Edge of Limits

by Francesco M. Sunseri

Why do I do this? We know the limit. We know it is a place where we lost control so many times before, when we let ourselves succumb to the impulse and teeter over the edge. We know it will break us down to nothing, but forward we move. We run the mill until we are ground to dust or turned to gold, all just to walk the razors edge of our ultimate potential. Am I alone?

I was introduced to running when I was very young. I remember at 7 years old going to the Cal State LA track to go run with my cousin as she performed her workout. I wasn’t a runner; I was just a kid that ran. I ran in the woods, I ran at recess, but never once thought about running competitively.

Running in high school was never a consideration, I didn’t run my first foot race until I was 30. It was the Moab Trail Marathon…half marathon for me. From that day forward I knew I wasn’t done exploring. I wanted to see the world and be powered by my own two legs. I felt the energy from the community, from nature, this sport sparked something inside of me that I need to pursue.

As a young kid growing up in Lake Tahoe, our playground was the National Forest. Everyday after school was spent running through the forest, pretending we were Jedis and Super Sayans. We were just kids enjoying life to the fullest and seeking adventure. I knew that at 30 years old, that desire to explore and push the limits was still inside of me, begging to be set free. I started to run and never stopped, not being a “natural” runner wasn’t going to stop this new burning passion.

In my youth, I played football, from 8 years old through high school before calling it quits. It was fast, it was fun, and it taught me countless lessons in teamwork and leadership. It also gave me a place to let out aggression. The violent nature of the sport seemed to fit me well. A quiet kid, given the opportunity to transform into something else. I became the monster I needed to be. It was my place to be free and relieve all the bullshit from the day, it became a form of physical expression I would grow to love.

It also produced countless concussions.

Fist fights were regular, getting picked on was just part of growing up; back then, entertainment came in the form of blood. Whether it was playing rough (BB Gun battles) or simply beating the shit out of each other over simple disagreements, our time as boys was one of hard lessons. Being a smaller kid, it meant that you’d receive the attention of the bullies, but as the big brother it was your job to protect your brothers. So it was essentially my job, to get my ass kicked regularly or get in trouble for defending my siblings.

The Sunseri Brothers- Joe, Michelino, and Franc

The first time I was suspended from school for a serious infraction as in the 4th grade. Mike Weisel, a bully in the school, was picking on my little brother. Ok, game time, you don’t fuck with family. But I watched for a second, maybe Michelino would fight back; he couldn’t. So as he plunged my brothers face into the snow over and over, I ran over and kicked him in the ribs. He rolled to his side, so I continued to kick him in the back over and over and over… That was it. Flash forward and I’m in the principles office being yelled at, everything around me moving at 100 MPH. I’m asked, “Why?”

“He hurt my brother”… that’s just what I was supposed to do.

Mike Weisel was taken to the hospital with damage to his kidneys and was reported to be peeing blood for a while. His parents threatened to sue, but it was settled somehow by those older than I. I was a kid protecting my family, a quality that would only grow stronger through the years. 

I cannot definitively say that brain injuries played a part in my behavioral shift in my late teens and early twenties. What I can say is I suffered at least 10 concussions, senior year alone. Much like early youth, fighting in the high school years was common. Being a somewhat dorky kid who only had football, making friends and getting along with the high school scene wasn’t my strong point. I was a loner and scared, spending most of freshman year eating alone or hiding away in the gym. I’d occasionally go to the weight room and work out if another football player was there, otherwise I just wandered. In reality, this is a fairly common place for a kid to be. Out of place, out of touch, just trying to find an identity while covered in acne and insecurity.

Whether it was teenage hormones, brain damage, or a combination of both, high school is when the impulsive tendencies became more pronounced. This is when I can remember a change in who I was and who I was becoming.Alcohol use became more frequent and weed became a regular habit.

The height of the pill days

While in high school, I was never a big party guy and I never really did drugs until that fateful senior year. Like many 17-year-old boys, I struggled to find an identity, so I went searching for one. Unfortunately, the one I happened upon was a dismal choice and furthered my poor decision making. I began hanging out with Skinheads, White Nationalists as they like to be called when they “mature”. But me, a youth, I was a Skinhead. See, as a lost young man, I was led to believe a web of lies and promises that would never come to fruition. I would be led to believe there is brotherhood amongst us Misfits, only to find you’ll be cast aside like a dirty rag. Did I hate black people and Jews? No. Did I spit hate and disgusting words that would have told you I did? Most certainly. I belonged to a group of people who would preach a drug-free lifestyle while selling poison to children. The tattoos that forever mar my body, a reminder of the hatred that exists in this world, permanently imbedded in my skin. I could have it removed but removing it would be telling a lie about my past and what made me.

During my time selling drugs, as it turned out, I had a thirstfor pharmaceuticals. Methadone and Klonopin became the cocktail of choice. The ratio: 1 methadone to 2 Klonopin. Perfectly numb. This combination fueled me through the day. I would be calm and relaxed, but on a moments notice I could flip a switch and become the bad guy. I’d lose all sense of empathy and operate purely on animal instinct and hatred. Hated for nothing other than life itself. It fundamentally transformed me in those moments and created a legitimate monster. One who would come to your house and sell you drugs, get you high, then steal all your shit while you were passed out. You’d ask me the next day what happened, but by this time my ability to lie was reaching God Levels. Drug addicts tend to be liars, people with mood disorders can be good ones. Why? We believe it… more on that in the manic behavior parts…

4 people in costume
Two of us were arrested, the other two talked their way out… guess

Shame can be healed from, but it doesn’t mean it was not there once upon a time. My daughter was the one who changed that for me. I knew when I set eyes on her the hate in my heart was not for another man or woman, it was pointless, it was powerless now. So I let it go. I moved on from that part of my life and began to make amends.

Father and Daughter
Proud Daddy

It wouldn’t be until I turned 21 that I stopped using and selling those pills. Pills that I would either steal from my girlfriend’s mom, the ones I flipped to support my habit, the monthly allotment I needed to sell for others, the ones stolen in shady drug deals, it was all about getting to that limit and rush I so desired… Hell, I dated a girl because she had a morphine prescription. She couldn’t afford it, so I bought them, and gave her a ¼ the bottle for doing her that favor. The picture of a gentlemen, no? On top of the opioids and benzos, I was also taking an antidepressant medication by the name of paroxetine, commonly known as Paxil.

Paxil would ultimately introduce me to my lifelong friend, Hypomania. At the time, I was not familiar with this conditionand that my behavior was abnormal. What I do know is my behavior continued to change. Drinking went from casual toravenous cravings, smoking cigarettes became a 2-pack-per-day habit, and most drugs would be taken if the opportunity arose. I would throw back a fifth of vodka every night when I could afford it. I’d be hammered, standing straight up, and seemingly “not that drunk”. I was forced to ask friends about the night before, as blacking out with every session became commonplace. 

One night on my way to pick my wife up from the Las Vegas airport, I decided to drink before heading out. I had worked 10 hours the day prior, so getting off work I started to drink. Her flight didn’t get in until midnight, so I had time to kill. One became two, became three… Time to drive. Road Soda at my side I hit the road. A tall can of Tilt, 24 oz of alcohol and caffeine. I cruised down highway 58 without a care in the world. As I approached a vehicle, the writing on the back seemed to say “Subaru” so I began to pass. Unfortunately my drunken eyes must have failed a bit because it was actually supposed to read “Sheriff”. But I had committed and now slowing down seems suspicious, no? So I passed… merged… pulled over. FUCK! Alright, beer in the backseat, blanket over it, license and reg..here we go.

Up walks this freaking kid. Was he younger than me??? He looked it. He acted it. He bumbled and stumbled all over his words to the point where I didn’t have to say shit. I simply explained my mistake honestly, he laughed nervously, and gave me a ticket. For speeding. I was piss fucking drunk and still 2 hours from my destination and I just got a speeding ticket. I am the luckiest man alive. And I made it to Vegas, I picked up my wife, and we headed to Southern California… but I don’t remember what we did, you can imagine why. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t drink before or after that medication, but it seemed to flip a switch in me that drove the cravings to 1000. It wasn’t until 13 years later I would find out why. If you are asking yourself how I managed this part of my life, it was simple. It turns out I simply had to run out of that medication and not refill it. I stopped cold-turkey because I didn’t need them anymore, I wasn’t depressed, exactly the opposite in fact. I could have called my doctor and had them refilled and sent tomy door but I chose to let it go. I can’t recall the complete reasoning for stopping the use of Paxil, but once I stopped taking those meds, the poor decision making was minimal, the drinking slowed down significantly, and the marijuana smoking stopped all together. But I never put two and two together. I never correlated the use of an anti-depressant medication to my behavior. I simply carried through my twenties like any new parent would, bewildered and tired. 

Fast-forward to 28 years old. Married, two beautiful children, overworked, overweight, drinking to much, and not exercising. I was depressed, I was stressed, I was simply at my wits end and not taking care of myself. What the fuck just happened? How in the fuck am I 195 pounds?! Did I just sleepwalk through my twenties? I mean I was there, I remember it… I was just stressed out and overwhelmed with life. I wasn’t working out, I was simply going home and having a few beers and watching TV. I wasn’t being productive. I was… sedentary. It was clearly time to recalibrate, time for the doctor. But this time, it was going to be different. This time I was going to do everything right, I would listen to all the advice, reduce the booze to acceptable levels and it was going to work.

Life was good, love was easy

I mean… I was still going to smoke weed, because that helped me sleep. I had this thing nailed, surely.

This new doctor seemed serious, no-nonsense type of cat. He questioned me, asked about some family history, and started me on Lexapro. So, I’m on new meds, new lease on life and ready to go get the day… I started the meds immediately, they worked almost immediately. I felt a head change, was this placebo or normal? It was like a mild but sudden rush, one that would slowly build in the months to come. The euphoria I was feeling, what I mistook for happiness, was something far more sinister. It sat inside me like a monster, feeding slowly a growing each day. Everyday it demanded more of my attention, required more fuel to feed the insatiable beast within.

The red flags started to pop up, one after another. First it was less sleep, then ditching work to go mountain biking. It came to a head quickly when I suddenly moved out of my marital home. I told my wife I no longer loved her, and I moved out all my stuff. I was over this relationship, I felt I deserved better than her and I no longer wanted to be tied down. She was somehow holding me back from reaching my true potential. It was delusional for sure, but it felt as real as the rising sun. 

I stayed gone for a few months until the depression set inand reality gripped tight. I had fucked up and I knew it. So I called my wife and told her I wanted to come home. But I neglected to tell her about the woman I had been sleeping with while I was away. I figured out of sight, out of mind. She would never find out and I would move on from this mistake and learn. I didn’t want to hurt her unnecessarily, but the lies weigh heavy over the weeks and months. She found out… she was crushed. I was heartbroken knowing I had hurt her so badly. I was sitting her questioning why and having no answers for her. She was confused and so was I, but she was the one dealing with the heartache, I was simply a mentally ill husband who betrayed his wife.

Then a miracle happened. Covid came, we went on lockdown, and the whole world drank. All of the problems of the past months paled in comparison to what we were facing. We had thought the world was going to end that first week. Then the fear subsided, and we simply stayed home with each other and drank. We drank everyday and had friends over most nights. The nights we didn’t, we were at friends. We were simply drinking our way through covid and nobody cared. But this presented a problem. I had started drinking heavily again and it was clearly out of control.  The recycling bin in my home was full every week, 55 gallons worth of aluminum and glass. That sounds bad, but we had a second one that would also get filled. Imagine the amount of alcohol consumption for one household where two 55 gallon trash cans are filled on a near weekly basis. It was spiraling and I knew it I was going to make another attempt to get sober. 

Then the beast whispered as it awoke. The depression overcame me, I fell back into the dark and there was no denyin git was markedly worse. Rather than a dull ache, this felt like a crippling blow. 

Imagine feeling so useless and hopeless for 4-7 days, that killing yourself seems to be the only real option out. To sit with your thoughts, giving yourself 10-minute increments of time to hold on a little while longer. To rationalize why your kids would be better off without you, how your wife would benefit from the insurance if you just made it look like an accident. When those thoughts become a plan, and everyday as you drive to work you wonder if this is the day, I have the balls to drive the truck off this cliff. Thankfully, I never found the courage those days. 

When I originally spoke to the doctor in 2018 about our history of mental illness in the family, he shrugged it off as if this was not a concern. It would be 4 years later that I was initial diagnosed with a mood disorder, resulting in the subsequent determination that it was likely Bipolar Type-2. I would later learn that when you give a person with bipolar disorder antidepressants, it can trigger a manic episode. In these scenarios, a mood stabilizer is required, but stabilizer was prescribed. This resulted in a slow a steady decline into chaos. Sleep was no more than 3 hours a night, never continuous. I was running like never before and felt amazing. I was entering races and performing far above my fitness level, but this did not deter me, it made me push harder. I was back to my competitive ways,and I felt good. Sure, the sleep sucked, but the gains in fitness kept coming and I had energy.

But fuel was running low, the beast that whispered every few weeks was getting louder. It made visits every week now, always staying for 3 to 4 days, but never longer than 7. Each visit it would grow, until the beast became me and I became it. I was exhausted, mentally and physically, but sleep wasn’t in the plan. I kept trying to feed and feed and feed until it became impossible and I was broken. I had found the limit and I went headlong into the abyss.

​In that attempt to get sober after the Covid binge, I went a solid 6 months without a drink. I had switched doctors in that time as well, finding one I felt was more in tune with my wants. We switched the meds to Effexor. Hell broke wide open and the destruction the would ensue would fracture a family. I went further into mania and further into the depressive cycles. I was spending money left and right, ultimately accumulating roughly 50k dollars in debt for various trips, things, and shit. 

Man and a cat
195 lbs, Built by Booze

I started a business for body piercing in my wife’s salon, as I had previous training from years in my youth at a Tattoo shop where I grew up. It was an insane idea, but people loved it and cheered me on. I pierced my face, my ear plugs came back, and I was seemingly crafting a new identity. I had dyed my hair, cut it into a mohawk, and adopted the attitude of “Fuck it, this is who I am.”. 

I’ll admit the piercing and mohawk never left. I kept that appearance through recovery to the present. Mostly because I do enjoy my piercings, but also because I still have that “I don’t give a fuck”, attitude. My whole life I have pushed back against the status quo, why stop now?

​The business was going well, I was invested in this new career path. This was going to be my way to financial freedom. Only I didn’t really think it that far ahead. I didn’t realize the amount of time this was going to take. It started to interfere with my running and training. Running was more important to me so I was at the shop less and less. I would go weeks at a time without being there, just taking up space as my passions shifted back to running. 

​But then it shifted to rock climbing. I became obsessed. I was absolutely 100% going to start rock climbing all the time and use these new skills to traverse crazy shit quickly. This was perfect for my running career and ultimate mountain goals. Only problem was, I was afraid of heights. Slight obstacle. So I did what any sane person would do and look up hypnosis treatment. I found a self-guided option, worth a shot.

Two young kids
Back when I was faster than Michelino

​In my hypomanic state, I was so ready to be free of this fear that I gave into the program completely. I did it twice… It felt weird. Like really weird. Like , “I don’t know what just happened but I feel different”, type of weird. But I wouldn’t really know if it worked until I was up somewhere high. 

Then it happened.

I was at work and came to a railing to look over and down into a pit. It was high and something that would have normally made my butt pucker. But I didn’t. I felt nothing. HOLY SHIT! I was freaking cured!! I was so excited and amazed at the situation, this was a miracle! And I started rock climbing. I kept climbing. I loved it.

​The adrenaline rush was like no other. The technical aspect had me wanting more and more. It became like everything else when I was in a hypomanic state, obsessive and impulsive. I would go out and climb whenever I could, always looking to explore new areas and learn new skills.

So, let’s tally it up. I now have two kids and a wife, a full-time job that requires travel, I run and workout daily, I am rock climbing, I am starting a piercing “business”, and I am now starting to socialize and drink a bit on the weekends. This will end well; it always ends well.

​In July 2021, I was able to take my family to the first and last race they all attended with me. The course was Speedgoat28k Short-course, hosted by the legend Karl Meltzer. I was pumped, primed and ready to roll. I took it out hard, I never let up. I finished that race in 8th place, shocking nearly everyone I was with, including myself. My family watched me race, I hugged my son as I crossed the finish line, and I touched Karl’s hand… I felt like life couldn’t get any better. Then the beast came knocking two short days later. Post-race blues opened the door for a severe depressive episode, which then turned to hypomania. The cycle was continuing, and I stayed stuck in it. It was going to take an act of God to reverse this. 

I continued to press the gas pedal to the floor, I had two races left for the season, my “A” Race being Broken Arrow Skyrace. I had been training for this, this was my hometown race. This was my first taste of Ultrarunning, this was the moment I had worked for the last 2 years.

Runner at finish line
Coming for Das Bell one last time

But in the week leading up to the race, I was traveling for work. I had went to the Bay Area for a job and stayed in Richmond, California. It isn’t a nice town, but I was sitting in my hotel room when I had a sudden desire to go out and have a drink. I found a bar, met some people, and stayed out all night drinking, 3 days before the biggest race of my life. I was starting to drift into depression before the race even started. It felt like I was sabotaging my own performance.

I stepped up to the starting line, 100mg of cannabis edibles in my system and ready to rock. I don’t remember much of that race other than I was happy it was over, and I performed like shit. I rationalized the whys and the whos and the whats. During that time of excuse making, I never once questioned my behaviors as a result of my poor performance. Sure, I was drinking, but hat was days ago. I was just in a mental funk, I would get out of it. I did get out of it, but it was a nuclear option enacted by my subconscious when I had officially lost control. My brain finally decided we were done killing ourselves so slowly. 

What ended the ride was an act of betrayal that resulted in a broken family. I slept with another woman, and I made plans to see another across the country. I was out of my mind and out of control. The day of reckoning was coming and the only one I had to blame was me. 

That day was November 24, 2021. I had made plans to go meet a local girl at her house to fuck. Simple as that. I had talked to her for the past few weeks after meeting her at a party. After trying in vane to get her to have a threesome with me and my wife, I decided to go the direct route. I needed to hook up with her as if it were a craving for alcohol. She loved every minute of my crazy and entertained my every delusion. I arrived at her house at 5am, before I had to go to work. I fucked her, I left. But in that moment I remember one thing. I remember looking down on her, directly into her eyes, and asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing right now? You need to leave what are you doing?!” And then it passed… I was back to not giving a fuck and went about my day. 

Runner at Broken Arrrow Skyrace
Climbing the infamous Ladder at B.A. SkyRace

I would come home that day from work as it was a half day, and take my wife rock climbing. We had one of the best days we could both ever remember. We smiled and laughed, and afterwards we went to Dave and Busters. We had so much fun, we laughed until we cried, we kissed, we were in love. 

We were drinking more and more and decided to head home. On the way up the hill, I was drunk beyond belief and driving the truck in a very aggressive manner. Bonnie was screaming at me to slow down, but in my head I wanted to crash. A small part of me was riding this line of life and death and I loved it. I was driving faster, she was screaming at me and furious. We made it home… somehow. 

I was drunk and went to bed. I was exhausted. My wife asked, “can I look at your phone?” Without hesitation I handed it to her and went back to sleep. What I woke up to was fists in my face and screaming, followed by a gun being pointed in my direction. I knew the safety was on… I was pretty sure it was. I didn’t give a fuck. 

“Do it, pull the fucking trigger. You’ll be doing us both a fucking solid. DO IT!!!!”

She didn’t… she simply lowered the gun and cried. It was over… it was over and I just wanted to go to bed. Tomorrow morning the nightmare will be over.

But it wasn’t over. I woke up… It was all real. And it was Thanksgiving. The news of my actions was spreading across the family and I was still in a daze. I had started to grapple with the situation and couldn’t find the answers. I knew one thing was for sure, I need to quit drinking once and for all. That was no loner a question. Alcohol fueled so many bad decisions that even if it wasn’t my biggest problem, it was a huge one. But I still took 2 shots on Thanksgiving. It was my last day drinking alcohol. That day forward I decided it would no longer have a part to play in my future. 

The night of Thanksgiving is when the depression set in and I experienced my first emotional break. I was scheduled to go to Alabama for work the next day, all while my wife is now dealing with the fact her husband cheated on her again. He’s now flying across the country and you are alone with the kids. I couldn’t leave, my mind started racing and everything started to speed up around me. I started crying and couldn’t control it, I was scared, I felt stuck, I felt lost, I was spinning and couldn’t escape. Was this a panic attack? I called my aunt, my dad, and final the doctor. I spoke to 3-4 people that night from Kaiser, not much is remembered. I wasn’t able to think for a second, I was bouncing all over the place, from laughing to crying to stationary on the floor. I was wrestling with losing my family, sobriety, work, everything was falling apart around me and I had no where to plant my feet. So I fell. I made it to my brother house safely with the help of friends, slept for the night, and woke up to a new day. I pulled the rip cord and decided my health was a priority no matter the cost. I knew the rest of my life was going to be different, but how different I had no idea.

I crafted an email to my work colleagues about my decision to step away for a month to get myself clean and on the right path. I needed to remove one stressor from my life that I knew would pay off and that was work. I was thankful to them for allowing me to stay on board and get health, it was great having that support. I began to run and climb daily, going to meetings each day for 4-6 hours, just trying to get some control over my addiction and my mind. 

Sobriety came easy at first, I was busy and felt like recovery was the only thing I needed to do. But I needed to start cycling real life back into my day and start preparing for the future. I needed to have a game plan. I didn’t know where to start, so I reached out to my wife.

I explained to her that being at my brother’s house was not conducive to my healing and needed to be home with my family. I was right, I needed them. But I neglected to consider what she needed. During all this time of everyone worrying about me, she was sitting there in the cold, just carrying on like she always had. She is a survivor through and through. She is a flawed woman, just like the rest of us, but she is a hard person with many scar. I admire her for her strength, I took advantage of it and took it for granted when I wasn’t. She took me in, knowing I needed help, because she loved me 

I needed her in that moment, especially with what was to come. 

Then… the mania started again. It was first running, thenrock climbing all day, then socializing frequently… wait, aren’t I supposed to be in recovery? Why do I want to go out and socialize in a place people are drinking? I had all these questions with no answers and I was now sleeping less. Shit. The cycle was happening again, but I was sober. What gives?

Research on Google brought up some results fairly quickly. I went down the list of symptoms… check, check, check…check. Ok so this is not great news, Bipolar 2? I emailed the doctor and let him know my concerns and how I was worriedmy meds had me slipping into hypomania again. I was interested in exploring options that didn’t include medication, because all indications pointed to it being the reason I was here, certainly the biggest reason. His suggestion: up the dose of meds and add a mood stabilizer. What are my other options? A laundry list of medication suggestions would follow. I wasn’t interested in experimenting. The process was, “I will but you on the antidepressant and monitor you again. When you have another episode, we will know it isn’t the alcohol.” Ok but I just did that, it’s only you don’t believe me. Why would I want to risk that again? I was back in my family home and sober, trying to fix my marriage, and you want me to go back on the meds as a test? I can’t do that. 

The other option was to add the mood stabilizer, but as he said, this was a lifelong commitment. I was not ready for that commitment. I was not going to give up my life to a medication that took everything from me. It was now on me to get through this. Using all the tools in my belt, I was prepared for a long road ahead. Set free from the meds, it was now up to me to take my mental health into my own hands. 

I began titrating off the meds, doing it as directed and by the book. It took me 6 weeks in total, but I pushed forward with mixed results. In June ’22 I was hypomanic and on top of the world, competing for the Triple Crown at the Broken Arrow Skyrace, finishing 6th overall and very proud of finally performing at this event. July I was hopelessly depressed and suicidal. 

​On July 6th I was officially served divorce papers. It was actually happening. I took the news on the same day my kids went home with their Mom, and the day my brother was leaving for Tahoe. I was alone, and it started to set in. I froze, I was stuck, I couldn’t think. I called my aunt and asked her for help because I was lost in a sea of grief and tears. I couldn’t think straight, why was this happening? I had never experienced grief like that moment. It was crippling, the world stopped spinning and life was not worth living. 

​I cried for weeks, the tears never stopped until my eyes were dry. The sadness I felt and the loneliness that overcame my soul was nearly impossible to manage, and suicide again started making sense. If I couldn’t be with my best friend any longer, what is the point of living? Yeah my kids, but she was my best friend, my lover, my wife. No matter how badly I hurt her, it was never because I didn’t love her. I acted on impulse and ended up crushing her, but that was never my goal, I loved that woman. But I had to move forward… It was either die or grow. So I reluctantly took the path of growth.

These past events and brief history of antidepressants I mention are intended to paint a picture. The scene in your head should be one of chaos and confusion; fueled by vices and dopamine. I went into sobriety with a mission to get healthy and chase my full potential. In that journey I discovered more about who I was, what I was capable of, and the disease that would ultimately change how I lived forever. The decision to quit drinking was no longer a choice, but an ultimatum. Anything that would push me in the direction of hypomania, commonly referred to as a trigger, should be avoided at all costs. This meant therapy, regular sleep, consistent habits, group therapy, regular exercise, more therapy, and really be careful racing and exhausting my body.

The years of hell behind me shaped who I am, and fuel who I am trying to become. During those years, I developed a very intimate relationship with running and suffering, on and off the trail. I know that pushing and depleting my body of vital nutrients and hormones, my immune system throttled, and the dopamine rush of the finish will give way to post-race blues in hours or days. There is no way around the negative aspects of racing or hard efforts, especially when your mental health is compromised. But I have gone through these challenges and come out on the other side, with new clarity and a new love for life. I may have lost everything, but in losing it all I gained knowledge in who I was. I learned what made me tick, what made me smile, what made me passionate, and what made me sad. I learned hard lessons and applied them to my life, because that was the only control I had. I built my tool belt to battle the darkness when it came, if only to make the light come a bit sooner. 

Ensuring your tool belt is filled with coping strategies other than running is crucial. We will face injury, recovery time from intense days, schedule mishaps, weather delays, all of which will take your ability to run away at some point. Meditation and yoga can be great alternatives to running during downtime, allowing us to remain connected to our body and mind while also giving them time to heal.

Build your tool belt, test the tools, become proficient with them before you need them. Be proactive in your mental health, practice will prepare you for the darkness when it comes. To shine a light in the dark, we must know how to flip the switch when blind. 

As I walk the razors edge of my physical and mental limits, it has become abundantly clear that I must approach these endeavors with caution. Pushing the limit will always be ingrained in who I am, but remaining connected with my body and mind must be pursued with the same passion. 

Summit of Gorgornio in ’22

I am a father, a brother, an addict, bipolar, son, friend, ex-lover, best friend, runner, passionate, conflicted, broken and healing, loved, lonely, scared, adventurous… I am human.

On December 17, 2022, I completed my first 50-mile race. Achieving that goal required a lot of hard work, but more importantly, support from my tribe. The misfits and runners alike that I formed bonds with; bonds that would pull me through rough spots time after time. I finished 3rd in that race beside my friend and mentor, Coree Woltering. Finishing the race and running most of it by his side brought together everything I loved about this sport in one event. People coming together and sharing and experience of epic proportions, no matter what race, gender, sexual orientation, or hair color, we were all there to support each other. In my running community, I found a sober community, and in these groups I found acceptance and love. I am home.

We run the mill until we are ground to dust or turned to gold, all just to walk the razors edge of our ultimate potential.

Am I alone?

Francesco Sunseri

2 responses to “Edge of Limits”

  1. So your first 50-miler was Lookout Mountain! I’ve done a lot of them, and this was among the toughest for me. (You’ll find me second from DFL.) Congratulations, you crushed it. And keep working on healing. Thanks for sharing your incredible story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes sir!! Brutal!! 2nd from DFL ain’t a DNF!!! Way to go brother!!

      Thank you for the kind words! 🙏🏼


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