“I can’t run from my troubles/These troubles follow me around/So I’m just gonna run with my troubles/Run til my worried mind can settle down.”
— from Jason Didner’s “Run With My Troubles”
By GRACE L. WILLIAMS
For Montclair Local
When life becomes too much, Montclair resident and rock singer/songwriter Jason Didner encourages everyone who can do so to consider getting up and out for a run.
He believes in it so much that he wrote a rock song and shot a companion music video to help spread the message.
Didner is no stranger to open discussions on mental health or promoting awareness. His wife, Amy, struggles with mental health issues of her own and blogs about the subject. Since childhood, she has had to manage Type 1 diabetes, which often comes with depression or similar conditions.
“Anxiety and depression are like the third person in our marriage,” he says.
A little while ago, however, he noticed his own mental health probably needed some TLC. After an anxiety-related stint in the emergency room where someone suggested that he try to exercise to cope better, Didner considered it — but found the exercise didn’t do much to help him at the time.
A year later, he came across a TED talk that mentioned the science behind exercise and brain change. Didner considered it further.
One suggestion, in particular, to get up early and get going, seemed promising but impossible to him. At that time, “I was sleeping really poorly,” he said. “Maybe five hours a night, frequently interrupted.”
His exhaustion and lack of sleep made the idea of waking up to exercise excruciating, but “I asked myself the experimental question ‘What if getting up earlier could help me a little better?’” he said.
His first few times were less than enjoyable. Still, he began to notice positive changes, including better sleep, which led to better concentration at his job in IT for a construction company. Compared to the peace of mind, dropping a pants size was a welcome afterthought.
The results inspired him so much that he turned to creative expression, and thus his rock anthem “Run With My Troubles” was born, with the hope of inspiring others who struggle with mental health issues to embrace positive coping strategies, including exercise.
For the video, Didner rocked out both in his sneakers and as a musician. He turned to social media to call upon several other runners to participate in the video by filming themselves running. Several replied — some from New Jersey, others from around the country.
Among them was Julia Beckley, a 27-year-old para-athlete in Denver, Colorado.
Beckley has to manage a condition where her bones break easily; she can’t compete in sports on her feet anymore without risking stress fractures. In May 2019, she ran her final 5K on her feet and ended up with three stress fractures as a result.
Something, she knew, had to change, and with some research and the help of a recreational therapist she participated in her first 5K wheelchair race. She now races using a chair designed to mimic the physical exertion of running; she pushes its rims to propel it forward. She started with a 5K and has now worked her way to her most recent victory, a 100-mile virtual race.
“I had 20 people come out to make it possible for me to have the experience of a lifetime,” she said.
Running has also given her permission to ask others for help.
“I can’t turn from everything and just ignore it,” she said. “I have to let other people in on my journey.”
Nita Sweeney of Columbus, Ohio, who also participated in the video, runs with her dog, Scarlet. She has lived with mental health issues most of her life, but 2007 was a particularly thorny year that included the death of several loved ones.
She also noticed a friend’s social media posts and became interested in the friend’s newfound quest to take up running. They were roughly the same size, 18, Sweeney said.
“I thought she had lost her mind, but I kept watching, and it planted a seed in my head,” she said. The following spring, inspired by her friend and the “Couch to 5K” concept of doing a little bit at a time each time, she took a digital kitchen timer and went into a nearby ravine and did her first 60-second jog. Running lit the spark, and three full and 28 half-marathons in 18 states and 100 shorter races later, she is still going strong.
“I fell in love with the running community,” she said. “There were people of all shapes and sizes and people like me, older.”
In 2018, her memoir, “Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink” was published, inspired by the life lessons she gained through running. “Instead of ‘Older woman running,’ it’s ‘Bipolar woman saves life,’” she said. “I will always be bipolar, and I will always have depressive episodes. Running is a powerful tool in my mental health toolkit.”
Didner has made mental health coping a bit metal, in “Run With My Troubles,” which is complete with a catchy, upbeat tempo and a guitar solo anyone could rock out to. But the core message of making peace with what ails us comes shining through with each lyric, beat and note.
“My mom always used to say, ‘You take yourself with you wherever you go,’” he said. “The idea is that as I run, I’m burning that [anxiety] energy off in a constructive way.”