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When “Suck It Up, Buttercup” Falls Short

One of SBM’s long-time friends and readers sent me this amazing piece.  She originally contacted me with this question:  

  • “I’m wondering if you would possibly entertain a blog post about mental health issues and triathlon. MANY folks use triathlon as a release, or a way to deal with stress… but there’s a small, quiet group that battles real clinical mental health issues. Issues that are legally considered disabilities and when they flair up, can be more debilitating than a broken foot. I know most people don’t understand and I am so glad they don’t!  But It would mean a great deal (at least to me) if there was some way to help folks who don’t deal with this understand why simply saying ‘suck it up, buttercup’ doesn’t work in ALL cases.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  As someone who battles depression and addiction in my own ways – this is an incredibly inspiring post, full of chills and tears.

I am more than proud to post this blog from “S”… in hope that it helps some of the others out there who may be struggling.  In closing (of my thoughts), I want you all to know that it’s never too late to start… it’s never too far gone to believe in yourself again… and there is always hope. We are an Army. Let’s be here for each other.   #JustKeepMovingForward.

* * *

Four and a half years ago, I started running. Not because I was overweight (though I was) or because I needed to get into shape (though I needed to desperately). I began running because I was going through the worst crisis of my life and the only thing that made sense was running.

I hesitate to give too much information about what was happening because it would be unnecessary. I was working diligently to cover bruises every day. My family was in shambles.  I finally plucked the courage one hot, sunny afternoon, right before the kids were going to start school again, and we left. For good.

I endured stalking, being publicly humiliated and losing most of my friends. I still look over my shoulder all the time. I still check every room and closet in the house when I first get home.

I have a restraining order against someone. I know it’s just a piece of paper.

Over the intervening months, of reestablishing a new “normal” I discovered triathlon. It gave me a place to feel good about myself, it gave me new goals, and structure. It granted me a new group of friends who didn’t know about what I had been through.

In short, triathlon saved my life.

While it did save my life, it didn’t make everything magically better. I was depressed, angry. I didn’t sleep- sometimes for days. I found myself thinking, “if only I could get out of this town and start over, I could feel safe. If only I could start over some place new, I could finally kick this funk.”

A year and a half ago, I was given an amazing opportunity to move to the other side of the country to work for a university. I said my good-byes, left my friends, boarded a plane and set off to start a new life with my children in a place far, far from my problems.

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Only my problems weren’t geographical.

After I had been in my new home for a couple of months I hit a new low. I was desperate. I did the one thing I had never done: I sought counseling. I was diagnosed with PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was devastated because I was mentally ‘sick’ and the fix wasn’t going to be quick or easy. In some cases, PTSD is considered a life long disability.

Yes, disability.

Being viewed by the ADA as having a disability didn’t really fit with my world view of myself and I pushed harder to be ‘normal’. I attempted to ‘suck it up, Buttercup’ but what that often did was send me into downward spiral of self hate because there are days when leaving the house for work is an insurmountable task- never mind the work out I had planned later that afternoon.

Through all of last year, I managed a 15 minute PR in a half marathon, and managed to increase my cycling distance to 75 miles for my long rides. I finished my thesis and got my Master’s Degree. I thought I had dodged the bullet. I thought I was better. I was aiming for a full Ironman in my training in 2015. Then my depression and sleep got worse.

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There are several things you should understand about PTSD. It changes you. Not because you want to change but because it changes the structure of your brain. The amygdalae and hippocampus of people who suffer from PTSD and even clinical forms of depression, is markedly smaller than that of someone who doesn’t have these disorder and who gets the blues from time to time.

It’s too simple to say that these are emotional problems, there are real physical differences in the brain. Those physical differences cause a whirlwind of ‘emotional’ problems.

Certain things, called triggers, can set off an horrible reaction in someone who has PTSD. For instance, one day, as I was commuting to work by bike, a large truck that fit the exact description of the one that my ex used to drive, almost hit me. The driver blared the horn. To make it worse, it seems that the driver had a bit of road rage. He turned around, and slowed down beside me to yell obscenities at me before pulling away in a cloud of exhaust.

Several years ago, this would have bothered me but I would have been ok. I would have been able to continue on my way to work.

That day, I fell off my bike, and laid in the street crying uncontrollably, unaware that I was actually ok and not in danger.

It ended the day for me.

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It is called a flashback.

A flashback isn’t like an ordinary memory that you call up on purpose that might make you sad or mad. A flashback happens without you calling up the memory. Everything from today goes away and you are back reliving something horrible that’s happened in the past.

Panic is also something very new to me. In the last year, I’ve ridden more miles than I’ve driven my car. My ex was a person who hated cyclists and once tried to run an entire peloton of riders off the road. I carry that with me. There are times when I can simply put music in my ears and push through and find the sweet spot and ride for miles. There are times when a large, loud engine will make me feel like my heart is going to explode. There’s nothing to do those days but to get off the road and home where I can feel safe and try again another day.

PTSD is also insidious.

It takes other disorders and makes them part of your world. Most people don’t completely understand what depression really means. For reasons not entirely understood by me, I find myself sinking into depression. Usually this surrounds an anniversary of an event. I may not be consciously thinking about it but part of my brain is thinking about it.

The way depression feels to me is that there must be an elephant sitting on my chest. It physically hurts to breathe. I can try all I like to push through my day but a good portion of my energy will be used just trying to breath in and out.

It hurts. It saps my energy.

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Running through it feels like trudging through mud up to your knees. It leaves you feeling defeated.

I have nightmares almost every night. Sometimes several a night. Sometimes just one but that ONE is enough to keep me from going back to sleep.

Through all of this I’ve trained through miles and miles of swimming, biking and running. Sometimes the symptoms get the better of me. I wind up in bed unable to do more than breathe and even that hurts.

I hear people say things like, ‘You just need someone to hold you accountable.’ ‘Suck it up, Buttercup!’ ‘Buck up! He’s not here anymore! Everything is great!’ ‘What do you have to be sad about? You have a wonderful life’

I wish it was so simple. I really do. I wish I could simply get up RIGHT NOW and walk out that door and start running but today has been difficult. I WANT to run but that pressure is back on my chest and just putting on my shoes would be a monumental task.

People who say those well-intentioned things make me feel like a failure.

I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m angry at myself. I want the woman I knew back but she is gone. In her place is this person who is STILL pushing, and STILL moving forward even though she keeps falling.

Please be gentle fellow triathletes. Theres a saying: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. We are all fighting battles. Some are fighting the battle of an unsupportive spouse, some of debilitating illness, some are fighting other demons.

We all have this one thing which unites us and drives us.

Take care the words you let fall from your lips. Just keep moving forward, always.

I will be.

Release

25 Comments

  • Lisa

    April 3, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I was just discussing this with a co-worker this morning. People often look at the seemingly great life of the depressed person and say, “What have they got to be depressed about? They should be grateful, get over it, suck it up, etc…” Nobody would ever say that to someone who had cancer, ms or even the common cold. Thanks for sharing. Our society needs to understand that mental illness is as real as any other illness in order to erase the stigma that prevents people from getting the help they need.

    Reply
  • Tiina

    April 3, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    What a wonderful post to share. I fight my own demons, but more than that, I fight every time someone says that simple will and effort can beat depression. It can’t. And THAT’S OKAY. It doesn;t make anyone a lesser person or weak. It just makes them different. The same way that someone with diabetes or high blood pressure is different. You wouldn’t tell one of them to just buck up, right? Well done to S for fighting the brave fight and knowing to ask for help. Hugs to her.

    Reply
  • Tara

    April 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you, “S”, for writing this post and sharing with the SMB Army. You’ve done a wonderful job describing how PTSD can effect a person, no matter where she is and despite her own best efforts to Keep.Moving.Forward. As a fellow someone who has PTSD, and who managed to be asymptomatic for 6 years before having PTS challenges again in the past year, I know it is really tough when it is actively and chronically dismantling one’s sense of well-being and ability to “do” the work of daily life with any sense of success. Your perseverance through circumstances, your ability to make choices to benefit yourself and your children contribute to your becoming a survivor who can give insight into this journey and I am humbled to know you are part of the SMB Army.

    Reply
  • Carly

    April 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing!! You may or may not feel like an incredibly strong, brave woman on the inside, but you obviously are. Love to you and all the best for your present and future training.

    Reply
  • Carol Tarby

    April 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. I have battled depression, PTSD, and mild psychosis for 20 years. I initially treated it by drinking alcoholically. I am about to celebrate 18 years sober, and even though life has gotten much better, most of the time, sometimes it is not better. I just spent a week in a psychiatric hospital because the depression was so bad. I started running 6 years ago, and got into triathloning 4 years ago. It has helped tremendously. I send you many positive prayers and thoughts. Have a great triathlon season!

    Reply
  • Kristin

    April 3, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you for your raw, real, honest description of the kinds of things I work on and with every day in my private practice. Powerful explanation that I will be sure to share with clients who need it most.

    Reply
    • s

      April 3, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Kristen,

      Thank you. I have tried very hard to work through this and I’m still not there. My therapist is frustrated because I still blame myself for so many things and I push, far too hard and live life too ‘close to the edge’

      I’m TRYING but I often feel I am ramming my head against a brick wall. I think that I am probably not the only one.

      -S

      Reply
  • Patti

    April 3, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    i am sending you healing vibes and I hear that you are not feeling sorry for yourself but you MUST give yourself the space and time to heal – I would send you to pro triathlete Jordan Rapp’s blog regarding flashbacks and I will tell you as a woman who went thru breast cancer diagnosis and treatment two years ago – you can’t just “suck it up” – sweetie, you been thru some shit and it’s gonna take time! I wish you well and do Not Doubt your strength!

    Reply
  • C

    April 3, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I thought it was just me. I have PTSD…were we married to the same guy? LOL. Mine hip tossed me in 2011 across a room in front of my kids, giving me an avulsion fraction that has never healed right. Some days I can’t straddle the bike, and usually when I do I hurt like hell. I’m TERRIFIED riding on the road, the first time I got on a bike again last year I nearly blacked out from fear. My triathlete boyfriend who got me into the sport didn’t realize my “cramp” was actually me nearly passing out from the fear of my ex coming up and knocking me off the road. Part of me feels like I’m asking for it, because I fall a LOT and eventually I’ll fall on that hip and complete the break he started. I still have days where I can’t leave the house. I drink too much then the next day buck up and try again. I feel safe in the pool for some reason but I’m terrified in open water…but screw it, I’m going to do it, My first sprint is June 6th. When I do that race I’m finishing it for myself AND for you and for everyone else out there going through this because it is HELL. I don’t know if its ever going to go away, I don’t know how long its been for you…I think its getting better and this sport is helping. I’m trying to learn to be kinder to myself because like you I get the most angry at myself..why can’t I just push through this? I’ve been through so much why is a freaking bicycle beating me? I will keep you in my thoughts my friend.

    Reply
  • Jennifer

    April 3, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    some things are not suck it up buttercup and require counseling, meds and understanding and quiet hugs..I too have PTSD and the tri swim is my number 1 trigger….the good thing is over the years it has gotten better and better and the triggers harder to push and the flashbacks have lasted shorter and I pull it together easier and the nightmares fewer..unless…I overtrain…don’t deal with my daily stress as I should….hang in there! you are doing great! keep it up and with every step back usually we make 2-3 forward- focus on the forward and know there will be backwards here and there and its ok…and normal for what you have- its ok and you are loved and most people are not like your ex

    Reply
  • Linsey

    April 3, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you! I could have written the exact same thing. This is my life too. Thank you for posting and for letting me know that it’s ok to not be ok some days and not to beat myself up over not training. I wish you all the best and please know there are some great therapies that really help PTSD. We will be ever changed but it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy.

    Reply
  • M

    April 3, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    this is such a brave post. As a fellow survivor your story took me back to a very dark time in my life. I have been on my own for fifteen years now and through triathlon and counseling finally feel like I am starting to find myself and happiness again :). We are your sisters and we are here for you every step of the way!! Thanks for sharing a story that needs to be told 🙂

    Reply
  • Jennifer

    April 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you for putting yourself out there for everyone to see.

    I don’t have PTSD but I do have chronic depression with anxiety along with issues with food and self esteem. I have done the therapy and medications, you don’t want to see me without them, and I can talk the talk when needed, but it only lasts for a few days to weeks.

    Right now I am really fighting it with my training and it has really suffered. I can’t get enough sleep or all I do is sleep. It is a cycle that I continue to attempt to stop and it is hard to do. It is more than just putting your big girl panties on and doing it.

    Reply
  • Duckie

    April 3, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I too suffer from depression and PTSD. It sucks when you become overcome with panic and become so out of control of your emotions.
    Depression can’t be cured by “pulling up your boot straps”… I wish more people understood.
    Thank you for being such a good voice.
    I have a sticker on my car that says “I run so I don’t kill people”. lol
    I run.. and now swim and bike… to keep my emotions under control. Without exercise, I don’t know who I’d be.

    Reply
  • Sara

    April 3, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    “s” thank you so much for sharing. I HAD — so awesome to be able to say had–PTSD from childhood rape. Luckily I found a great therapist–after many years and different therapists– who recognized that I had it. I did prolonged exposure therapy and I can say that I don’t have PTSD anymore. I still have depression which luckily I’ve found the combo of drugs that help me but I NEED the endorphins of working out. I’m not sure if prolonged exposure therapy is an option for you but it saved my life! Thanks again for sharing!

    Reply
  • cheryl

    April 6, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    One day at a time.
    I was physically and mentally abused by my ex. I still have to see him occasionally as we share a daughter. Sometimes I find myself going back to the “weak” person I was when I was living with him. Now (finally) I have somewhat moved t through altho I still think myself less than I am…only because he made me believe it at one time. Take care of your kids and do well at your job and have fun with your workouts…keep it light. hugs.

    Reply
  • Kelly

    April 8, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing – it is so helpful to hear that we are all fighting battles. I will keep that saying in my heart and try always to be gentle with those around me.

    Reply

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