So, Bill is a runner and has completed 4 ultras, and for those of you who may not know running jargon, these are runs over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles…the ones he has done are 100 miles. He has literally run 100 miles in a 24 hour period. And, he has done this on 4 separate occasions. When I typed those last 2 sentences, I was using my ‘gobsmacked’ voice (I talk when I type…no surprise there 🙄) so that each word came out like I was saying a sentence such as: “I am now seeing a UFO land in my yard with little green men working their way up my porch steps.” That’s how flabbergasted I am by the thought of running 100 miles (I don’t think I have ever typed or used the word ‘flabbergasted’ in my life. Hmm…I am sounding more and more like my gramma everyday 🤨).
Anyhoot, he is starting to train for another ultra and asked me to do it with him and I non-committedly said: “When?” He said it was next November and I said: “November 2028? Because that’s how long it would take me to run the freaking thing anyway.” He said: “No, Kristi. Eleven months from now.” After I laughed and rolled my eyes, he said he was being serious…that he thought I could do it. So, I did what any other grown, mature 54 year old woman does: I called my ma. Here’s our conversation…word for word…
“Ma, Bill wants me to run an ‘ultra’ with him next November.”
“That’s nice. Where is it?”
Ma, it’s down south and is an ‘ultra’.
“That’s nice. Why are you telling me this now? Will you want me to watch you do it?”
“Ma, do you know what an ‘ultra’ is?”
“Yes, Kristi, I do. It’s when you run a race and then get an ultrasound afterwards.”
“No, ma…it’s a 100 mile run.”
“What? You are out of your flipping mind if you think you are going to run a 100 miles. You have bipolar and fibromyalgia, both which cause you to be on meds that you have to take every single day at the same time every single day and that affect you in numerous ways. You will run that ultra over my dead body.”
So, I’m going to run the ultra in November and I’m actually kind of obligated now anyway. The last time ma said that it would be over her dead body if I did something, it was when she forbade me (2 years ago 🙄) to pierce my nose. Long story short: I pierced my nose.
Anyhoot, Bill and I were yacking about it and I said I didn’t know if I had what it takes to do something like that and he said this: “It’s mostly mental…you need a lot of mental fortitude and the right mind-set to get through it.” Well, the minute I heard it was ‘mostly mental’ my first thought was “I’m fucked” (sorry, ma…but I know you are cussing anyway so…😳). But as I started thinking more and more about it, I think I can do it.
Did you know that even though bipolar affects ‘only’ about 3% of the population, it’s the 6th leading cause of disability in the world (WHO)? And that along with ‘just’ the symptoms of depression and mania, people with bipolar often experience anxiety, have ADHD, might experience PTSD, or have a co-existing substance abuse disorder?
The Social Security Administration determines eligibility for bipolar based on various criteria, with the specific ones associated with bipolar to be the following:
- Depressive syndrome characterized by a minimum of 4 of the following:
- Anhedonia (loss of interest in almost all activities)
- Appetite disturbances with changes in weight
- Sleep disturbance
- Psychomotor agitation or ‘retardation’
- Decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating/thinking
- Suicidal thoughts (at times)
- Manic syndrome characterized by a minimum of 3 of the following:
- Pressured speech (in other words, not being able to NOT talk)
- Flight of ideas
- Inflated self-esteem
- Decreased need for sleep
- Easy distractibility
- Engaging in activities with little awareness of the consequences (at times)
So, take a look-see at these lists that determine disability benefits and the symptoms in red are the ones I ALWAYS experience during various episodes. Always. However, I have NEVER had a psychotic break (although hallucinating that Taron Egerton is…well…doing ‘something’ to me would be a nice one 😏).
Now, what’s the point of me showing you all of this? How does me qualifying for disability have anything in hell with running an ultra? Everything!
You see, I have a lot of mental fortitude and I know there are so so many people out there who suffer from mental illness that do as well. We are the ones who have to work. Who have to care for our families. Who have to make decisions. Who have to get out and do for ourselves what ‘everyone’ else does. Except, we’re doing it with a potentially incapacitating mental illness.
My ma knows a gal who is bipolar and can’t live on her own, take care of herself fully, or work at any job other than a part-time one that is menial in nature, despite her intelligence. Now, I’m not saying menial work is bad…any honest/hard work is something to be proud of. I’m simply saying this gal is forced into such a position because of her mental illness. And just so you know, I’ve worked many a ‘menial’ jobs to get through college…my favorite? Getting up at 2:00 in the morning to work at a laundromat doing all of the wash for a local hotel. That, my sweetie peeps, was actually kinda cool.
So why have I been able to teach in the same school for the past 24 years and work for the state and teach GED classes and teach elementary school in years past? Because I had too. And, because I wanted too. I was the main breadwinner in my marriages for most of their duration and for 2, the entire time. I was also the primary caregiver in terms of taking care of my sonshine, taking care of the indoor and outside work, etc. It ‘was what it was’ and I’m here to tell you this:
There are times when I’m so depressed that I walk into my classroom and force myself to not start bawling but to lecture and stay focused and create the energy to see the class through. But I do it. I fucking do it. I depend on my work for all that I have in terms of money, etc., and I know my students depend on me for all they need from their classes. I have an obligation to them to be my very best every single time we’re together and I learned, a loooong time ago, that I needed to be able to summon up the backbone and tenacity to do that for them.
Then, there are days I’m so manic that staying focused and not jumping around and talking so fast my students need an interpreter is tough tough tough to control. But once again, I do it.
And I’m not special…not by a long-shot. Millions of people live with their mental illnesses every single day and do what they need to do. We work when we want to huddle in a corner and cry. We parent when our energy is so sapped by what’s going on in our brains we can barely think straight. We partner when we’ve given so much to ourselves to get through the day but are still finding more to give to them as well.
We aren’t heroes. We aren’t super-people. We have these illnesses and we’ve learned how to deal with them the best we can. I know there are some mental illnesses that are so severe that this simply isn’t possible. And how horrible for those that suffer from them. Being on disability for any illness/issue that is incapacitating is nothing to be ashamed of…that’s what the benefits are for. But those of us that are able to get through aren’t seen the same.
“You work and live by yourself…you must not have bipolar very bad.” (I’ve actually had that spoken to me…grammar included). “How can you work and be so sick…isn’t that bad for your students?” (Ditto on this one too). No, it’s not ‘bad’ for my students. I’m a great professor (the one thing in this world I am actually good at 😐) and no matter what it takes to get me to ‘work’ everyday is worth it…I need the people and conversation and a chance to share my passion and that feeling of accomplishment I get when I come home from campus or log off my computer. My family and students are my heart and I will always be there for them.
Back to the Ultra. Can I do it? Fucking right I can. I have the mental fortitude and strength of a dung beetle! (OK…I had to use that example because the dung beetle is the strongest insect on earth and my ma always says I’m full of crap! 💩). I struggle with mental illness everyday and persevere through the really shitty things bipolar throws at me.
So, ma…I’m going to do it. I definitely don’t want it over your ‘dead body’ and I know that was your way of making your feelings known in an even more dramatic way than usual. But you don’t have to worry. Because you know that I’ve gotten over things in my life and gotten through things in my life that pale to running ‘just’ a 100 miles. As the song says: “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”