Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mental Health Q & A: Conversation Etiquette


Do you have any suggestions about appropriate conversation or not appropriate topics or questions? If someone discloses a mental illness, what are some questions that could be asked or avoided?

I’ll answer this question in two parts. First, with my opinions on how I would like someone to talk to me when I disclose my mental illness, and second, with some general advice on how to approach someone who has disclose their mental illness.

When I tell someone about my mental illnesses, I really don’t mind answering any question about them. If I didn’t want to talk about my mental illness or be asked questions about it, I never would have brought it up in the first place.

In fact, not too long ago I let a friend know I was seeing my therapist in the morning, and later, when I saw him, he asked me about it. I told him, and we talked for a bit about it.  And, if I didn’t want to talk about it, I simply would have said so.

From my perspective, I really don’t feel like anything is off limits. I’d like to have people look at mental illness like they would any other illness. If you’re wondering what kind of questions to ask someone, think about what you would ask someone about a physical illness. Would you ask about what treatments they were receiving? How they were feeling? How things are going in general?

If you think a question would have been appropriate about a physical illness, it would probably be appropriate for a mental illness.

My opinions don’t apply to everyone, so here’s some general advice. First, consider your relationship with the person. If you feel you’re very close friends, you can probably ask more personal questions.

As for other advice, here are some summaries and links for excellent resources on talking to a person with mental illness. Consider the goal you have for the conversation, whether it’s just to offer support, or if you want to help the person get help.

Here’s an article that gives some good information on communicating with someone who has a mental illness: Communicating with People with Mental Illness. The main takeaway from this article is to be honest and to be truthful.

Here’s another good article about approaching someone with mental illness: For Friends and Family Members - This is probably my favorite resource to share for someone who’s wondering how they could reach out to a person struggling with mental health. This article does a nice job of providing advice on giving support, offering help, or talking to someone about mental health.

I hope these resources are helpful for those unsure about how to talk to someone about mental health issues. If you have any other questions or specific questions about this topic, comment, send me a private message, or email me at:

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mental Health Q & A: Running

After writing a series of posts on mental health myths and facts, I asked readers for questions regarding mental health and mental illness. I received several questions, but I decided to start with one that had something to do with running.

How does running affect your mental health, and how does your mental health affect your running?

This is one I think about a lot, and I think it could be applied to pretty much anyone. Substitute running with an exercise or exercises of your choice, and this answer could definitely apply to you.

Running can help prevent mental health issues, maintain mental health, and mitigate mental health problems. With my diagnoses of generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar, running plays a huge role in preventing symptoms and mitigating those symptoms when they occur -- especially in regards to the mania and depression in my bipolar disorder.

Mania tends to come with increased energy, racing thoughts, and poor sleep. Running helps prevent and control those symptoms by giving a positive outlet for the excess energy, and helps me feel physically tired, making it easier to sleep.

Depression often leads to decreased energy, lack of motivation, and a general feeling of malaise along with the classic symptoms of sadness and anxiety.

Running is a huge help with depression. It often helps me fight the feelings that come along with depression by releasing endocannabinoids and other mood boosting brain chemicals associated with mental well-being.

The feelings and improved brain chemistry from running also help with my anxiety. Besides just the physiological improvements running brings, running also gives me time to process my thoughts. That time especially helps me with my generalized anxiety disorder. By removing other distractions, thinking while running can help me examine some of my thoughts and notice some of my cognitive distortions and finish runs feeling more calm and less anxious.

While running affects my mental illnesses in many positive ways, my mental illnesses can also affect my running. Depression is probably my biggest challenge because it saps my motivation. At times it's a big struggle to will myself out the door to go on a run. When I do get myself on a run, that lack of motivation can make a thirty minute run seem like an hour.

Mania and anxiety can also affect my running for the worse. Both can make it very difficult to concentrate, and doing everyday activities like getting ready for a run or packing a gym bag become a challenge. With things taking longer than they should, I sometimes end up with less time to run -- especially if I want to run in the morning before work. Making breakfast, getting my work things together, and getting properly attired for running can sometimes take as much as ten extra minutes, meaning I've lost the time for over a mile on my run.

My mental illnesses can also affect my running in how I plan and execute a training plan. As I've said before, anxiety and depression can make following a plan more difficult, but mania can do just the opposite. I have to be careful when training for a race when I start to feel a little manic. Goal-driven behaviors often accompany mania, so sometimes mania leads me to train more than I should -- either by sacrificing more time than I should on running and running related exercises, or by increasing my running too much and risking injury.

The interplay between running and my mental illnesses is something I'll always have to manage. When manic, I often will need to hold myself back to prevent being injured or spending too much time exercising. When depressed, I'll have to dig down deep and continue to convince myself that despite how hard it can be, I need to push through and get myself out on runs.

If you have any other questions you'd like answered, feel free to comment, send me a private message, or email me at:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

2018: It's Goal Time

The last few years have not been conducive to meeting my running goals. Factors in and out of my control have led me to miss most of my goals. Last year I decided to go with a percentage system of meeting my goals rather than simple a simple yes or no, so that made me feel a little better.

This year, however, I'm going to put the majority of my goals in the all in my control camp. These goals will happen if I make them happen. Whereas PRs or time goals or mileage goals on races can come up short due to injury or weather, my first several goals will be in my hands. On to the goals:

Goal  1:
Average at least one blog post a week. Between the blog I (mostly) retired,, and this blog, I was averaged over 52 blog posts 2010 - 2013, and 2015 - 2016. In 2017 I only got in 40, so I'm hoping at least twelve more this year.

Goal 2:
Average two days per week doing strength/cross training for my glutes/core/etc. With two lower leg injuries, one that's been hanging around for over nine months now, I'm definitely going to be running fewer days per week and lower mileage, so I want to take to opportunity to do some supplemental exercises. Who knows? I lifted weights a lot in high school and stayed pretty injury-free, so maybe I'll surprise myself and run some faster times on less mileage.

Goal 3:
Submit two stories to Runner's World. I've already got one almost finished, which means I just need an idea for the next one. I'm planning on both being rejected, but also hoping that at least one gets a couple words on why it was rejected (none of the others I've submitted has).

Goal 4:
Set a PR in the 50K.

Goal 5:
Complete a 50 mile race. I have some friends doing the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile, so I think I'm going to run that one.

Goal 6:
Break 17 minutes in the 5K. The 50 mile race is July 28, so that means I have a good amount of time to recover and then aim for some fast 5K races during the fall racing season.

That's it for this year! I'm optimistic about meeting all my goals. We'll see what happens!

Run well.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goals for 2017: Results

This year I decided to set only three goals and judge them by a percentage met rather than a simple yes or no. Unfortunately, I can't check a pure yes in any of them, though a lot of that had to do with mitigating circumstances.

Here's the goals, results, and commentary:

Goal 1:
Set a PR at the marathon distance.
  • This one was the most out of my control. My PR is 2:50:28, and I made two attempts at setting a new one this year.
  • In June, I raced Grandma's Marathon. While training for the race, I was dealing with some sort of gastrointestinal issue that had me running about half the mileage of what I'd normally run. I didn't come close to a PR, running a 3:04:26.
  • In October I took another shot at the Milwaukee Marathon. After the course was measured and marked incorrectly last year, the race organizers assured participants that it would be accurate this year. It was not. 
    • The course ended up being 0.8 miles short. Barring something strange happening, I would have almost definitely run a PR, running the 25.4 miles in 2:45:03. 
    • I was feeling great at that point, hadn't hit the wall at all, and was speeding up. My last few miles were under 6:20, giving me a big cushion for a PR.
    • If I had just maintained my average pace overall pace for the 0.8 miles it was short, I would have finished right around 2:50:15 -- a 23 second PR. 
  • Alas, two things totally out of my control led me to not meet this goal. There's two ways I could calculate this by percentages. At Milwaukee I ran a PR for 25.4 miles, putting me at 97% of a marathon, and at Grandma's I ran 94% of my marathon PR time.
  • I'll go with the Milwaukee time and say I met 97% of my goal this year.
Goal 2: Break 17 minutes in the 5K.
  • My first try at this goal ended in 17:38, so I was feeling pretty confident when I ran a 17:14 on a much hillier course.
  • Unfortunately, that was as close as I got. Due to being in the thick of marathon training for most of the fall, two lower leg injuries and recovering from the Milwaukee Marathon, I didn't get a chance to give this goal my best effort.
  • So, my 17:14 means I met my goal 96%.

Goal 3:
Set a new indoor mile PR.
  • I only took one try at this goal, and I ran a 4:55. I was going to take another shot at it this December, but my lower leg injuries kept me from racing.
  • For only racing the mile once, I'm pretty happy I made it to 99% of my goal.
Though I didn't meet any of these goals 100%, considering the outside factors I had to deal with, I'm pretty happy with how my year of running went. Overall, I was 97.3% of the way to meeting my goals.

Did you have goals this year, and if so, what were they? How'd you do at meeting them?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mental Illness Prevention: Mental Health Myths and Facts

This post is a continuation of  my experiences with mental health myths and facts. All the myths I quote in these posts are taken verbatim from Mental Health Myths and Facts on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at

Myth: Prevention doesn’t work. It is impossible to prevent mental illness.

Like a lot of this myths, this one is mostly false, but there is some truth. One can do everything right in staying mentally healthy, and she or he can still end up with mental health problems. There is a major hereditary and biological component to mental illness, and everyone has their limit to how much stress they can handle. Combine a genetic predisposition to mental illness with stressful life circumstances, and one is bound to have mental health problems.

Though sometimes inevitable, mental health issues, mental illness, and the symptoms of mental illness can be prevented. I'm still learning more ways to prevent symptoms of bipolar along with ways to deal with those symptoms when they arise.

Now that I have an almost two year old, I think more about talking to him about mental illness. Obviously the conversation will change as he grows older, but as time goes by, I want to be honest with him about my mental illness. As I've said, there is a biological component to mental illness, so I want him to have a better set of skills to stay mentally healthy than I had growing up.

All the things I can teach him and the questions I can ask him as he grows older are beyond the scope of this post, but I do want to share some commons things that anyone can do to to help prevent mental health issues in themselves and in loved ones. Practice the following skills, and share these skills with your children or children you are responsible for:
  • Stay in a good sleep cycle. 
    • This means going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every day. 
    • Do something relaxing before bed. 
    • Get off screens and/or utilize programs like f.lux and night shift (on Apple products) within an hour or two before bed. 
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for sleep, a set of skills I learned in The Insomnia Workbook after it was recommended to me by a doctor, helps me keep good sleep hygiene and helped me cope with poor sleep.
  • Be mindful.
    • Instead of always listening to something/multitasking, take time to focus on exactly what you're doing. 
    • When you're feeling stressed, focus on external stimuli through your five senses to bring yourself into the moment. Thinking about the past can lead to anger, resentment, and depression, and thinking about the future can lead to anxiety.
  • Take time to relax. 
    • Meditate, take a walk (or a run) out in nature. 
    • Forget about your daily tasks for a while and try to bring your mind somewhere else. You can even take mini-relax breaks. I've found some simple breathing exercises such as breathing in for a count of four, holding for seven, and breathing out for eight can help bring down my anxiety level. 
    • There tons of resources out there to help with meditation/relaxation -- from videos on YouTube to apps like Headspace, find something that works for you.
  • Exercise. Exercising is a great way to improve brain chemistry, physical health, and mood. Find things to do that you enjoy, and try to stick with a workout routine.
  • If you're struggling or have struggled in the past, especially if you have a mental illness, keep your appointments for medication management, therapy, and/or any support groups. The best time to work on your mental health is when you're feeling well -- not when you're in crisis mode.

According to, helping to prevent mental illness, especially in children, can lead to:
  • Higher overall productivity
  • Better educational outcomes
  • Lower crime rates
  • Stronger economies
  • Lower health care costs
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased lifespan
  • Improved family life
What skills do you have to keep yourself mentally healthy and to prevent mental health difficulties?

Friday, December 29, 2017

I can't do anything to help: Mental Health Myths

This post is a continuation of  my experiences with mental health myths and facts. All the myths I quote in these posts are taken verbatim from Mental Health Myths and Facts on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at

Myth: I can't do anything for a person with a mental health problem.

I don't know how many people actually believe this, but I'm guessing not many. I think the real issue is not that people believe they can't help someone who's struggling with mental health, but that they're not sure what to say or do for that person.

It's not an unusual to feel helpless when someone is dealing with mental health issues or even just common emotional difficulties. The loss of a job, a breakup, or the passing of a friend or family member are all things we see friends and family go through, and often we feel powerless to offer any help or comfort.

What I've found helpful is simply someone being there with me -- just to hang out. There's no need to try and say something profound. My experience with both the giving and receiving end of emotional support is that one of the best things you can say is, "What can I do to help?" You can leave it at that, or you can offer specific things. Would they like a meal dropped off? Some help with taking care of their children or some housework? Would they simply like to spend some time with you?

There's not one-size-fits-all approach to help someone struggling with mental illness, but I've never heard someone say they were upset by a general offer of support. I would encourage caution when asking the person specific questions about their situation. Some people would prefer not to talk about what they're going through, and especially consider the timing. 

No one wants to start crying at work or in school. It's fine to ask someone if they'd like to talk, but I'd avoid specific questions unless that person opens up to you. I know that sometimes when I've been dealing with symptoms of bipolar -- especially when they're more acute -- I don't want to about it. I'd rather just keep the conversation light.

That said, if someone is really struggling, you shouldn't worry about hurting her or his feelings. The Mental Health Myths and Facts article gives some advice for offering that person support:
  • Reaching out and letting them know you are available to help
  • Helping them access mental health services
  • Learning and sharing the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn't true
  • Treating them with respect, just as you would anyone else
  • Refusing to define them by their diagnosis or using labels such as "crazy"
Besides these things, I'd also remind you that if you think someone is in serious danger of hurting her or himself, you need to do whatever you can to get them help immediately. If you're on the phone with someone who's threatening to hurt herself, call 911 immediately and give them the person's location. If you're with the person, get them to a hospital in whatever way you can.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

C Tolle Run Podcast

With winter in full swing, lots of us spend some extra time indoors. Snow, darkness, and cold temperatures often has us spending more time on the treadmill. I usually listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts to make treadmill runs go by faster since a twenty minute run often feels like running an hour outside.

I'll be posting about some other podcasts in the next few days, but first I wanted to feature Minnesota Olympian Carrie Tollefson's podcast. Carrie worked on the webshow "C Tolle Run" for years, and the show has now shifted to a podcast format.

For the most recent episodes and to subscribe on iTunes, go to: C Tolle Run - Podcasts

I had the pleasure of asking Carrie some questions over email. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity:

What factors led you to switch from the videos to the podcast format?

We loved doing the video episodes, but felt it was time to try something new. The longer format interviews allow us to get to know our subjects better, and podcasts are so easy for people to listen to in the car, while they are making dinner, or working out! We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from our listeners.

What are some things that have been rewarding when working on the podcast?

I think people are way more open on the podcast. Once the red light goes on with the camera, people usually freeze, and with the podcast it is just us chatting! Everyone has really opened up and let us into their world, especially on the running podcasts. People tend to forget we are recording and they just chat. Conversations have been very authentic and real, and I just love that.

What are some challenges you've faced on the podcast?

Scheduling can be tricky, but we make it work! We love doing the interviews on-the-run, but sometimes we have noise issues if we’re running near traffic or a construction site and the mics will pick that up.

What have been some of your favorite moments/interviews?

Oh that is a tough one! I really and genuinely love every interview. I feel like everyone has a story of how they Get After Life, and that is what our goal at C Tolle Run is -- to be inspired by whoever is on the other end and to hear how others make it happen. Life is hard, busy, fun, motivating, scary, happy and the list goes on and on. Hearing from others is what I find so rewarding. Some days I wake up and wonder how I will get it all done, and other days I am ready to tackle whatever is thrown my way. I have always surrounded myself with like minded, goal driven people, and those are the people I want on my show.

If I have to chose a couple of episodes I would say Gabe Grunewald's (episode link) and Justin Grunewald's (episode link) on the run episodes. Very open and honest about their life, marriage, running, and fight to overcome cancer again. To be able hear their own perspectives in their individual interviews was very real and honest. I am just so thankful running has given us all so much and especially the support that this community gives is amazing.

Tell me about the editing and production side of podcasting:

Well that is one thing I don't do for C Tolle Run. Julie handles the production and Tim handles the editing. I am so thankful to have their help and guidance and I think we make a really good team! There are times when I give my input and try give my creative ideas, but those two really are the reason we have a podcast. I just get to be the lucky one on the mic.