Becoming an Ironman: The Journey Continues


My first bike ride was three years ago, around my neighborhood in Baltimore. It was eight miles. Twice I had to stop and literally lie down in someone’s front lawn from exhaustion, then walk the bike up the rest of the hill and get back on. This Memorial Day, I rode 84 miles and then ran a 10K as I work to be able to endure the 140.6 miles of Ironman Lake Placid taking place on July 24. On my ride, I thought back to when I was depressed. I recalled how hard it was to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go to work. In fact, I believe it took more effort than my day-long Ironman training. Recalling that experience and embracing the inspirational words of many are what keep me going through these long workouts and early mornings of training.

After my first post on thrive about my personal journey recovering from depression, I received so much support from so many people both inside and outside of the mental health community. Therapists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts applauded my bravery for sharing my story. Perhaps the most moving reaction came from others who have suffered from depression, as well as their families and loved ones. This positive response has inspired me to keep speaking out about how common depression is and how recovery is possible with the right treatment.

Fifty years ago, cancer was as stigmatized as mental illness is today. If a family member had cancer, it was kept quiet. Many cancer patients felt shamed or ostracized. Fear and misunderstanding surrounded them. Today, people with cancer are seen as heroes with the full support of their communities. My dream is for this to be true of those with mental illness as well. My hope is that there will be more walks and runs to fund treatment and research, nonprofits working to improve the lives of people with mental illness, and for all barriers to treatment and recovery to be removed.

We aren’t there yet. Stigma still prevents mental illnesses from being treated the same as physical illnesses. While 20 percent of all disability is caused by psychiatric illness, only five percent of the national healthcare budget is devoted to treatment of these disorders. It’s a fragmented system that is difficult to access for healthy people, let alone people who are suffering.

Many have donated to the Sheppard Pratt Patient Care Fund in honor of my efforts to bring attention to these issues through my Ironman journey. Thank you for your support!

I have been training in earnest since January. Many a morning my alarm clock goes off at 4 a.m. so I can get a workout in before my patient care duties. Those days I want to roll over and go back to sleep, I think of all the people who have donated and encouraged me, and it keeps me focused on my goal. As I push my body to its limits, I recall those days when my body seemed incapable of anything and am thankful to even be able to attempt something like this. Thank you for supporting my Ironman journey and for helping me spread the word that treatment works and that stigma must be fought.   

Dr. Thomas Franklin is the medical director of The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. He is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a graduate analyst, having trained at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. He is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine and Psychiatry, and has extensive experience in psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and addictions and co-occurring disorders. Dr. Franklin previously served as medical director of Ruxton House, The Retreat’s transitional living program, before assuming the role of medical director of The Retreat in 2014.