Tuesday, 12 September 2017

It's OK not to be Ok.

I saw this on a running vest yesterday.

This post is a bit different to anything I'd normally write. It's the most personal thing I've ever written and possibly spoken about in depth.

I've thought long and hard about sharing this post and it's taken a long time and a lot of, not courage, something a bit more personal than that to write this.

Those close to me, know me well. They know my past and some of the personal experiences I've been through, I'm not writing it for attention or sympathy or anything of that ilk, just that I want to share some of my personal experiences and hopefully give others hope and perhaps a little agenda behind my love of running and of being free.

Mostly, it's to highlight that no matter what people see, they don't really "see" what is behind the self indulgence or dare I say bragging (yes, I know how my posts tend to come across). Self deprecation is something I'm pretty good at but not that good. My close friends see through that of course. I don't generally analyse things, maybe I should, maybe not doing so keeps me sane. Who knows.

Often people say, "how do you run for so long? Why do you do this? I don't understand how you can spend your spare time doing this."

Truth is... mainly, because I can. I have the fortune that I have the means and capability to do so, and for the best part I genuinely enjoy it.

Sometimes I think I hate it. But deep down, I know it's the thing that has kept me happy and "sane". It's lead me to many amazing friendships that without which, I don't know if I'd be around today. It's the one place that I literally have no thoughts. Some people find that strange. Some people run to be alone with their thoughts. I enjoy the emptiness I get in my head when I run. The purity of just being alive, on my own or enjoying the company of others.

News flash.
I've not always been 100% happy, but hey, who has?  For me, running and fitness in general has been a therapy through some tough times and I imagine it will for as long as I can put one foot in front of another.

Depression is something that generally people don't like to talk about. Thankfully it's become less taboo to talk about, which for those suffering is a life line. Depression is a word that people have become afraid of. Quite rightly, it's a terrifying illness. For those engulfed in it, from their own illness or from watching a loved one suffer from it. I have been in both camps at various points of my life.

For me, running was a remedy for some dark times. I'm sure it still helps me from dipping into the grey. It adds sun and rainbows and hope to the days when I feel utterly despairing of the apparent crappy days. It adds perspective. It gives me endorphins that I crave.

Rewind to several years ago. I had an amazing family, living with a great guy, a promising career ahead of me, wonderful friends, a zest for life, a natural ability for running.

Yet that was the view from the outside. What you couldn't see was the crippling sadness. There was no one thing responsible. There never is. I didn't even know why I was so sad.  There's probably one tiny insignificant thing that tipped me over the edge, maybe I missed the bus one day, or burnt my toast?

All that I really know was that life got too much for a time. Even now I can't pinpoint one thing. Not even a group of things, which maybe makes it difficult to explain. I was just "down in the dumps" (yes, there I said it. I'd punch me if I could) Lots of those months/years are still a bit of a blur. Some of the incidents are blurry, maybe because I choose to keep them that way.

Aside from a few occasions when I was at College and pretty unsatisfied with life and a few incidents of what people would label as "cries for help". The time I really remember anything of significance was a few years later, that looking back should have rung alarm bells to my mental health was sitting in a meeting staring and picking at a cut on my arm. Not really thinking (or caring) what the other people in the meeting must have thought. Vaguely remembering that I did it to myself some days previously. Staring at it made me feel somehow better. Somehow in control. Somehow satisfied that I was doing something to control my feelings of being out of control.

Some months later and after several other isolated and mostly hidden incidents, after taking an overdose of various OTC and stolen substances, I was sat in occupational health with the nurse, who to this day, I sincerely feel I owe my life to. She advised me to take some time off work, they would give me time to heal. To take some time to rebuild my serotonin. Go and do some yoga, go and run she said. That's right. She encouraged me to be active. Not to go home and waste away in bed, go and see a councillor, see if medication will help, spend time with people who care about me.

Something I'll always remember her explaining what serotonin is (our natural happy pill) was it is like a tap, constantly dripping, keeping your levels topped up. But if the plug starts to leak, or comes right out, it can't keep up. It just leaks right out again, and the elements that are eating away at the plug are taking it too low to manage any kind of hope or positivity. Of course I couldn't have refilled them without some help. I had a short period on medication. For me, it actually made me feel worse. It made me numb. I felt a sense of nothing. I preferred "feeling" something. Not to say for those months it didn't help, as 100% it did. Counselling for me didn't really help either, mainly because I didn't know what was "wrong" - sadly there's no magic formula of X + Y = Z.

What worked for me was running, cycling, fresh air. Of course there were days, I didn't open the curtains. There were days, I did nothing but cry. Not knowing why I was crying. "What's wrong with me?" I'd wail at no-one, cuddle my cat until he was soaking with tears. But only having that to deal with for a time really helped.

Of course, this didn't end the cycle of self harm. Various ways I found of controlling what I thought was my "problem". I had tried on occasion reasonably successfully methods to prevent self harming, using plastic bottles rather than my person. If you're reading this and struggling - it does help with the emotional release.

"I'm fat." That's the problem. I'd tell myself. Which of course lead to an eating disorder and ultimately the end of a relationship and not engaging in social events for probably years.

There are two stand out occasions which to this day both haunt me and remind me of the depth of this illness but also are why I know that I'll never let myself get to that place again.

1) Whilst in the grips of eating disorders and depression - my then boyfriend who I'd made a life with. His father had been suffering from lung cancer. The day of his death. I'm still ashamed, whether I should be, is neither here nor there and perhaps it highlights how this illness can be very lonely. Instead of racing home to be there for him, I was concerned that I'd not burned off enough calories that day so cycled an extra couple of miles. Then after the wake. Rather than be there to comfort him, I was concerned that I'd eaten one too many sandwiches and logging them in my calorie counter.

2) I shan't go into too much detail, but what was intended as nothing more than a small cut to give me the release I knew it would, ended up grappling a knife with my sister who was trying to stop me hurting myself. Instead I hurt her slightly and gave myself a deep wound that would stop me running for a significant period of time and for a long time, locking all sharp objects in the shed.

That for me was the turning point. Laid in hospital being sewn up by a pretty pissed off doctor, my sister and mum sobbing next to me. That was enough. I'd hurt people close to me. Literally. It scared me. I hadn't intended on any of it. It wasn't easy coming out the other side but fortunately I did.

Of course, the relationship ended, he moved out. I decided to make a clean start, change jobs, create new opportunities. I took up cycling, and triathlon (arguably a new obsession of control).

Looking back, aside from hurting my loved ones, the thing that had the biggest impact, selfishly, was not being able to run. That's what hurt the most. I had lost my freedom. My outlet. Of course, it was good to learn new outlets, I re-engaged with lost friends, I spent time helping others volunteering, other things that would improve my wellbeing and mental health. This in hindsight was a good thing and I'm fortunate compared to others. It meant that whilst running has become a huge part of my life, I have other things that I can focus on. So even if now that is taken away, I have the ability to exist without that crutch.

I was lucky. I had an incredible support network, OK they didn't understand - why would they? It's difficult to explain why you're self destructing. The tendon healed and I was soon back to jogging slowly. I could cycle again. The scar and damaged nerves is a permanent reminder for me though. If I'm ever feeling like I could be slipping again, I just need to touch that visible memory and I remember how far I've come and where I never want to be again.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still susceptible to negative thoughts and have had relapses some years ago but generally I know how to take care of my mental health. I'm hyper aware of the things that could impact it. I know what situations to avoid. Maybe I can't hide forever. Maybe I don't need to?

Why am I sharing this now? Today is National Suicide Awareness day.

It's not taboo anymore. There are people in my extended friendship groups who I know are battling depression. I'm not trying to glorify it. I'm hoping that I can reach out to someone who is struggling to see there is light at the end of the tunnel. Particularly with social media, generally speaking I don't care what people think of me, unless I'm being a bad person, then, tell me. I think sometimes people assume I'm very "normal". We all have histories, and skeletons. I honestly think I've never been more emotionally stable, clearly to be able to share this - whatever that is!  Running isn't the answer for everyone. It's my therapy. After a long day. After a break up. After a fatty meal! Just to be alone with nothing to think about.  There's no magic potion. We are all very different. I was provided with various tools to deal with my illness. I learned to use those tools. Sometimes the tools need oiling.

Sadly, depression is something that is here. It's real. For you maybe. For someone you love. For someone you don't know is suffering. Let's talk about it. Someone may not appear to be suffering, it doesn't mean they aren't. We are all guilty of painting a pretty picture of the outside. No-one wants to hear the sad tales, we tend to turn a blind eye to that.

If there's one piece of advice I could give, is, find what makes you happy. Not what society thinks should make you happy. That's the superficial stuff that ultimately makes you sad. Cliché as it is - life is short. Find something that makes you happy.

I hope this helps at least one person. I'll be back to blabbing about my latest adventures soon :)

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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)