This is a book about a runner, or rather, a runner’s wife. This is also a book about mental health and mental illness, relationships, and love.
Life is a Marathon: A Memoir of Love and Endurance is by Matt Fitzgerald, an author whose name has become synonymous with triathlon and running nutrition and training. (We’ve reviewed many of his books right here on the blog, including Racing Weight.) And while those sports play a major role in providing the structure of the book, as much as they do when contributing to the structure of someone’s day-to-day life, this book centers around the relationship between Fitzgerald and his wife, Nataki.
“A book about a nutrition writer’s marriage? How is that interesting?” … I can practically hear you thinking that. Let me answer you with another question: “Has someone you care for ever struggled with mental illness?”
I ask because this book is an intense, honest look at the way mental illness impacts life. Nataki, whom Fitzgerald met way back when he was a broke writer, is the love of his life. Her personality is irresistable; her honesty and the way she shows compassion for those around her, and her ability to see the positive, is who she is. She is also someone with severe mental illness.
In Life is a Marathon, Fitzgerald recounts his courtship of Nataki, alternating years from the past in some chapters and stories from a recent road trip in others. The story starts off, however, with an experience most people have experienced at some point in their life: cowardice. Fitzgerald describes how he skipped an important race in his high school career, a choice that changed the path of his college years and left him with a yearning to embody bravery. He shares stories from his mid-20’s; finding a job to pay the bills, meeting Nataki, and the way their lives grew together. Then, slowly at first, she started getting sick.
Fitzgerald holds back on no detail. He doesn’t try to sugar-coat the events that forced him to call 911 to protect himself and keep Nataki safe. He applies no filter when describing the ways in which she was failed by doctors. And he never gave up on her.
It was amazing to me to read about what they went through, knowing that during those years Fitzgerald was still training and competing at a high level, and writing many popular books. Even more amazing is the way Nataki is now fighting to increase awareness of mental illness and remove the stigma from afflictions from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and schitzophrenia.
Because of this, I’m going to share something that I’ve only shared in the past when talking with someone one-on-one. I, too, suffer from mental health issues. I take medication to help me manage my anxiety and depression. If you’ve met me in person, you might be surprised to hear this. I’m very outgoing, supportive of others, and have even been called “Pollyanna.” But I’m also a very sensitive person who cries easily, frequently feels like I’m the sore thumb, and has a hard time talking about things that bother me. I know now, after just turning 40, that it’s okay for me to be all those things, and I know how lucky I am to be surrounded by people who love me and have access to mental health care.
So. Read this book. See what mental illness can look like, and if you know someone struggling with their life, having addiction issues, or opens up about their own mental health, be someone to talk to. And if you think you might benefit from medical treatment, call your doctor! There are a number of crisis lines you can call, including the Mental Health Hotline by MentalHelp.net at 1-888-993-3112. (Check out mentalhealth.gov for more resources, and note the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.)
Another good resource is the NAMI HelpLine (National Association on Mental Illness) at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). If you’d rather write, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check the website for hours, but call them if you want to get more information on mental health conditions, treatments, support groups, and education for yourself or others.
Mental health is health. Take care of yourselves, dear friends, and take care of each other.