Winning the race against mental illness stigma

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Yesterday, I participated in the (Bost0n) Transformation Center’s annual 5k run/walk for mental wellness. Before my mental demons got the best of me, I was a runner for many years, so I’m quite the veteran of 5ks. But this was my first race that benefited anything concerning mental health.

I could not have asked for a better morning. I participated with two of my best friends. Temperatures were in the 80s, but there was no humidity, and there was a gentle breeze throughout. And, this being fall in New England, leaves on towering trees were already bright red and yellow. The race itself took place on Jamaica Pond, part of Boston’s famed Emerald Necklace of tree-lined parks and walking paths. The Emerald Necklace was conceived by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famous landscape architect who was also created New York’s Central Park. Olmstead was brilliantly creative–and he had bouts with mental illness. So it was appropriate that a run benefiting mental health services would take place here.

Still, I couldn’t help noticing a big difference between this event and other 5ks. Though more than 100 runners and walkers participated, no one had their camera phones out. I thought of taking mine out, but I didn’t dare. There seemed to be an unwritten rule against it. Even though this was a mental WELLNESS race, there is no question there is still a stigma about being associated in any way with anything “mental”–even if it involves fun and great exercise. I faced this even before the race. When I tried to get one of my cousins to participate, he ignored my calls, emails and texts. People would tell me he’s “probably busy.” But something tells me that if this was a 5k for just about anything else, I would have at least gotten my texts answered.

I could have been bitter about that, but I wasn’t. I was too busy enjoying the morning with friends who DID participate. I was one of the walkers this time. It has been years since I ran, and I did not want to take a chance on getting injured. But I participated. I was in the race. That’s what mattered. This run is only in its third year–and participation more than doubled over last year’s event.

I hope events like this continue to grow. Because those endorphins do wonders for our mental health. And because, by showing the world that we can be active and have FUN, we are easing that enormous stigma somewhat. I am proud of my participation–so proud that I’m showing my face, and the medal I got just for finishing the race. I’m keeping the medal next to my bed. I still have trouble getting up in the morning, but when I do, it’s one of the first things I now see.

 

 

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