Earlier this year, after many years of suffering with the condition I was diagnosed with depression. It came as little surprise to me, I had been suffering intensely with various symptoms throughout 2013 and had self-diagnosed a month beforehand, but having a medical professional agree with me and help get the ball rolling on treating it was a great relief.
My first bout of depression came as a teenager, I would constantly withdraw myself from social situations, sitting in a dark room by myself pretending to study, when I was just hiding from others. I even had a ‘secret bench’ in the town where I could sit for hours out of view from everyone. The second bout began in 2013 and combined with the Anxiety, Stress and Insomnia I was suffering at the time it began to take over my life. Last year was a horrific year for Jenny and her health, hospitalised numerous times for skin infections, including a very scary case of Eczema Herpeticum in June, MRSA, and a mini stroke in August. As her partner and caregiver the pressure of having to keep Jenny fed, keep her sane, keep the house clean as well as working a full time job and spending any spare time I had running all over the county and raising money for charity became too much. Eventually something had to break, and unfortunately for me it was my mental health.
With everything that was going on at the time the stress at work became too much, I would have to force myself out of bed every morning, knowing I had to go in as one of us had to work. I could feel the tension headaches building, smell and taste the blood before the nosebleeds started. I’d lose the ability to concentrate and find myself staring at my computer screen for 15-20 minutes at a time unable to focus on any of the letters on the screen. Every night I would go home and lay wide awake until the early hours of the morning, getting 2, maybe 3 hours sleep before the cycle repeated. As I laid there, unable to sleep my mind couldn’t help itself but to run through the events of the previous day, events I would begin to get stressed about all over again and the headaches and nosebleeds would return. The memory loss was the biggest worry, I’ve always been a bit forgetful but this was happening everyday, I’d constantly be walking into rooms and forgetting why the minute I stepped through the door.
As time wore on the symptoms intensified and I would go from breaking down in tears a couple of times a week, to every day until it reached a point where I was breaking down several times each day. I was hiding it all from those around me, my family had no clue what was going on, Jenny only knew snippets and the energy it took to appear ‘normal’ in front of everyone was only draining me more.
It all came to a head when I had two very public breakdowns in the space of a few weeks. The first came at my work’s Christmas Party, after the traditional trip to the Curry House we moved on to a nearby bar and it was then the anxiety began to build. At high school (and even to this day) I would look for ways out of social occasions, until it reached a stage where I was no longer invited. In it’s simplest form I don’t like being around people, particularly drunk people and especially these type of drunk people. That evening, from the minute I walked through the door I was already looking for an escape, I could feel the pressure building up inside until eventually I bolted out of the bar and sat sobbing in the street. Once I’d managed to get my shit together I continued home without turning back or saying goodbye to anyone.
The second came on the way back to Lincoln after being at my parent’s house over Christmas. I could feel the tension building with each mile I got closer to home, the brief time I spent away from Lincoln over Christmas was a reprieve from all the stress and anxiety and driving back felt like driving into the eye of a storm. It felt like my depression belonged in a physical place, whilst it was still very much with me wherever I went, the cause of most of my issues all stemmed from there. As the miles ticked down I could feel the control of my emotions slipping, until I took the last turn and 20 minutes or so from home I ended up having to pull into a service station and started breaking down.
It is perhaps no coincidence that it all began to to get more intense as my 1000km Challenge was drawing to a close. Whether it was simply a case of anxiety over the void it would leave or because I was no longer able to distract myself from Jenny’s ongoing health battles, or most likely a combination of the two. I would often spend my evenings scouring the internet for races to fill my weekends with, or ways of raising awareness but when this went away there was little to replace it with. I remember lying in bed, wide awake at some ridiculously early hour of the morning, my insomnia keeping from sleeping yet again and I began typing all my symptoms into Google. I kept coming across the same answer, Depression. I guess I already knew what was wrong with me, but seeing it there in black and white felt different. Whilst it was just in my head I felt like it could be dismissed, that it was something that wasn’t real, something that would disappear and I just needed to stop being so miserable.
Being able to label what it was, was a huge relief. When I began to look into the symptoms in more detail I found I could put a tick next to practically every box. The stress, the tension headaches, nosebleeds, tetchiness, inability to sleep, the social anxiety, memory loss, inability to concentrate, feeling trapped and constantly overwhelmed, all of it could be explained by the fact I was suffering with depression. Even my general intolerance of others to some degree.
Several weeks passed until I plucked up the courage and arranged an appointment with my GP. They went through the motions of offering me anti depressants, but having heard one too many horror stories I declined, before asking whether I had any thoughts of self harm/suicide. My response was to lie and say no before they then gave me the details of the local Cognitive Behavioural Therapy clinic. When I say I lied, I never had any thoughts I would act upon, I guess I have my low pain threshold to thank for that, but on a handful of occasions I did have a few dark moments. Moments where I would be walking down the street and would get the urge to stick a leg/a part of me out in front of a car, for a release, a respite from the misery I was going through. Hair pulling is my main thing, anytime I felt like screaming or punching something I would grab a clump of hair and pull as hard as I can without ripping any out.
When I began to tell those I around me I was met with the ignorance that so many before me have faced. Being told you need to ‘man up’ and that it was a personal weakness is about as helpful and welcome as a kick in the balls. The hoops I had to jump through to try and get some professional medical assistance only seemed to exacerbate the condition. The struggle of picking up the phone and admitting you need help felt like a massive step, only for it to be followed up by one cancelled appointment after another. I soon realised that I couldn’t rely on anyone else to get me out of it.
After failing to get any professional help, I took matters into my own hands and began looking for ways to remove the negative impacts on my life. When I was looking for places to go to University 8 years ago Lincoln appealed to me primarily because of its size, I was honestly drawn to it because it was a small city and in theory therefore had less people to annoy me. Seven years on and I had outgrown it, having never particularly grown attached to the place and with nothing keeping me there I began looking for a fresh start in a new job and a new city. Whilst I began to feel positive about taking steps to improve my situation, it momentarily invited more stress and anxiety into my life. Somewhere out there exists a 5 second video interview of me sat in front of my laptop in my pants and a shirt, looking up at the camera before saying ‘Oh, Fuck!’ slamming the lid shut and running away as I felt another breakdown coming. I had spent all day putting off recording the video interview, working myself up until I opted to record it at the last minute when I was at my least mentally stable.
I soon found a great job and in May I moved t’ North to Leeds and began rebuilding my life. For the most part I’m better now, the big shakeup earlier in the year appears to have given my life a refresh, although how much of this will turn out to just be a temporary distraction remains to be seen. It’s definitely still there, whilst I no longer feel the urge to crawl into a deep dark hole every day, I’ve still experienced days where I’ve felt a cloud over my head.
Over the past year I have become entrenched in the idea that running was the only thing that kept the darkness away, it was my salvation and I began trying to run further and harder in an attempt to gain back control. I discovered that if I went longer than two days without running my mood would drop significantly, I’d feel jealous at the sight of other runners and I could feel the tetchiness building the longer I went without putting on my trainers. It reached a point where the one thing I had to relief the condition was only exacerbating it. At this point of time I have a tighter grip of my need to run, but it’s still very much in control of me.
It’s not a completely negative experience though, it’s given me much more patience with others than I may have had before. I know first hand that despite what mood people may be projecting onto others, something completely different maybe happening beneath the surface. Until I suffered with the depression and everything else last year and began, eventually, to talk to others I didn’t realise how widespread the condition could be. I found out that my partner, family members and close friends had suffered with the condition to some degree in their life.
Many illnesses and conditions are widely spoken about and displayed for all to see, but I feel that their is a taboo about openly discussing mental illness. Next year I am planning on running a number of Marathons / Ultra Marathons for Mind, to help raise awareness of how many people suffer silently with their condition, to show that it can affect anyone and to raise money that can go towards helping those that need it most.
I have opened a JustGiving page and over the coming weeks I will be announcing my plans for the rest of the year, first up the Liverbird New Year’s Day marathon tomorrow morning.