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- ‘St. Patricks Day’: How it is celebrated in Ireland and around the world
Running with a black dog – part 3 – Mountains & Realities
Running Up That (Coombe) Hill
I have been running / swimming / training for about 11 weeks now. I started from a point of zero. My exercise regime had always been the same. Feel dreadful with poor mental health, start running a bit. Feel a bit better. Miss a few runs. Get cross with myself. A promise to start properly again the next week, (whatever that meant!); then starting back at zero again. This probably caused me more frustration, than satisfaction. Caused more soreness, than delivered fitness. Given me more disappointment, than success. So why now do I now feel I can’t get through the day without any exercise?
Well, I have some ambition about it now. There is a major purpose in my life. I have a target. I have a half-marathon to run. I have an amazingly generous £1,000 raised to-date riding on it! I have people investing their time and energy and goodwill upon my ever broadening (chest and) shoulders. That is a very healthy pressure to have!!
Can I take this opportunity to say thank you so much to all of you who have so kindly sponsored me. The Matthew Elvidge Trust and all those people that will one day benefit from your kindness are extremely grateful to you for this. Please do help if you can / if you haven’t already, as there are so many people who still need our help. The main point here being that they may not know it right now…
Burnt Chip in a Gravy Boat
I have 13 miles of road waiting in Hampshire in a few weeks’ time. Do I feel physically capable of completing the event this week? Not really… after a bout of household sickness last week, a few spousal work shifts added into the weekly agenda, I have lost my routine. The change this has had is noticeable, but only to me…
When I first started swimming a day or two after being diagnosed, it was one of the hardest physical tasks I had ever undertaken. I was in a very low place. My skull felt like it was being crushed constantly, a vice-like grip constantly reminding me that I wasn’t in charge of my own being. My eyesight was framed by dark, black shadows, filtering out the peripheral world, making me stare directly, blankly, at the bleak visions in front of me. My body was spent, free from any energy, any impetus to move. I just wanted a kennel to hide in. My head and my heart were heavily bruised by the diagnosis. The pain of being told I had depression was as great as the eruption of relief I felt that a major negative factor in my life was going to be removed. I was winded by the understanding of the decisions I would have to make and the behaviours I would have to address to formulate this next step.
I now had an escape plan. My exit was clearly lit for me by a GP who would do everything he could to help me. So I had to help myself. I knew what needed to be done. I just had to throw myself into it. That first swim was pathetic. It was humiliating. A small burnt chip, half afloat in a gravy boat of cold, thick beef stock would have summed up my performance. I managed to “swim” for a very slow 15 minutes. I felt very low. I have never been a major sportsman of any ilk, but luckily have always had a natural disposition towards sport and athleticism. That night I didn’t. I was a mess. It was humbling. I couldn’t master a cohesive pattern of stroke. But I had gone to the pool. On a freezing cold winters night, I packed my towel and shorts (budgie smugglers left in the drawer, there is only so much humiliation one man can take in a night!) and walked to the swimming pool. It was a start. It was my start…
As great as exercise has made me feel, its loss is equally felt. I understand how much of a vital support post it is to my daily health now, both physical and mental. The edginess of my mood becomes spikier. That irritated tiredness returns, bites at my heels. My whole system slows down noticeably. Do I register this as the depression returning? Have I lost my battle with recovery? Do I now exist in the notorious “darkness of the bleak dark well” again? No.
Acknowledging every day feelings, thoughts and emotions is really interesting. It feels quite alien at times having to give such effort to basic thought-processes. However, it really is quite the delight being a tourist in your own mind. Knowing that I feel annoyed by something because it simply is annoying is fine. To feel down for no particular reason and knowing that it will pass shortly is a real treat! Allowing these feelings space and time in my head and being able to appreciate them for what they are is quite the reward!
Children’s Mental Health Week
Last week was Children’s’ Mental Health Week, whose Patron is HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. She has delivered a welcome speech on the need for much greater awareness in supporting the mental health of children. This message is both obvious and vital. Children aren’t consumers, they don’t find happiness in your credit card statement, and they don’t need ‘products’ to be understood. They need loving arms, fun, protection, support, three good meals a day, safety, memories and a warm, clean bed at night. Everything else is a luxury, but mostly immaterial… This isn’t always possible for the very needy, I understand this, which is why this awareness can then lead to the mental health support of all in our society, regardless of their economic standing.
I was very lucky. I was given all these basics in childhood, under very difficult and extremely testing circumstances. For my mother to bring up three boys alone after ending a very negative marriage was quite something. The stigma of divorce in the mid-Seventies was another bind for an incredibly inspiring woman. But she strode on tirelessly to provide the very best she could for her children without any child support…
Raising two children in a happy marriage, in comparatively comfortable circumstances, is testing enough!It makes me even more proud of my mother’s tremendous resilience and pragmatic approach to being dealt a very tough card so early in life. She never complained. She got on with it, because that was the upbringing and the values instilled in her by her close, loving and typically large Irish family. My brothers and I were provided with a thoughtful and loving upbringing. Luckily and incredibly she didn’t suffer any depression during those difficult years. I dread to think what the outcomes would have been for us all if she had. I am very close to my mother and I love her dearly. She is an incredible woman and I admire her enormously. (I need to tell her this more often…)
However, I did develop depression from a young age. This is why I mention it as being very important. For all of us who are parents or not, we must understand that our own and our families mental and physical health is constantly on the right side of the continuum. Life is ever changing, and with each generation, we learn more about the sciences of life and how our bodies work, or don’t. If our modern first world cultures could only keep pace in terms of understanding, we would possibly be a much healthier nation…
No Dogs Allowed
Laying my cards on the table, the last two weeks of exercise has very much been off-target. My improved new diet has suffered from the lack of exercise. There has been no swimming at all, and running was restricted to just 10 miles in total over the last two weeks. Fortunately my sleeping patterns have been good and consistent.
Does this break in my training worry me? Not really. It would have six months ago. I would be full of remorse and self-loathing, beating myself up at the failure. I see no failure now. I missed training for good reasons. I can make up for it with a good focus on the next week, and enjoy starting the process again at a much better level that I was at a few weeks back.
I climbed Mount Snowden this week with my best friend to celebrate his turning 40. This was a great way to get the legs working again and spend some time enjoying nature, walking out in the freshest of air and having some quality time to take stock of this incredible personal journey so far. The 60 mph winds, hailstones, extremely low cloud, battering rain with snow and ice making the footing extremely treacherous in places, made for an invigorating yet incredibly satisfying achievement.
The analogy of mountain climbing for mental health is obvious, but it did allow me to offer up a definition of depression. As we sat halfway up, perched on a rock above a large drop in low dense cloud, unable to see where we had been, or where we were going. Tired minds distorted by the battering of the winds, the freezing hailstones blinding our eyes, the coldness holding us back, unable to hear yourself think properly or understand the words of a good friend sat close by because of the unforgiving nature of the environment that enveloped me. Do you carry on upwards to the top and succeed, turn back without really trying to overcome the conditions, or just simply stay sat on your rock staring into the abyss? I knew that morning I would reach the top with a smile on my face. I had my best friend with me, my family expectant at home and the will to make it for myself. Not sure I could have said the same six months ago…
The challenge and satisfaction of walking 3,600ft of physical mountain was immense. It offers perspective and encouragement to confront the daily metaphorical one so many people endure each day. But whatever the mountain you or I have to climb each day, with the right professional support and talking about your feelings and illness, we can all try to ensure that there are no black dogs allowed on our life journeys!
To read more about the Matthew Elvidge Trust and the work they do click here.