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Miles For Mind by Katherine Richards

This is an updated version of a blog I posted in August 2017

At the time of originally publishing this blog, I wrote and rewrote and amended it, and thought more than once about not publishing. Was it way too much information? Possibly. But if it helped just one person to realise that they're not the only one struggling and that it's OK to admit it, then that's a good thing. This was never meant to be a "poor me" blog, and it was not and is not a blog that is fishing for sympathy. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and it's time to talk about it.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, every year in the UK 70 million workdays are lost due to mental illness, including anxiety, depression and stress related conditions. This means mental illness is the leading cause of sickness and absence from work. (www.counselling-directory.org.uk)

It would be an understatement to say that 2017 wasn’t my best year. It started off well, but then, in the spring, my partner left me out of the blue. Not only did he leave me, but he decided that the best way to tell me that he was leaving was to leave, and then ring me while I was at work to tell me that he wasn't coming back. I blamed myself. What had I done that was so awful that he would leave? What hadn't I done that I should have done which would have made him want to stay? Was I really that unlovable? I must be if he left me. In fact, the reality is that he was (and presumably still is, I haven’t heard from him since he moved his stuff out of my flat) suffering from various mental health problems, all at the same time – OCD, depression, and alcoholism mainly. He got to the point when simply couldn't cope and the only way he could deal with any of it was to leave - me, his job, London, his ex and their children - every part of his life at that point, and to drive as far away as he could, which in this case was Scotland.

I always thought I was OK. I always thought that I’d always be fine. I’m generally pretty happy, usually on a fairly even keel, I rarely have any mood fluctuations to speak of, even at that time of the month. And suddenly, I wasn't fine, I wasn't happy, I was far from being on an even keel.  His depression was one of the reasons for him deciding to leave, but it was his depression and the results of his actions caused by that depression which triggered mental health difficulties of my own. I really struggled for a while back there.

I’m lucky that I came out of the other side, and what that period taught me was that we all have mental health problems in some way, shape or form at some point in our lives. Nobody is exempt. None of us finds life easy all of the time, and we all need support at times.

For me, running helped to start the healing process. It gave me time out to think, to get things straight in my head, to work out how I want to come out of the other side of this, and to give me the strength to begin to do so. It gave me plans to make (I'm a diary manager, I do love a plan). I'm not entirely sure what I would have done during this period had I not been a runner.

Meeting up with the #ukrunchat folk became a great way to get out of the house, meet new people, and to run with new friends. My first race Tweet Up was at the London 10,000 on Bank Holiday Monday.

London 10,000 tweet up

.....and running the #ChaseTheSun races, first with Caroline (@Lifeguard50) and then with Carl (@BigCarlRunning), was amazing fun.

Chase the Sun Crystal Palace with Caroline

Chase the Sun Olympic Park with Carl

So, why was I suddenly spilling my guts and telling you all of this?

The reason for publishing my blog at the point that I did was to highlight that a load of the #ukrunchat crew were going to be running a Marathon in a Day (@marathoninaday) that weekend, to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. Some of us covered the whole marathon distance on our own and others split the distance between teams.

I was in a team with Michele (@Whiffenpuff) and Katie (@itskatiefam) to cover the 26.2 miles between us on Saturday and I got out of the city to run in person with Michele, which was great fun. Just getting out of London does wonders for my mental health.

2018 update

Well, to say that 2017 wasn’t a great year continues to be an enormous understatement. Not only did the ex leave me in the spring, but six months later I broke my arm. Pretty spectacularly. I’m not going to go on about it here – many of you reading this probably follow me on Twitter and will have lived the whole horrible experience with me.

What I will say is that that period was one of the hardest of my life. Even compared to the ex leaving me. Heartbreak is difficult, but a physical break to the extent that mine was is so incredibly debilitating. Having never had any form of long term illness before, I was taken off guard by how hard being off work, out of my routine, away from my friends, and (for the first six weeks or so) very limited in what I could do physically would hit my mental health. I was off work for 11 weeks and to say it was a rollercoaster is an understatement. I tried not to whine on Twitter too often, but it was impossible. I turned into a moaning, whining, whinging, boring boring broken armed boring person. A few people bore the brunt of that – my parents, mainly, but one person in particular who I met through Twitter and I whined at a lot and I want to put on record how incredibly grateful I am to him for putting up with me through this period. I hope he reads this and knows who he is!

The funny thing is that I could see myself turning into the whining one but couldn’t do anything about it. There were times when I couldn’t see the end of what I was going through. It sounds utterly ridiculous now, especially given that I broke my arm and not my leg, but there was a point when I thought I would never run again. I couldn’t see that I would ever be mobile enough to run. And I can’t tell you how much that upset me. I was devastated that I might have to have my hair cut because I couldn’t see that I’d ever be able to lift my arm enough to tie my hair up. Everything was an over-reaction and I could see it happening to me, as if from the outside.

I put much of this down to my lack of running. Running gives me space, and time, and perspective. It’s a space to exercise, to get those endorphins racing, to laugh, to have fun, to cry, to be angry (I rather enjoy an angry run, oddly). And I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t run off the frustration with my situation. The physical pain was indescribable, but in reality that didn’t last long. I was off the painkillers by about 5 weeks in. I missed running, I missed the friends I’ve made through running and I also missed the solitary side of running – my “me” time.

And getting back to running? Well, I can’t tell you how much better I feel for being able to get out for a pootle now. It’s slow, it’s steady, it’s fresh air, it’s exercise, it’s my legs moving, it’s seeing my friends, and it’s bloody brilliant.

My first race, 14 weeks post-accident

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Thanks to Katherine for sharing this story. As part of #MilesForMind we want to raise money for Mind and also awareness of mental health issues.

It's OK to have a mental health issue, it's OK to talk about mental health, and it's OK to ask for help.

We firmly believe that running can contribute to a healthy body, and healthy mind and we hope sharing people's stories of mental health and running will inspire others to lace up for better mental health.

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