The story I want to tell is going to start as a metaphorical running story and end as a literal running story. This is because, besides one week of practice that ended with me partially tearing my MCL, I never ran track or cross country in high school. My life in high school was not good to say the least. My freshman year began with me developing crippling social anxiety and depression, so, you know, not a great start. When I was thirteen, I was pale, scrawny, and very self-conscious. I did not have a lot of friends to talk to, mostly because I was too afraid of actually talking to someone, so my first year of high school was me being unhappy about everything. Surprise, surprise, when you spend a whole year hating your life, your brain kind of gets stuck in that state. My second year of high school was more of the same and this is where I really mastered snowballing my social anxiety and depression into one big monster. This consisted of not ever developing any real social skills because I was too afraid of being judged to reach out and make friends, leading to me feeling awkward in any conversation I did attempt because I had no social skills, thus further reinforcing my fear of being judged for being awkward. It was a vicious cycle that ended with me feeling shitty pretty much all the time. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, I joined the rugby team and boy was I garbage. This was because of two reasons; I had done no physical activity since partially tearing my MCL the year before and I did not wear my glasses because I was too self-conscious. Turns out you do need to see to play sports.
In a weird twist my Junior year was actually pretty good. I took an anatomy and physiology course that I loved. My teacher, who was also my rugby coach, went really in depth into nutrition and different ways to work out. I had also gotten contacts so I could finally see. By the time winter break of my Junior year had rolled around I had decided that I should get in shape for rugby. I started with just doing pushups every day. In the beginning I started with ten a night. Not even ten in a row, just finishing ten. For the first two or three weeks I hated working out. I would spend half an hour motivating myself to spend two minutes doing my ten measly pushups. It was definitely a humble beginning to something that would become a huge influence in my life. As I got stronger and was able to spend more time working out, I realized that it was extremely therapeutic for me. For about 30 minutes a day all the anxiety and depression would wash away, and I would feel comfortable in my own body. This is when I cut down on sugar and stopped drinking anything with caffeine in it. After two weeks of headaches from caffeine withdrawals, I felt good. I was mentally and physically healthy, which I had not been for two years. I become slightly more confident in my body and even started making some friends. By the time rugby rolled around I was in good enough shape to get varsity playing time which only helped to boost my confidence. I finished my Junior year feeling like I had grown a lot as a person and felt genuinely happy.
I went into my senior year hoping to continue this trend. I also figured that as I had been happy for at least half a year, my good friend depression was gone for good. I was wrong. I had made good progress in building up my self-confidence, but my anxiety was still undeniably there. My senior year of high school I met a girl that I immediately had a crush on, and my confidence melted away. We were actually good friends, having the first two classes of the day together. I managed to gather up the confidence to ask her to hang out once and it happened to be on her sister’s birthday. Real smooth. My fear of being rejected by her slowly brought up feelings that I had buried the year before. I also started looking at colleges and realized that my life in Massachusetts had sucked up to that point so I decided to leave. That’s how I eventually ended up at Ohio State, I was running away, naively thinking I could escape my problems by going somewhere else. By the time graduation had rolled around I was thoroughly depressed again. By this point I realized that these were not my natural thoughts which only made me angry. I felt cheated, I had already beat depression, I was happy, it wasn’t fair. I remember one day coming back from a movie with a friend and wanting to put my fist through a wall and throw up at the same time. I also remember mentioning to a friend that I did not feel excited to graduate, in fact in the weeks leading up to graduation I did not feel much of anything. My friend responded by simply asking “Are you okay?”. This didn’t lead to some deep conversation, but it still made me feel not so alone. It was the first time someone had ever asked me if I was okay, I just wasn’t brave enough to say no. I spent the rest of my summer waiting for college, the few friends I did have at this point rarely invited me out, so I spent my time looking forward to what I saw as a new beginning. My twelve-hour car ride from Massachusetts to Columbus was surreal. It was purgatory. I had left everything behind, and in those twelve hours I had no responsibilities, no worries, nothing. I could not wait to get to college, but I also never wanted that car ride to end.
My freshman year of college was filled with a lot of highs and some very deep lows. Luckily, me and my roommates bonded quickly so making friends was not really a problem. My first month was good, I felt happy, I had real friends to hang out with, and then I had a very short-lived relationship with my one of my next door neighbors. After a week, she decided we should just be friends and I agreed. A few weeks later she went out with a new guy and this crushed me. It was never really about her. I barely knew her and didn’t even know if I was interested in pursuing a relationship with her. However, her going out with this other guy just made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. For that little voice inside me that’s sole motive is to make my life terrible, this was proof that it was right. I was not good enough, all the work I had done over the last few years wasn’t enough, and I would never be what I wanted to be. That night I had my first panic attack. I felt terrible and after an hour of trying to calm myself down I decided I was ok to go to bed. The second my head hit the pillow I burst into tears. I was hyperventilating and didn’t know what was happening to me. I think the worst part is that I don’t remember it stopping, at some point I just fell asleep. I woke up in the early morning still feeling like I wasn’t in complete control of my body. I went for a walk and got breakfast by myself. When I got back to my dorm, I called student services and told them about everything that had happened. This talk felt really good and by the end of it they told me they would send me an email to schedule my in-person session. I also told a few of my roommates about what happened and how I’ve struggled with depression for a while. This was the first time I had told anybody about these things. A few weeks later the email arrived telling me that I should choose a time and call in to confirm my appointment. I never made that phone call. I want to say that I don’t know why I never called, but I do. I was afraid. By fall break, things hadn’t gotten much better. My classes were not going as well as I needed them to be, further reinforcing the thoughts that I was not good enough. It was worse because when I failed socially I knew I wasn’t good at those things, but I had always prided myself on doing well in school, so when I started failing in the things I was good at, I was left wondering what I had left. My roommates were all leaving for fall break and I knew I could not stay in my dorm by myself, so I went on a camping trip to Maine with the Mountaineering club. My social anxiety was peaking because I didn’t know anybody on the trip. In one weekend those people became some of my closest friends and I returned feeling reassured that everything was going to be okay. I pushed through to winter break, ending just below where I wanted to be grade wise, but sure that I could make it up. Going back to Massachusetts was weird because I already felt like my life was in Columbus now. I felt like any new friends I would meet and all the experiences that would matter were all back at college, so I spent my winter break looking forward to coming back.
The first half of spring semester was rough, I spent my weeks looking forward to going out on the weekends. I was constantly calculating my GPA, finding all the different combinations of grades that I could get to reach the GPA I needed to get in my major, I made backup schedule after backup schedule in case I didn’t get in, and I constantly felt like I was coming up short. By the time spring break had come around I decided I needed something in my life that I could be good at and I knew from rugby that I was fairly fast. My roommate Dakota was in running club, so I decided to join. I ran a little over spring break so that I didn’t go in completely out of shape. At my first practice I didn’t talk to anyone until Marv, the sprint captain introduced himself. The next practice I met Jaime the other sprint captain. I went into my first meet with a mix of nervousness and excitement. I had only been in the club for a week, so I didn’t have a jersey, and also woke up late so I grabbed the first things from my closet. Luckily Marv gave me a spare jersey to race in, but in my rush I had grabbed the longest pair of shorts I owned. I had compression shorts with me but wasn’t comfortable wearing just those, so I raced in my basketball shorts which caught the attention of some of the people in the club. I felt pretty good about the times I had run so I went home feeling fulfilled. I also bought a pair of running shorts the second I got back. I spent the next few weeks in the club meeting new people, but I didn’t feel like I was making many friends. Then I went to nationals and after sharing a few interesting stories and a bed with Brady Woods, I felt like I had finally connected with some of the people in the club. At nationals I hit both my goals in the 100m and 200m, had a really good race in my first ever 400m, and finished it off by straining my hamstring in the 4x100. Overall it was a great experience. After nationals and an incident with a cement garden pot I felt comfortable in the club and that I had met a lot of cool people. Unfortunately, it was also time to go home for the summer. Before I left, Dakota and some of the sprinters convinced me to do cross country.
I spent my summer working on a farm, preparing for cross, and counting down the days until I got to be with my friends again. My goal for the summer was to be able to run 5 miles so I could at the very least finish the race. By the midpoint of summer, I reached 3.5 miles and then my body slowly started to break down. I hated running long distances, it was painful, boring, and I didn’t get the same anxiety relief I got from lifting and sprinting. As summer crept on, I was sure that I would never be able to do cross and was not mentally invested in my training. I was also afraid. I had been happy since March, the longest period of time since my Junior year of high school. But this time I knew how easily it could all be wiped away. I knew that the happy life I had constructed was made of glass and one little rock could shatter it all. The one thing I didn’t know was if I could handle that happening again. Finally, move in day arrived and I made the long trip back to Columbus. Gradually, I started running again and building mileage. 10 days ago, I ran for 10 miles. 4 days ago, I ran my first ever 8K race. If it wasn’t for my friends in the club, I wouldn’t have been able to do either of those things. I realized that running long distance was not therapeutic and would never be but being able to run with friends and having nothing to do but talk was. Maybe its because while I’m running, I have the excuse of being out of breath when I inevitably trip over my own words. Maybe its because the people I run with are so easy to talk to. Maybe its because for the first time in my life I have a group of people outside my family that I love and who love me back.
The truth is, I don’t think I will ever be truly free of the thoughts and feelings that are hidden somewhere inside me. But these people have taught me that it doesn’t matter. They taught me that I can be vulnerable, that I can trust others with the way that I’m feeling, that there are people that care, and most importantly, that I am not alone.