My running battle with depressionPosted: November 14, 2012
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.