Run Your Marathon

Nov. 27, 2018- It is strange for me to describe my brother in a blog post, intended for people I don’t know. He still feels very alive and real, and the confusion and total disruption I’ve experienced in the wake of his death renders me inarticulate, relying on words I’ve heard other people use to describe others who have died. I hope I can communicate the unique beauty of my brother, and the complex emotions I’ve experienced in mourning the loss of such beauty.

When Alexander first took up running in high school, his passion and knowledge of the sport dominated school announcements, family dinners, and one-on-one conversations. This was how it was with anything he discovered he liked: from new movies, to meditation podcasts, to condiments for bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, his enthusiasm was difficult to resist. More often than not, I would end up trying, for myself, whatever it was he was so excited about. So, whether to gain his approval or to understand why he loved it so much, I joined the cross country team my sophomore year. Alexander, as a senior and one of the most accomplished runners in school history, was so much of a celebrity that even as his sister, I felt important.

As I navigated performance anxiety, knee injuries, and breaking personal records, Alexander was a constant source of inspiration and support, a partner just as he always was in our twenty years together. Alexander’s fierce passion for running, and of recruiting others to run, was not unique to the sport; his primary mission in life was to share things he loved with people he loved. He has continued to inspire people to chase joy even after he is gone.

When Alexander tragically died on Christmas Eve last year, I wanted so desperately to hold on to him, and to our connection, that I turned to one of the many activities that brought him joy and happiness in his life. I decided to run the New York City Marathon to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Training for the marathon became an anchor in the face of my sadness, a reason to get up every day, and a temporal space that forced me to think about my brother. The vulnerability of running compelled me to confront the many emotions I experienced in the months after his death. It also provided a mechanism of understanding something I have no control over. I have been so grateful to run this past year. I want to thank all of the people who ran or biked with me along the way, sent me playlists, or provided a distraction with phone calls during long runs.

I’ve come to rely on running and am nervous about the imminent end of my training, as well as the prospect of running a marathon. However, I am comforted by knowing that I will continue to fundraise for and be involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Since January, I have worked not only to raise money – which I know will go toward things such as lifesaving research, support for those affected by suicide, education and advocacy – but to show people struggling with anxiety or depression that mental health is just as real as physical health and that help is always available.

In hosting fundraising events, selling t-shirts, and sharing my project via Facebook and email, I have started having conversations I previously would’ve thought unimaginable, with people consisting of everyone from old childhood friends, teachers from high school, and even those I may have had a class with once during my freshman year of college. While it is comforting to see people open up about mental health, it can also feel disheartening, in that I wish my brother had known the magnitude of this disease and how many people in our immediate and extended world he could’ve looked to for support or solidarity. Thanks to AFSP, and the opportunity to fundraise in memory of my brother, I now see this, myself, and hope others who hear about my project will feel the same.

Alexander had always wanted to run a marathon together with me. But I pushed it off, because I was too caught up in the busyness of my life, and too daunted by the idea.

Take advantage of the time you have with people. Push yourself away from stagnancy. Force yourself out of your comfort zone. Run your equivalent of a marathon. As emphasized in Dead Poet’s Society, a film with on and off screen mental health tragedies, seize the day!

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