He's Running a Marathon for Mental Health — With His Mouth Taped Shut
Personal trainer Aidan Anderson opens up about his mental health journey and why he’s giving back
IDONTMIND is no stranger to using unconventional ways to raise awareness for mental health. That’s why personal trainer Aidan Anderson’s fundraiser immediately caught our attention.
On October 20th, Aidan will be running the Ventura Marathon in Ojai, California in support of IDONTMIND. And he’s doing it with a twist — he’ll be running the whole race with tape over his mouth.
This technique is an advanced training method called nasal breathing, but it also serves a larger purpose for Aidan. He’s lived with depression from a young age and was lucky enough to get help when he needed it. For Aidan, the tape symbolizes the millions of people who are living with depression who may be suffering in silence.
Aidan’s been hard at work training for the race, and when he rips that tape off at the finish line, it’ll be so much more than just a breath of fresh air. We chatted with Aidan about his mental health story, and why this race matters to him.
IDM: Thanks for running this race in support of IDONTMIND and raising awareness. Do you mind telling us about your journey with mental health?
Aidan: I had my first panic attack when I was 12 years old. I was on a school bus, and all of a sudden it felt like I couldn't breathe. [I thought,] "Oh my gosh, am I dying? I'm only 12. I'm probably not dying." But it feels like I'm having a heart attack.
My dad takes me to the hospital. They start running a lot of tests and everything. They hook me up to an EKG. They take blood work. They're like, "Everything is fine. Your heart's great, blood work, nothing's weird. We think maybe you had a panic attack."
IDM: You probably didn’t even know what that was at that age. What happened next?
Aidan: I started going to therapy. They were really trying their best to help me work through stuff. But it's not getting any better. From there, I start to run out of steam. [Then] it turned into severe depression. I started having suicidal thoughts. I started having intrusive thinking, which is basically where you get stuck on a thought and it turns into this loop where you can't let it go. I'm only 12 and it already feels like this is never going to change. This was my life now. I'm stuck with this and it seems like there's just nothing else they can really do. I started going on some medication.
Then one of the doctors says, "You should really try to exercise. We think it would really help." So I start running. I start running just as fast as I possibly could. And for a couple of seconds, I forget what I'm all worked up about because I'm trying to get my breath back and my lungs are burning, my heart's racing and my mind goes blank for a second. I felt good for a little bit. And [I started to feel good] all of the time.
Once I got through that really tough period, I realized that nothing lasts forever. Things do change.
IDM: What do you think helped you the most in your recovery?
Aidan: A couple of things really saved me. I [had] family members that were very understanding and had gone through similar things. I got in to see a therapist and work through some of the things that I've really struggled with. And, last but not least, exercise. I found a way to get relief naturally. If I [hadn’t gone] to see that psychiatrist, I don't think I would be here today. That's how much [therapy] means to me.
IDM: What did you learn from surviving that low point?
Aidan: Once I got through that really tough period, I realized that nothing lasts forever. Things do change. Sometimes it takes a long time, but things will change.
IDM: How has your mental health been as you’ve gotten older?
Aidan: I felt really good and then I moved to LA and I got thrown into the modeling thing. I started thinking my self-worth was based on my image, and all of a sudden all this stuff came back up. I started having breakdowns again. I started having panic attacks again. I had to go back home. I had to regroup. I felt like a failure. I was having suicidal thoughts again. But being able to know that I had gotten through it before, I was able to have the reassurance and that really, really helped.
IDM: And how are you now?
Aidan: I haven't had a major episode in almost three years. I'm doing pretty well. I still take medication, and it's something I might have to do the rest of my life. It keeps me a lot more leveled.
IDM: When you're feeling that low and that down, getting the motivation to do anything can be so hard. How do you find the motivation to go out and go for a run?
Aidan: The feeling is sometimes so bad, that I get to a state of like, "It couldn't get any worse...so let me try." If you can get through it once, you know that it does get better over time. It's a game-changer. It's just getting through [it] that first time. You realize, "Okay, I'm having a hard time right now. What do I need to do to get back to where I was? Do I need to start seeing a therapist again? Do I need to think about medication? Do I need to look at my diet? Do I need to look at my training regimen? What are the things to make me feel better?" If you don't do anything and if you don't take any action, nothing's going to change.
IDM: So can you explain this running technique that you're doing?
Aidan: There's this technique called nasal breathing where you only breathe out of your nose. It allows you to breathe from your diaphragm better. So big belly breaths, right? When you're hyperventilating and when you're anxious, you tend to breathe from your chest and your shoulders. It's those little, short breaths. You're breathing from your mouth, you're hyperventilating, you're super anxious and you can't control your breath anymore. When you breathe from your nose, you take bigger breaths from your belly. That helps you get more oxygen into your system.
I started breathing from my nose when I do cardio activity. In the beginning, I sucked at it. I could maybe get five minutes jogging very slowly, but I would just be gasping for air. I realized it's almost like a meditation. If I could not get so worked up and just focus on taking big deep breaths from my nose and trying to maintain more of a meditative state, I feel a lot better when I'm doing it. And then I start using it for anxiety as well. If I feel a little anxious, I just start taking these big deep belly breaths from my nose.
IDM: Running a marathon with tape over your mouth is such a powerful statement. What does it mean to you personally?
Aidan: It takes me back to the feeling of isolation before I spoke up. Like, “I'm so odd. I'm so weird, feeling this way, having these dark thoughts. Something's wrong with me if I speak up.” After I was able to vocalize [my] thoughts and everything, it all got way easier. Once you start saying it out loud, you’re able to start working through things.
That's what it means for me. It’s a long time, four hours of running. I want to take that moment mentally for myself, too. To reflect on my whole journey, and how thankful I am for getting the help I needed.
There is such a direct relationship of the feeling of running a marathon and the feeling of holding in really dark feelings. When you are able to speak up, it feels like you just got the weight of the world off your shoulders.
IDM: That’s a really beautiful metaphor. What about the practical aspect of running a marathon that way? How do water breaks work?
Aidan: My mouth will be taped with athletic tape, which is sweat resistant. I’ll be taking the tape off when I get water. This will be my first marathon. I've been running for a long time, but I've never done a marathon. So this will be the first one, and it will be with my mouth taped. (laughs)
After I was able to vocalize [my] thoughts and everything, it all got way easier. Once you start saying it out loud, you’re able to start working through things.
IDM: How is your training going? Do you feel good about it?
Aidan: It’s going great. I've got a lot of access to a lot of information. Running is hard on the body. It’s jarring on your joints. It's a lot of impact and you do all these miles and it will take a toll physically. I've learned that less is more, so I tend to just do three days a week.
IDM: I love what you said earlier, how if you can get through it once, you know you can do it again. That's a great way to look at it.
Aidan: It's true. Life is a roller coaster. We're going to have these ups and we're going to have these downs. As long as you have your remedies with you, when you hit those downs, you'll be able to get through it. It doesn't mean it'll be easy, but each time it gets a little bit easier.
It’s the biggest thing, being able to actually speak about what's going on. Everything else seems to follow after that. And sure, you're going to have to work through a lot of stuff and it's going to take time, but change really does happen.