Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Icebreakers - Bringing Awareness to Mental Health and Addiction

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month? Unlike other common illnesses, such as breast cancer, who we all know has the month of October, this cause isn't getting nearly the attention it should, until this project came along.

Mental illness affects one in five of all Americans. Just under half of those people will seek help (National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2016), namely due to the stigma that has been placed around mental health issues. I would guess the chances are likely, that you as a reader, know someone who has been afflicted with mental health issues, whether it be depression, addiction, anxiety or more serious illnesses. Addiction has touched my family several times, in fact it is not unusual for mental illness to run in families. Both my dear uncle and cousin, who are no longer with us, were both alcoholics at one time. My uncle was able to overcome his addiction and go on to help many others. He beat his illness and went on to live a pretty amazing life until cancer took his life.  My husband's brother lost his life 3 years ago due to health issues related to addiction. Personally, I have struggled with both anxiety and depression, after getting divorced in 2010. Anxiety has reared its ugly head a few times throughout my years of grad school. I feel it's impossible to know that someone who hasn't been touched.

As a health professional, I feel that mental illness is talked about more, but is still a completely underfunded and undertreated issue. I think more individuals are getting a little bit more comfortable talking with their health care providers about it, but don't take about it with the other people in their lives. Other people who could be support systems. Why is there still such a stigma around mental health? Why is it ok to take a sick day at work because of the flu, but not because you have anxiety?

Over the past week and a half, I have been following the journey of a group of runners who are canvasing the U.S. from the West coast to the East, ending in Washington D.C. where a mental health conference will be taking place. When I saw they were coming to Dallas, I really wanted to join in or meet them along the way somewhere, just to show support.  A new friend (and neighbor!) who saw that I had been thinking about meeting up with the group reached out to me to see if I wanted to ride with her Friday morning, but, work. When she text me again Friday evening, I briefly thought about it and again said probably not. Then thought a little bit more and thought, what the hell, I can sleep when I'm dead, I'm in. Emily had already left, but I was shortly behind.

We met the runners just past Sulphur Springs, TX. On my way there I had seen that Catra Corbett, an ultra runner who is pretty much my running hero, was currently running. I was going to get to run with her! I couldn't believe it. At this point I was so happy I had changed my mind and decided to go.

Catra has run over one hundred 100 milers, over 200 ultra marathons, sometimes week after week, she is a machine. She is a record holder on the John Muir Trail. And her dog TruMan? Well, he has a race resume that most runners would envy.

The rest of the group was equally seasoned, book writers, ultrarunners, Badwater finishers, to call them elite seemed like an understatement. I was pretty much a starry eyed teenage fan girl all night. Emily joined me later in the night when we ran with Phil Nimmo, a friend of the group, whom they picked up in Mansfield, TX, because of an injury to one of the original six.

So what does the Icebreaker Run represent?

The inaugural run is supported by Mental Health America, The Herren Project and Break the Stigma Project.

"We are not a group of mental health professionals, but rather a reflection of mental illness. Our personal stories represent addiction, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, among others. We know firsthand the barriers that exist between mental illness and mental health. More importantly, we know that taking the first step to overcome these barriers is often the toughest decision one ever makes." (Icebreakerrun.org, 2016)

The run will end on 6.9.16 in Alexandria, VA at Mental Health America's annual conference. Along the way, the team stops at schools and other community centers in an effort to break the stigma of mental illness. The runners will be running for 24 hours a day, for 24 days straight. When they came through the DFW area last week, there were some pretty wicked storms, rain, lightening and then heat and humidity - they still ran. On Monday, it was 103 degrees in Mississippi. The runners still run. 3,100 miles. About a marathon per runner, day after day (Icebreakerrun.org, 2016). 

I ran with Catra from a little after 10pm until around 11:30. We chatted the entire time. Both dog lovers, she told me about how she got TruMan, how they started running together, told me about some of her adventures and even gave me some very helpful advice about running Leadville. At a time when I was having a lot of doubts about the race, she really helped me maintain positivity. She too, has been affected deeply by mental illness, as has her puppy dog, TruMan, who had a great deal of anxiety when she adopted him. I could've listened to her stories all night, but it was time for her to rest.

While Catra and I were running, we were detoured only some back roads off of the frontage roads they had been using. All of a sudden we noticed flashing lights (like a cop car) and I was convinced it was policeman wondering why two young women were out running this late at night.  Instead, it was another group, doing nearly the same thing as the Icebreakers, walking across the country in the opposite direction. The young man we met was carrying an American flag for the cause "Carry the Load", honoring the people who keep us safe; military, firefighters and rescue personnel. It made this experience even more memorable. 
Phil Nimmo ran until 1am with both Emily and I and shared even more stories, had us cracking up and helped us fend off loose dogs running amuck across the East Texas countryside. By the time we were done, we had almost made it to Mt. Vernon. 

This was an incredible experience. To be even just a very small part of something really big doesn't happen everyday. Better yet, there are now more people to help this team spread the word. 

The Icebreaker Run still has a few days of travelling to go. You can continue to follow their journey on 

or visit their website to learn more about the team at icebreakerrun.org.

You can also support their cause by donating or by purchasing some of the cool gear that they have available. I scored an awesome tank from HERE that I can't wait to get!



  1. I'm new to your blog, but I'm really liking the posts I've read through. I grew up in East Texas, but haven't lived in the south in a long time.

    It saddens me that there's such a stigma surrounding mental illness. I'm an educator and it's a huge challenge in an underfunded institution. My mom is a substance abuse counselor and drug court coordinator in Louisiana. This group and event sound really incredible. Neat that you were able to meet up and log some miles with them!

    1. Thanks for reading Raquelita!

      It sounds like both you and your mom are doing very important work! Funding for mental illness is sorely underfunded everywhere it seems. Even at the insurance company I work for as a nurse, I hear patients who have to wait months to see a psych provider in the network and then, it is often costly. I don't think a lot of people have $200-300 to drop on a psychiatry visit, which results is gross undertreatment. Even in the clinical work I have done in my own community, I have found there are so many people who struggle with depression. That even though they look like they are doing "ok" on the outside, they are dying a little bit on the inside. I really can't wait to see what else this group of runners does! Opening eyes everywhere, that is for sure!