In September 2014, depression hit me over the head, again. I was weary and tearful, and quite admired the idea of spending every day curled up under my duvet. I don’t think there was any particularly recognisable trigger the September’s hit. It was towards the end of the month, so maybe it was the quietness of the kids being back at school, or a feeling that yet again another term of education was passing by and I had chosen to wait another year, before studying or training.
I do remember a discussion with my previous moonwalk buddies and school mums about what might be the next training goal. What might I do to maintain some sort of fitness, would we all sign up for some great challenge. I knew the date of the London Marathon ballot results was imminent, but I honestly wasn’t excited or expectant. After all, how many people apply again and again and again and never ever EVER get in? So it was a “I’ll wait and see” type thing, and I didn’t expect to be lucky.
My depression continued to press down as the end of September rolled in to the beginning of October. There were days where I just felt like all I did was cry, or wipe blotchy eyes. My family kept in contact, getting me out of the house, that sort of thing. Sometimes it’s hard to describe what depression is when it is so personal. For me, it is heavy. And as if colour has been dulled.
And it’s lonely, because it is exhausting. Because being sociable is exhausting, and thinking is exhausting, especially all the over thinking. And tiredness increases, and the colours get duller, and the air gets heavier. And it goes on. And on. And on.
And this is how things were when the Marathon magazine fell into my mail basket.
What? Me? Two years of applying? Already? What?
It was a shock, to say the least. But it was also the saviour in what has been a rocky 6 months, and where those horrid black dogs have been at my heels a fair few times. This magazine, and the accompanying letter were a call to try a new tactic, an incentive to fight depression with a new weapon, because really, what is the worse that could happen?
So it is October 6th, and I’m not a runner! And I have 6 months to become one.
I have tried running before. After my first Moonwalk in 2013 I decided I wanted to give it a go. It seemed like a logical(?) progression from walking 26.2 miles to running 26.2 miles. (It’s times like this when I think I have had several hyper manic stages without realising at the time, grandiose ideas of what I am capable of, and then crushing reality as things happen and my dreams crumble, anyway, I digress). I bought a Zombies, Run! couch to 5k app for my phone, figuring it would be more fun learning to run 5k with than a general couch to 5k app. And I started out, in the local streets. This lasted days, before I was in agony with Achilles tendonitis that really needed to heal before I could give it another go. I guess 26.2 miles had started it, and the attempting to run was the kicker, so to speak. Anyway, that attempt ended, and with it, my dreams of learning to run any time soon.
So that was the last time I had tried, and it hadn’t ended happily. It had also resulted in a disastrous failure at the Cheltenham Half Marathon, because the tendonitis stopped me running, and even walking for any substantial distances.
Now, here I was, with a ticket to the prestigious London Marathon. A race that hundreds of thousands apply to each year. An experience not to be missed. How could I let this opportunity pass me by?
So, I started to run. I downloaded a host of apps. I now had a windows phone, and no offence, Cortana, but the app choices were limited and poor. But off I went with various 5k training apps, and a whole lot of trial and error. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fast. But on the plus side I was a couple of stone lighter, and I didn’t have tendonitis burning at my heels (though I did have severe anxiety at the thought of my post Moonwalk 2014 stress fracture resurfacing!).
In the first week of October I couldn’t run a minute without getting out of breath. It was hard, and I wondered how the hell I was ever, ever going to be fit enough and ready enough to run the 2015 London Marathon.
But the key to progress is consistency, and I followed those audio instructors, and would repeat sessions I felt had gone badly.
Depression continued. It didn’t go away. But the load lightened and the colours lifted somewhat. October became November, and my breathing was better, my distances slightly longer, and I kept on.
From October 6th, to November 28th my running capabilities took me to being able to run for 28 consecutive minutes.
But those black dogs were getting more and more aggressive. Maybe it was the thought of Christmas stress and anxiety, maybe it was the worry that January was approaching and months were rolling by. A depressive episode struck violently and I took myself to the GP to help deal with it. We decided to try Sertraline. And what resulted was the worst December and January in some years. A low dose did nothing, a higher dose sent me manic, and I actually ended up spraining my ankle, putting me out of action for several weeks. I had an appointment with the mental health nurse in January, and discussed the possibility of my having Cyclothymia, and she referred me to the mental health team for a fuller appointment in the hope it would be within 6 weeks (That appointment is actually next week, NHS cuts, anyone?).
So I left, grateful that there may be some explanation to my mood swings, and an explanation, to a degreee, of previous crazy behaviour, but concerned about continuing the sertraline. By now I was alternating doses each day to try and stay balanced, but what was really going on was that I felt constantly anxious about the medication. I ended up missing a dr’s appointment, and speaking to her on the phone, only to forget the possibility of cyclothymia, and to be prescribed amytriptyline. In desperation I decided to go cold turkey and quit all the medication.
And that is where the running finally came into its own.
(Now I am not recommending ANYONE quit their medication)
By now my running sessions were getting longer and I was feeling very physical benefits from running.
I say running in honesty there is a lot of walking during my sessions too. I run, walk, run, walk. This became my training plan after my sprained ankle affected my New Year training. Sometimes I run for longer, sometimes less. But I always cover distance that I commit to.
With the longer distances came the satisfaction, and physical exhaustion. I didn’t have to think. I just had to plug in to my music (And Zombies, Run! again when my windows phone smashed and was replaced with an android!)
I find that it is harder to ruminate when running. A song will interrupt, or a piece in the storyline, or the achievement of a distance. I cannot mull over things when I am physically exerting myself. It brings a peace. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it brings a “why the hell is this hurting so much? Why is this taking so long? Why can’t I be home already in the dry?” but no matter what, I keep going. Because keeping going keeps me improving.
By February I was able to cover 10 miles to the next town.
By mid March I had covered 12.
Then illness struck. A cold turned nasty and put me out of action for a fortnight. I felt the inability to run keenly. I felt agitated, anxious, and upset. I couldn’t sleep. Rumination ruled as I could do very little physically without kicking off a nasty coughing fit. Panic set in, because depression has trained me to believe in the worst possible outcome, and I nearly convinced myself I would never be able to complete the marathon. It set me back a couple of weeks, but in my head it was months.
I was overjoyed when I could get back to physical activities again, and was beyond ecstatic when I managed to complete my 18 miler training session 2 weeks ago!
My mood is more stable when I can and do run. Putting off a run rarely benefits me, and I reap the great side effects of getting out into fresh air. Even if it is just a mile or two.
With the mental health appointment on Tuesday, I almost feel like I don’t know what I will be able to say. Because physical exertion does me far more good than anti depressants do. My mood diary points to ups and downs, but the downs don’t last like they have done in recent past. They are more fleeting.
I have limited my wine consumption drastically, and that too has helped. I did plan to eliminate it completely, but I actually appreciate being able to have a glass occasionally with family and friends in a sensible, controlled way, and not wake up with a hangover and embarrassment and regrets.
Health and fitness wise I know I am better off than 2 years ago, and it is something I intend to continue with. No more marathons after this one (she says), but maybe a half here and there?
I got angry today reading an article in The Guardian by a woman scorning other women who say they are losing weight for health. For me, it is absolutely true. I want to run faster and more efficiently with less effort! Losing extra mass will help that, without a doubt, it’s basic science! But a knock on effect is that my mental health is improving as a result of getting better at running!
In 6 months I have gone from a few metres to over 18 miles. In 2 weeks it will be over 26.2 miles. OK, I’m not running them all. But damn it I am running more than I ever did before 2014 and that is something to cheer and celebrate!