My running battle with depression

When I returned to running recently, it wasn’t just about exercising my body – it was about exorcising my demons.

It was the first time I’d been running since depression dampened my desire to put one foot before the other.

It had all started so well. Back in 2009, I’d put my name down for the Jane Tomlinson 10km ‘Run For All’ in York. I trained throughout the spring and summer, and thoroughly enjoyed the event. It was a memorable occasion with great support and a wonderful atmosphere, and I surprised myself by finishing the run in less than an hour. I signed up for the next year’s run almost immediately.

I was on top form in the summer and early autumn of 2009. At work, I was managing and completing a number of challenging projects with clashing deadlines. I’d returned to acting in my village pantomime. I’d been getting by on diminished sleep for the past year after the birth of my little boy. It seemed I was invincible.

As I was to find out, the human body can only cope with constant stress for so long. One day, I stood up from my desk after being hunched over it in my own little bubble for two days, and almost passed out.

I struggled through various ailments and illnesses until December, when the headaches started and my already low mood plunged into something more sinister. The doctor diagnosed depression early in the new year. I was frazzled.

Running on empty

Despite the depression – which was still a secret to most people – I managed to keep going to work and doing my job. I even managed to go out for the odd lunchtime run, but these were few and far between, and a real effort. I did them because I felt I should and because I loathed myself if I didn’t.

One of the cruel ironies of depression is that, at a time when you have no energy, motivation or enthusiasm, exercise is apparently one of the best things for you.

I still did the Run For All that year. I felt empty – alone in the crowds, feeling numb. As I crossed the line, I felt nothing. I just wanted to know my time. Perhaps if it was better than last year’s time, I would feel some sense of achievement. I waited restlessly for the time to come through, and when it did I found it was just a few seconds slower than the previous year’s. So I had failed.

Despite the fact I had run 10km while suffering from depression, despite the fact I had raised loads of money for charity, it had been a waste of time. I wasn’t good enough.

I only ran three times the next year. I was starting to make progress and decided I would enter a 5km run to raise money for men’s cancer charities. My training was blighted by injuries, more minor illnesses and overwhelming apathy, but I still did the run, and quite enjoyed it.

That wasn’t enough to keep me running though, because the stress started building up again and then BAM! That October, depression came back with a vengeance.

Keep on running

After two rounds of counselling, I’m a little wiser.

I know that “I’m not good enough” is a damaging thought that has shaped the way I feel about myself, and I am slowly undoing the carnage it has caused.

I know that anyone who can go out for even the shortest run – or even a walk – when in the depths of depression deserves a medal.

And I know that there’s no point pushing yourself to do something when you’re not well enough to do it.

You can see why returning to running after all this was a significant psychological barrier for me. I’d pretty much decided never to bother with running again, but something made me go back to it – partly the need to get fit, but more persuasively the thought that running might help to release tension, stress and pent-up anger.

I packed up my kit, took it to work, and told myself I would go running that lunchtime. No excuses.

As soon as I got my running gear on, I realised I’d won my first battle, and from there I felt more and more positive. “I’m actually doing this,” I thought.

Powered by a rousing hip hop soundtrack, away I went. It felt fantastic – liberating and cleansing, like I was sweating out the evils of depression and stress with every step.

I ran for 20 minutes, thinking over and over “Stick this up your miserable backside, depression” – or words to that effect – and then had to stop. I felt great, apart from being barely able to breathe for nearly an hour.

I’ve been out since, will do so again tomorrow, and I’ve signed up for the York 10K next year. Just to rub depression’s ugly face in it some more, I’m going to use the run to raise money for a depression charity – my supportive friends at the Blurt Foundation.

Recovering from depression is a lot like long-distance running. It can be lonely, painful and can seem never-ending, but it’s a glorious feeling when you know the finish line is in reach.

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26 Comments on “My running battle with depression”

  1. on a whim i signed up for the bupa 10k run in london next year for mind i havent done any running in about 10 years am 5 stone overweight and smoke 40 a day!

  2. Keep up going, my depression used to occur yearly but since the help of my wonderful boyfriend and family it’s now at bay. Good luck with your 10K next year and remember – you’re not a failure.

  3. Ruth Kirk says:

    Another fantastic blog, Paul! How well you express things! I remember managing to walk across a local market square when my agoraphobia was really bad, some years ago. I knew that if I’d been an athlete in the Olympics, there would have been a cheering crown, just for the massive effort I had made, and the astonishing achievement of getting all the way to where I was aiming for. But of course, there was no one to acknowledge what I had done, except myself. Now I try to walk 10,000 paces nearly every day alone, to help manage my depression, retain some independence, and keep agoraphobia at bay.
    Anytime you need encouraging, I’ll be delighted to help support you, Love from Ruth XXXX

  4. Paul Winkler says:

    Paul, that’s a very inspiring story. Good on you for getting back on the horse and riding again, so to speak. Good luck on your next 10k!

  5. Sam says:

    I read all your articles and love this one particularly. As someone who is married to a man who has struggled with depression for the past 5 years or more – he is currently on another round of trying to beat the black dog……..I will forward this blog onto him in the hope that it will inspire/help him – I went for a run this morning, purely because it makes me feel good afterwards, not during it, or before it, but afterwards…..a sense of achievement, well done you, keep on keeping on!

  6. John says:

    Hi Paul

    Would you be interested in having this post put on http://www.talkyork.com ?

    It is an important issue and we want to cover all sorts of topics, not just local interest.

    We would obviously do a link to this blog.

    Please email me direct if you want to discuss it.

    John

  7. John says:

    Thanks Paul. We need a photo to go with the piece. Is it ok to use a photo from your site ? Maybe the pick of you with the camera around your neck. It just depends on the quality of the pics. If not we can find a pick which represents the topic.

    John

  8. Jan Wolfe says:

    Oh Paul – how that resonated with me. The apathy, the self loathing are so familiar. Reading this I realised just how bad I have been this last 6 months or more – even too apathetic to bother commenting on your blog, even too apathetic to read it. Often it is only when the clouds begin to disappear that you begin to see the murk you have been living in. Thanks for writing this – it is good to know that, whilst we are all different and suffer differently, there are many facets to depression that are common to many of us. Luckily, I have dogs who need to go out every day, so I have little choice to take that daily walk! Which is where I am going now. Keep well, Paul – I’m back on the case reading your blog again.

  9. […] the most remarkable sporting feat you’ve ever heard of, I know, but this is more than just a run for me. This is […]

  10. […] the most remarkable sporting feat you’ve ever heard of, I know, but this is more than just a run for me. This is […]

  11. […] I’m not a professional runner, or even a competitive one. The time was of no great consequence. I did this to lay ghosts to rest; to exorcise my demons. […]

  12. mizunogirl says:

    Great post. I’m battling actual depression about my training…which is a bit different, but I do see how I need ot just put my head down and grit the teeth through it and hope to come out better on the other side. This was written ages ago, so I hope things are somewhat improved at this point indeed.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thank you. I am much better now, thanks. Trying to motivate myself to run again, which always seems really hard!
      Good luck with your own battle. Sometimes just going is the hardest thing and the run itself is fine. But if you really don’t want to train, don’t best yourself up for not doing it. You might just need some down time that day instead.
      All the best
      Paul

  13. Jillian Carter says:

    I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety since I was 19 and running has helped massively over the years. I’ve done half marathons etc and always loved it. Unfortunately I’ve suffered a bad bout this last year and I’m on 225mg of effexor and running is almost impossible. I keep trying but it’s as if I can’t get my breath and have zero energy. It really does make me feel awful. Not sure whether to accept this is my depression and wait till I feel better in general or keep having a go. Does it get easier?

    • paulbrook76 says:

      I think you’ve done incredibly well to keep trying. I gave up completely for quite a while. Maybe you could go for a walk instead, just as a way of getting out and having a bit of exercise without putting pressure on yourself to run. Give it time and take things as they come.
      Jayne and Dom, who run the Blurt Foundation for people with depression, might be able to give some good advice about mental health and running. Their website is http://www.blurtitout.org
      All the best
      Paul


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