I was overwhelmed by some of the comments and messages following my first blog. To think that my experiences could help someone in the way so many articles helped me is humbling and makes the admission purposeful.
In hindsight, my spiral to depression was fairly 'textbook', if there is such a thing.
Whilst I had been experiencing some anxiety triggered lows for about 6 years, my real downturn begun in April 2018. I've since identified the main reasons for my slip into depression but after contemplation, there was very little I could have changed.
It wasn't until early 2019 that I admitted to myself that I was suffering with a mental illness. At that point, having grown up oblivious to depression, my decision was to battle on by myself without anyone the wiser. What a stupid choice. Like many others, I felt myself weak, inferior, a disappointment and a failure for becoming like this - yet, none of this was my choosing. To disclose this condition to other people seemed unthinkable. Would my Wife think I'm unhappy in our marriage? Would my kids think I don't love them? Would I lose my job? Would I lose my friends? When at the bottom of this mountain, every little thing looks impossible and you don't know where to begin climbing from.
This is where running helped me yet again.
As I mentioned in my previous blog 'Five Years and Counting' I began my running journey in 2015. It lead to a marathon chasing dream and pinnacle of completing the 2017 London Marathon. What a feeling. You think back to all the dark, cold training runs that you forced yourself to do. Those times you were too tired to run, but did anyway to get the miles in and it all culminates in one single moment down The Mall to finish the most iconic race in the world (I didn't win for those wondering).
The runners high; what a feeling.
Imagine scoring the winning goal in a football final; a try to get promotion for your rugby team; or the winning double to win a dart competition. That elation, excitement, joy is the same chemical release as the runners high - the difference being it's achieved by just going for a run. It's a happiness that can last all day, just from running. So imagine completing one of those euphoric moments and feeling... nothing. Imagine scoring that goal in the last minute of injury time and feeling nothing emptiness and sadness.
The 8th of September 2019 was the day I really came to terms with my depression. I was running the Cardiff Half Marathon in October so needed to maintain some training runs and decided to tackle a route that has teased me for the past six years. It's a trail which I look at every morning from my bedroom window, but had never had the courage to attempt. That day, the 8th of September 2019, I went for it.
It was better than I could have imagined; rolling trails, tough sections, loose footing and some pacey roads to finish, what a thrill it should have been. But it wasn't. I stood still, 10.1 miles into an adventure and looked back at the hill I had just conquered and felt that incredible runners high - for fewer than five seconds.
There was a glimmer of a happiness protruding, but the severity of my depression meant I couldn't enjoy any more than a second of that incredible feeling. What's more, it was at that point I realised that in completing over 300 miles of training, that was my only seconds of elation I had experienced in 9 months. Nine months without a genuine smile. Nine whole months with no endorphins rushing through me whilst doing what I loved.
I knew I had to confide in someone, which would obviously be my Wife, Grace. The trepidation of doing so was so difficult, but so essential. Strangely, the moment of letting go happened the night before the Cardiff Half when carb loading for the next day's event.
Grace took the news with shock, but not surprise. Of course someone that close to you will notice differences, even with my fantastic acting skills. What ensued was a level of support beyond my wildest dreams. She was there every step of the way and ever since that day has been the shining light to guide me through the trees.
I've been feeling much better since the middle of March 2020. A culmination of lifestyle changes, medication, running and the support of friends and family have brought me closer to contentment. Grace has always been there and encouraged me to run. We need more Grace's in the world.
These are the final words for this blog:
'Your challenge of today will soon become your training run of tomorrow'.
For those of you just starting you journey, this couldn't be more true. That first kilometre without stopping, first mile, 5k, 10, half, marathon and beyond - who knows. I'm envious that you have still got these feelings to come.
For me, that 10.1 mile route was the running pinnacle at that moment in my life. How did I manage to circumnavigate the hill that has been provoking me for so long? How could I finally run over 1,000 feet of climbing? It still saddens me that I didn't get to fully enjoy my runners high when I conquered that mountain, but every time I run that route just for fun I look back from the same spot that broke my heart the first time and smile with contentment, knowing where I am now.
That's my real runners high.