“If you told me a year ago I would be not only venturing out in minus 3 conditions, but actively enjoying a 5k run on a snowy day, I am not sure I would have believed you”
Yet here we all are, finding out what we are capable of in this new world. The past year of lockdowns, separation and stresses has been tough on us all, but I know I am not alone in having found some solace in embracing the simple joy of running. I have been on more runs in the past year than in the previous five put together, and that is no exaggeration. I have found strength and stamina I did not know I had, whilst continuing to discover new paths and routes through the many green spaces Hackney has to offer. I have also learned to appreciate the micro differences in myself and the environment with each daily repetition; shifts in the weather, the texture of the ground beneath my feet or even just my breathing.
I am not attempting to rebrand the pandemic as a positive experience, it has been incredibly awful for so many people, in unimaginable ways, especially for those suffering from Long Covid and the loss of loved ones. I also know that for many people with longstanding mental health problems, this will not be the first time they have experienced extreme anxiety around making ‘small’ daily decisions, or felt fear of the outside world and isolated from others. For myself, this past year has not been the worst of my life in terms of anxiety and depression, which happened around 5 years ago.
Serious mental illness is something that can strike at any time in a person's life, perhaps owing to a combination of genetic predisposition and a sudden life trigger, or sometimes; for no apparent reason whatsoever. For me, it came at a time when objectively, everything was going well for me.
I had loving family and friends, a relatively secure job and somewhere safe to live. Unfortunately, the chemical messages coursing through my brain did not reflect this. I could see objectively that things were going well, but emotionally, I felt terrible, awful about myself and hopeless about the future. Many well-meaning people offered me advice such as ‘You just need to change the things in your life that aren’t making you happy’ or ‘Why don’t you try x,y,z? That’s what I do when I feel sad’ which only served to make me feel worse. There was nothing I wanted to change about my life, it was fine, so what right did I have to feel depressed? As for feeling sad, the overarching emotions I experienced veered from guilt, shame and disgust to shutting down and feeling absolutely nothing at all.
I tried everything in my power to feel better, I gave up alcohol, started exercising more, eating better, limiting my screen time. I didn’t even own a smartphone. Every time I started something new I thought; this is the thing! This will be the cure! Only to find myself disappointed when soon enough the hope around this new ‘solution’ wore off and I felt worse than ever. Around this time I started to attend a mindfulness course at Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest. Mindfulness taught me some useful coping strategies for anxiety, but I also found it very difficult to sit with my low feelings, and often cried in the sessions.
I felt a little out of place, as everybody else on the course seemed to be there for work-related stress rather than depression. However, I also felt completely safe, unjudged and supported within the group, and began to work the mindfulness practices into my daily life. It was a relief to be in an environment where I could just be how I was, without feeling I needed to ‘cheer up’. This pressure had led me to withdraw from most social situations. Although I was disappointed to find once again that mindfulness wasn’t ‘THE CURE’, it was good for me to have an appointment once a week that I had to keep; to get out of the house and experience something new. After this, I signed up for a creative writing course also at MCHWF, which was revelatory for me. At this time I finally started taking antidepressants and was prescribed CBT on the NHS. Slowly but surely, I began to see small glimmers of hope again. With the help of the chemical boost of the medication, I was finally able to feel the benefit of being in a group therapeutic environment, and for the first time in what felt like years; felt proud of something; the pieces I was creating in the writing class.
I can truly say, without the support of Mind CHWF, I am not sure how I would have climbed out of the darkest point of my life, it helped me in a way I will never forget.
This is why I decided to form a team of friends, teammates and colleagues to run the Hackney Half in aid of Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest, because I want to give back to this life-saving organisation. Mind CHWF was there for me in 2015, has been there for a new wave of people struggling in the pandemic and will continue to be there for years to come, for all, without discrimination or judgement. That is what keeps me running, and keeps us going.
To find out more about how you can run in support of Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest check our our event page here