When I was in high school I was on the cross country team, and I came in last at every race. Last weekend I was in a 5k, and I also came in last—but I’ve learned a thing or two in the intervening 40 years.

As a kid, being last was disheartening and I hated it. I would berate myself the whole time for what a terrible runner I was, a combination of physical pain and internal self-immolation. I don’t recall any coach or adult acknowledging that finishing in itself was an accomplishment, regardless of how long it took me to cross that invisible finish line.

The 5k I was in last weekend was part of an event co-sponsored by The Independent. Hosted by the Torrance County DWI Prevention Program, this year was the 5th Annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention 5k and Embrace Life Celebration, which included education about suicide, and the connections between alcohol and suicide.

Now, at the age of 56, and after peaking out this summer at the highest I’ve ever weighed, over 260 pounds, walking 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) requires a lot of effort and caused some pain to finish.

Unlike my impatient high school coaches, at the end of this 5k, I was greeted by congratulations, high fives, and people taking my photograph, just as they had with everyone before me. And unlike the glum shame I felt as a teenager, I was feeling very proud of myself at the finish line.

Three generations: Left, my mom Patricia Harriman, and right, my daughter Trish McChesney.

This has been a challenging year for me healthwise, and I’m very grateful to have been out on a beautiful day, walking with my mom and our two doggies, hanging around people I like and respect. It was a fun day.

Lessons learned in 40 years:

Start where you are, and work with what you have.

Be patient with yourself, and please, please, be kind to yourself.

According to a press release from the state health department, youth suicide rates in New Mexico declined in 2021, compared to the year before. The state attributes these lower rates to “concerted efforts across the state to educate residents about mental health wellness, suicide risk awareness, and training in suicide prevention,” among other factors.

I applaud these efforts and The Independent supports them locally. On a personal level, mental health has become another thing that can’t be ignored anymore. Besides that, I don’t want to ignore it anymore.

Like nearly everyone I know, I’ve spent my life trying to sweep mental health under the rug—to instead power through, put on my big girl panties and man up, all in one messy ball of whatever.

Another lesson learned in 40 years, although this one I have to keep learning over and over:

Physical activity really helps with how I feel emotionally. The more physically active I am, the happier I feel.

You’d think I’d spend all my time climbing mountains like a goat, just so I could be happy all the time. Instead I have to remind myself to do the things that make me feel better.

So I do. I no longer beat myself up about that but instead, I remind myself every day to find little ways I can care for and nurture myself—and do them. I remind myself that I deserve to be cared for and pampered, and I follow through.

I’m an empty nester now, and my life is much simpler than it was in the kid-raising years. But I remember the insane scheduling and the brutal pace of it all. In spite of that, young parents, my advice is to make the time to care for yourself mentally, so that what you bring to your kids and your family emotionally is your best.

It’s not about what we can survive. People can survive almost anything, and we do. Survival is the minimum we need.

What do we need to thrive and flower? Let’s do more of that, please. Thank you again, Tracey Master, for all of your hard work in bringing this event together.

From the state’s press release:

If you know someone in crisis, Call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 (para ayuda en Español, llame al 988). You can also contact the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services provide 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency.

The U.S. Veterans Crisis Line – operated by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs – connects Service members and veterans in crisis, as well as their family members and friends, with qualified responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text messaging service. Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone or send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder. You can also start a confidential online chat session at Veterans Crisis Chat.