After struggling with eating disorders, depression and self-harm throughout my teens and early twenties I finally hit crisis point in 2011. I became very unwell, lost in my own private hell and withdrew from life around me. I quit university, stopped wanting to see friends and stopped wanting to live any more. I was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, depression and anxiety and started a long battle towards recovery.
In an effort to lose more weight and burn more calories I started running every day and increasing the time I spent in the gym. Although completely exhausted and malnourished I eventually realised that running along the seafront early in the morning watching the sun rise became the only part of my day where I felt at peace and happy. This was the start of my love affair with running.
It took time, a long time, but gradually fitness became more important to me than thinness. My passion for running in particular has been my salvation and given me the motivation to look after and respect my body for what it can do rather than how I perceive it should or shouldn’t look.
I didn’t have a specific “lightbulb” moment, recovery was a long, long, long journey and the
hardest battle of my life. In fact it’s not a single battle, but many battles fought on a daily basis.
I cycled 1024 miles ride from Lands End to John O’Groats at the end of 2011. It was a risk, I had had a bad struggle eating wise in the weeks leading up to the trip and I was afraid of not being strong enough but with determination I set out alone with my bike, a tent and a map. 14 days later in torrential rain and gales on the Northern coast of Scotland I made it to the most North Easterly point of the UK found a new respect for my body and realised that I wanted to fight.
I am not saying that my Eating disorder went away overnight, the battle continued but the difference was that the new respect I had found for my body gave me the motivation I needed to start the journey towards recovery. I started to feel that I deserved to be happy.
My passion for exercise and the therapeutic effect particularly of running has lead me on to many epic adventures and achievements including running more than 16 marathons, 2 ironman triathlons, cycling across various parts of the world and most recently completing a 50 mile ultra-run along the South Downs Way. I can honestly say my passion for all things active has been my salvation, my reason to get up in the morning, given me an awesome group of friends and ultimately saved my life.
In the 7 years since my first serious episode of illness I have managed my mental health and well-being without any serious relapses. However, a few months ago I broke my ankle and missed the early warning signs as my mental health deteriorated rapidly without my main coping strategy.
Add on trying to juggle university where I am training to become a nurse, working to pay the bills, and caring for my wife who was going through her own health scare, my mental health took a real hammering and spiralled rapidly out of my control.
I have managed to motivate myself through 16 marathons, 4 ultra-marathons, and 2 ironman triathlons. I ran Beachy head marathon in October last year and yet by December I was unable to motivate myself to get out of bed, let alone have a shower, get dressed or function as a normal human being.
Depression sucks. In fact it doesn’t just suck, it blows a huge fucking crater sized hole in your life and makes you feel that you will never be happy or worth anything ever again. It is also impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced that total blackness what it feels like to just feel that all hope and joy has disappeared from life overnight.
When I am well I love life, I am usually grateful every day for every single second that I am alive. I love the outdoors, the sunshine, nature, friends, family, dogs, Nutella, anything covered in chocolate, I am generally happy for every moment that I am alive. Yet suddenly I was waking up in the morning wishing I hadn’t, I couldn’t find the point in anything, all positive thought had disappeared and even the things I loved most felt dull and empty.
Depression is sneaky, it comes on slowly. You don’t notice it happening until suddenly you are so lost in the grey fog that you can’t see the direction to move forwards.
I ended up hospitalised, locked in a ward where I was watched 24 hours a day due to being such a suicide risk. I attempted suicide. More than once.
The worst thing about severe depression isn’t feeling sad or not being able to control your emotions. It’s the emptiness, a beautiful sunny day for instance, I could appreciate the beauty, I knew it was beautiful, but I couldn’t FEEL it. Everything just felt empty, with waves of intense pain that came out of nowhere seeming to come from my actual soul.
The physical pain is unbearable, it is indescribable and the only words I can find to describe it is like it is tearing your soul apart and you would do anything to make it stop. Anything…
The loneliness of being surrounded and reminded of all the people that love you hurts. I am so grateful to be so loved but the constant reminder
of how much you are hurting the people you love intensifies an already unbearable experience. Visitors were so welcome and so painful at the same time.
The constant battle in my head is exhausting. One side is rational, wanting to cling to life reminding me I have so much to live for, a beacon of light. The other side, the side controlled by the black dog is like a fog slowly seeping into the rest of my brain, removing all joy, enthusiasm and even love. Eventually when the darkness has engulfed the light completely there is no reason left to fight, and suicide is almost a relief, self-harm ironically almost the only way to feel alive.
That’s the doom and gloom because it really isn’t a fun ride. However, I have amazing friends and family who have stood by me and helped in so many ways and that is so important to appreciate.
From the friends who literally came to hospital and dragged me out of bed for Saturday morning park run (literally!) or picking me up at stupid o’clock for Sunday runs through my beloved trails.
Running doesn’t remove the depression completely, the buzz isn’t as intense and doesn’t last as long as when I’m well but for a couple of hours it is a relief from the darkness that fills the rest of my days.
When I was first admitted to hospital friends asked if there was anything they could do to help and I asked them to send me photos; reminders of events and activities we had done together, reminders of good times, achievements and joy that would remind me life was just around the corner, if I could just hang on. Before long my bare hospital room was filled with pictures of friends, family, bikes, running, neoprene-clad swimmers, adventures and most important of all love.
Leaving hospital was almost as tough as being admitted. Going from the security of having 24 hour staff monitoring your suicidal tendencies to suddenly arriving home where you are responsible for your own actions is incredibly hard to adjust to. I was so home-sick in hospital and so desperately missed my wife and dogs but at the same time the thought of being alone with constant suicidal thoughts that can be so persistent they drown out all other rational thought, was terrifying.
Depression doesn’t get better overnight. It feels like climbing up the side of a giant bath tub; trying to get a grip is so difficult and when you do it is so easy to slide back down. It takes time. Often a lot of time. But it is worth it.
The moments in my day where the sun is shining and I am running side by side with my friends over my favourite trails makes holding on worth it. The love shown to me by my family and friends who just message to say they are thinking of me makes holding on worth it. Cuddling my dogs who lick my face and look at me like I am the most important person on the planet makes holding on worth it. Cuddling my wife makes holding on worth it.
The light is getting brighter for me and every day I am able to enjoy more positives. It may be a slow process but just like the long endurance events I have completed in the past it is a case of riding out the black holes as they come and believing that I will get to the other side.
To those suffering:
* Hold on, don’t give up no matter how hard and dark life can seem. Just like the weather, everything passes and the light will shine again.
* Do something selfish every day. Something that is just for you and nobody else. Whether that is eating chocolate, drawing a picture, going for a walk/run/ cycle, something simple that keeps your mind focused and your hands busy.
* Watch Harry Potter on repeat (or whichever series makes you feel warm and fuzzy)
* CUDDLE DOGS (because life is just better with dogs in it).
* DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP. It isn’t your fault, depression is an illness just as cruel and painful as anything physical
* Spend time with people who make you feel safe. Avoid people who don’t and don’t feel guilty or make apologies for that.
* TALK. TALK. TALK. TALK. TALK. Don’t bottle up those feelings, they will make you feel vulnerable but letting ANYONE know how bad you are feeling and sharing those feelings can take the power out of them
* Take it a day at a time. When that is too overwhelming take it an hour at a time, a moment at a time even. Just forget the bigger picture and survive the here and now. Tomorrow will look after itself as long as you wake up for it.
* GET HELP: If you don’t feel able to talk to your GP there are some great charities and services that are there to hold you through the dark times:
* * Call the Samaritans on 116 123 (uk) * Sussex mental health line * Rethink Mental Illness * Mind
Supporting a friend with depression?
* Don’t expect too much, don’t take it personally if your friend can’t cope with a visit or a chat on the phone, just let them know you are there
* Asking for help is often the hardest thing in the world. Don’t wait for them to ask, try just turning up and offering to take them for a walk, call in with a bunch of flowers and put the kettle on (however, see above and don’t be offended if this is rejected).
* Don’t say things like “if you just think positively”, “don’t listen to the negative thoughts”, “you have so much to live for/ so many people who love you/ such a good life, etc. It just emphasises the guilt they are already feeling and beating themselves up. If you don’t know what to say, then don’t give advice, just listen.
* Look at information offered such as: * Mind * Rethink
I am so grateful to all my friends and family for their love and support. It is you who make my life worth living when nothing else makes sense. We have shared so many adventures, so much happiness and so much love. It is your love that shines brightly guiding me out of the storm and you who give me the strength to continue to fight, no matter what.
A huge thank you to Amy for sharing her story and you can follow her via her blog at runningovertherainbow.wordpress.com
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.