Spreading Hope for Depression Through Adventure Racing
Depression is a common bond. It brings people to me that inspire me in ways I never thought possible. Shawn Beardon is one of those people.
Shawn reached out to me via my foundation, iFred, and asked if we could work together raising awareness for mental health issues while making a dream of his come true. As iFred has big dreams of teaching hope around the world, it seemed like a perfect partnership. What he is about to attempt is mind blowing, as those with depression know during our darkest days, what he is trying to accomplish is probably the last thing we would ever imagine doing.
If you know of any major brand sponsors, athletes that might want to support, or corporate sponsors I hope you share his message. I can only imagine the courage and bravery it took of Shawn to commit to attempting such a feat, and hope we can all support him on his journey through his Go Fund Me Campaign.
I had a few questions about his incredible feat, hope you enjoy.
Kathryn Goetzke, iFred Founder: Tell us a little about your upcoming adventure.
Shawn Beardon, Adventurer: I’ll run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days on a World Marathon Challenge in January 2018. The adventure begins with a marathon in Antarctica and finishes in Miami, less than 168 hours later! It’s an epic physical and psychological challenge. The event has been held once each year since 2015, and some of the toughest runners from around the world have completed it.
KG: Why did you choose to give back to depression?
SB: The message has to be clearer, stronger, and louder that depression is not to be hidden, marginalized, or stigmatized. It’s okay to have depression, it’s okay to tell someone, it’s okay to ask for help. Having depression doesn’t mean you’re weak or damaged; asking for help or telling someone about your depression is strength. It’s interesting to look at how you phrased this question…give back to depression…as if it has given me something. Indeed it has.
It has given me a perspective on life and an understanding of the human condition that has made me far more compassionate. In that compassion and empathy, I’m finding happiness and joy. Depression is a real thing, it isn’t going away any time soon. But I’m in a position and mindset now to talk openly about my story and let others know that they’re not alone, they’re not helpless, and they are strong.
KG: How has depression impacted your life and those around you?
SB: Like a parasite, nobody but I knew I had. It ate at the fabric of everything that held me together. To most of my friends, I was the guy who didn’t care what others thought about me, the one who always seemed to have it all figured out and together, the one always smiling and joking. That was the side of me that I showed, while I disengaged with life, lost my motivations, and thought there was no hope for true happiness.
Depression is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever experienced. I run ultra-marathons on mountain trails, I was once a high level soccer player, I have a PhD, etc. I’m no stranger to hard work, both physically and mentally. Yet nothing compares to the total draining fatigue of depression; it’s exhausting. I wanted so badly to stop feeling so tired. Finally telling my wife was the start of learning that I didn’t always have to hold myself up, be strong, pretend I’m happy, or be something I’m not. That was the start of my recovery.
KG: What have been the most effective ways for you to manage your depression?
SB: Several steps have been useful. First, accepting it and knowing that those I love most accept me with it.
Second, and what has been very important, is stopping my thoughts when I feel them ‘going dark’ (that’s what I call it). Much like a surge of adrenaline, I can feel the dark rushing in, usually for no apparent reason. My thoughts follow. So, I stop and force myself to actively think of things that are distracting; they don’t always have to be good things and may simply be about describing what I see around me. I continue this with all my effort and I’ve gotten much faster and better at staying out of the spiral of negative self-dialogue.
Third, finding someone to share my time with. I find my wife and just engage about anything. It can even be texting if necessary. If she’s unavailable, which is rare, then I find one of our cats at home, or listen to a podcast or go for a run. Sometimes it’s cooking a meal that will take my mind to a better place. These practices have helped tremendously.
None of them really get at the underlying bases of my thoughts. Working through the nature and origins of my negative thoughts is a much more complex discussion/interview. Suffice it to say that I’ve spent a lot of time working through my feelings while keeping a distance from them – I work on understanding the true nature of my feelings as if they were someone else’s and I am counseling that other person. That approach has helped tremendously. If I start to feel the feelings as I work on understanding them, I go back to step two above.
KG: Do you have any tips for athletes or others struggling with depression?
SB: It doesn’t define you, it isn’t who you are. It is something that you have and something that you can modify. Seek to understand, to work with, and ultimately to be able to control rather than to fix or cure. Those are rules for growth. But first, tell someone about your depression; don’t hide it. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done but tell someone.
I’ve always been athletic and highly driven to perform at a high level – that probably has some of the same psychological origins as my depression. And, I’ve always found walking or running to feel good. No matter my mood, going for a walk (or run) always makes me feel better. I’d encourage everyone to at least try some physical activity when they feel their mood declining. Standing at your desk, a couple of jumping jacks, stretch tall toward the ceiling, walk to the bathroom or water cooler at work even if you don’t really need to…move a little. Get someone to join you, perhaps someone you’ve told about your depression. It may not work for everyone but it has always helped me.
KG: Why is this project particularly important to you?
SB: It’s my coming out party? My wife, my doctor, and a therapist are the only people who knew of my depression prior to launching this very public adventure. I do have a tendency to go big right from the start. Indeed, my parents learned about my depression along with the rest of the world when I posted my GoFundMe.com/worldmarathons page on Facebook. I got a text from them, “Can we call you?”, soon after. Part of my therapy now is owning it. I have to accept myself and I have to know that I am helping at least one other person to get help and find support. All my life, people have seen me as tough, strong willed, determined, driven, hard. I was always trying to outwardly cover over the weakness I felt because of my perceptions of the stigma of having depression. I’ve heard people say that suicide is ‘weak’, ‘cowardly’, ‘selfish’. People in my own family have said that. Any wonder why I kept my thoughts hidden? Well, it’s none of those things. We have to end that stigma, and often the ignorance. There is love in the world, massive amounts of it, and goodness, and joy. Everyone deserves it and everyone can find it.
KG: During your darkest of days, what brought you Hope?
SB: I had a very quiet voice telling me that it is possible to be happy, or at least to have meaning in life. I wanted to believe that voice and clung to it often. Perhaps that was a source of hope for me. What really kept me going, and still does, is love for my wife. My plans to end my life developed slowly, over years.
By the time I had well established plans, the only thing that kept me from following through was knowing the pain I’d cause my wife. I would rather suffer in unimaginable ways than cause her such pain. It’s morbid but that’s what kept me alive. I couldn’t figure out how to keep her suffering to an acceptable minimum. If I hadn’t told her, I may have gotten past that. But that’s what kept me going for the year or so before I told her. Now, I take every opportunity to actively find joy in all of the simple things and I try not to want for anything that doesn’t bring true value and joy to my day.
KG: Why are you choosing to support iFred, and their program to teach kids Hope?
SB: I chose iFRED because I’m in sync with the mission, values, and emphasis on supporting both education and research, ending the stigma, and helping all people, especially kids. I think that I would have loved myself far more, or at least liked myself far more, had I understood that depression was okay when I was young.
One of the phrases I heard a lot when I was young was about ‘living up to your potential’. I loathe that idea. Lots of people have great potential and aptitude for things that don’t bring them joy. What was valued most was the idea of working hard to be at the top of the class, being first, getting the high paying job, buying the big house, etc.
My father once said that I should take a summer job in Washington, D.C. when I was in high school that I didn’t want because not doing so would put me “behind the power curve”. I took it and it was miserable. I got my PhD basically because it was the pinnacle of academia, not because I really wanted it. Somehow that was going to make me happy.
Kids have the right mindset from the start and we teach it out of them. Start with joy; success will follow when you follow what brings you joy. Now I see success as the happiness experienced while doing good.
KG: What message do you want people to take away from your adventure?
SB: ‘Epic’ is inside of you. We can do epic things, think epic thoughts, and have epic influence over one another. You are good, capable, worthy, and (above all) not alone. Running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days is amazing, sure, but no more so than volunteering at your local food bank or simply being kind to others. People listen when you do monumental things and your message can be delivered to a larger audience. By running this challenge, I’ll get that voice. But, we can all do epic things and have epic influence in our daily lives, too. Running is a metaphor for fighting depression. One step at a time. You may not be able to take 50,000 steps in a row right now, but you can take one, and then another…
KG: How can people support you on this bold initiative?
There are a lot of logistics that go into something so big. And that’s costly. But, ultimately it can be the stage or platform from which to spread the message.
Goetzke, K. (2018). Spreading Hope for Depression Through Adventure Racing. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/spreading-hope-for-depression-through-adventure-racing/