During National Recovery Month, Vertava Health partnered with Ultra-Marathon Runner Greg Nance as he works to raise awareness about mental health and substance use disorders through an upcoming cross-country marathon and documentary film.
Vertava Health is a leading provider of evidence-based individualized treatment plans for substance use and mental health disorders both onsite and online through Telehealth.
In this special interview, Vertava Health’s Erika Lathon sits down with Greg for an in-depth conversation about mental health and living in recovery.
When Greg Nance crossed the finish line on January 31, 2019, he became the youngest person to complete the World Marathon Challenge. During the rigorous 183-mile race he flew to seven continents to complete seven marathons in seven days.
At the time, only 104 people had ever completed the challenge. It was the pinnacle of success … the crowning jewel in an already illustrious life and career for the successful entrepreneur and ultra-marathon runner. Yet somehow despite all he’d accomplished he felt unfulfilled.
“After that world marathon challenge deal where I’m like, my peak athletic triumph, the biggest coolest thing I’ve ever done I don’t feel well,” said Nance. “My body is really hurting from this challenge. My legs are on fire. I feel an emptiness at a mental level where I know I should be over the moon and yet I’m not.”
When the cameras stopped clicking and the accolades ended Nance found himself at a crossroads. As he sat in the five-star Miami hotel room his race sponsors put him up in … he came face to face with a ghost from his past, one he thought he’d outrun years ago.
“I feel kind of guilty and embarrassed about having cravings and actually even reaching out to a former dealer around acquiring opiates, Percocet and Vicodin which I hadn’t done in seven plus years and yet here I am like trying to actually acquire that again.”
In a stroke of irony, Greg says it was the conversation with his former drug dealer that provided the call that stopped him from relapsing.
“Like hey, I’m not in the game and you don’t sound so good like it might be a good idea for you to get some help.’ When your former drug dealer is giving you advice on getting help you know you’ve got an issue on your hands.”
After that wake-up call, Greg started to work through his feelings.
“That began this process of some soul-searching and trying to make sense of all that because I thought I was years over that hump, but it was wishful thinking,” said Nance. “That was where I realized that this is a lifelong challenge and struggle and one that if you let your guard down, at really any moment you can fall by the wayside once more and the train can come off the tracks so that’s where I really try to put my recovery kind of front and center.”
Ever the entrepreneur and innovator … that soul searching prompted Greg to start writing. He ended up writing an essay that eventually turned into a five-page short story that became the inspiration for his latest undertaking, a documentary film that will take his very private struggle – public.
“I never thought I would be talking openly about my own struggles with mental health and addiction and especially not making a film about it. This film project and the documentary has become very therapeutic for me to learn more about my own journey, to connect with others in recovery and to just try to walk more authentically along the path.
As I shared privately with really close friends and with family I realize that a lot of friends and family have been through similar struggles with mental health and with addiction and my sharing helped others find the words to share more on their struggles, more on their path, more on their journey.”
Nance says part of being honest is admitting that he still struggles with anxiety especially during the pandemic.
“I view it as a circle where I have this cue, which is oh anxiety, ahh and I’m feeling it. In old days that was my cue to drink or take a pill or call up some buddies to get together. Whereas today I try to lace up the shoes. I go out and I pound the pavement or hit the trail or hit the shore for some miles. That helps me process. That gives me perspective on the issue I’m dealing with. I get back to my desk an hour or two or three later and then all of a sudden that mountain is actually the mole hill that it is and I’m able to work through it … for me running helps put things in perspective. “
Whether powering through vertigo and nausea to finish the World Marathon Challenge or trudging through knee deep mud in the frigid Pacific Ocean on a recent 46 mile run around his native Bainbridge Island, Nance says for him overcoming physical challenges and in some ways, addiction comes down to mindset.
“I was really a white knuckler. I didn’t seek treatment. It was a cold turkey situation after hitting progressively deeper rock bottoms and I want to make clear that I don’t recommend that for anybody. I think that is the wrong way to approach this. I think absolutely positively open up to friends, family ideally licensed medical and therapeutic professionals that have the training and the professional skills to help you work through this.”
Greg is excited about his new partnership with Vertava Health, a leading treatment provider of substance use and mental health disorders. It’s a partnership that will help him raise awareness about the treatment of these often-debilitating issues.
“With COVID I think the pivot to Vertava (Health) and Telehealth it’s just so important because you’ve got to meet people where they’re at. I’ve got a thick skull over here which means it’s like dragging a horse to water sometimes with me and so you’ve got to make that water look as appetizing as possible and as quenching as possible.”
“I think that’s what Vertava’s doing … you have the opportunity to connect with a licensed therapist over the comfort and privacy of your mobile phone which makes a massive difference because the act of getting in the car driving across town or cross county or cross state to a treatment facility, that’s a bridge maybe too far particularly during times of COVID where I’m feeling anxious right now and I need help right now where I’m at.”
Greg says stigma was a major obstacle that kept him from seeking professional help. As a multi-sport athlete and class officer in high school and college he feared the consequences of admitting he had a problem. He believes virtual health care services like those now offered by Vertava Health might have given him another option.
“I think the emphasis on quality care, on personalization, on customization and private discreet one to one relationships, all that’s extremely important because a lot of folks dealing with mental health and addiction issues bring ego to that. We bring baggage to that, and having someone break through that ice through your mobile phone, I think it’s critically important and I think it’s one that if Vertava (Health) was around back in 2011 that would’ve been a great first step for me and one that I would’ve benefited immensely from.”
On March 16th, 2020, Greg reached another milestone, 3,000 days of sobriety. He’s planning to mark the occasion with what else, but a cross country marathon from New York to Seattle Washington.
“It feels really special and I want to commemorate that with a really big run. 3,000 miles for 3,000 days. I never thought I would make it to day 30 let alone to day 3,000 so I have to pinch myself because I tried 100 times to take those first steps and every time I slipped and fell went back today zero so it’s a miracle.”
“It’s really a massive blessing to be where I am here, and a special coincidence too because the first Bible passage that my grandma had me memorize was John 3:16 and so having that be March 16th. When I did the math on that I was like what, no way! There’s so many miracles every day around us. Too often we don’t see that and yet that was one more sign this is meant to be and that I’m meant to be on this journey and it’s never going to be easy but it’s the right path for me.”
Due to COVID-19 the 3,000-mile journey is on hold until the spring with a target March 2021 start date. In the meantime, Greg is training … but when he sets out on this marathon, he’ll be documenting every step and concentrating on more than just reaching the finish line.
In partnership with the International Documentary Association, the film chronicling the run across America is titled 1 IN 7 — signifying the 40 million Americans, or one in seven adults, who are battling alcohol or substance addiction.
“In this moment we have a chance to really envision how we want society to support those with mental health and addiction challenges. We’re hoping that this journey across the country and our documentary can be part of the dialogue.”