Hello, everyone. My name is Ally Beard, and I am one of the co-founders of a new non-profit organization called Running from Anxiety. Although our endeavor only began in June 2017, Running from Anxiety has already served me just as much as I’ve served the organization. Allow me to explain where we came from and how far we plan to go.
My journey began at the end of my sophomore year in high school. After a particularly difficult year, a classmate pulled me aside and voiced her concerns. She confided in me that she suffers from anxiety and that the “weird things my body keeps doing” were actually symptoms of the illness. While I was frightened, I was also relieved to have an inkling of a resolution and grateful that my friend was brave enough to share her experience to better mine.
Flash forward six months.
I am regularly seeing a therapist and have started taking Prozac to ease the anxiety with which I’ve been diagnosed. I have made significant progress in regards to my mental well-being, but there is still a long way to go. (That will always be the case with anxiety; it will always be present in my life. The change comes when I strengthen my ability to cope and take care of myself, not when I get rid of it, which might not ever happen). I’m happy, yet not satisfied. The medicine has put my mind at ease for the time being, but nobody, neither a doctor nor therapist nor parent, has explained to me exactly what is going on beneath the surface of my skull. If someone breaks his arm, he can see the damage; where could I look to see my variation of mind?
It’s now a Tuesday morning in a rather mundane biology class. Insight is about to be provided. The lecture broaches the topic of drugs that inhibit specific neurotransmitter receptor sites, and I am faced with a decision: ask or stay quiet? Should I ask if this method is how Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (a category of antidepressant under which Prozac falls) work? Would that be openly outing myself as an anxiety patient? Could I handle the embarrassment? What is worse: the open shame of mental illness or the painful ambiguity of not understanding my own treatment?
I take a leap of faith, and I’m glad I do. The only regrets I have are the thoughts swirling in my head the moments before asking, since these thoughts of embarrassment only fuel the stigma. In this moment, I am both a victim and a perpetrator of the “just don’t be anxious anymore” mindset. The teacher of that biology class, Christine Ravesi-Weinstein, also took a risk that day. When one typically shy student asked a seemingly simple question, she had to choose between answering with a one-sentence textbook definition or answering with her personal story and maybe, just maybe, this student would connect with it and reach a point of clarity. She chose the latter.
Little did she know that nearly two years later, she’d still be in conversation with that student about her anxiety and running a nonprofit, Running from Anxiety, aimed at encouraging more conversations like the one that took place that Tuesday in biology. Running from Anxiety has three main goals. The first is to remove the stigma commonly associated with mental illness by encouraging community members to be candid and open about their experiences. I wish to live in a world where one has no more shame in a depression diagnosis than a diabetes one. Our second goal is to promote the mental health benefits of physical fitness. In order to accomplish this, Running from Anxiety frequently holds community runs whereby we encourage people, regardless of age or athletic experience, to get moving. When one is active, endorphins are released in the brain that trigger a natural feeling of peace or happiness, commonly referred to as a “runner’s high.” It is this peace of mind that mental illness sufferers are often unable to capture. Being more active is a great way to do so. Our third and final goal is to raise money for students. Because we are a non-profit organization, 100% of the money we raise goes towards a scholarship for a high school student who struggles with any mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. This money may be used to fund his or her post-secondary education or mental health care. While these three goals are the backbone of our organization, I recognize and appreciate every individual has a unique story that may constitute the body of Running from Anxiety.
Above any other form of treatment, opening up, starting that day in biology, has been the biggest outlet for my anxiety and depression. “Revealing” myself to Christine enabled me to learn the conditions at which I function best, and now I have a steadier handle on how to maintain personal equilibrium. On a broader scale, being open has brought me to where I am today: operating my newfound passion project Running from Anxiety. I wish to rid fellow sufferers of the thoughts with which my mind was once laden. Having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with you!
Running from Anxiety strives to help people continue their journey, and that can mean something different to everyone. Because every story is different, so too is every path to a resolution. Even if you don’t struggle with mental illness, we’ve all had a bad day. While working out may seem impossible after a hard day, you will never regret it. We promote running as a natural mood-lightener, but are also available to listen if community members find comfort in just chatting. Running from Anxiety has a community run coming up at DW Field in Brockton on October 22nd. In addition, we also have a few support group meetings in Foxboro at the Boyden Public Library scheduled from 7-8 pm on October 19th and November 9th. All of our events are listed on our website. Please consider making a donation or purchasing merchandise to help remove the stigma of mental illness and fund the limitless future of a high school student working on their own journey towards mental wellness. And remember, above all else: Think. Run. Fight. After all, the most difficult part of exercising is putting on your sneakers.