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F*CK The Stigma!

5 Years ago this week, I was getting ready to run the Tokyo Marathon. Anyone close to me knows how excited I get about all things marathoning. I am like a little kid at their own birthday party. This natural high starts for me at the race expo and ends a couple days after crossing the finish line.

This was not the case at the 2014 Tokyo Marathon.

Being a prior participant, a lot of my runners will ask me for advice about the race...This is where I come up speechless. The only thing that I remember about the race was that I was freezing in the start corral and that the course was densely lined with spectators just like other big city marathons. That was it. I took zero pictures. You see, I was "physically" at my birthday party, but I was at a "mental" rock bottom...and not marathon morning but in my life.

It was a heart shredding break up that led me to this darkest time of my life. It was a battle to get through a day. Nothing brought me joy. Instead, I just wanted to numb, if not extract the feeling of emptiness I had. Even though I had so much love from my family, friends and even colleagues, I still felt alone. From the outside I looked like I had everything together. I had my physical health, the condo, the job, a car, caring friends and family, finish lines, degrees, vacations to far off places but I seemed to have a hole in my soul. In order to "show up" in my life, I had to take anti-anxiety pills for the first time ever. I would take them to get through the day and then drink myself to sleep. I had not appetite so this became about the only calories I could put in my system. I would wake up and get in a fight with my covers and not want to face the day. I would rinse and repeat this cycle.

Most people know that I am a big proponent and practitioner of facing our fears. I have a track record of doing things I am afraid of BUT THE MOST COURAGEOUS thing I have ever done and I believe any of us can ever do is to find the courage and vulnerability to reach out our hand and ask for help.

There are so many parallels with running and life. In running, I found a coach who took me from a "I don't know if I can finish a marathon" marathoner to a "3 hour and 15 minute" marathoner. I sought this coach when I exhausted my own efforts of getting faster and qualifying for Boston. If I never met Greg, I would not have known what else was possible outside of my own physical limitations. Correspondingly, when I had a maybe 1% inkling that there had to be a better way to live my life then just surviving the day in sadness, I found a therapist, who grabbed my hand and helped me work on my "inside job", so to speak. In the 5 years (and counting) working with Melissa she taught me and continues to teach me how to show up in my life whole heartedly...That I am enough without any accolades or accomplishments. I knew self love was important but I didn't know how to achieve it. Denise 1.0 was exhaustively chasing acceptance and my worth through external validators. If I never met, Melissa Mondschain, I would not have realized that everything I was looking for was already inside of me.

Whether we are working on getting physically stronger or emotionally stronger, it is uncomfortable. Who wants to work on what's in their closet, right? The reward of what is on the other side of that uncomfortableness though, so outweighs the discomfort we have to push through.

About 6 months in to working with Melissa, I came across this quote on a day I had an appointment with her. ""Sometimes you fall down, because there is something down there that you are supposed to find." It stuck me in the core. I read it out loud to her and said, I was supposed to find myself. That was the "something". By crawling out of my rock bottom, I found myself!

I wanted to share my story so that if anyone reading this struggles with similar feelings, knows that you are not alone. Know that there is light outside of that darkness. Your feelings matter and that there is help waiting for you. If I can help one person then that brings us one step further to making investment and action into our mental health a laurel and not a stigma.

I am looking forward to toeing the line at my Re-Birthday party on March 3rd, camera! Joie de Vivre and my camera in hand! I am coming for you this time Tokyo!

I will be running the Tokyo Marathon to raise funds and awareness for NAMI-Chicago. Through their outreach programs they provide hope and guided direction for those struggling with mental illness.

If you would like to donate,, first, thank YOU in advance and second please follow this link below to contribute:

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