In my athletic days of high school, I was a designated runner of the 800-meter dash, AKA the race that is so gosh dang painful that it needs to be ex- plained by exercise physiologists.
Well, I’m not an exercise physiologist. So I’ll ex- plain why the 800 is so horrible in the simplest way possible.
Basically, during the race your breathing switch- es from short distance (fast pace) breathing to long distance (endurance pace) breathing. This change in oxygen intake not only fatigues your muscles to the point of extreme cramping after running, but it stretches your lungs to their maximum capability.
So you aren’t just lying on the grass moaning with cramping calves, glutes and hamstrings – you’re also feeling like someone is stacking anvils on your chest. If you run an 800 correctly, this is what you’ll experience for a good ten minutes after you finish.
This is normal.
But when I ran the 800, I thought that coughing so hard that you cried was also normal. I thought that the power of your cough gagging you and occasion- ally making you throw up was just what happened when you pushed yourself. I also thought that keep- ing that cough for three days after your meet was something that just happened to everyone.
Well, I thought wrong. I thought wrong for a solid three seasons of track.
At a particularly heinous, hot, pollen-polluted meet during my senior year my abnormality was revealed to me. After I ran my heart out in a horribly competitive race, I could not catch my breath no matter what I did. I was coughing, gagging, dry heaving and repeating over and over again until I finally threw up and then kept on coughing. I felt like with every breath in, I was coughing up five breaths worth of oxygen.
Of course, I just saw this case as only slightly worse than normal, but my mom saw it for what it was – dangerous and worth seeking treatment for.
So after a full day of me going in and out of coughing spells with a sweatshirt pressed in front of my mouth to warm the oxygen I was taking in, my mom drove me to my uncle’s house so that I could borrow his albuterol inhaler. After brief instructions on how to use it and two pumps of the lung-opening medicine, I was finally able to catch my breath.
But even with the relief from the inhaler, my cough persisted and returned to its original hack throughout the night.
So, the next day I was dismissed from class in order to see my family doctor and find a solution for my lingering cough. Upon telling him what the situation was and how this always happened to me after the 800, he gave me a diagnosis which was exercise-induced asthma.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), more than 25 million Americans have asthma. Of those 25 million, 90 percent of those cases are exercise-induced.
So it’s very normal.
But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean that it you should just ignore it and go about life coughing your lungs out and potentially risking your life.
I believe that the same can be said for mental illness.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States, but of those affected, only 36.9 percent receive treatment.
There’s a reason why I can’t find any statistics about untreated asthma in America: because it’s only logical if you have something that hinders your homeostasis and threatens your lifespan, you should go and get it taken care of.
According to the non-profit organization Mayo Clinic, symptoms of asthma include: shortness of breath, chest tightening or pain, coughing or wheezing attacks and trouble sleeping. These symptoms are not only bothersome – they’re life-threatening. 10 Americans die each day from asthma attacks, ac- cording to the AAFA.
Meanwhile, according to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), every day approximately 123 Americans die by suicide. That means that someone commits suicide every 12 minutes. That means over 44,865 Americans die by suicide every year.
So if mental illness is so common and such a threat to the lives of Americans, then why aren’t they seeking treatment like they would with some- thing as common as asthma?
Why is mental illness treated like it’s something reserved for “crazy” people or people who have hard lives?
Why are the responses to mental illness so quick to call it something that people should “get over”?
I have no clue.
It baffles me. It disgusts me. Depression and anxiety are normal. They are so common and so treatable. According to SAVE, 80 to 90 percent of all people who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy or medication. Yet suicide remains the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.
So we need to talk about it. We need to be able to treat it like it’s normal because it is! People should not be afraid to ask someone for help. People should not feel uncomfortable when someone mentions that he or she is on antidepressants. People should not cringe at the mention of panic attacks. People should not see the topic of mental illness as the elephant in the room. People should be allowed to be ill and they should be allowed to seek treatment. Because if you feel like you can’t breathe – you go to the doctor.
If you feel that you may struggle with anxiety or depression, I urge you – please seek help. I know that it can be intimidating and that it can feel hope- less, but not stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t worth risking your health.
For those of you who aren’t comfortable with talking to a therapist: talk to a friend or a counselor or a family member that you trust.
For those of you who feel like you can’t afford therapy sessions: OBU has a Counseling Clinic on campus that offers income-based sessions and for OBU students the first ten session are completely free of cost.
For those of you who don’t want to go to a clinic or talk to anyone you know, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8225 and you do not have to be suicidal to use it.
Finally, for those of you who are afraid to talk to anyone please don’t stay silent. You are worthy of being heard and you are worthy of help. Though you might feel like you’re trapped, you aren’t. You can never fall farther than into the hands of God. There’s still hope. There’s still goodness. You are worthy and you are loved.