The bones of this post (and most of the meat actually) appeared as part of a post I wrote for my works blog page for World Mental Health Day in 2018. I thought that as I had a little bit of a mental wobble last week (which resulted in me only running twice and thus not giving me much to write about) I would reproduce that post here so people can get an idea of what got me into running and why it became my passion.
For as long as I can remember I have suffered with mental ill health, probably stemming from the fact that I was mercilessly bullied at school for a number of reasons, chief amongst which was that I was a good all rounder; I was intelligent and I was sporty and some of the Neanderthals that were in my year at school didn’t like that – of course the fact that I weighed about 6 stone wet through and a bit of a soft touch also didn’t really help – it got so bad that at one point I was carrying a knife in my bag just to make me feel safe!! My journey down the path to the dark side really took hold though when I left university, without completing my degree. I was (and still am) completely ashamed of myself for this – it remains my biggest regret – and I felt like I had let everybody down, blown all the hard work I had put in to get to Uni and therefore all of my potential. This started a long, winding road of self destructive behaviour, failed relationships, crippling anxiety issues around inadequacy and a number of other things, total lack of self confidence (which I’d never had much of anyways) and self esteem etc. and culminated in September 2009 with me deciding I wanted to die before realising that I had hit rock bottom and needed to get help.
I went to my GP who diagnosed me with clinical depression, put me on the sick and prescribed me anti depressants. I was also sent for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) counselling sessions by Occupational Health at work. Gradually as the medication kicked in and my serotonin levels came under control I started to feel better. Eventually I returned to work feeling 100% ok and got on with my life – albeit without any sort of plan in place as to what I would do if the black dog reared its ugly head again.
Fast forward 7 years to 2016 and in that time life had settled – I was married in 2012 and in 2013 welcomed my beautiful little boy into the world. I was happy at work and happy at home – why then was I spiralling and feeling like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders? This time, instead of self destructing I literally ground to a halt. Mentally and physically I was utterly exhausted. Some days I really couldn’t move and the sheer effort it took to engage with people was completely overwhelming. Again, my mask had slipped and I ended up on the sick because of my “feelings”! I realised quite quickly that part of the reason I had relapsed so heavily was because I had begun to bottle everything up – I had no release for my frustrations or my worries. My wife had been quite seriously ill for a number of months at the beginning of 2016 and I was trying to juggle being nurse to her and pretty much mam and dad to my son whilst maintaining my focus at work throughout the most intense period we’d experienced as a team – due to the EU Referendum (fucking Brexit) – and eventually something just had to give. I’ve never ever been ashamed to talk about my mental health but at that time I found I couldn’t really find the words to make anyone understand how I was feeling.
I decided I needed to do something, to find a release, if I was going to pull myself out of depression. I didn’t want to go down the path of medication again as the side effects, for me, were horrific! I’d always been a big gym goer – I’d enjoyed lifting weights for years but found that my motivation and my enjoyment for this was completely gone (thanks to crippling self confidence issues and the lovely remarks of a few “lads” at my gym – this really bugs me about people in general these days. Why are we so quick to tear others apart? You don’t know anyone’s circumstances so why not just applaud the fact that they’re at the gym or out running?? Why mock and drip poison into their ears / social media feeds, telling them they’re fat or ugly or not good enough in some way? Because a desperately vocal minority of our planet are BASTARDS, that’s why!) so I decided to lace up my trainers and head out for a run. I came back invigorated – I only ran 1.5 miles but the sights, the sounds and the fresh, crisp air helped to clear my head. For the first time in months I felt like I could think, more importantly, that I had the time and the space to think. I was instantly hooked! Of course, at this point, the world was against me and I ended up injured and unable to run for 3 months (my own fault for not stretching properly!!!) but I clung on to the feeling of that first run and promised myself that as soon as I could, I’d be back out there. In 2017, buoyed by my new found enthusiasm, and now injury free, I signed up to run the Great North Run for MIND – a charity very close to my heart. It was whilst training for the Great North Run that I got the idea of starting a running group with a focus on mental wellbeing and promoting all the mental health benefits associated with exercise. As tends to happen though, life got in the way and the idea was pushed to the back of my mind until early 2018 when a group walk on Time to Talk Day at the beginning of February turned into a meeting of minds with some equally enthused colleagues and Mindful Miles was born.
Our whole ethos with Mindful Miles is that we want to create a supportive environment where you can come and run – as fast or as slow as you like – and just forget about your worries and your strife (yeah man!) for a little bit, or talk them through with someone if you want. I can’t speak for anyone else in the group but I would personally say, running with them has been an absolute pleasure. It’s been amazing that everyone who is a part of Mindful Miles has bought into the idea that we are not just a running group – we are a peer support group and we’re as much about the chat as we are about the exercise! We are there to support eachother and have supported eachother, whether that is with a motivational word whilst we are out running or a kind word of support / advice if one was needed at any other time. We’re all there for the same reasons, we all need a release and we leave our egos at the door and just pound pavement. I’m not daft enough to say Mindful Miles has cured me of my mental ill health, it hasn’t! There are still days when I struggle badly but at least now I feel I have the tools to fight back and Mindful Miles is a huge part of that tool kit. We have runners who previously hadn’t thought they could, entering half marathons (5 of us completed the Great North Run in September 2018), 10k’s, running Parkrun on a Saturday morning and generally just catching the running bug. We may not be the fittest or the fastest but we take something from every Mindful Miles run – whether that is a boost to our confidence by running quicker than previously or without stopping or maybes just the good old feel good factor of having done something – releasing all those glorious endorphins!
Finally, if you are feeling a bit stressed out and maybe exercising for a release isn’t your thing, please don’t bottle it up, talk to someone, you’ll get through it and it’s OK to not be OK!!!!!!
So my running week this week consisted of the school run on Friday afternoon which was a much needed, anxiety busting, lung busting 1.5 miles. After the day I had on Thursday where I literally couldn’t move from my desk to run because of panic attacks, to get out and run relatively quickly for a short period of time was really invigorating. It’s also, as I have mentioned before, always my favourite run of the week as it ends with the smiley, beautiful face of my son. We have started to have a little race on the way home too – just between a couple of lampposts – where the winner gets a surprise. Needless to say I haven’t won yet but have spent a fortune in sweets and comics!!!! I then went out and did my longest run of the year so far on Sunday morning – 8 miles. It was fresh out of the sun but when the sun hit you it was beautifully warm with not much breeze (a Godsend seeing as Storm Erik had battered us all on Friday) – best weather to run in. The run itself was split into 3 parts. The first 2 miles were quick (for me) as I got carried away with Rocky 4 soundtrack emanating from my headphones. The next 4 were nice and steady and the last 2 were slow. My legs were stiffening up really badly by the end and I have a small cut on the sole of my foot which was giving me some grief but after the week I’d had I was just grateful to be out doing anything. This week marks the last week of my base training so, hopefully, I’ll get a good week in and can start to build some sessions in from next week as my first race of the year is rapidly approaching.
Thanks, as always for looking (and hopefully reading) my ramblings.