This seems strange writing about myself and my experiences, but if I can help just one person through reliving some of my voyage then this is time well spent. My influences over the past few years have been through shared stories. Hopefully this can help some of you.
Firstly, please allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Ben. I am 31 years old. I have two beautiful, thriving, happy children aged 5 (Eva) and 3 (Tommy). I have the most beautiful Wife (Grace), who is the most amazing person I have ever met (we've been together since the age of 14!). I live in a gorgeous, secluded smallholding on the Welsh Border in a fantastic house surrounded by rolling countryside (view from the patio below). I have a great job in Senior Management at an Insurance Broker with incredible colleagues.
Oh, and I suffer with depression.
The opening paragraph of this blog was not aimed to be pretentious, I am under no illusion as to just how lucky I am in the eyes of many. There is very little in my life that would be altered and the intention of this introduction is to reiterate how depression can happen to anybody. We did not choose this, there is no quick fix and in my opinion, it will be there in our background for the rest of our lives. I started off believing it could be 'defeated', only to realise that managing depression in our daily lives is the inevitable objective.
This blog aims to focus on the main saviour of my darkest times. I have made no end of changes to my life in the past 12 months, all of which have resulted in small steps whilst culminating into one big journey. At the time of writing, I rarely feel sick when I stand at my front door to leave the house. I rarely struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. I rarely cry when overwhelmed with a seemingly never ending worry. Most importantly, I rarely voice own frustrations in the direction of my loving family. Believe me, I've had months at a time experiencing the antithesis of these traits and am extremely grateful to be where I am at the moment. Whilst I owe this to many factors, there is one resounding liberation:
Picture this. It's the 25th August 2015 and I'm curled up on the sofa on a Saturday morning in summer, a regular routine since at least the 26th April that year, where I distinctly remembered watching the London Marathon after a night of heavy drinking (that's a story for another day) wishing I could build up the courage to challenge myself in such a way. My young Daughter was on the floor wanting to play with me and I couldn't drum up the energy to join her. At this point I wasn't aware of any mental health issues and believed my 'moods' and low energy were a combination of a stressful job and late nights. Looking back, it was probably the early signs of depression, although the noticeable symptoms listed earlier and the realisation didn't start until three years later. During the preceding months, I had tuned in to months of BBC Radio 2 on the way to work, listening to Chris and Vassos explore their passion for running, subconsciously making my mind analyse whether this could be the answer. I admit that 123 days of procrastination was a bit longer than I hoped, but the key point is that I got there - eventually.
So, there it was. The 25th August 2015 - day one into my running journey. We all have to start somewhere... That day I managed to run 0.3 miles (pictured at this point below).
I wore ill fitting basketball shoes from High School some 10 years ago. It was a humid evening, so wearing a Henri Lloyd sailing waterproof and football shorts evidently meant for a warm affair. I was nervous about being seen, apprehensive about 'failing' and, as most people will do, went hell for leather thinking 'how hard can it be'. It was tougher than I ever imagined. I ached, I sweated, I felt like a failure, but there was about 1% of that run that enticed me back for more. There was 1% of joy, of light, of hope.
Walking that 0.3 miles home with my tail between my legs made me wonder how I could ever keep this up. Surely when given the option to run again in a few days time I could easily side step that commitment? After all, I'd only be letting myself down? Wrong. I would be letting down everyone around me too, who need me most. So I did the only thing that made sense at that time; signed up for the 2016 London Marathon. I had 0.3 miles of running under my belt over the past 10 years. I had no running kit, no experience, no knowledge of nutrition, hydration or training. But what was on my side was a desire. A desire to smile again, a desire to play with my daughter and a desire to make life manageable.
What could possibly go wrong?
Fast forward nearly 5 years to the day and yesterday, I had a low day. Late on in the previous day, a challenge at work brought me down quite quickly. I woke up feeling sick. I couldn't eat and had to make excuses to avoid two 'lockdown' video conferences as I just couldn't face it. Almost instantly I fell back to the low points sustained so often in previous years. But now, 5 years on, I have experience on my side. I accepted that this feeling could not be 'switched off' and knew it would last at least a day, maybe more. But in the grander scheme of things, it will be temporary my experience has brought me a very small level of understanding to say there will better days ahead. 4 years and 362 days down the line from those mirrored feelings of low, lethargic, a failure. 4 years and 362 days after I ventured out for that very first time, wondering what that 0.3 miles could ever do to change my life? So, 4 years and 362 later:
I put on my favourite Nike running socks, my Runderwear, my Lonely Goat running top, my Oakley M Frame running sunglasses, my Aftershokz bone conducting headphones, the most comfy Aasics running shoes out of my collection, my trusty Garmin Fenix 5s Plus and ran.
I am a runner
Ironically, it was the slowest 5k I've ever run because, to my surprise, my Wife and Kids had anticipated my head clearing route and met me 2 miles in. 2 miles running, 1.5 miles having my children take it in turns to ride on my shoulders; an hour of pure bliss. But how did I wake up this morning? With a smile back on my face and the confidence to share my story.
Please don't think this will be easy - it won't be. It's taken me just under 5 years to get to this point and by no means do I think I'm in control of depression. There are times when I still can't leave the house and go for that run, but I can accept that. Sometimes, I just have to wait for the storm to pass and invite me back to my Happy Place (check out Fearne Cotton's Podcast of the same name if you haven't already). But one thing I do know is that one day, it may be tomorrow or it may in a month, I will be running again and without doubt it helps my mental wellbeing.
If there is anyone suffering out there, who just doesn't know what to do and has not tried running yet, then please take my advice. Go outside and attempt to walk half a mile, including at least 10 seconds of running. If you can achieve that goal, you are on your way. Then, when you get home, look in the mirror and admire the fact your next journey has just begun.