You wouldn’t normally expect to leave an event where a discussion of chafing (and how to avoid it when running) is on the agenda feeling thoroughly inspired but that’s how I felt when I attended the recent Mind London & Brighton Marathon Team Meet & Greet Day in London. Ok, so the discussion of chafing, although very helpful, wasn’t the inspiring bit but as I’ve reflected since, meeting other Mind runners and supporters and hearing their stories certainly was.
I’m now over a year into my journey as a runner and supporter of Mind and I attended the same event last year when I was training for the London Marathon. It was just as helpful and inspiring last year but then I was still very much at the “what on earth have I got myself into” stage. This year, it all feels a bit different and my races start with the Brighton Marathon in April and end with the Royal Parks Half in October. I’ll be wearing my Mind running shirt on race days and fundraising for them through the year again.
I’m not generally someone who spends much time looking back but as an event, the Meet & Greet seemed so full of hope and it got me thinking and reflecting on what has happened and how far I’ve come since Mind offered me a place in the 2017 London Marathon back in October 2016. My decision to apply for a place came just before a dip in my mental health which left me feeling upset and frustrated and like I was never going to escape this illness. There seemed no particular reason for this episode. It came completely out of the blue and left me back on medication and feeling like I’d suffered a real setback. That’s almost two years ago now and although I have my bad days, I’m in a very different place. I can still vividly recall times in my life when I’ve felt dreadful; unable to escape that feeling that I’m trapped in that dark, cold place of depression from which there is no escape or with my mind on fire with the terror of anxiety. But the fear that I associate with these things has lost a lot of its power over me.
Running and supporting Mind have given me a new sense of purpose and I now feel that although anxiety and depression have often defined my past, they won’t define my future. I try to work out what has made the difference and as with most things in life, it isn’t one thing on its own. Running and exercise play a huge part. I’ve always loved sport and being very active with the focus of training plans to follow, tough goals to achieve and races to run has been very powerful. Every run and every gym session now means something and gets me closer to completing the next challenge or race. I’ve had to leave my comfort zones far behind and escape what I thought were my limitations to complete two marathons and four half marathons over the last year. It’s made me realise that I can achieve far more than I ever believed I was capable of and have the drive and determination to keep pushing myself further and further.
Supporting Mind has been a massive positive too. I’ve used their infoline and website to help me when I’ve been struggling and I feel strongly that by running and fundraising for them, I can give something back that makes a difference. Also, my links with Mind have helped me to talk openly with friends, family and all sorts of people about my mental health struggles and write my blog. I’m much more confident about how people will react to these conversations and they’ve steadily become more comfortable. It can be a very, very difficult thing to do, but I’m a firm believer that it is vital that more people start to talk about their own experience of mental illness if they feel they can. It’s only by making the conversation about mental health normal and natural that we can give people the confidence to say that they’re struggling and chip away at the stigma that causes people to stay silent. I can honestly say that since I really started talking about my mental health, the vast majority of responses have been positive, supportive and understanding which helps put those where you feel you’ve been judged or put down into a bit of perspective.
What’s happened is that I’ve changed the narrative around my own mental health and my relationship with it. Fighting against anxiety and depression was pointless. I could never win that battle. Accepting that it is part of me and talking about that has helped me see the opportunities and find ways of staying on the right track, believing that the dark days can and will pass.
Simply lacing up my trainers and going for a run helps me to think about things that are going on or not think at all. I can run out anger and frustration and sometimes find that runner’s high, where you just feel great and could keep running forever. I love that. I’m also very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way over the last eighteen months or so, the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had. Without the times when I’ve struggled with my mental health, these things wouldn’t have happened. I really believe now that even the darkest days have their positives. My reason to run is a very powerful one and it means that every day is full of promise. Still, I mustn’t forget the Vaseline.