I’ve been running races for just over twelve months now and have realised that a race that genuinely goes to plan is a pretty rare thing. But that’s what happened when I ran last Sunday’s Stratford Shakespeare Half Marathon. The weather was good, I felt good throughout the race and I ran it in a time that I felt was about right taking into account my recent foot injury and the fact that I need plenty of running left in the tank so that I can complete Worcester Half Marathon on Sunday as well. Stratford was a really good race to run. The course took in some lovely parts of Stratford and the beautiful surrounding countryside. I finished the race feeling great and that I could have carried on running for a good few miles more.
This week feels like an important one and not just because I have a half marathon to run at each end of it. It is also Mental Health Awareness Week so it feels right that running is playing a big part in the week for me. It is the most effective way that I’ve found to manage my mental health.
My week has been a very poignant and ultimately positive one. I’m not one for looking back generally but this week has taken me back to a time in my life when I was struggling very badly. Earlier this week I found myself walking by a building where I used to work. I’ve walked or driven past it a number of times over the years and have always found it really difficult even to look at it. This time it was different. I stopped very deliberately and looked over, taking in the building and looking up at the top floor to the window of the office that I used to sit in. I’ve been haunted by memories of the feelings I had when I worked in that room. It was a time when depression had me firmly in its grip and I remember vividly how my confidence and self worth fell apart. I felt like an empty shell during this time, exhausted, utterly broken and plagued by awful, suicidal thoughts. Although I eventually got some treatment for my depression and recovered enough to move on it is only in the last couple of years that I’ve made enough consistent progress to break the cycle of extreme highs and lows that I’ve found have come with my experience of depression and anxiety.
Running has played a huge part in my recovery as has my relationship with the mental health charity, Mind, and all that has come with that. Since I’ve been running for Mind and getting more involved in their work, I’ve met some wonderful, inspiring people. I can also say I’ve been treated with real care and respect. I know that my contributions, through fundraising and raising awareness of mental illness, are genuinely valued. I feel accepted for the person I am and to be shown that even the worst moments of my life can be turned into something positive is so powerful and incredibly humbling.
This may sound a bit odd but as I looked up at that office, I wished I could say to the younger me “Pete, you’ll be ok. It won’t be easy but one day you’ll achieve things you didn’t think were possible. You’ll run down the Mall to finish the London Marathon and then you’ll run other marathons and half marathons. Your friends and family will love and support you and each time you finish a race, you’ll let your two beautiful daughters wear your race medal and they’ll beam at you with such love and pride. You’ll have the chance to talk about your experiences of mental illness to raise awareness and help take away some of the stigma. These difficult times will lay the foundations for you to find a real, deep sense of purpose”.
Standing outside that building made me realise for sure that my past is behind me. I have moved on. I could just tell that this was another sign of me continuing to free myself from the fear of depression and anxiety dragging me down again. I no longer feel haunted by my past. I hope Mental Health Awareness Week continues to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Stigma and mental illness rob people of their self worth, dignity and hope. I’m all too aware that not everyone is able to access the help and support that I’ve received. Too many people still feel trapped by mental illness, totally unable to talk about what they’re going through and look for help. We have to change this.
These days, because of the times when depression has made me struggle, I see every day as a gift. Running Stratford last week was great and on Sunday, I’ll be really proud to pull on my Mind t shirt again and run Worcester Half Marathon. I’m so grateful that I have the chance to do this.
Thanks for reading.