My name is Mark Ehlert, and I survived a suicide attempt at the age of 19. At that time, I was at a point in my life where I felt lost and hopeless. I came from a very interesting background and I had issues with abandonment and rejection. I felt very betrayed by a lot of people that I thought I could trust. I felt like my world was falling apart around me. Because I felt so unloved, I didn’t know how to talk to people about my problems. Whenever I had a problem with something, I would try to do something drastic to get peoples attention to show them that something was bothering me and that I needed help.
My attempt happened on a night in September. I had a lot of problems and I was really desperate. My head was spinning. That’s when it hit me; this idea of suicide. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed right and it felt like my answer. I went for a walk. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. All I knew was that I was walking. I was having a moment of euphoria. I was laughing hysterically to myself the entire time. For some reason, I really felt like what I was about to do was going to be monumental and the way to show people that I needed help. And that’s when I found myself at my destination. There I was, standing in the middle of the park by myself. After standing there for a while, I started looking around and wondered; Why am I here? What am I doing? And that’s when my voice of reason started to kick in. I started asking myself, really? Is this what you want? Is this what you’re going to do? How is this going to help? I was about to turn around and walk back home, but that’s also when I started feeling lost, desperate and hopeless again. I didn’t want to lose that feeling of euphoria. So with no hesitation, I went through with my suicide attempt.
I didn’t want to die – I just wanted to fix my problems. I didn’t want to leave this world. I wish I would’ve stopped and thought rationally about what I was doing and listened to the voice of reason in my head. I wasn’t thinking clearly and acted impulsively. When you are in a bad place, bad ideas can sound very good and tempting. I was just trying to ask someone to show me that they care. But if I would have succeeded with my suicide attempt, no one would be able to show me that they care or have been able to help me because I would not be here anymore.
Suicide is not an answer. Suicide is a mistake. It is a problem. I have a lot of regrets for my suicide attempt. In that moment, I was forgetting how much people love me. I was destroying and throwing away a great life and I had to start over and rebuild it. My suicide attempt resulted in a significant amount of brain damage and I was put into a coma for a period of time. When I came out of the coma I had to deal with and accept the consequences of my actions. Because of the brain damage that was done, I had to relearn how to do a lot of basic functioning skills. It did enough damage to both of my optic nerves and I am now completely blind for the rest of my life. There is nothing that doctors will ever be able to do to restore my vision. I also now suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and high anxiety.
Over the last 13 years it has taken a very heavy physical and emotional toll on me to be able to rehabilitate myself. I don’t want anyone to ever feel this way. That’s why I am here. I don’t want anyone to ever have to feel this regret, this guilt, this grief, or this pain that I feel daily. It didn’t just affect me. My suicide attempt devastated the people that are close to me; my family and friends. They kept asking themselves what they did wrong and what they could’ve done to stop it. I wish I would’ve stopped and thought about what I was doing. I wish I would have waited an hour or two because that’s when my older brother would have come home from work. Getting support from my older brother would’ve reminded me of the life that I have. It would’ve reminded me of the family and friends that love me unquestionably and unconditionally — and we all have people that love us.
My suicide attempt was a desperate way to reach out to the world and ask someone to show me that they care. I wish I would’ve found the strength in me to reach out and ask for help. I want you all to know that when you are in a very low place, and you are thinking with your irrational mind but don’t ever hesitate to reach out to the world. Talking to someone that cares about you will bring you back to reality and help you start thinking with your wise mind. It will remind you of all the things you have and the people that are there for support.
We all have problems in life, but problems are only temporary. Suicide is permanent. For the rest of my life I have to deal with the repercussions of my suicide attempt. And it’s not worth it, trust me. Suicide is not going to solve any problems. It will only make things worse.
When you are are struggling, you should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask anyone for help. I wish I would have. We are human beings, no one is perfect. It is more uncomfortable for me to have to admit the fact that I am blind because of a suicide attempt but I am no longer embarrassed about my problems. And I am no longer ashamed to admit that I need help.
Ever since my suicide attempt in 2004, I have been going to therapy once a week. I want you all to do the same thing — when you need help, ask for it. I’m admitting that I’m not perfect and I need help. My therapy is giving me someone to talk to, a way to help me deal with my problems. It is doing wonders for me and I’m a very happy person and in a great place. So please everyone, do what I do; love and appreciate life. Rock on. Don’t ever consider suicide. Never forget that we all have people in our life that love us.
*** Please feel free to share this story as much as you would like. But you do not have my permission for this to be printed or used for profit without my direct consent. I hope that this finds you all well ***
I want to thank you all for taking the time for reading my story. And especially my thanks goes out to Erika’s Lighthouse for allowing me share my story on their blog. I’m a big supporter and very thankful for what they are doing. When I was younger, mental health problems and depression wasn’t something that was talked about enough. I didn’t know how to recognize the signs or know it was a condition I might have. When it was brought up, it seemed to have a negative connotation. It seemed like it was something people didn’t like to talk about which made me even less likely to admit or talk about the problems I was having. It made me feel like it would leave a black Mark on me. But now I know it doesn’t and I can recognize that I have depression and admit that I struggle with mental health issues.
Erika’s Lighthouse is helping me recognize that it’s OK to have mental health problems. I’m not the only one who does. There are a lot of us out there. We are not alone. You are not alone. I don’t want you to feel that way. If you have depression, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you. You should not feel embarrassed about it. It is treatable. If you start to notice depression in yourself, or start to notice signs that you’re not feeling well don’t hesitate to look into it. You don’t have to suffer or deal with depression alone. I have come to love myself, and love my life. So thank you Erika‘s Lighthouse for letting me reach out and share my story with the world. I hope that this can help people understand the importance of depression education and eliminating stigma. To learn more about the Erika’s Lighthouse impactful work visit www.erikaslighthouse.org/schools and help “Get Depression Out of the Dark.”
This blog was written by Mark Ehlert, an individual who survived a suicide attempt. Mark is a musician and an advocate for mental health awareness.
You might expect that when the American Academy of Pediatrics announced their recommendations for universal depression screening for youth, everyone who works in the mental health field rejoiced.
I have to admit, when I first read about it on NPR’s website, I groaned.
Here at Erika’s Lighthouse, we’re often asked if we recommend that middle school and high schools screen their students for depression and if our classroom-based depression education programs include a teen depression test or screener.
The short answer to both of those questions is no.
It’s important to know that we’re not against depression screening for youth on principle. We’re always on the look-out for the magical solution or intervention that’ll make sure youth with depression are connected with the help they need as quickly and effectively as possible.
The problem is that when it comes to screening youth for depression, there’s a lack of research on whether this approach actually leads to better outcomes. There are also many important questions we should have answers to before implementing a universal screening policy.
What does “universal depression screening for youth” even mean?
Advising all pediatricians to universally screen their patients for depression starting at the age of 12 means that every single young person who steps into a doctor’s office will get evaluated for depression. This might include a written or electronic questionnaire and a follow-up conversation with the doctor if the patient scores above a certain threshold on the initial screener. Patients will receive a depression diagnosis ranging from mild to severe if they meet diagnostic criteria.
This all sounds pretty benign in theory, but we owe it to our youth to take a look at any proposed mental health initiative and truly evaluate whether it will lead to better outcomes. With every public health intervention, there are pros and cons, benefits and risks, costs and resources required. Putting time, effort and resources into one intervention often means not funding another. Is this proposed intervention the best bang for our buck? What are the risks involved? What are the desired outcomes and how will we measure whether we’re achieving them?
Sadly, we have yet to discover the one magical intervention that will make sure youth with depression don’t suffer in silence and get the help and support they deserve. These efforts truly take a village and most often a multi-faceted approach is still the best way to go.
Why are screeners popular?
It’s easy to understand the appeal of screeners.
We live in scary times. We want to protect our youth and support them in living meaningful lives. Some who work in professional capacities with teens are terrified they’ll get sued if they don’t do all they can to monitor the mental well-being of the youth in their care. Others are grieving the loss of a youth who died by suicide and are desperate to do whatever they can to prevent a suicide from happening again.
When we feel powerless, out of control, sad or afraid, it’s tempting to take action, any action, to alleviate those feelings. Implementing a screener – whether in a school setting or doctor’s office – can make us feel in control again, make us feel that we’re doing all we can to support teens’ mental health. We – the adults in the room – feel better.
However, it’s important to ask ourselves whether screeners do more than help the adults in the room feel better. Are they the best option or a knee-jerk or fear-based reaction? Ideally, we would utilize screeners not only because of their emotional appeal but because we have evidence that these tools lead to better outcomes for the youth in our care.
Here are 9 important questions we need to answer before implementing universal depression screening for youth:
1. Will universal depression screening lead to better outcomes?
We should at least have a decent idea of the answer to this question before making wide-sweeping recommendations to screen all youth ages 12 and up for depression.
We can’t make the assumption that universal screening is better than not screening without data to back that up. Interventions are not without consequences, and sometimes waiting to act or choosing not to act is actually the wiser move, and the one that may (sometimes counterintuitively) lead to better outcomes. Good intentions behind an intervention does not mean you’re guaranteed to have good outcomes.
One sentence in the guidelines for depression screening from the American Academy of Pediatrics casually begins, “Although no study compared outcomes between screened and unscreened groups…” I’m sorry, but that statement deserves more attention and discussion than half a sentence. Proponents of universal screening need to show us clear evidence that depression screening for youth leads to better outcomes.
It’s also important that we make sure we have a consensus on what outcomes are the most important to measure and monitor when it comes to universal screening. This helps us determine whether or not the intervention is working the way we intended it to work.
(A quick aside: This is a good place to point out that screening for depression is not the equivalent of evaluating a youth’s risk for suicide. This deserves far more discussion, but you can read a bit more about it here if you’re interested. Don’t buy claims that if you’ve screened a young person for depression, you’ve evaluated their risk for suicide.)
2. What is the impact of the screening process itself on youth?
What’s missing from these universal screening recommendations? The voices and opinions of the youth who will be directly impacted by this new policy.
At Erika’s Lighthouse, we are firm believers in featuring and honoring diverse youth voices, perspectives and experiences in our depression education and suicide awareness programs, videos and resources. When we create new materials, we not only ask the adults who will be teaching the program for their input, we also ask the students. Their opinions matter to us.
It also matters to us how our programs impact them. It’s one of many reasons why we’ve conducted two independent program evaluations with the help of Dr. Michael Kelly at Loyola University (read the middle school program results here and the high school program results here).
We want to know that our materials are having a positive impact on the youth who are receiving them. We can’t assume we are having a positive impact – we have to find out. If we were to find we were having no impact or a negative impact, we’d take that very seriously.
Anecdotally, I’ve spoken with many students at Erika’s Lighthouse partner high schools that found universal depression screening in their schools to be a scary and, quite honestly, traumatizing, process.
Imagine you’re sitting in class, three days after your school implemented a depression or suicide program that concludes with every student filling out a screener. You get a pass delivered to you that asks you to head down to the social worker’s office. Your classmates ask you why you were called out of class, and you’re embarrassed and nervous because you don’t know why. You find out that you were called down because you circled 5 out of 7 questions that might indicate you have depression. However, the way this intervention was handled might leave you distrustful of the adults in your school and less likely to ask them for help in the future.
Screening is not without risks, and we owe it to teens to do some research into how screeners affect them (both positive and negative effects). Dear American Academy of Pediatrics: Please do your homework to find out how this recommendation would impact youth and what they think about your proposal.
3. What kind of training will doctors receive in order to be prepared to administer these screenings?
Youth should leave their doctor’s appointments feeling hopeful, empowered, heard, respected, cared for, and with a renewed sense of trust in medical professionals and adults in general. If this doesn’t happen after an appointment that includes a screener for depression, we have failed, in my opinion. Therefore, I’d strongly encourage training to go way beyond a simple “how to score the screener” and “what treatments to recommend” approach and include a lot of practice around how to have open, collaborative conversations with teen patients (and their parents!).
4. What are the most likely outcomes of universal screening?
Since we don’t know whether or not we’ll have positive mental health outcomes from universal screening, what are the outcomes we can reasonably predict at this time?
First, if we go from the current system (where some, but not all, doctors screen youth for depression, basically at their own discretion) to every doctor screening every teen at every appointment for depression, we can reasonably predict that we’ll see an increase in the number of youth receiving a depression diagnosis. Our initial reaction might be, “That’s great!” but I’ll discuss later why this is potentially problematic. There’s also a high likelihood of false positives, a common downside of school screeners too (more on school screeners for depression in a later post).
Second, if we see an increase in the number of youth receiving a depression diagnosis, it’s reasonable to assume that we would then see an increase in the number of youth receiving treatment, specifically, prescriptions for medications and referrals to mental health professionals.
5. Without evidence that youth are likely to benefit from universal screening, who are the people most likely to benefit from this recommendation?
Pharmaceutical companies. If we increase the number of youth diagnosed with depression, we increase the number of people who need treatment. If you go to a doctor’s office and say you’re struggling with depression (or a teen depression test administered at your appointment tells you that’s what you have), you’re more likely to walk away with a prescription than a mental health referral (more on this in a later post).
I would take the guidelines for depression screening for youth from the American Academy of Pediatrics more seriously if they included more diversity of voices and disciplines, especially when it comes to the lead authors. The first three lead authors of the guidelines are psychiatrists and two out of three of them have financial connections with at least one pharmaceutical company. Although of course it is unfair to group all psychiatrists together, most psychiatrists primarily rely on medication to treat mental disorders. I’d love to see more diversity at the head of this initiative.
6. What treatments or interventions will doctors recommend when a young person meets the diagnostic criteria for depression? What do we know about those treatments?
Just as we can’t assume that screening is better than no screening without doing our research, we can’t assume that treatment is always preferable to no treatment. There are times when treatment leads to poorer, rather than better, outcomes.
A huge missing piece of the new guidelines for depression screening for youth is an evaluation of the current treatments or interventions that are available for youth struggling with depression. It’s reasonable to assume that when someone screens “positive” for depression at their doctor’s appointment the next step that doctor is going to take is to talk about treatment.
Let’s be sure to have a data-driven conversation about current treatments and how effective they are (more on this in a later blog post). We shouldn’t recommend treatments until we’ve taken a closer look at how well they are (or aren’t) working and what outcomes are likely should we recommend one treatment over another.
Let’s also be sure to include lots of different kinds of “treatment” options in treatment plans above and beyond therapy and/or medication, including low-cost options like exercise, meditation, spending time with people you love and so on.
7. What’s the plan for ensuring that youth who screen positive for depression have adequate access to good help and are supported in getting connected with that help?
It is flat out irresponsible to slap the diagnosis of depression on young people and then leave it to them (and the adults in their lives) to figure out how to get good help. How involved are doctors planning to be in assisting families in the often nightmarish process of finding good help, ranging from the headache of navigating health insurance (if you have it), navigating cost (often a barrier even with insurance), and the fact that finding the right help is often a process of “trial and error?”
The young people we interviewed for our depression education and suicide awareness program and video for high schools spoke a lot about the challenges of trying to get help for depression. Sometimes there aren’t a lot of mental health resources where you live, sometimes the cost of treatment is prohibitive, sometimes the first therapist you go to isn’t the best fit.
Will doctors have the time and expertise (and patience!) to truly help youth find the right help? Will they receive training in how to collaboratively pick a treatment approach with their patients that take into account each individual’s unique circumstances, cultural background and so on? Will youth be encouraged to express their opinions and preferences around what kind of teen depression help they think would benefit them most?
We can’t slap on a depression diagnosis and then abandon youth and their families as they attempt to muddle their way through the disaster that is our healthcare system. It’s irresponsible. “First do no harm.” We better have our act together and a plan in place before implementing a policy like universal screening that will most likely result in more youth looking for care.
8. Where is the discussion around social factors that are significant contributors to mental health struggles in youth?
We live in a world where people kill one another and people don’t have enough to eat. Many of our youth lead difficult lives where their basic needs for nourishment, shelter, safety and loving relationships are not met. Others face crushing pressure to constantly achieve, are bullied via social media or rejected by their communities for who they are. If that’s not disheartening, I don’t know what is.
We need to have conversations around the social factors that contribute to depression and embrace the need for social change if we truly want to reduce youth suffering (more on this in a later post).
9. What now?
If I wake up one day and research has shown that screeners are the way to go, I will happily jump aboard that train. At the moment, we have a lot of work to do before confidently saying they are an effective and safe intervention.
Here’s what we can all do in the meantime:
Educate yourself. Don’t take research at face value.
My high school statistics teacher taught me to never take a statistic or research proclamation at face value. This paired with my natural tendency to question everything means any time I read a news report related to mental health I dig deeper. News reports of statistics or research findings are often overly simplified or the promise of a new intervention is over hyped.
Granted, I am in the privileged position of having access to journal articles. It’s not always easy to get to the source materials (more on this in a later post).
Ask for data.
We deserve well-researched public health initiatives. These public health concerns are too important to tackle willy-nilly and spend precious resources on unless we have data to back them up. If we don’t see evidence to back up a new recommendation, we have the right (and, I would argue, the responsibility) to ask for it.
Teach the youth in your life to self-advocate and where they can tap into help if they need it for themselves or a friend.
A huge part of the Erika’s Lighthouse approach to teen depression education and suicide awareness is empowering students with the language and knowledge they need to advocate for themselves should they need help. It’s very important that teens know where in their school and community they can get help. Our resources and teen depression videos can support you in teaching these important skills to the youth in your life.
Participate in the conversation and ask that more voices are heard.
The more people and diverse perspectives involved in the conversation about screeners, the better. Lend your voice to the conversation, whether you’re coming at it from the perspective of researcher, mental health practitioner, educator, parent or youth. Let’s have a great dialogue around this. I believe we will find the best solutions working collaboratively with one another.
Remember that we all have a role to play in making sure youth with depression get the help they need and deserve.
It’s important to know that I am in no way against involving pediatricians in efforts to make sure that youth with depression get the help they need and deserve. This is a community effort and primary care doctors can absolutely play an important role in checking in on their patients’ mental health.
But a screener is a single in moment time, most likely administered at most once a year. It might lull us into a false sense of security that we’ve done all we need to do to support the mental well-being of our youth.
Most of us have youth in our lives we see far more frequently than that. We can play a key role in supporting their mental well-being. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen. Get them additional support when they need it. If you’re a parent of a child with depression, educate yourself. If you work with youth in a school setting, find out what you’re doing around depression education in your building. In whatever way feels right to you, let’s work together to create a world that’s a better place for young people and their mental health.
Sarah Griebler is our Director of Program Development. She is passionate about mental health education and having open and collaborative conversations about how to best support our youth. She encourages you to add your voice to the conversation around universal depression screening for youth and to contact her if you’d like to connect further.
How many of you take your phone into the bathroom? Keep your head down as you walk through a store? Check your phone while you’re talking or “listening” to another person? Not picking up your head as you walk up or down the stairs? Ever find yourself talking on the phone while also madly searching for where you put it?
Do any of these experiences resonate with you?
You are not alone! Mental Health America says, “If you are like 91% of Americans, you keep your mobile device within reach 24 hours a day.”
I’ve encountered all of these situations. I have been known to respond almost immediately to a text, email, call, post, or comment. In fact, if I don’t respond within an hour, people get suspicious and are ready to send out the search team.
I started to think about how technology can make us unendingly available and the impact devices can have on mental health. Recent findings suggest a correlation between smartphones and teen depression and how cell phones are affecting communication.
As an adult, I started to observe how cell phones are impacting parent-child relationships within my own family and how being mindful with our smartphones can improve relationships.
After noticing how often I check my cell phone and recognizing how these behaviors impact my own mood and relationships, I made small changes and noticed positive effects in my own life.
I invite you to keep reading to learn how smartphones are impacting adolescent mental health and what parents can do to model mindful behavior with cell phones to help improve kids’ mental health.
What Does Research Say?
NPR found a new study that states teenagers are increasingly depressed, feel hopeless and are more likely to consider suicide. Jean Twenge, one of the authors of the study, said that researchers found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 — around the time smartphones become popular.
Adolescents are not spending as much time with their friends in person nor face to face with family. Teens aren’t getting the connection and social support they need. NPR said, ”Spending time with other people, in person, is one of the best predictions for psychological well-being.”
Rarely is one’s mood enhanced by scrolling through social media, looking through emails, continuously texting, or aimlessly opening different apps. In fact, for me the opposite is true. Often my heart will beat faster, I feel more stressed and anxious and can’t remember what task I was working on.
Adolescents dependence on smartphones is only growing. Teens’ cell phone addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When we interact with our device, dopamine, a hormone that signals pleasure, is released. Dopamine passes information to the front of the brain which is linked to thought and emotion.
There’s a cyclical process that takes place. Teens are asking to be “liked” and “seen” but those feelings of belonging are short-term and they continue the checking and posting process over and over, never truly being satisfied.
Have you ever had the experience of sending an email or a text and then ruminating about the tone and words used? The anxiety kids experience can lead them to checking their phone over and over to see if they received a response to a message. That response doesn’t always come, leaving kids anxious, angry, frustrated, rejected, or ignored.
Relationships and Communication
Millennials have changed the way they interact and the smartphone generation continues to enable and shape how teens interface. Though we are living in 2018 and text messaging and email are often a convenient way to contact someone, there are also challenges with these modes of communication. Many of the nuances that exist with communication via electronics can lead to misinterpretations of intent and conflict in relationships because of assumptions made.
Having a mindful relationship begins with having awareness. Ask yourself these questions:
• Are your teens using their phones to avoid experiencing discomfort?
• Are these acts facilitating interactions and activity that stands in the way of better mental health?
• Is the constant phone checking taking away from teenagers sleeping better, seeing friends, and family?
Consider the possibility that by disconnecting, parents and kids can actually connect. There is an opportunity for you as a parent to model mindful behaviors with your own phone and become more present for your children. Kids may then embrace their own opportunities to communicate effectively, enhance relationships, and find the value in presence.
Mary Waldon, LCSW said, “We want to raise our awareness and be more mindful about our behaviors.” She goes on to say that the last thing we want to do is attach judgments to behaviors since it creates a cycle of shame.
Constant phone checking is automatic and familiar and may even be a routine. It is important to remember that modifying behavior takes time, and each moment is an opportunity to change.
As a parent, you can help your teen become more mindful of their phone behaviors.
You can encourage teens to think about the intent and purpose prior to sending a message. If kids find themselves sending off a message to regulate an emotion or settle an impulse, encourage them to check in and ask themselves, “Should I be sending this right now?”
If the answer is no, perhaps this is a moment for them to utilize their device for a guided meditation, look at one of their favorite photos, or listen to their favorite song.
As a parent, you can model mindful phone use and make small changes that can help teens improve relationships and emotional health.
8 Things You Can Change About Your Phone Behavior
• Don’t look at your phone for the first 15 minutes of waking up
• Before checking your phone, ask yourself, “Do I want or need to check this right now?”
• Put your phone away when traveling to or from your destination
• Set aside 1 hour during the day to be phone free
• Silence or turn off your phone 1 hour before bed-time (nighttime is an especially beneficial time to be mindful of phone usage)
• When walking from one place to another, keep your phone in your pocket or bag
• Change app settings on your phone to only use wifi which automatically limits usage
• Avoid multitasking – focus on one thing at a time (if you are using your phone, make sure it’s the only thing you’re doing)
There are times when phones are not needed and we can practice utilizing these moments to connect, be present for your kids, appreciate the freeing feeling and notice your surroundings.
For me, being mindful about how I use my phone is a daily challenge, and I can confidently say it is worth it. Ultimately, being more aware can create a more mindful relationship with oneself and others. I hope that you and your kids will choose one idea to implement to be more mindful with your phones and improve mental health.
Any questions? Have a tip of your own? Please share and comment below-we would love to hear from you!
For more information about helping your child with mental health download our parent handbook on childhood and teen depression.
Shira Lichtenstein, M.A. Psychology, is our Social Media Coordinator. She is currently pursuing a Masters in social work at The University of Chicago. Shira oversees social media communication and uses different platforms to help spread our message and promote our curricula for depression education. Shira’s background includes working with families, schools and adolescents. Shira is passionate about mental health issues and strongly believes that given the right tools and resources, anyone can improve their mental health.
Prior to running the marathon I ran a yearly 5k on thanksgiving just to eat more and see if I could still do it. I watched Erika’s Lighthouse runners two years ago at the Chicago marathon and loved the energy of the day. Of course Erika’s Lighthouse is near and dear to my heart and I knew running for such a worthy cause would be a great motivator.
I also had a high school friend that wanted to run it to commemorate our fiftieth birthdays. She agreed to join the Erika’s Lighthouse team and off we went.
We ran short runs during the week and long runs as a team on Saturdays together. I thought I was just going for runs and it would be lonely but what I discovered was a community of generous people helping any and all levels. Our differences melted away and we all became runners sharing this transformative experience.
I had good runs that inspired me to dream of a fast marathon and tough runs that challenged my resilience. This wasn’t going to be something quick. It took time. Patience and discipline became the most important qualities even more than fitness. How could I occupy my mind for all those hours? Podcasts was the answer for me.
The best runs were with a buddy. My sister in law ran my first ten miler with me. It was hot and hilly and tough. She knew just when to encourage me and helped me get through a tough mile. My high school friend ran with me for my first half marathon training run. We met another Erika’s Lighthouse runner, Kim, and ran together. Again the support was generous, each runner encouraging the other through their tough part. Then the big twenty miler that everyone kept talking about. It’s the longest mileage during the training phase. Ours was ninety degrees and humid, not ideal conditions, and tough didn’t describe it. And again my friend and I ran with another runner we just happened to pace with. She talked about her love of running, a favorite marathon in Minnesota and again we all helped each other get through the later miles. I think April called it the ultra-marathon shuffle. The shared experience through something so challenging was the biggest reward.
I will never forget the crowd’s encouragement. I was told it will carry the runner through but it’s hard to believe that until you see and hear it. Chicago is a beautiful city and although it was a warm day to run, the sun shining on our beautiful city made it glisten. The character of each neighborhood was a delight, from Lincoln Park and old town through little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown and the west side, the flavor and sounds of all these places made the run so fun. And the bands, I passed so many fun bands, what a party!
During my run I was so lucky to see my family twice, my high school girl friends twice and Erika’s Lighthouse supporters cheering me on. What a difference those beautiful smiling faces made. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the love and support.
The end of the race was rewarding for the accomplishment, surely, but the journey is what I will always remember. In the end, all the individuals I had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with on this awesome endeavor, all the friends and family that supported with kind words and generous donations to Erika’s Lighthouse, this made the most impact on my life.
I ran over twenty miles with knee pain that I had never experienced before. It slowed me down but never stopped me. I endured. Admittedly I am competitive though and not entirely satisfied with my time. I just may have to do it again 🙂
If you are interested in running for Erika’s Lighthouse, sign up today, limited spots available!