Heather Stephens

Volée member, Jolene Cannady, is a survivor of severe depression and PTSD. Depression may be a part of Jolene’s DNA, but her discovery of running and the North Carolina Volée team has allowed her to manage and control it (inspiring past read in Prevention Magazine). Jolene shares her story and how she discovered the freedom to be herself, speaking out in a world that is constantly pushing for perfection. 

To explain my story I have to go back to the beginning. I was a young teenage girl who trusted and believed in people, then one day that was taken away. I never asked or gave permission to the person who took my innocence away, but they did and I had to live with the consequences of that. That moment led to my body being inhabited by major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder for many years. They became the friends that I leaned on and led me down many dark paths.


That experience also led to the opportunities I have now, where I get to talk about my past journey while helping others and working to end the stigma that surrounds mental health disorders. I often refer to PTSD and depression as my dark friends. When I was with them my mind was not my own and I often felt lost. Many assume that those who have mental health disorders can simply put a smile on and embrace the day, but that is far from the truth. There were many days that I felt like I was having out of body experiences. I was not in control of my thoughts or actions because everything inside of my brain was foggy and distorted, yet deep inside I was screaming to be free. I would watch as those around me walked away because they could not handle my mood or watch as those I loved looked at me with faces full of worry. On my journey I had three suicide attempts, my last one was my worst and life changing for me. It was 12 years ago, my daughter was still a little girl who loved The Wiggles, and I did not want those I loved having to watch me suffer anymore. I wanted them to be free of always worrying about me, so I took a ton of my blood pressure medicine. This led to having my stomach pumped and a serious conversation with my husband. My other attempts had been with my anti-depressants because my distorted mind thought that the more I took the happier I would be, but my last attempt was truly me trying to leave. On my journey I have had four main rocks: my parents, my sister, my closest friends, and my husband. 12 years ago, thanks to my husband, I stood tall and decided it was time to learn to love myself. My story is too long to write out here, but I will say through all the struggles and pain I have no regrets. Each moment was a lesson that has now allowed me to help others. For 10 years now I have been off any medications for depression and I am currently in grad school to become a nurse practitioner. I also have the honor of writing for Bring Change to Mind, a foundation working to end mental health stigma run by Glenn Close and her sister.

My journey with depression and PTSD introduced me to the world of running. I once had an incredible counselor who encouraged me to use running as a tool. Each time my feet hit the ground it was like a piece of me was connecting with something bigger. I would feel the warm embrace of the sun and hear the sound of the birds, which made me feel alive within the darkness. It became my therapy. To this day every time I head out on a run I thank the universe for allowing me to be present in that moment because there was a time I almost took all of my future moments away.


When I joined the Volée Team I was looking for a place where as a female runner I would feel welcome, no matter my pace or reason for running. I am not out there to win awards or be the fastest. No, for me the roads are my therapists and the world is my track. Through the Volée team I have met some inspirational women who have shown me what it means to be strong and determined. I am definitely the introvert of our North Carolina crew and being in grad school I do not get to venture out much to events, but I am constantly amazed at the incredible women who are part of the team. They have often offered support and kind words. On occasion I get an amazing gift, like Tardis ice cube molds, which bring me a much-needed smile during these stressful school-filled days. They have benefitted both my running and school journey by allowing me to be myself and becoming mentors as I work towards big goals.


So what does fly mean to me? If you watch a bird in the sky they have pure freedom. That freedom is key and is what fly means to me. The ability to have pure freedom to be ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to change us. The ability to not be perfect and express it. That is my goal in sharing my story. I am not afraid to show my flaws or ashamed of my past. I want others to be able to tell their stories without fear or judgment.  Mental health disorders are real and it is time for the stigma to end. Suicide is not selfish, it is a mind distorted by thoughts; those who have not walked in such shoes will not understand. If you struggle with a mental illness do not be afraid to talk. If you know someone who struggles with mental illness ask him or her questions and talk to them like you do everyone else. Together we can end the stigma. We can all learn to fly together. My name is Jolene and I am a PTSD, major depression, and rape survivor. Watch me soar!

Head up, wings out. 

Jolene Cannady

jacquelyn scofield