Diane Gagne’s story as told to Sinead Mulhern
In 2005, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Until then, I had been leading an admirable lifestyle for years. To anyone looking in from the outside, it seemed like I really had it together. I had a successful career and I wasn’t afraid to pursue my dreams. Growing up, school came easy. I studied law, graduated in 1993 and worked as a legal aid for a few years and then for the Ministry of Justice. In 2001, I was offered a job as Crown Attorney. I took it even though it was hard. I worked so much during that time and I was good at it. My success in that role became evident to me as the cases I was given kept getting bigger. It wasn’t long before I was handling cases of sexual and physical abuse against children. The stress levels that came with the job were phenomenally high– but I handled it well. I was on a high, until I wasn’t.
“The severe depression grabbed hold and I just couldn’t seem to shake it. It was during this period of depression that I was diagnosed. I had bipolar disorder.”
I reached a breaking point. Suddenly, I thought my job was boring. I was tired of it. I wanted to become a singer instead. I was formerly a singer and so I auditioned for a role in Montreal. I hoped I would get it, but I didn’t. At the time, I saw nothing wrong with moving away, leaving my family and quitting my job if I did get it. Everything was moving so fast. I was preparing for a career as a professional singer, or so I hoped.
But soon after, I crashed. All of a sudden, I was really low, emotionally. I became horribly depressed. For two years, the severe depression grabbed hold and I just couldn’t seem to shake it. It was during this period of depression that I was diagnosed. I had bipolar disorder. When I began treatment, I saw improvements immediately and started to feel back to normal.
I went back to work but just as I started to get my condition under control, I realized what a big part of the problem was: my job was too stressful. That was 2009. Being back to the high demands of my work was becoming a problem once again. In 2010, I left it again. I got a job in human resources working four days a week. Things were better, although they weren’t perfect. My bipolar disorder was still very much a presence but I was working on getting a grip on my mental health.
That’s when my psychiatrist suggested that I get active. I was to choose a sport. I picked swimming. When I was younger, that was always my sport and so I figured I could pick it up again and get enjoyment from the sport just as I once did. Things didn’t work out that way though. I got in the pool but despite my efforts, I couldn’t get back into it. I needed something that I was going to look forward to, that would give me confidence and become a new challenge. So I took up running.
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“I just felt a bit better after every run. The longer I went, the better I felt. I even started taking lower doses of my medication.”
I wasn’t aiming to be the best, or even fast. I just wanted to be able to run. I was, after all, starting from square one. If I could just become a recreational runner, that would be a success. At the beginning, I started with more of a speed walk. I was walking and throwing in a few slow sections of running–and it was difficult. I didn’t come home with that “runner’s high.” It was tough and I was in pain afterwards. There was a loop near my house that ran a complete 8K. I’d see other runners complete it and think to myself: “Those are the real runners.” But I kept working on it and eventually it started to come. One evening, after months of training, I went to that loop and for the first time, I ran 8K continuously. In that moment, I understood the thrill that runners always describe. I was in love with running and, more and more, I was getting better control over my mental health.
After that, I just felt a bit better after every run. The longer I went, the better I felt. I even started taking lower doses of my medication–it was less pills and more kilometres. The happiness came back into my life. Running in my northern home of Rouyn-Noranda, the joy of my morning run is something I can’t even describe. Sure, the temperatures may hit -20 C, but the beauty of the north makes it worth it. I have my run finished before 10:00 a.m. where I often run that loop where the first half takes me along a lake.
“I’m 46 years old, I’m managing my condition and I couldn’t be healthier.”
Since I started running, I’ve done two half-marathons, a few 10K races and a sprint triathlon–not bad for a runner who started out at a pace of 8:00 per kilometre.
I had a tough 2015. I had some medical issues which led to surgery and so I had to stop running while I recovered. I fell into a state where one day I was high and the next I was low. Most of the time I was really irritable. When in that state, you don’t sleep and you feel like you might break down any minute. I realized I needed to come back to the treatment method that worked for me: running. My winning recipe over the past several years included taking the necessary medications and then using running to decrease the others. So I got back to it.
Running has helped me through so much. While I’m taking time away from work right now, I understand that bipolar disorder can be debilitating. Right now, running is giving me a lot of purpose and my health is more important than my career at this point. Usually I run four or five times a week to average around 40K if I’m not training for a race. My husband and my family see how positive of a change this has been for me.
I’m 46 years old, I’m managing my condition and I couldn’t be healthier. Today, I look back on the years since I started running and I’m proud.