Why I think running 5k is like battling mental illness….

 

Now I am aware this is an odd statement, but bear with me, allow me to expand and I will explain.

It’s probably pertinent to explain that I’ve been battling mental illness problems since I was 17.  Back then it was called manic depression, now someone thought to re-brand
it with a much more fashionable name, bipolar II disorder.  Either way, whatever you call it, it’s been a struggle my whole life and provided me with a constant daily battle, and no fancy words can explain how much it SUCKS!

Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time detailing some of the unpleasant events in the timeline of my battle with depression (of which there are many), it’s much easier to report that I’m currently stable, coping, and I now understand my condition more than I ever did in the past.  It has taken many years, medication, therapy, lots of talking, analysing, reflection and sheer determination to get to this balanced point in my life.  (I’m currently touching wood and crossing all fingers that it stays this way)

About 5 years ago I decided to try this thing they call running.  As a chronic asthmatic this was no easy task, however over the course of the years I built myself up to manage a steady 5k run.  I went from running for 1 minute on a treadmill, to managing an entire song on my ipod.  Then came the horrible transition of running outside where it felt like I had to learn it all again, and finally it ended in completing a charity run.  I got a medal for my achievement raised money for cancer research and was thoroughly chuffed with myself.

It was only a couple of years back I discovered and linked the benefit of physical exercise in my battle with mental illness, with its release of endorphins it’s a natural medicinal way to tackle the chemical imbalance of depression.  In short, the running was a killer, but at the end of it I had a smile on my face and was chuffed with my achievement.  Now-a-days we have the brilliance of “Parkrun” a national event in locations all over the country allowing us to join together to run a 5k event and get a recorded time.  Parkrun for me is a “must” in my weekly calendar.  For me it’s as important as medicine, without it both my husband and I can see the difference in my mood.  Missing a week can make a huge difference in how I behave and cope with life during the coming week.  It’s so important for me to do physical exercise in my week, without it my mood would decline rapidly.

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After such a lengthy explanation advocating how much running benefits me, it’s going to come as a shock to tell you that I don’t really enjoy running!!  It’s not something that has come naturally to me, I don’t have that magical moment people claim to have while running.   I am NOT at one with the road, I don’t have that feeling of just me my trainers and the open highway.  Quite the reverse…I overheat and my face adopts the colour of a beetroot!  The 5k run still feels like my own mini marathon every week, my time isn’t improving (however it does seem to remain consistent), and I have no aspiration to move on to a 10k run never mind a half marathon.  Yet I still participate, I try to run every week, and still feel the sense of achievement when I cross the finish line.  If you suffer from depression your drive to do anything never mind a 5k run is zero.  Simply getting up and brushing your teeth seems as challenging as a 5k run.  So if I can do a 5k run, I can bloody find the drive and grit determination to drag my butt out of bed and face the day.  The two things are very similar.

Imagine getting up every day and the first thing you had to do was a 5k run.  Imagine the sheer mental determination you would need to win the battle in your head, just to get up and do that every day, then how much will power you would need to do the run day after day.  It’s exactly how repetitive it is battling a mental illness, day after day.  The chances are you would do a few days and then loose the drive and will to carry on.  To start with you might not make it the full 5k.  You might only manage half of it, you might skip a day or two, but in time if you persevere you will get used to it and it will become easier.

On Saturday I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity.  It was around 3k into my 5k run.  It was 3 degrees, the ground was muddy and slippery, I was beginning to strip off the many layers I had on to keep warm as I began to transform into overheated beetroot lady!  All this while trotting along a tree lined root on the Bushy Park run.  I wanted to stop running, I was having an internal battle; my mind was telling me to stop running, but my body was determined to persevere.  I am told by veteran runners that the art to running is winning the mental battle.  At 3k into my run I was having a really heated battle with my head, and it occurred to me that I am well-rehearsed with this kind of inner dispute.

The battle with the choice to carry on running is much the same as the battle to dig yourself out of a depressive low.  You have to fight hard to choose and carry on running, you also have to fight hard and choose to get up and carry on when you feel like the world is against you.  I may not be running when I battle with my head to conquer the dark depths of depression, but it’s just as physically demanding, and it leaves me just as exhausted.  So as I was running along trying to get to the finish line I realised I was having the same mind battle with my depression.  It would be easy to stop running and just give up, it’s much harder mentally to decide to carry on pushing and do the final 2k of the run.  It’s easy to just give in and settle in your depressive low state, it’s much harder to decide to fight and work to drag yourself up and out of the low.

My husband often asks me what depression feels like, and I quite often can’t find the words to give the utter despair a description.  Often people ask me how I have overcome my battle with my mental health.  So on this occasion it’s nice to have finally found something tangible to use in my explanation of the inner battle with my mind.  Have you ever done a long run and felt like giving up half way through?  Well imagine feeling like that all the time, and imagine trying to find that drive to carry on every day, and you might be close to understanding depression.

Firstly I’m under no illusion that I’ve beaten my demons.  I am blissfully aware that they are with me for life, and the battle is ongoing, however I am armed with many tools to fend of the depths of despair that have pulled me down at various points in my life.  Unlike my running at the moment I have plenty of stamina to continue fighting this nasty illness and I will beat it, of this I am determined!  I have the inherent drive to persevere with this, so surely I have the drive and stamina to run 5k.  It’s that motivation that drags my beetroot red ass the final 2k to the finish line every Saturday morning!  I’m a practised lady in the art of the mind battle, I’m strong, stubborn and determined, and because of this I can run 5k, I can also beat away the mental health issues that plague my life.

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