Alexi Pappas has a complex relationship with depression. This is how she treats the “metaphorical scratch on your brain”



She’s not just a professional athlete, but a filmmaker, actress, and writer who lives with her husband Jeremy and their pug Bernini in Los Angeles.

Her social media is full of photos of her wearing colorful outfits from her sponsor, Champion, in scenic locations from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Greece, each accompanied by a poem she wrote herself.

She comes across as bubbly, positive, creative, energetic…and all of those descriptors are true. Yet Pappas also battles clinical depression.

“Just like when you fall and you break a bone and your bone can heal over time, you can almost fall and get a metaphorical scratch on your brain,” Pappas told CNN.

She is a firm believer in the concept that mental health and physical health are one.

“The brain is really a part of the body and it can be injured like any other part of the body, and it can heal or be managed like any other part of the body,” Pappas explains.

“It’s really encouraging to think about it that way, because I knew that even though I wasn’t going to feel better tomorrow, if I just focused on my actions, my thoughts and feelings would change over time. just like a bone heals over time but not overnight.”

After losing her mother to suicide when she was four years old, Pappas and her family knew she needed help when she was at her lowest. “I grew up really scared that if I was ever sad like her, I should…go,” Pappas says.

Pappas competed in the 10,000 meters at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

However, with the right team of doctors and a strong support system behind her, Pappas was able to navigate her way from the brink.

“I think the most nuanced discussion here is about how if you have mental health issues, or if you have mental issues, how that can affect your physical health,” Pappas notes. “This piece really interests me and it’s something I experienced first hand.”

In her memoir “Bravey,” Pappas talks about the physical repercussions of her depression, which often caused her to manage literally an hour of sleep a night alone – an unbearable feat for anyone, but especially for an athlete running more than 100 miles a day. the week.

That cycle eventually triggered a hamstring injury that sidelined Pappas long-term for the first time in her life and sent her even further.

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“I learned that depression is a disease of exhaustion,” recalls Pappas. “The cells in our body sense it as stress.”

In December 2020, after a year of many finding themselves struggling with their own mental health in light of the isolation and loss caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Pappas released a video with The New York Times that sparked worldwide interest on social media.

In her video – “I achieved my wildest dreams. Then depression hit” – Pappas revealed that after the incredible peak of competition at the 2016 Olympics, the downhill left her at her point the lowest.

“We might think depression hits when bad things happen,” Pappas says in the video, “but for me, it happened right after the peak of my life.”

Pappas firmly believes that the same support and treatment used for bodily injury can also be used to alleviate mental health issues.

In addition to doctors and specialists who support the physical well-being of athletes, Pappas stresses the importance that “we also open the doors to these resources on the mental health side.”

These “resources” could be used to address mental trauma as it arises, but they could also go further by helping to prevent the most serious mental health scenarios from occurring in the first place.

“The word ‘pre-hab’ is a word we use with our physical health,” Pappas says. “These are the things you do to prevent injury, and there are things we could do to prevent a mental health issue as well.”

Just as we do annual physicals and dental checkups to catch problems early, perhaps regular therapeutic checkups could also ensure athletes remain mentally healthy, Pappas says.

While many programs have introduced sports psychologists to their teams, their impact may be limited by mental health stigma. Pappas herself admits it was hard to come to terms with her own struggles because of what she feared it would say about her.

“I thought it said something about me that I wasn’t brave enough or ready to share. I thought it was shameful,” she says.

Pappas, 32, is doing his part. “I’m trying to be more open so people don’t have to feel this pain so much and have to make choices they don’t need to make,” adds- she.

His body

Pappas also strives to be the type of teammate she had by her side during her darkest days.

“I discovered that the people who were there for me during my mental health crisis had this beautiful balance that allowed me to maintain my dignity,” says Pappas. “A good supporter will make you feel both helped and worthy.”

Everyone from his family and friends to his doctors understood the role they played in Pappas’ battle with depression.

As an athlete, Pappas was able to draw on her past experience as a member of a team when she needed to rely on others throughout her mental health journey, saying “it’s the only thing team sports really teach you – that belief and trust in another person.”

Belief and trust were two practices that Pappas recently put to perhaps the most extreme test when she ran the 126th Boston Marathon as a guide for “Team With a Vision,” an organization that offers a support for blind and visually impaired runners in achieving their races and marathon goals.

“I was in contact with this athlete, Lisa, who has run the Boston Marathon so many times,” Pappas explains. “It was so amazing… guiding and being there with someone every step of the way and calibrating and listening to their needs.”

Her teammate, Lisa, won her division; watching Pappas’ social media, they also had fun along the way – singing, laughing and slapping onlookers as they ran.

From the outside, it seems like a whole different journey than what Pappas went through when she found herself in the depths of her depression.

But in many ways, a marathon is the perfect metaphor for Pappas’ mental health journey: sometimes long and arduous, with the finish line impossibly far away.

“I think if people can just leave thinking there’s a way forward,” Pappas reasons, “and I don’t know my future, but I know I can be helped. That would be the greatest thing in the world.”


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