This Mess Can: on running for Mind

“How do you know that you’re right if you’re not nervous any more?” Bling, The Killers 

“…It was this spirit of optimism that inspired that first run. If my heart could survive the pummelling it had taken, my legs must surely have more to give.” Running Like A GirlAlexandra Heminsley

A friend from my very earliest blogging days who’d been riddled with all kinds of anxiety ever since she could remember said her engagement was the first time in her life she felt no self-doubt. She wrote a beautifully honest blog post the day before the wedding, quoting a lyric from Bling by The Killers:“How do you know that you’re right if you’re not nervous any more?”  I read it at the time, some eight years ago now, thinking: “Could that feeling ever happen to me? Will I ever have that kind of absolute clarity and certainty about anything?  One day, could I ever just do something without overthinking it? Will I ever be able to live in the moment, not thinking about tomorrow, next week, next year or even the next hour?” 

It happened one day. That glorious, seemingly immortal, unstoppable, unforgettable “to-hell-with-thinking-just-bloody-well-do-it” optimism. But there are certain times when unchecked happiness is more than likely to lead to unhappiness all round and I knew ultimately that this was very much one of them. After a fleeting window, my head won out. I let go of the optimism, resigned myself to never knowing it again and tried to be glad ever to have known it at all. Temporary optimism was better than none. It was more than some of the people I’ve met through work had ever known…

During my acute slump at the end of last year, I felt the worst mentally I had done since a breakdown at 19. Shocked after a second suicide, confused and anxious about many things – personal and professional – there were songs in my head I hadn’t listened to or thought about in eleven years. My mum couldn’t cope with the thought of me being that unwell again and didn’t know what to do. She sympathised, lashed out and panicked in cycles for a few days. I did much the same in return. Then, one evening as I sat slumped in a dark room facing the wrong way, she said, calmly: “You can get through this. You just need to find something positive in it.” I knew she was right. I had to. Or at least, had to try to. I can’t live with my parents forever, or be broken forever. This was do or die. Possibly literally.

And then she said: “You should run for Mind. It’ll be a nice memorial gesture to the two of them, and something for you to focus on. And such a great achievement.”

I knew of a few other writer friends-of-friends-of-friends who’d done it (like Kat Brown, whose HuffPo article on depression is on my links page and who blogged about running for a while), but never quite felt the urge to do the same. I’d run a bit before, but spirit-boosting 4Ks around the block were the most I’d ever aspired to. I thought a race would be too competitive; full of Type-A dragons and beautiful-but-boring boys. Besides, my gait and technique were iffy and had started to cause me pain so I’d stopped altogether. But as soon as my mum said those words, something rose up within me. I knew I had to. That unstoppable feeling…the one I’d thought was lost…was back.

I haven’t been so determined to do something for years, and this time, there’s nothing and no-one to stop me. I’ve looked through a soup of apps, plans and guides and tips and forums. I’ve already raised well over the minimum amount I needed to in order to run the London 10K, thanks to some lovely people. My running style has got better. I’ve started reading Alexandra Heminsley’s joyous memoir Running Like A Girl, which is like having a brilliant big sister to guide me through training – as well as open up to me about clothing mishaps, depression, apathy, broken hearts and shopping woes. When the snags cross my mind (my sleep has been awful for the best part of three months, I’m vegetarian and currently on iron tablets, I’m dyspraxic and unfamiliar crowded events make me feel idiotic, last autumn I couldn’t walk for two months after injuring my foot wearing flat sandals), it doesn’t make me think “Maybe I can’t do this…maybe I shouldn’t do this…” but “How will I get through it?”

I don’t know how. But I will…

(The London 10K is at the end of May. You can sponsor me by clicking the graphic on the right sidebar, or here)

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