Why mental health?
Mental Health has received a lot more publicity and focus over recent years but it is still widely misunderstood and people who suffer often face discrimination and a lack of long term sustainable support. There is so much more that can, and needs, to be done. The increased attention has only scratched the service of the problem of mental health.
For me this challenge was a way to try and raise awareness of mental health issues and use running as a catalyst to raise some money for charities at the heart of trying to make a positive change. These charities are doing work that makes a difference every day. Campaigning, offering advice and running inspiring and innovative projects that provide the initial support needed to make long term progress.
The last thing I want to do is exaggerate my personal issues or belittle those that have long term serious mental health difficulties. I have seen the debilitating impact that these can have on others. I do not struggle to this extent and have nothing but admiration for those that do. The ability to keep going through adversity, to ride the bad days and return to the good, is inspiring to me.
The main focus of this challenge however, is about encouraging people to be open about their own personal issues and, if comfortable, share their stories. In the spirit of the challenge I want to be completely open too.
I am personally often a difficult person to read, a closed book. I only let a select few see the real me. I am always happy to talk about other people's problems, but find it much harder to talk about my own. My moods have always been very up and down and I often switch between being completely content to having a overwhelming desire to run away and live out my days on a desert island. Sometimes I feel invincible and other times I struggle to hold a conversation. When I'm feeling really down all I want to do is cry. People do not see that side of me, because when I feel that way, I hide myself away. They don't see me at all.
The majority of my life I’m very happy, content, focused and feel I could take on the world. Luckily these good days far outweigh the bad but the bad spells I encounter aren’t easy. I feel the need to try and manage these periods and at the same time limit the damage to the world I have created around myself. I am aware people not as lucky as me have one good day a year or would give everything to feel ‘happy’. I can only imagine what it must be like to feel like that on a daily basis. I have the reassurance that the good days will come back and for this I am entirely grateful.
I love my friends. They are incredibly caring and thoughtful. However, they, like many others, don’t quite know how to address the subject of mental health. I don’t hold blame for that as I’m not sure that I do! Some have the ‘pull yourself together’ mentality which is archaic and simplistic. Others will listen and offer advice. Few are open and able to discuss things in a way that doesn’t brush over the issue and makes a real difference.
This challenge offers a great example of the difficulty people have in approaching issues of mental health. Since I told people about my plans to raise money for mental health charities, only one of my friends has tried to discuss the reasons why this issue matters to me. The rest have chosen to avoid it or, more than likely, just simply been unsure how to approach me. Again this is not a dig at my friends, they are truly wonderful people, but it offers an interesting snapshot of societies attitudes. People, myself included, often shy away from addressing difficult or uncomfortable situations. That is why there is a need to make talking about mental health more open, less of a taboo, and more of the norm.
I would love to be able to be honest with my friends and say, 'I can’t come out for a drink because I feel useless and don’t want to see anyone'. I would love to know what to say to others and for others to know what to say to me when I, or they, are feeling down. More importantly, I would love that others who may be suffering in silence have the courage to reach out and seek support instead of continuing to suffer, or worse still end their own lives.
It is a truly shocking and saddening statistic that the biggest killer of men and women my age is suicide. How would I or anyone else feel if a friend or family member felt things were so bad that they came to this decision? Surely there needs to be more done and things need to change.
I am lucky to have a support network to turn to and my mum is aware of me turning up on her doorstep to cry and drink tea. That is my go to place when I’m at my worst as she doesn’t judge. She doesn’t necessarily do much, she just listens, understands and makes a good cuppa. Others don't have this safety net, or they do but don’t want to be a burden.
I completely agree that a desire to change has to come from the individual and they have to be actively involved in any process but there has to be support alongside. I can only speak for myself but when I feel low, I lose confidence, self-esteem and the view that I am able to cope or bring something to others, social situations, relationships or the workplace. It is in these instances and periods that people need support to make the first step and engage. This is what is often lacking, both within society and the support services currently available.
So that is my story and I encourage others to tell, and if comfortable share theirs. This challenge was both a personal one and one which I hope will inspire others. We are all human and face our own issues but wouldn’t it be great if everyone was able to offer support instead of judgement, advice instead of avoidance or simply a smile instead of a stare. Donate, reach out and help make a difference.
What running means to me
Running has become an ever more increasing part of my life, it has brought some of my happiest memories. Running has allowed me to travel the world, make some amazing friends and achieve things I never thought possible. Alongside all this positivity however it has also, in many ways, become a double edged sword.
The need to question certain parts of my life made me realise that my focus and determination to constantly improve as a runner was almost all consuming. Running over 100 miles a week and often training twice a day had taken me to a point where it was impacting my life for the worst and it was simply no longer fun.
The constant need to over analyse my performance, trying to work out when I could fit in my next run, thinking about exactly what and when I needed to eat, and the overwhelming feeling of guilt that would come if I missed a session, had got too much. This is I’m sure what many runners or sports men or women experience. It was ok for me when I was able to switch that focus on and off, but I had lost the ability to do just that.
WHAT THIS CHALLENGE MEANS TO ME
Over the last year or so, I have had periods where I’ve felt I've achieved the perfect balance and others where I felt like I was returning to my old self. However, I can honestly say I am now enjoying my running again, and with it, the possibilities that it can bring. I am learning to remember exactly why I started running in the first place. I have a new understanding of what it gives and what it takes away, and am able to balance things a lot better. As an extremely competitive person I will never lose that desire to improve but I am more able to step back and see the bigger picture and better enjoy my successes and move on from my failures.
It may be a logical question to ask, Why am I am running 44 marathons in 44 countries in 44 days!? This is my way to move my focus away from running quickly to running for a cause. It is a way to challenge myself in a new way and use my running ability to try and make a positive difference. It is also my way of showing to myself, and hopefully others, that it is ok to admit when things have gone too far and that it is possible to change.