As I start off my story of mental health, I first wanted to give you, the reader, a little bit of a background of myself. My name is Blake Hettinger, and I am a high school student attending Wyomissing Junior Senior High School in eastern Pennsylvania.
I started my true running career in junior high — 7th grade. Before that I’ve competed in some county races around Berks and was also a part of our school’s running club in 3rd and 4th grade. I remember during those years being a part of the running club getting those majestic feet that you got to put on your chain necklace after you finished coloring your card of laps around the playground.
Other than that, I would say I’m a mid-distance runner who is trying to make those dreams of PRs into reality. Also, as I start my college search, I hope to keep improving so I can hopefully continue my running career after high school and into college.
Now that you know who I am a little bit more, I wanted to talk about my mental health struggles with anxiety that I’ve dealt with in the past. For me and many others, I’m going to deal with anxiety for the rest of my life. It's inevitable.
My story begins in 3rd grade, when I got into a skiing accident up in the Poconos. During this accident I had slipped on ice going down a double black diamond, and my ski had slashed and chipped my left tibia. From this day on I’ve been a victim of anxiety.
While I recovered from my injury I could barely walk due to the debilitating pain. I vividly remember my 3rd grade teacher Mr. Koz carrying me around the halls. At this point I wasn’t so sure why I started to experience anxiety, but I can only assume it was because of the fear of getting hurt again. Over the days that eventually turned into weeks of fearing pretty much anything and everything that could go wrong, my parents decided to get me help with a therapist.
When I was with my therapist, I learned that the only way you’re going to get over your fears is to face them. I had also learned many techniques on how to cope with anxiety, but they had really only started to help me in the past couple of years as I got older and understood it more clearly.
Being only a little 3rd grader, I could only understand so much of what my therapist taught me, and all I knew was that something was hurting me inside that I couldn’t understand. I had that out-of-body feeling, almost as if life wasn’t real and I wasn’t real.
Since I didn’t know what I was experiencing at the time and couldn’t explain that feeling to my parents, I started to think of suicidal thoughts just because I couldn’t handle it anymore. As I expressed this to my parents and school guidance counselors, I began to visit my therapist more frequently down in Philadelphia.
Things just got patched up, but nothing was really fixed yet —it was like fixing a 20-year-old car that had 200,000 miles on it, and just trying to keep it running another thousand miles. At this time, I had still cried over my anxiety almost every night and collapsed every morning before going to school crying again.
Then, what I believe was my parents' last straw, was when I punched a hole in our window. I was so stressed over this feeling of loss of reality.With the help of my parents and my therapist’s input, they made what seemed to be the best decision possible for me — which was to hospitalize me at the Horsham Clinic in Montgomery PA.
I arrived at the Horsham Clinic around 1 AM after being transported from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Of course I didn’t like only being able to briefly see my parents once a day over the course of my three-week stay. When I was there, it felt like I was in jail. It was so horrible and scary for me as I was being watched over 24/7.
Nevertheless, while I was there I finally became the self I’d used to be after I was put on an antidepressant medication. Like I said before, this was the best decision my parents had made for me.
So, what does this have to do with running?
Now that I’m older and more understanding of my unique situation, I find that running has been one of the best activities that helped me to cope with my mental health. Overall, running has truly done the most for me. There are countless times that I’ve been stressed out because of school or something else and I’ve used running to clear my thoughts.
Recently, after contracting Covid-19, I’ve been given a great opportunity to reflect on the things that running has done for me, which led me to want to share my story.
I am a firm believer that no matter whether you are an athlete or not, your mental health should always come first.
If able to, I strongly suggest taking a break and going for an easy jog around your neighborhood no matter your skill level — just go do it. You should just use your run as a time to clear your mind of every stressor and anxious thought. Then, even after your run you will feel so accomplished of the task you’ve taken on, because of all the endorphins that are being released after your run.
Not only running will cause this, but just any act of exercise will help you. So, next time you are stressed out or feel overly anxious — don’t just let it control you, find peace in being outside and going on a run.