all of the people in it and by the end of the spring semester I was sad to go home because of how much I would miss everyone.

My mental health is the best it has been since before that terrible weekend in November almost 3 years ago. Yes, I have moments where I am sad, but that is part of life. I don’t shut down anymore- my grade point average for both the fall and spring semester was a 4.0. I still battle performance anxiety when I race, but that has always come to me. I have moments where I feel alone still, but then I realize very quickly that I am not alone. That no matter how low I get, there are people in my corner who will help me up and convince me to go another round no matter what. And while yes, I do still have those people back home, I have a lot of them here, all of them in the Running Club.

I thought that it was running that brought me happiness, and while yes that is part of it, the majority of my happiness is found with the people I run with. I knew that running would solve a lot of my problems, and I was partially right. It is not merely the act of running that brings me joy, it is the people I run with. Friendship and fun may be an overused slogan at times, but to me, it means the world. It means that I’ve found a place and a group of people to make OSU feel like home. It’s been a tough past couple of years, but despite life’s difficulties, I have found not just solace but happiness. I think I am the happiest I have ever been- and that would not be possible without the Running Club.

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And now this is probably going to resemble more of a speech, but I feel it necessary, so I would like to thank everyone that helped me get my head on right again and get rid of the shell of myself that I was. I’d like to give special thanks to: Will Herriman for being so enthusiastic about this club that I knew was for me, even though my brain played tricks on me and said otherwise at times; Ellis Farson for easing my nerves and for also introducing me to Matt Newman; Shashank Sawant for encouraging me to go to the 2018 Welcome Week Run; Zach Napholz, Ryan Heckman, and Greg Antonini for making me feel welcome and including me in those first months; Evan Sergent for being my dad and for driving me back to Columbus from Shelbyville and letting me just say whatever’s on my mind to him; Matt Polatas for also making me feel welcome, but most importantly for encouraging me to get back up again after a bad time and for being the voice of reason on our Illinois Journey; Wiggins for being a brother at all times; and Jaim(i)e, Jess, Catherine, Phoenix, Holden, Dakota, Jason, and Evan Porter for standing out in the rain at the last Otterbein race to watch the 5K because my mom had just had surgery, so her and my step-dad couldn’t make it. I invited my actual father who said he’d take off work and come watch if I let him know what time I ran, which I did- to which his response was “Okay let me know how you do.” There have been points in the past couple of years where I was convinced that nobody other than my mom, step-dad, sister, grandparents, 2 friends, and 2 high school coaches were the only people that actually gave enough of a damn to stand out in anything remotely inconvenient to watch me and I am so glad that I was proven wrong on that front. And lastly but not least I’d like to thank Matt Newman and Brady Woods for their running companionship, bad jokes, and most importantly their friendship because if you would have told me at this time last year that in 365 days I’d be the happiest I’ve ever been I’d have laughed at you. The majority of that return to happiness is correlated with those two bringing me out of the 2 plus year funk I’d been in by inviting me to run on that treadmill in January.

To me, running means freedom and happiness and a sense of accomplishment yes, but it also means friendship. That friendship comes from this club, and even if I didn’t personally thank you in the above paragraph, rest assured you are appreciated. And to anyone who wants to join this club and is on the fence about it- I was on the fence for about a year and I regret it because it is less overall time I get to spend with these people. Joining this club and being active in it was the best decision I’ve ever made- it has allowed me to return to being myself, clear my head, work through my issues, and find not just my solace, but genuine happiness. To anyone else struggling with mental health, especially college freshmen, find something you are passionate about, and get involved with it. You will meet people there who will help you find not just solace in a time of distress, but your happiness and these will be some of the best people you will ever meet. If you think you are at rock bottom just remember, rock bottom is a pretty good foundation to build your life upon. My story is not over yet, I know that I have many more miles to go (figuratively and literally), but this is the end of the chapter of my misery. It was a personal equivalent of the fifth Harry Potter book, but we all have to go through our Order of the Phoenix phase in order to reach the bliss of All Being Well at the end of Deathly Hallows. And right now, all is well. #GrindNation.

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