Andy Welch SpeaksUp
"Anxiety and depression affect so many people, but few seek help." Those were the words written by a close friend after she ran the Shamrock Half Marathon just a couple of weekends ago. Her words couldn't be truer. I should know. Until February of 2015, I was one of the many that suffered quietly from depression for over 10+ years.
I remember the day I spoke up more vividly than any other day in my life. It came just a couple of months after I had completed my biggest athletic achievement to date, the No Country for Old Men 1000-mile bike race. I had lost my voice and my identity. I struggled to find a reason to continue living on a daily basis.
Sitting on the couch in my boss's office, after an extremely difficult discussion, Michael (my boss and good friend) somehow removed himself from the situation, and bluntly asked, "Are you depressed?"
At that moment, tears began to fall uncontrollably from my eyes, as the relief that the charade was over took control. After many years, my ability to mask the feelings which had engulfed me for so long were no longer good enough to keep someone from noticing. He asked if I had ever thought of hurting myself, if I had thought of how I would do it. I couldn't answer him with words, as I was immediately flooded by emotions and memories.
My mind raced with the thought of how, despite battling depression since my mid-20s, I had finally fallen into a place where I wasn’t able to experience the slightest bit of hope, and saw no light or purpose. I shared with him that just a week prior to sitting on that couch, I had come to the point where my story was all going to come to an end. I had a plan, the means, and the intention. Looking back, it is the only thing I am glad I ever failed at.
I shared the fact that, since that day, I had been clinging to anyone who I could be around. Of how I had spent the last few days coming into work early and staying late so that I wouldn't be alone after Jenn (my wife) went to work. Of how frightened I was to know that I didn't have the inner strength to fight alone any longer. Of how I prayed constantly that God would protect me from myself. At that moment, I knew the opportunity was there for me to SpeakUp. On that day, I shared it all with him, and later with Jenn, and my dear friend Jill, who helped find me someone I could talk to.
It's unusual that I am not the first one up every morning in our household. Many of those mornings, it was because I never went to sleep the night before. That night was the opposite. I slept so soundly Jenn had to wake me to let me know she was leaving for work in the morning. She let me know my good friend Dane was out in the living room and would be spending the day with me. He, and several other friends (Lindsay, Parker and Michael) would all spend time over the next couple of days with me whenever Jenn couldn't be there. I remember sitting there trying to imagine what was going through their minds. I found relief knowing their thoughts were going in the opposite direction as mine. Theirs were being scared for me, while mine was starting to relax. I was ready to be on the long road to becoming healthy once again.
Three years prior, I qualified for the first of many times for the privilege of racing in the solo division of the Race Across America (RAAM). RAAM is a 3,100-mile cycling race from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland. Solo racers have twelve days to traverse the country along a prescribed course in order to become an official finisher. For an ultra cyclist, RAAM is the pinnacle. It's what we all dream of racing and finishing.
I had promised myself that when I raced RAAM, I would do it in an effort to raise awareness for something bigger than myself, to help someone who needed an opportunity, just the same way I prayed for and received one. I wanted to help those who were battling depression and suicide, just as I was. Although I had multiple qualifying times, I continued to bypass RAAM year after year. I wasn't prepared to let anyone know why I felt so attached to the mental health cause. I knew I would have to share my story and connection, in order to impact the lives of others. The truth was, I was scared. I was scared to allow anyone to think I wasn't the strong-willed and determined person they all saw. In hindsight, I've come to understand it was those same qualities that allowed me to hide for so long.
In the summer of 2016, I decided I was ready. Interrupting a meeting between Parker and Michael who have been responsible for writing my training plans, I stuck my head in the door long enough to say, "I'm ready to do RAAM. I am going to try to help others gain the courage to speak up by sharing my story. I'm not embarrassed anymore." I left before the looks of surprise and happiness could leave their faces.
Speaking up changed my life for the better, due to the outpouring love and support from all of those who I wrongfully thought would be disappointed in me. I now speak openly about my experiences in an effort to rid the stigma that is so strongly associated with anxiety and depression. I encourage anyone who may be suffering quietly to find the courage to SpeakUp when the door of opportunity presents itself. The enormous amount of compassion you receive may be just what you need to get yourself onto the same path as I, to a healthy mind and body.
On June 13th, 2017, Andy will be taking his story nationwide on behalf of the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation when he begins the Race Across America. If you would like to support him, donations can be made at: https://www.crowdrise.com/andywelchraceacrossamericaspeakup/fundraiser/ckgfoundation
If you are interested in learning more about Andy's story, his racing, or about RAAM visit: www.andywelch.net