Alison D.

@allyruns26point2 | contributor
Runner. Marathoner. Badass snowboarder and rock climber. STEM educator. Run towards love, you’ll never regret it. Races run: 15K x 2 | 10 miler x 3 | 13.1 x 3 | 26.2 x 4 (and counting)
Community Voices

April Writing Challenge

You see my smile, and the way she looks at me. You see her
little tongue, licking my sweaty cheek. You see a girl, happy, content,
satisfied with the life she is living. You see her, don’t you? What if you’re wrong? What if this girl isn’t as happy as
can be? What if this girl is hiding and hurting? Because the truth behind this
photo is a girl stressed out about her schoolwork, about the upcoming exam she
is to take, about the thousands of dollars in debt that she is. The truth
behind this photo is a girl who wants to give her rescue pup away because she
doesn’t deserve such a loving, kindhearted animal in her life. The truth behind
this photo is a girl who can barely get out of bed in the morning, doesn’t find
enjoyment in going to work every day, and is struggling to take care of herself
mentally, physically and emotionally.   This is the face of somebody who has #MajorDepressiveDisorder#MajorDepressiveDisorder,
PTSD, an #Anxiety#Anxiety disorder, #Dysautonomia#Dysautonomia, and anorexia. Yet this is also the
face of a girl training for two marathons this year, hoping to obtain her PhD
in molecular and cell biology, and a fierce fighter.   So think twice next time you see somebody smiling and
cheerful, because they may be fighting a silent battle, something you cannot
tell from their smiling face.

Community Voices

My Mental Illness has Robbed Me of Life

I choke back the tears. I sit at my lab desk wondering what
it is that I’ve done wrong. I can’t fathom leaving my program without a degree
yet that is what I’m setting myself up to do. I’ve applied to a couple jobs and
I’m still in graduate school, with a pending exam follow-up coming in 8 weeks
time. I thought this is what I’m passionate about. I was so good
at it too, then it all fell apart this year. For some reason, things began to
spiral as I began to do work in therapy. And now my #MajorDepressiveDisorder#MajorDepressiveDisorder
is roaring back. No medication seems to keep it in check anymore. I’m hallow.   Have you had your life robbed from you thanks to your mental
illness? Or your invisible illness? I’m exhausted all the time. I don’t eat
because I’m too fat and too lazy to run so I can’t eat because I fear being
ridiculed for my weight again. My #Anxiety#Anxiety disorder keeps me from pursuing what
it is I love but then again, I don’t even know anymore. Do you?   Do you know who you are? I’m an empty shell that sheds
tears. I barely walk my two dogs and I can’t have my service dog with me and it’s
a battle I’m close to giving up fighting.   It’s not normal, or should I say what is normal? I think of
#Suicide#Suicide often, of going numb, of not feeling anymore that I just don’t want to
wake up one day.   Do you ever feel so lost in your mental illness that you don’t
know which direction to continue in? Have you been robbed of your life?  

Community Voices

When taking care of yourself makes you feel like a failure

If it’s a decision you made because you are taking care of
yourself, does that make you a failure and a disappointment? I decided, some time ago, I need to take myself out of the
environment that I work in. There have been accessibility issues for my service
dog, mistreatment towards me compared to my co-workers, and the fact that I
would wake up in severe panic at just the thought of facing going in to work
for the day. I decided to leave my PhD program and opt to take a Master’s
degree, to enter the workforce and pursue something I feel I am passionate
about: science outreach.   Yet how come, with my decision, I don’t feel relief. How
come, with my decision, I don’t feel elation and pride that I made a decision
in honor of my own #MentalHealth#MentalHealth and safety? How come, with my decision, I feel
I am letting the entire support system I have down, and that I’m a failure and
disappointment to my family, despite all the hurtful things they tell me?   I’ve been told over and over by somebody who is supposed to
be 1000% supportive of me is that I made the wrong decision. If I had only
listened to this person, I would have a job paying 5, 6 figures and living in
comfort. Yet doesn’t it matter that I’m going to be miserable with the career
this person decided for me? Doesn’t my happiness matter at all? I am constantly told I am not good enough, that I am a
disappointment, that I “am a waste of money”. Yes, I was told by said person
that I am a waste of money.   How can you be more comfortable with the decision you made
when all the signs around you point to the fact that you are a failure and a disappointment?   What is there left to do?   My decision has been made. I’m in the process of writing my
Master’s thesis. I’m comfortable with my decision but I’m not proud of my
accomplishments. I’m disappointed in myself for taking care of me, because its selfish
right?  
I’ll ask again, if it’s a decision you made to take care of
yourself, does that make you a failure and a disappointment?

Community Voices

Please see past my self-harm scars

This photo popped up in my memories on Facebook today. It’s
of me and Bayley, the dog that I fostered one summer for 48 hours with my
sister. Bayley was the first dog I had ever fostered, that I had ever brought
into my world, and she changed my view on dogs forever. As a young child, about 8 or 9 years old, I had been knocked
over by an eager, enthusiastic golden retriever. Being that I wasn’t very tall,
the dog took it upon itself to stand on its hind legs, place hits front paws on
my shoulder, and apply a force that wiped me off my feet. I had been terrified
of dogs ever since but when the opportunity to foster Bayley came, I didn’t
hesitate on bit.  
My sister and I convinced our father, who is a dog lover, to
let us sneak a dog home while our mother was overseas. We would clean up after
the pup, take her on walks and runs, and feed her and groom her. Bayley was the
easiest, sweetest pup you could ever ask for. She cuddled and snuggled with my
sister as we were packing for our upcoming trip, and leaned into you when you
stood chatting. Bayley was easy to walk on a leash and even put up with us
having her go on the playground at the school near my parents’ place. That was
Bayley. She was amazing.  
I believe Bayley changed my view on dogs and my world
forever. I started searching for a rescue pup after leaving Bayley to her
forever family. I searched endlessly until I came across the posting for my
current rescue pup, Maddie. I met Maddie for the first time at a Petco store in
Fort Wayne, Indiana, after driving 3 plus hours from Chicago to meet her. I
knew it was her once she rounded the corner and I saw that tail wag. I’ve had
Maddie ever since and still think she is the most amazing dog around, despite
her health challenges.   Yet I write this not because of the amazing memories I have
with Bayley, rather because all I can focus on is the scars on my right thigh
in the photograph. It’s this blemish that tarnishes the memories I have with
Bayley. It’s this blemish that I hone in on every time I see this picture of
Bayley and me. I remember feeling desperate and alone, wandering and confused.
I remember being desperate to hide out in the bathroom where I could pretend to
be taking a shower, instead self-harming in secret just days before fostering
Bayley.   It is difficult to look back on memories as fond as these
when all I can see are the scars and wounds I created. I struggle each day to
look at the fact that sometimes, it’s okay to be hurting, it’s okay to just be.
To be able to treasure the moment with Bayley and not think about my scars for
a minute, a second even, is valuable. I ask, instead of looking at the scars
and wounds our mental illnesses has created in our lives, let’s look at the
smiles and joys that memories have brought us. I don’t advocate for discounting
the wounds and scars because I truly believe they shape us, but I do ask that
we look past the wounds and see the person in the picture, the smile, the joy.
We are individuals who can contribute to society and let’s keep it at that. As
you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, let’s not judge an individual by their
wounds. This is my first time stepping out and sharing a photo of my scars, of
myself, and I hope you see a girl enjoying herself with her foster pup, not a
broken, wounded individual.

Community Voices

Talking about suicidal thoughts

The thoughts are strong. They come and go, unmanaged. Lucky
for me, I’ve got my service dog to help dissipate the #Anxiety that comes with
these thoughts. Thoughts?   Suicidal thoughts, urges, and sometimes, actions.   Medication has managed the suicidal thoughts for some time
but lately, I’ve been experiencing intense urges of wanting to take my own
life. I feel trapped in my own body, in my own mind, because there is nowhere I
can turn to talk about it.   Which is why I am writing today.   I’ve written about this before but it bears writing and
talking about again. #Suicide should not be taboo. It should not be frowned upon
as seeing someone as weak because we are far from it. We fight our worst demons
and thoughts every waking moment of every single day. It’s exhausting. I take
two to three naps a day on the weekends. I wake up, walk my two dogs each 15
minutes, then crawl under the blankets on the couch to sleep for 2 hours. I’ll
wake up, only to find that the thoughts haven’t quieted, that I’m still
thinking about reasons why I deserve to die, and search frantically for my
service dog. Lucky for me, he’s laying by my side on the floor and I call him
up onto the couch. He starts his deep pressure therapy and a few minutes later
my mind quiets.   We repeat this routine quite often on the weekends, because
when I’m not busy with a task or routine, my mind wanders. My anxiety spikes. During
the week, when I work my temporary job, I am able to quiet my anxieties since I’m
busy focused on the task at hand. I can’t help but wonder, how much my chronic suicidality has held me back. How
much has my anxiety disorder held me back in launching my career?   I’m here to say, though, that none of this should hold us
back. I’ve successfully completed my master’s degree despite a medical leave
from my program and two psychiatric hospitalizations, along with residential,
PHP, and IOP treatment. On top of that, I’ve balanced outpatient therapy and
groups too during this time. It’s possible to be a contributing member of
society. And I write this as much a reminder to you as it is for me, that we
can do it. Don’t let negative associations with mental illness hold you back.

Community Voices

A Trigger for my PTSD and emotional abuse: college acceptace

It’s college acceptance season. There’s a tightness in my
chest. My #Anxiety is building. It’s college acceptance season. I’m happy for everybody that
gets accepted into a college. Yet I have this sinking feeling in my gut.   It’s college acceptance season. I’m four years removed from
my bachelor’s degree. Yet I’m feeling defeated and beat down, disappointed and
a failure.   Why does this matter to me? My little sister. She’s 18. She’s
getting college acceptances. And while I’m elated she got into her top choice,
she’s also gotten into every school she’s applied to, with scholarships and
financial awards, honors programs too. I never asked what she got as aid. I
never asked if she was rejected. I simply asked where she got in. And my father
has not failed to tell me how much scholarship she’s gotten, how she’s never
been rejected yet, how she applied all on her own without the help from my
parents.   My whole life, I’ve been compared to a little sister who is
almost a decade younger than me. I’ve been told my math level was not as good
as my 8 year old sister, when I was taking calculus in high school. I’ve been
told I don’t have the focus of my little sister, the dedication, the passion,
the drive as her. So naturally, I’m sitting here being compared to my sister
and reminded of how I failed my college acceptances, how I didn’t get any
scholarships or awards, how I failed my father.   You would think one would be proud to have gone to a top 5
public school in the nation and a top 10 (private) institution in the nation. You
would think one would be proud to have two degrees from one of the best
universities in the nation but instead all I feel is defeat, failure,
disappointment, a let down. I’m constantly reminded of how I’m not good enough,
how I’m broken, how I’m sick and handicapped.   When I received the text message from my father saying my
sister had no rejections so far, my heart sunk. It reminded me of the thing he
said in a conversation with my mother (who relayed this conversation to me in a
matter of fact way) that “I don’t want [my little sister] to end up like her”.
The brief context is that my sister got into a minor car accident and damaged the
car. Instead of exploding in anger at her, like my father always did to me, he
held back and was hesitant to discipline my sister. Why? Because he didn’t want
her to end up like me.   Daggers. I replay this over and over. What is one to think?
I’ve never felt good enough, I’ve never felt adequate. I’ve never felt enough.   And now with college acceptances coming out, I’m reminded
yet again how I’m never going to be enough for my family.

Community Voices

No longer letting mental illness define me

Often, I look at my life and wonder how I got this way. I
have a pretty good life right now – a new job, a roof over my head, the best
adoptive family I could ever ask for, and my rescue pup and service dog by my
side. Yet there is a part of me that wonders what happened to that aspiring
girl in me? What happened to the talented, dedicated, passionate girl who was 15
and hitting her stride?   Unrealized potential, you could say, describes me. I didn’t
finish my graduate program, I am not athletic anymore, and I am not smart. I am
“disabled” because of a physical invisible illness and my mental illness.   I was considering playing collegiate softball, maybe not at
the division I level but division II was within reach for me. I didn’t realize
that potential because I let my mental illness consume me.   I didn’t get accepted at half the colleges I applied to and
I told myself it was because my essays were not good enough, that I was not
smart enough.   I transferred universities to run away from my struggles,
only to face them head on. In transferring schools, I gave up a nearly perfect
GPA, college honors, a job, and a position on a club softball team. You could
say, after I transferred, I let my mental illness win and let it control me
like a puppet. I skipped class, I slept all day. I self-harmed daily, sometimes
multiple times a day, and I obsessively tracked calories in versus calories
out. This landed me on the psychiatric unit at the hospital twice in less than
8 weeks. I lost myself. I let my mental illness define me.   No longer am I letting my mental illness define me. I have
my bad days, my terrible days, and my good days. I am looking past my past
failures and redefining my future. I’m moving across the country for my new
job, I have my service dog to keep me safe in my daily life, and I’ve got a
support network in place that while they are staying back home, they still will
be just a text or phone call away.   In the midst of all this, I found running. I’m pursuing a
passion in running, joining running clubs and finding races to challenge
myself. But most importantly, I’m returning to my passion: baseball and softball.
I am listening to baseball games again. I am going to the softball field to
cheer on my alma mater. And I submitted an inquiry to volunteer coach little
league softball in my new city.   Mental illness does not need to consume your life. I let it
for one too many years. Now I am reclaiming myself. And you can too. There is
hope. I didn’t think there was but now I believe.

Community Voices

Struggling with major life milestones

Transitions. Milestones. Living, surviving, thriving. These are all topics I struggle with day in, day out. I recently
moved across the country by myself to a place where I knew nobody, for a job
that I knew nothing about (except what the company did broadly), to live in a
place alone that I can barely afford with my service dog and pet pup. I am met
with moments of loneliness, of wanting to leave this world, of wondering my
worth and what it is that I matter to people. I already struggle with suicidal
thoughts and they have only gotten worse and come on stronger since my move. I’ve
kept to myself of all these thoughts because why would anybody, a stranger, a
coworker I just met two weeks ago, care?   I think about moving for a new job. This is a milestone in
and of itself. Graduating with a higher education degree and finding a job is a
challenge that we all face; finding a job at any stage in life is an immense
challenge. I spent three months searching and was very fortunate to have found
the job that I did, even if it meant moving across the country, away from the
people I love. Then I think of all the people around me, in my life, acquaintances
near and far. They are people I went to high school with, college with, and
they are having children, married, working, living with a long term partner,
thriving.   Me? I’m single. I’m alone. I hermit at home with my service
dog and rescue pup as I avoid doing the next thing I need to. This weekend, for
example, I needed to grocery shop. I need to buy some food so I stop eating out
and skipping meals. This is what I tell myself. Until my eating disorder kicks
in. I am terrified of grocery stores. The idea of picking out food for a later
meal is scary to me. Even with my service dog, I wasn’t able to get out to the
grocery store the three times I tried over the course of two days. I managed to
make a trip to Target with my service dog but that trip ended in skipping the
frozen pasta, small assortment of fresh fruit, and in me picking up yogurt and
that’s it.   I often wonder what I’ve done in my life to deserve this
predicament. Why can’t anybody love me? Why can’t I be seen? Why am I so
invisible to my family, my sister, my parents, my friends? Was I a naughty
child? Did I do something wrong? When will I find a partner to spend my days
with? My days are numbered…   …at least they were, until this past weekend when I got to
watch NCAA regional softball play and cheer on my alma mater and past
university. My days are numbered, for the most part, until my service dog jumps
up into my lap to give me a hug and remind me with his smile that he’s here for
me unconditionally. And my days are numbered, until I get the sweetest message
from a girl I used to babysit before I moved reminding me the impact I’ve made
on her life.   I’ve been struggling to write for some time now, and I still
feel like I’m having writers block. However, I just want to say, to those
struggling with a life transition, with suicidal ideation, with achieving life
milestones: you’re not alone. I feel incredibly alone but then I remember how
writing has given me a community to share with, to cry with, to feel comfort
in.

Community Voices

Healing after trauma

Life changes are difficult for anybody. Moving away to
college. Moving across the country for a job. Moving across seas. I recently
went through a major life change. I graduated with my master’s degree in
December 2017 and in April 2018, moved from Chicago to Southern California for
a job. You see, Chicago was the first place I’ve lived that I could
call home. I felt like I belonged. I had a family that accepted me there. I had
a place in the world. I had friendships that were developing and growing. I was
in graduate school. I was pursuing my dream of becoming a scientist. Yet it may
seem like I gave it all up.   In some sense, I did. In another sense, I had to move across
the country to save myself. The decision to leave graduate school was
difficult. I was in a toxic environment that was weighing on my mind and destroying
my already fragile #MentalHealth. While I was lucky enough to get out, in the
back of my head I knew that my time in Chicago was limited. I was preparing
myself for a cross-country move and leaving behind the people I called family.   That day finally came and I was a basket case. I started my
job 6 days after I moved and have been at my company for just under 3 months
now. For at least the first 2 months, I felt out of place, lonely, homesick for
Chicago, and questioned why I essentially threw away what I had for what I
feared: loneliness, lack of belonging, and simply starting over.   What I’ve found is that no matter what happens in life, you
aren’t alone. My Chicago family has been there for me since day one. They check
in with me, FaceTime me, text me and even sent me a birthday gift that was
homemade with love. I’ve made some great friends at work and gotten to know
coworkers too. But most importantly, I’ve discovered that without risk, you won’t
ever know what you are capable of.   My struggle with my mental illness has taken its toll on me,
especially during my move. I began self-harming again, I became suicidal again,
and I started to dissociate and have panic attacks again. My eating disorder is
taking hold of me, creeping in slowly but surely. Medication changes have
helped me better manage my symptoms but its not perfect. However, what I do
know is being open and honest with select friends has helped me better see
where I can begin to heal and start living my life.   Let people in. There are those out there that are meant for
you. There are those that will understand your trauma and still love you for
who you are and who you are becoming. I’ve learned that honesty is the best
policy, with the right individuals. Because no matter how hurt you’ve been, no
matter what the trauma it is that you’ve experienced, there is a reason. It
makes you stronger. You have survived 100% of your bad days and you will
continue to survive 100% of your bad days.   I can say I’ve begun to heal with the help of a special
person that’s come into my life. While I feel unworthy and undeserving of his
love and kindness, I have opened up my heart to him because he sees me for me,
trauma and all.   I’ve spent 12 years living in the shadow of my trauma. I’ve
missed out on high school friendships, college parties, dating and enjoying my early
twenties. Now that I’m at the end of my mid-twenties, I’m starting to see the
tight hold that my trauma has had on me. I’m learning about the ways in which I
see the world through the lens of my trauma, the lens of my #Depression.   I wonder, often, what’s the point. I wonder, will anybody
love me, broken pieces and all? Will anybody find me attractive the way I am,
or do they want me skinnier and prettier? These questions will always haunt me
because of my experiences and trauma. I’m here to say that if you don’t give up
on yourself, the right people will find you. I know I’ve found the right people
in my life.   I’ve got my Chicago family rooting for me from afar. I’ve
got my good friends scattered across the country checking in on me and making
sure I’m doing okay. And I’ve got someone who wants to see me smile and watch
me laugh and to be there to comfort me when I cry. Letting your guard down for
the right people can lead to wonderful things. Give it a try. It’ll will be
worth it.