Introduction to Harrier Mental Health Month

By: Sarah Derrick

Content warning: This article is a mental health related story and may contain pieces that are triggering to the reader. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or have thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the resources listed at the end of this article. 

It is most fitting to introduce the month ahead here at The Harrier through sharing a story – the origin story of the project itself and a small part of my story. 

I have what mental health professionals term as comorbid mental illnesses. In other words, I suffer from multiple mental illnesses at the same time. Clinically speaking, the official diagnosis I have been given is: a panic disorder, major depressive disorder, insomnia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and an adjustment disorder. 

It took me almost ten years to seek help, because for so long I believed that I needed to tough it out, to be mentally strong enough to overcome the pain. Something, I ultimately learned through growing up believing that is what it took to be the best runner  thus translating that into every other part of my life. 

I have been running since 2005. The first race I ever ran was my elementary school’s fall mile.

I was 8. I wore light pink high tops.  I got fourth place overall. 

By the time I started middle school, I had already broken 6 minutes in the mile and run in two national races. I set my city’s middle school mile record as a sixth grader of 5:24.

My dream was to win VHSL state titles, run for Oregon, and go pro.

My dream fell apart after my freshman year of high school. I switched high schools because I couldn’t stay awake in class and couldn’t keep up my grades to stay in the academy I was in. I lost my team, my coach, and what I believed was my only way to getting to the top, to follow my dream. 

My first panic attack came during the first cross country race that I ran against my old teammates.

My first prolonged depressive episode was that winter. In addition to all the change that was happening in my life, I also was dealing with a back injury that doctors didn’t diagnose for five months.   

At that point, all that I worked for to chase my dream to become a professional runner went out the door. I pivoted to just becoming your typical overachieving high schooler. I left the sport of running behind for the most part. 

It wasn’t until I started to see a therapist for the first time in my life, almost ten years after that first panic attack and prolonged depressive episode, that I realized how much I just missed going for a run or how much I missed racing, but also how much of who I was and who I wanted to be was still tangled into the dream of becoming a professional runner. 

Now, two years later, I have a deeper understanding who I am and who I want to be beyond being a runner. But, I have also returned to the sport of running with hopes and dreams to chase fast times once again.

I love this sport and its community so much. I have missed being part of it so much. 

One of the turning points for me came earlier this summer. I began reading Kate Fagan’s What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All American Teen at the tailend of a depressive episode. When I picked up the book on Madison Hollerian, none of my normal forms of closure helped me kick the episode to the curb. 

For me, at the end of a depressive episode looks a lot like trying to figure out what happened – it is the social science researcher in me – was it a physical health trigger? Was it the recent change in my medication? Was it the heuristics in my mind working too quickly for my self-reflexivity to do some cognitive behavioral therapy work? Was it work stress? Was it relational stress? Was it the fact that this pandemic is seemingly never ending? Was it the fact that I keep almost returning to running for my body to throw some other complication in the form of injury at me?

Normally, finding the answer to these questions helps me feel as though I am back “in control” of my life and helps bring me fully out of a depressive season. However, at the end of this episode, I could give you the answer to each of these questions and still something in me remained within my low energy, hopeless (yet never helpless) self. 

It wasn’t until I began reading Maddy’s story, that something in me began to stir. 

With each turn of the page, learning more of Kate Fagan could piece together who Maddy was and what Maddy went through, I felt a little less alone and a little more known. I went to therapy the day after starting the book. I flipped through the pages of the book showing my therapist all of the highlights, notes, and earmarks; explaining that a lot of what Fagan wrote gave me words for what I couldn’t resolve with my normal inquisition into my own mind. 

As I finally started kicking the depressive episode to the curb, something dawned on me: telling stories really have the power to impact our lives for the better; all we need is an invitation to share them with others. That’s when I reached out to Patrick, the founder and sole employee of The Harrier. 

If Maddy’s story could have this impact on my life, what kind of opportunity could be created through The Harrier’s platform to share others’ stories to further impact others lives? Could we raise awareness for the upcoming National Sucidce Awareness & Prevention Month? Could we raise money to give back to the Madison Holleran Foundation in the process of doing so? 

Patrick, without hesitation, said yes. 

And, now it is here. 

The month of September at The Harrier is going to be dedicated to sharing stories within our community of runners and encouraging all of you to do the same. 

We will be featuring the stories of five professional runner’s over the next month:

Allie Ostrander | Sam Parsons | Alex Young | Nikki Hiltz 

We will also be announcing ways we will be raising money to donate to the Madison Holleran Foundation a little later in the month. 

We want you all to join us by sharing your stories, too. We encourage you all to use the hashtag #MoreThanRunners to help share your story of running and mental health. 

Resources for those Struggling with Mental Health

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741, 

Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746. 

More than these phone numbers there are many local and state resources that can be found by simply googling “community mental health services.”