Mental health is a difficult subject. A lot of people suffer in silence with mental health problems, never getting the help they need. Before I go on I just want to say that I'm in no way suggesting that any mental health problem can be fixed by a gentle jog around the park, it's far more complex than that. What I am going to talk about is my own personal experience with depression. This is tied in with C25K - so it's not completely off topic, I hope! Also, when I started writing this was supposed to be a short post, so I apologise for the ridiculous length!
I'm 23 now, and I can't remember exactly when I first starting struggling with depression (and I side order of anxiety when I got a bit older). I think it was my early teens or maybe pre-teens - I would have been 12 or 13. Growing up as the fat, geeky kid with glasses and frizzy ginger hair was, shall we say, less than ideal. I was not a popular person, and I was bullied from the age of 7 or 8. I can't say for sure when it stopped; I went to college for a year after I finished high school but dropped out when I was 17, so I would say that was when it ended. It left me with a lasting fear of people talking about me and saying awful things. I still catch myself thinking "are they laughing at me?" when I walk past a group of people giggling at uni. They probably aren't - and I know that - but 10 years of laughing, pointing, name calling and never having any real friends has left a mark.
For a large part of my teenage years, then again when I was between 20 and 21/22, I experienced terrible lows where I would sit in my room and cry, isolate myself even more than I already was, and self harm. I never attempted suicide, but I thought about it on and off and even planned how I would do it. I always said I would get a tattoo if I stopped self harming for a year - I reached that milestone at the beginning of the summer, and when funds allow I will fulfil that promise to myself. Starting university this time last year was a real turning point - apart from the odd little spell of feeling low I've been doing great; I coped with the pressure of exams, made fantastic friends and I'm studying my dream course.
It took me completely by surprise, then, when I came home this summer and the old feelings started to creep back in. My Dad is disabled, and I find it very hard to watch him get worse knowing there is no possibility for improvement, and my Mum and I have never been close. I think it was going from being surrounded by friends and having constant academic stimulation to coming back to live with my parents, away from all my friends and working my old job for 3 months that did it. I've not been anywhere as near as bad as I have been in the past - I've managed not to self harm, which is important to me - but I found myself sitting in my room, feeling this profound sadness that I can't explain. My mood swings come with a volatile temper, and I found myself become more and more impatient with my family and work colleagues. I would wake up not wanting to do anything or even move and just feeling very, very low.
6 weeks ago, I decided I would try and take up running. I was sitting on my bed and I found all the empty crisp packets and chocolate wrappers stuffed down the side (I comfort eat - a lot), and I decided to try and make a change. I tried running on a mad impulse, and although my legs hurt for about 4 days afterwards (I have since learned to stretch after my run!), I came home with a smile on my face. I was less impatient and more content, and my mood lifted instantly. A week later I started C25K, and I find now that that deep sadness that springs on me out of nowhere - or I wake up with it - recedes when I get out and run (at the moment it's more limping and panting, but still). The negative voices that tell me I'm worthless are drowned out, and I feel refreshed and invigorated. I finished W3R3 today, and the black cloud that has hung over me since yesterday has dissipated. I don't want to cry for no reason at all, and little things aren't bothering me. I'm hoping to go along to the Ultimate Frisbee taster session when I get back to uni - something I never thought I would have the confidence to do.
As I said at the beginning of my (very, very long - sorry!) post, I'm not saying that mental health problems can be magically cured by exercise. So many people struggle daily, and I would urge them to get help. My GP wanted to put me on antidepressants 2 years ago, which I refused; she then suggested a telephone counselling service, which I tried out but honestly didn't feel comfortable with. There is a lot of help available, and for some people medication is the best choice, so please don't avoid seeking help. My GP was very understanding, I was just scared that antidepressants showing up on my medical record would cause problems at uni (I do a course where I have to sign to declare myself medically fit to practice, and although I know there was support available I chose to keep it a secret. Probably a poor choice.) I should also mention here that when I was 20 and 21 I found that The Samaritans were very helpful; I didn't feel like I had anyone in my life I could talk to, and emailing them was brilliant. I would urge anyone who feels like they need to talk to someone to try them, you can email or phone and it's completely confidential.
What I am saying is that, for me, running is giving me an outlet for the frustration I feel, and the natural endorphins are working to lift the black clouds that swarm around me for no reason. I hope that I can keep up with the programme, and I will continue to enjoy it as much as I have done, and it will keep giving me the benefits I'm already seeing. I'm not just experiencing an improvement in my physical health, but in my mental health too. The answer to my problems was not at the bottom of an ice cream tub - and believe me, I've eaten enough tubs of ice cream to fully test that theory - but some relief may just lie in the calming rhythm of my feet pounding the road.