It’s no secret that I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and awkwardness in social situations. I’m more than comfortable around my friends but throw a new person in to the mix and it is game over for me. It’s not that I’m rude or anything but I struggle to connect with new people so I tend to ignore them while I try to work them out first.
Depression got the better of me in my late teens and early twenties. It was probably my wife who noticed it first and started to connect the dots. When I was down I turned to bread and cheese as a comfort food. Not just a slice here or there either, at times I was eating whole loaves and blocks of cheese. She mentioned it a couple of times and then I think she started to realise and make the connection. It wasn’t until a few years later that a doctor mentioned that, with my constant insomnia as well, I was more than likely suffering from depression. I didn’t tell anyone at the time and, funnily enough, once I was told that I had depression things started to get better. I now knew why I sometimes felt down and a dark cloud hung over my head some days. I knew why I was always so negative and I could go for days on end in a mood and not wanting to talk to anyone. Slowly but surely I managed to pull myself round over a few years. Things were looking good and everything in life was suddenly going really well. But the fickle hand of fate was waiting round the corner to hit me in the face with a shovel.
What happened back in 2007 is still honestly something I still can’t bring myself to talk about to this day. Every time I do I’m immediately transported back to that point in time and those feelings I felt and, I’m not ashamed to admit, I cry every time. At the time, rather than deal with the situation at hand I buried it and continued about my daily business as if nothing had happened. Two months later I had a nervous breakdown. It was innocuous at first but gradually over a period of days I hadn’t slept. Every time I closed my eyes the same scenario was playing over and over again to the point where I didn’t want to close my eyes anymore. I literally couldn’t function. Eventually I was taken to the doctors and I explained everything that happened and I was diagnosed with having a nervous breakdown brought on by post-traumatic stress. It had been a rough time all in all as one thing after another happened during the year and I’d kept ploughing on hoping to turn a corner and not dealing with any of the issues. I’d buried them one by one as they had happened only to build myself into a frenzy inside to the point where my whole body broke down.
The doctors told me to at least talk to someone, whether that was a professional, family member or a friend. I talked to a few people that I trusted and weights were lifted as I talked about things that I’d buried in the past. How I felt when my granddad died when I was seven was an issue that constantly kept coming up. It had affected me more than I thought it had and, while I thought I’d gotten over it a long time ago, I don’t think I had really processed it and it had remained all these years unsaid.
A couple of years later I got into running. By this time my son had been born and, having put on a bit of weight, I wanted to get fit to be able to run about after him.
Running not only got me fitter but it also had a positive effect on my mental health as well. When I had something on my mind I would go out for a run and it would often resolve itself by the time I was finished. Just the fact that I was able to clear my mind probably helped me in the long run as I wasn’t thinking about certain things day and night which helped me relax. I’m in no doubt that I’ve become a better person since I started running. The moods are, on the most part, all but gone and I’m less stressed and a lot more chilled about things these days. Running has had its issues and by no means is a magic wand to resolve all issues but it’s definitely helped.
I’ve always suffered from awkwardness around new people but it’s certainly got a lot better. It’s had to really. As a run leader and committee member for DH Runners I find myself meeting and/or speaking to new people on an almost weekly basis. Whether that be via email/facebook messages (which I do find a lot easier to deal with) or face to face. I’ve met a wonderful assortment of people all with their own stories to tell. A lot of these people have become firm friends and it’s certainly expanded my social circle. I’ve also found that, when I used to have a panic attack about having to speak in group situations, I can now stand up and talk to a room of people. At a recent fundraiser I took to the stage to address everyone in the room and my oldest friend commented that in days gone by I’d be shaking and stuttering at the mere prospect of having to do something like that.
So not only has running had a positive impact on my mental health but it’s also helped me socially.
I never for one minute thought that I’d get to where I am on my running journey. I’m running marathons and meeting people who I would probably have never met had it not been for running and, hopefully, I’m becoming a positive role model for both my children in the process.
This brings me to the whole point of the post.
I recently applied for a volunteer position with England Athletics to become a Mental Health Ambassador. I was successful in my application and joined the programme, which is supported by the mental health charity Mind, in April. The social media campaign #runandtalk is running as a companion to the programme.
There’s a lot to learn as the role progresses and I’ve no doubt there will be some challenges ahead. But I’m looking forward to it.
As an advocate of running I know that running can definitely help improve your mental health.
As stated in the press release ‘We’re often told that physical activity is good for our bodies and our minds, but having a mental health problem can make it difficult to get started, for a number of reasons, ranging from negative body image, or a lack of self-esteem through to practical reasons such as having no one to go with or not knowing where to get started’
This will be where the role of the Mental Health Ambassador comes in, to provide signposts of how and where to get into running. Obviously there’s more to the role than that but I’ll take things one step at a time as I learn and grow into the role.
I’m proud to be an England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador. Providing visible support to invisible challenges.
England Athletics are signatories to the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation.
For more info on the Mental Health Ambassadors Programme please visit: