2022 – Alexei Pappas’ relationship with depression is complicated. This is how you deal with “metaphorical scratching in the brain”.

In addition to being a professional athlete, she is a film director, actress, and author who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jeremy and Pug Bernini.

Her social media is filled with photos of her in colorful outfits from her patron, Champion, in scenic spots from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Greece, each accompanied by a poem she wrote herself.

She came across as bubbly, positive, creative, energetic…and all of these descriptions are true. But Pappas also fights clinical depression.

“Just as if you fell and broke a bone and your bone could heal over time, you can almost fall and make a figurative scratch on your brain,” Pappas tells CNN.

She strongly believes in the concept that mental health and physical health are one and the same.

“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 treated like any other part of the body,” Pappas says.

“I really hope I think of it this way, because I knew that while I wouldn’t feel better tomorrow if I focused only on my actions, over time my thoughts and how I felt would change, just like when the bones heal, but not overnight.”

After losing her mother to suicide at the age of four, Pappas and her family learned she needed help when she was frustrated. “I grew up terrified that if I felt as sad as her, I would have to leave,” Pappas says.

However, with the right medical team and a solid support system behind her, Papas was able to find her way back from the brink.

“I think the more nuanced discussion here is about how that affects your physical health if you’re having challenges with your mental health or if you’re mentally challenged,” Pappas notes. “This piece really intrigues me and it’s something I’ve experienced myself.”

In her memoir Bravey, Pappas talks about the physical effects of her depression, which often drove her to sleep only an hour a night — an unsustainable feat for anyone, but especially for athletes who run more than 100 miles a week. .

This cycle eventually caused a hamstring injury that sidelined Pappas for the first time in her life and made her spiral even more.

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“I’ve learned that depression is the disease of burnout,” Pappas says. “The cells in our bodies just perceive it as stress.”

Back in December 2020, after a year in which many struggled with their mental health in the face of the isolation and toll caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Pappas released a video with The New York Times that sparked global interest on social media. .

In her video – “I made my wildest dreams come true. Then depression hit” – Pappas revealed that she plummeted after landing after an incredible climax to attend the 2016 Olympics.

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

Pappas strongly believes that the same support and treatment used for personal injury can also be used to relieve mental health issues.

In addition to physicians and professionals who support the physical health of athletes, Pappas stresses the importance of “opening doors to these resources on the mental health side as well.”

These “resources” can be used to treat trauma once it has occurred, but they can also go a long way in preventing mental health worst-case scenarios from happening in the first place.

“The word ‘pre-hab’ is a word we use in our physical health,” Pappas says. “Those are the things you do to prevent injury and there are things we can do to prevent psychological challenge as well.”

Just as we do annual physical exams and dental exams to catch problems in their early stages, Pappas says regular treatment checkups can keep athletes mentally healthy, too.

While many programs have included sports psychologists on their teams, stigma associated with mental health can limit their impact. Pappas herself admits that opening up about her struggles was difficult because she was afraid he would say something about them.

“I thought he said something about me that I wasn’t brave enough or willing to share. I found it embarrassing.”

For example, 32-year-old Papas plays the role. “I try to be more open so people don’t feel that pain that much and don’t have to make choices they don’t have to make,” she adds.

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Pappas also aspires to be the type who was by her side in her darkest days.

“I found that the people who were there for me during my mental health crisis had this wonderful balance in allowing me to maintain my dignity,” Pappas explains. “A good booster makes you feel helped and dignified at the same time.”

Everyone, from her family and friends to her doctors, recognized the role they played in Pappas’ battle with depression.

As an athlete, Pappas has been able to draw on her past experiences as a member of a team when she had to rely on others throughout her mental health journey, claiming, “It’s the only thing that truly teaches a team sport — that belief and trust in someone else.”

Faith and trust were practices that Pappas recently put to the most difficult test when she ran the 126th Boston Marathon as leader of Team With a Vision, an organization that helps blind and visually impaired runners run their races and achieve marathon goals.

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

Her teammate Lisa won her score. By checking out Pappas’ social media, they also had some fun – singing, laughing, and giving little babies to viewers while they zoomed in.

From the outside, it appears to be a very different journey from what Pappas went through when she was in the depths of her depression.

But in many ways, the marathon is the perfect metaphor for Pappas’ mental health journey: long and arduous at times, with the finish line out of reach.

“I think if people can get away with feeling like there’s a way forward,” Pappas reasons, “and I don’t know my future, but I know I’ll help.” That would be the greatest thing in the world.”