Alexi Pappas On Her New Book And Asking For Help : Life Kit Alexi Pappas is an Olympic runner, an actor and, now, a memoirist. In her new book, Bravey, she shares her struggles with mental health and learning to seek help.

Olympic Runner Alexi Pappas On Learning To Ask For Help

Olympic Runner Alexi Pappas On Learning To Ask For Help

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Kelia Anne MacCluskey/Penguin Random House
Alexi Pappas
Kelia Anne MacCluskey/Penguin Random House

When Alexi Pappas joined the track team in middle school, she won every meet, she says. And she liked it. "It made me feel like I mattered," she writes in the first paragraph of her new memoir, Bravey. "All I've ever wanted in my life is to matter."

Bravey book cover
Penguin Random House

Pappas went on to run the 10,000 meters for the Greek national team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She's also an actor, and her new memoir got its name from a poem she tweeted years ago: "run like a bravey, sleep like a baby, dream like a crazy, replace can't with maybe."

"Growing up, I often chased outward-facing words and labels like strong, fierce, fast, funny. And I realized that they describe an energy you project in the world," she says. "But this word 'bravey' felt different. It felt like a choice about the relationship you have with yourself."

NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with Pappas about her new book for All Things Considered. Excerpts from their conversation, edited for length and clarity, are below.

Interview Highlights

ARI SHAPIRO: When did you realize that feeling like you matter is what's most important to you?

ALEXI PAPPAS: Well, I'll first admit that I think that it wasn't the most sustainable feeling to have, and I'd learn that later in life. But where it started was the first, like, five years of my life coincided with my mom's last. And my mom took her own life just before I turned 5. And my experience with her in those first five or so years were difficult and made me feel like I didn't matter enough for her to stay.

And that 5-year-old understanding of the world really motivated me to matter to everybody else. And it fueled me to do great things. I chased, you know, an Olympic dream and other big dreams and got those things. But what I needed to learn eventually — and did learn the hard way — is that chasing those external accomplishments was never going to solve that internal problem.

SHAPIRO: You describe this period just after the Olympics in Rio where, externally, things were going amazingly for you. You had just set a Greek record in the 10,000 meters. Your movie had a distribution deal. But you were in really deep pain, and it was really difficult for you to seek help.

PAPPAS: Yeah. That came from chasing this somewhat singular goal of making it to the Olympics for a substantial period of time and never planning for what came next. And when it did end, instead of slowing down and pausing and recognizing the impact of an event like that, I was searching for what was next. And that came from that childhood want to always matter, always be performing. And that's unsustainable, but I didn't understand it at that time.

I spun out and scrambled to figure out what the next big goal was, what was my next thing, instead of pausing and just letting the impact of that event absorb and that period of my life just, you know, have its catharsis, if you will.

SHAPIRO: In the foreword to this book, the actress Maya Rudolph says Olympians are the closest thing we have to superheroes. Does being perceived as a superhero make it more difficult to talk about these periods you're describing?

PAPPAS: Totally, because the strangest feeling is when the way the world sees you is completely opposite of the way you feel or see yourself. And that makes it hard to feel like you should need help or ... are allowed to get help. And it made it really difficult for me until my dad, who had seen what my mom went through, made me get help. And that's what I needed.

And then when my doctor helped me understand that my brain was a body part, just like my leg, and it could get injured like any other body part, and it could also heal like any other body part. And suddenly, it was not about Olympian or not or superhero or not. It was just this body needs to heal, and it's going to take some time, and it can heal.

This Life Kit page and episode were adapted from an All Things Considered interview that was produced by Elena Burnett and edited by Connor Donevan.

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