Training with Mental Health Disorders
"Being an athlete suffering from mental illnesses is no different than being a regular athlete. You have your good days and your bad days."
I always knew something was off with me since junior high. I knew the feelings I felt weren’t just hormones of puberty making me act funny. I had moments when I wanted to die or question why I was even born. As an adult, these thoughts and self-harm didn’t go away and in 2002 I was diagnosed as being bipolar with anxiety, and PTSD. It continued to a struggle with postpartum depression when my son was born in 2008 and part of my way of not going stir crazy was to start walking.
In July of 2018, I had a severe manic episode which led me in an inpatient facility for a week. When I came out, I was a month away from my A-race, and now on new medications that caused me to be very tired. Still, I mustered out and did my A-race with little training because of my mixed manic episodes and it was ugly, but I finished.
Being an athlete suffering from mental illnesses is no different than being a regular athlete. You have your good days and your bad days.
Some days, getting out of bed is a struggle. You get your workouts in when you can. They’re inconsistent. Maybe one day it’s in the evening, the next you don’t do anything at all, then the next you give it 20%. You just do it when you can when you’re depressed.
Some days, you’re on fire. You train as hard as possible because you feel invincible. Even though your coach may warn you to stay in a certain zone, you just go out and do what you want because. The next day you feel the pains of your enthusiasm or worse, you find yourself with an injury from several days like this.
Training. Is. Hard.
It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s hard for everyone, but it’s harder when your biggest accomplishment is waking up for the day or you’re trying to not give every penny to every race when you have bills to pay and know you’re not going to do those races anyway.
So here’s what I have learned in the past year since my inpatient incident:
Training in a Depressed State
Do something. Anything. You don’t have to do your full workout. Even 50% is better than nothing. I literally had my coach schedule me to walk for 30 minutes every day on my lunch break just to keep moving. When you’re training for a hard race and suddenly find yourself doing something that doesn’t require thought, like walking, it relieves some of the pressure of feeling like you need to complete that hard distance. You’re still getting the miles in, just not as fast.
Training in a Manic State
This requires more discipline. You have to really pull back from wanting to go all out. Focus on the moment and what needs to be done there and then. If you have to stay in Zone 3, use your manic energy to drill in and hone in on mastering Zone 3. When you have your tempo runs or speed drills, go hard on those days. When you have a rest day, LEARN TO REST. Get a book, watch a show, don’t go out and do more running or cycling because you’re bored or think it’ll make you better. If a coach put a training plan together for you, it’s there for a reason. Follow it.
Training with Anxiety
What if I’m last on race day? What if I don’t make a cut off? What if I hold up the group? What will people think of me if I can’t do this? What if? What if? What if? One of my favorite reasons for doing off-road triathlon is because I have to think a lot about my surroundings I don’t have time to get in my head and worry about the what if’s. We all have those what if thoughts in our head, but people with anxiety can’t shut them out and they pop in at random moments. This is probably one of the hardest things to train with because it’s that little voice inside of you that can bring about every worst-case scenario that could instantly keep you from training in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, you need to have a mantra or a reason you’re doing something that is bigger than that voice and push it back. Or just go out and do baby steps and say “as long as I’m doing something it’s better than nothing.”
Training with PTSD
Depending on what caused your PTSD can be a big factor in your training. Some people may have PTSD after being attacked on a run or a bad crash. For me, I almost drowned as a child and I recently had a pretty gnarly crash on my mountain bike on a tight and windy curve taking a handlebar into my chest. So when I showed up at Xterra Jax to rough surf and a tight and windy bike course, it was pretty traumatic. I just took a deep breath and thought to handle one thing at a time. Get through the swim, then to the bike. Get through the bike, then to the run. I very much wanted to quit my race after the first lap on the bike when I crashed. I still had the large purple and yellow bruise covering my left chest reminding me of what happened. But I thought I’d change my shoes and try something else and got through. It is hard to do things when you have PTSD as little things can trigger a reaction. You need to find it in you to be brave and muster up as much of that courage to keep going.
Written By: Jenny Teague, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Jenny on Instagram @adventuresintraining
How do you stay motivated to train when times get tough? Tell us about it in the comments below!
This blog was created for informational purposes only. It's content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or online.