I arrived at Villanova University for my freshman year of college, feeling excited to run for one of the best teams in the country and get a great education. My first two seasons at Villanova exceeded my expectations. I became an All-Big East runner and went to two NCAA Championship meets.
Things were going really well — from the outside.
In January of my freshman year I began to notice something wasn’t right. I was feeling extremely apathetic and had a constant knot in my chest. I was avoiding my friends and developing unhealthy behaviors.
These were feelings I had normalized for years, but this time I knew something was different. I called my therapist from home which resulted in a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and persistent depressive disorder.
I was relieved to have an answer.
After our indoor conference championships I started on an antidepressant. The knot in my chest and feelings of apathy subsided. While I was making progress, that wasn’t to say my mental health journey was over.
It was far from it.
The rest of the spring semester was slowly overrun by my mental illnesses. I began to over-analyze every run and workout.
If it wasn’t perfect, then it was a failure.
I was losing the confidence I had gained in my running the months prior. After a bad workout I would indulge in unhealthy behaviors which furthered my feelings of failure.
The entire outdoor season and summer was a cycle of ‘all or nothing’ in runs and workouts. This led to a sub-par outdoor season and low confidence coming into my sophomore year cross country season.
The numbers showed I was in the best shape I’ve ever been, but to me it didn’t feel perfect — which meant I couldn’t be fit.
I was dropping workouts because I had accepted I would before they even started. The night before my first race of the season I had a massive panic attack because of how unprepared I felt. This showed in the race as I finished with a time much slower than I had run the year prior.
That race would end up being my only race of the season.
A few months later I ended up leaving school for the year on a Medical Leave of Absence. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that ‘all or nothing’ mentality mixed with my unhealthy behaviors after the fact was my anxiety and depression.
These thoughts weren’t based on logic and were irrational. These thoughts led me to doubt my abilities even though they were clearly there. I have since been able to manage these thoughts, which has helped my running in ways I never thought possible. I now can see beyond one run or workout and take every day that I get to run as a day to get better, no matter how the run went.
This mindset has allowed me to enjoy each run for what it is, and it has made me a better runner in the process. I would never wish my struggles on anybody, but I feel stronger due to what I went through. I learned how to advocate for myself and I was shown immense support from my coach and teammates about my decision. Mental illness doesn’t define me.
I am a runner, student, friend, teammate, daughter, and sister who just happens to experience mental illness.
To any runner that is dealing with mental illness or just a lot of stress, I want you to know that the mind and the body are connected in ways I can’t stress enough. You have to make sure you are mentally and physically well enough to put your mind and body to the test in this sport. I am back to running normal mileage and have plans to go back to school in the fall.
My college journey has not been conventional thus far, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful.
REILLY SIEBERT — VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY
1500 Meter Run: 4:27.69
One Mile Run: 4:45.12
6,000 Meter Run (XC): 20:47.50