I attempted my first half-marathon this weekend - something I never thought I’d be doing for two pretty big reasons.
Firstly, it’s a half marathon! Secondly, if you had asked me a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have even believed I’d be alive today given how low depression took me.
Yet here I am, managing my depression – and running is one of several ways I continue to do that.
I struggled with depression for over ten years. I had been bullied in school, lost my friends and then there was the death of my grandmother and my father’s divorce to deal with.
Going through so much at such a young age all added to my inner turmoil and led to my first suicide attempt.
Back then, I would barely leave my room, never mind take part in exercise. I avoided PE lessons and, while I enjoyed dance, during my low periods I just wasn’t taking part in any kind of physical activity at all.
As I got older I did begin running, but it was more just to get out of the house, as though I was trying to run away from my feelings and everything that was going on.
Now, however, it’s not something that I use to run away from life, but something that helps me to experience life in a much more positive way.
I won’t pretend it’s been easy. But the effort does pay off.
Some days I still find it hard to get out, and when I was younger I always struggled to finish things. So getting myself geared up for training when I could barely manage a mile, and to finish with a half marathon is a pretty big challenge for me, both mentally and physically.
But I worked on it, creeping the distances up slowly and not beating myself up if I missed a day because I felt unable to get out.
Let’s face it, you can’t just magic yourself better by going for a walk or a run – no matter what some people might say! So if you can’t manage some days, that is absolutely fine! Tomorrow is another day.
As somebody with depression and anxiety, getting out for a run when I feel able to really pays off. It has this strange ability to really clear my head - it brings a serenity that I rarely experience having lived with mental illness for so long. My anxieties disappear and I’m not worrying about what I should be doing or thinking. It just goes blissfully quiet.
Anyone with anxiety will tell you that ten minutes away from the noise in your head is a rare and beautiful thing.
In addition to how the physical activity positively impacts your mental health, choosing the right location to run in also make a big difference.
I really enjoy trail running and being surrounded by trees, birds and nature. This also gives me a sense of calm and happiness.
Then there’s the accomplishment you get from finishing a run – it doesn’t matter how far you manage to go. Even just a brief run outdoors helps me to believe in myself.
In addition to the sense of achievement, the post-run effects are also beneficial to my mental health. I struggle with sleep when I am not feeling well, but after a run I definitely sleep better, which of course impacts on my mood positively the next day. I also feel a rush of happiness when I look back and think, yeah, I enjoyed that! Even if at the time it was really hard.
I am running now to embrace life – not to run away from it. To keep me physically and mentally strong to support my future wellbeing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans on 116 123