Did you know that according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in every 5 people in the United States will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime? (This comes out to roughly 46.6 million Americans.)
As a brand dedicated to helping our community be the best they can be, both in and out of the water, we wanted to take this time to recognize the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month. Thanks to vital initiatives like this, sufferers and their families are finally feeling comfortable speaking out about the struggles they face. And we are eager to get involved.
By talking to professional athletes like IRONMAN 70.3 Champion Lauren Goss, we hope to remind readers that mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, gender or success. And while experiences with things like anxiety, depression and panic attacks may feel uncomfortable, they are far from rare. So rest assured, you are never alone.
To check out our conversation with Lauren, read on below.
Last year, you sat down with us to talk about your struggle with mental health and food. What was it like sharing that experience publicly?
In 2018 I decided to share the issues I was personally struggling with to those who follow my triathlon career. At first I was unsure if it was appropriate to be so transparent and vulnerable. However, the amount of people who reached out to me with similar issues made it clear that I did the right thing by sharing.
A year later, would you say you’re glad you came forward to discuss your experience?
Yes. I believe that the first step toward working on a problem is acknowledging that the problem exists. For years my issues with sleep, anxiety, weight and relationships took a backseat. Instead, I focused on the things I FELT I had control over like training, my race schedule and my interactions with others. However, eventually I realized that in order to hold myself accountable and make real progress in the areas I was struggling, I needed to share and be upfront with my experience.
Have you found any new tools or coping mechanisms that you feel are benefiting you at this point in your life?
I really believe that the people you surround yourself with are a direct reflection of who you are. So today I put a lot more effort into making time for the people I care about and maintaining those close relationships. I have found that for me, idle time is a slippery slope, and I can easily get wrapped up in my own head.
Also, I started doing things that I wanted to do, instead of what other people wanted me to do. I trained where I wanted to train, raced where I wanted to race, had the diet I wanted to have and just simply started to live the life I wanted to live. Rather than chasing after the things I thought were “right and perfect” or “supposed to be,” I decided instead to follow my heart. From there everything kind of fell into place. In the past the idea that “nothing is guaranteed” would have sent me into a panic attack. But today, even as a professional athlete, I’ve learned to just roll with the punches. All I can do is show up and be the best I can be- after that whatever happens, happens.
Where are you now on your journey with mental health? What would you say is the biggest lesson your experience with anxiety and depression has taught you about life?
I would say I am the happiest and most stable I have ever been. In the past I genuinely believed that if I could control every piece of my life then the outcomes would be exactly what I wanted, and the fairytale would have a happy ending. However, I eventually realized that those expectations were also the root of my anxiety. And so I chose to let them go. Once I made that decision, everything else shifted. I started sleeping without medications. I met a partner who makes me feel whole and complete. My race results improved immensely. I stopped trying to control and predict every outcome in my life, and from there I ironically found peace.
Last year we asked you what advice you had for others who may be struggling with similar situations, and you recommended speaking to a therapist. Would you say your advice is still the same? Do you have any other tips since then?
Yes, talking to someone and hearing the words out loud is very powerful. As I mentioned above, I also recommend surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals that are positive and genuinely want to see you succeed. Keeping a journal has been another productive tool for me. Writing down when I am feeling anxious and what is going on around that feeling allows me to work on identifying my behavior patterns.
For more from Lauren be sure to follow her on social media below. Also, if you or someone you know is struggling please visit the National Alliance on Mental Health for support.