I am truly honoured to be offering up my blog as a platform for the following guest post. My lovely husband, Chris, has suffered with depression throughout our ten-year relationship and I have seen first-hand how this debilitating disease can drag even the most cheerful person into a state of utter despair.
In the past few years, Chris has employed a series of coping mechanisms to help him navigate the mental ups and downs of his depression and one tool that has been particularly useful to him is running. In what I feel is a truly poignant and relevant piece, Chris reveals why muddy trainers and nipple plasters are now a vital part of everyday life.
For some people, running is a hugely enjoyable experience which offers an enormous release of both mental and physical energy. For me however, running is an arduous task which I really don’t find enjoyable, but for some reason keep finding myself doing.
I have recently run my first marathon, having run half marathons and 10k races in the past. You might wonder – given my strong dislike of this sport – why I keep finding myself lining up on yet another start line? How did I get to this point? The fact is, running is now a tool in my armoury to stay healthy, both in body and in mind. Like those moments as a child when you are given medicine by your mum which tastes revolting, but has the desired effect to cure a cold or ear infection, I will most probably keep running and probably keep disliking the fact that I am running.
I have lived with depression now for over 10 years. A lethargic, over-bearing beast which at times is a mild annoyance in day-to-day life and at others absolutely destructive, which simply makes my world grind to a halt. I am in a battle to stay afloat mentally, with the constant knowledge that there is a dark cloud looming and prepared to eclipse the light in my head for no reason what-so-ever. When times are bad I find myself just wanting to drop to the floor, like all my limbs are no longer under my control and by hitting the ground I might become irrelevant and left alone to get through the latest storm. But what’s this got to do with running? Well, for whatever reason, I endure this blister-inducing, muscle-straining form of getting from A to B because it makes me tired and physically exhausted. When I am in this state I cannot think about anything other than sleep and even my depressive thoughts are too tired to impose their regime on my mind.
“I am in a battle to stay afloat mentally, with the constant knowledge that there is a dark cloud looming…”
I got into this routine of training my mind through beating up my body when, on my thirtieth birthday, I decided to go “public” with my battle with mental illness. I walked the length of the Thames – 184 miles from the Thames Barrier to the source in Gloucestershire – to raise money for and awareness of Mind, in the hope that anyone who I knew who might also need help would feel comfortable to reach out. The challenge required me to face up to and confront some demons which had repeatedly told me that I couldn’t do things in life. Even when times were great – I have a fantastic wife, own my own house, have a job and can afford to enjoy time with friends and family – my brain still told me that I was worthless and my anxieties sent me into a panic that I couldn’t do anything. Trudging over twenty-five miles a day for seven days with aching, blistered feet pushed my mind into a state where I no longer cared about my body and only cared about the reasons why I continued to put one foot in front of the other.
In the grander scheme of things my life may be fairly insignificant, but I recognise that by stripping back my thoughts so that I only focus on what is coming next, gives me the chance to make a difference simply by existing. My walk up the Thames started my interest in ‘doing’ challenges and pushing myself into uncomfortable situations, testing myself all the time. I ran the Bournemouth marathon to try and raise funds for a small charity in Wales, supporting patients with head and neck cancers. My best friend in the world is currently battling a tumour and inspires me every day with his unwavering strength. By running, I wanted to make him proud – which I hope I did – as well as offer my thanks to the organisation who had supported him and his incredible wife straight after his diagnosis.
To be honest, I find running an incredibly selfish sport. My wife has had to deal with my illness; now if I want to do a challenge she has to endure the weekends and evenings on her own when I am training and preparing. I wish I didn’t need this form of coping mechanism, but the thing is I do. Depression will not define who I am and if running longer distances helps me to manage my head space then I will just have to jog on. Also, if I can use it now and again to do something for a good cause then I will. At the end of the day I have found another tool to help me and I hope that this blog gives others the encouragement to develop and stick with their own coping mechanisms, even if they find them hard.