How exercise has helped me live with my mental health problems
I often ask myself when my depression started, because I was always a really happy kid.
When I was about 15, I got quite socially anxious and all of a sudden started disliking myself and comparing myself to other people way more than I should. When I was in my early 20s I just started staying in, feeling incredibly sorry for myself.
I definitely never felt normal. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I couldn’t stay happy all the time like other people around me. I tried and tried and just kept failing.
I think lifestyle had a bit to do with it for me too. I’ve always been a big drinker - I’ve always run bars and stuff – and I think I mismanaged myself for a really long time. I dealt with feeling depressed and anxious in really destructive ways.
This time last year was the first time I decided I needed to get help. I was running a place in Shoreditch, London, which was like the dream job. It was the kind of place I’d always dreamed of running, a really busy place in a cool area.
But the job was sucking the life out of me, and really sending me downhill. It was with a really heavy heart that I realised I couldn’t actually do it. I had to leave and that was my lowest point.
I came back home to my mum and sat around licking my wounds for a couple of weeks, feeling sorry for myself and feeling like a failure.
I started walking the dog every day and realised how much I love being outside. That’s when I came up with this little fantasy of walking around Great Britain, looking at the most beautiful stuff and just carrying on this feeling.
I basically didn’t give myself enough time to talk myself out of it. So many people have these ideas, and I realised the only difference between them and the people who only talk about their ideas is that they just go out and do them!
I bought a map and circled all the bits of Great Britain I’d always wanted to see. I looked at it and thought what an adventure that would be, and that was it. It was the first time I’d been excited about anything in such a long time.
I started in June in Brighton and I finished five months later in November in Stoke. The first night was horrible. It was really scary; when you’re in a tent on your own in the middle of nowhere, everything outside sounds much bigger than it is.
Only a couple of weeks into the trip I was in Dorset, and I decided to walk into the sea to get around a cliff. I’d tied my boots to my backpack, but once I got to the other side I went to get my boots and one of them had fallen off into the sea. So I lost my shoes within the first couple of weeks of this walk around Great Britain, which was really embarrassing.
The best things that happened to me were always when people were involved. As soon as people found out what I was doing, they would offer me money to eat or a place to stay. It was really special.
The whole trip was just brilliant, seriously. Every day I was so happy even though I never knew where I was going to end up. The walk gave me my confidence back, as well as a feeling of worth.
I was always going to stop for winter because it started to get really cold. I didn’t want to die in a tent! When I got back, I knew I wanted to do something even more challenging.
Coincidentally, a friend of mine had tagged me in a post on Facebook. Someone from the BBC was looking for people to take part in a documentary where people with mental health issues were going to come together and run the London marathon to raise awareness. I was really drawn to the idea of it, and now I find myself part of a big BBC One TV show, meeting royalty and preparing to run a whole 26 miles this weekend!
Running a marathon has always been a bucket list moment for me anyway, so it was a really exciting prospect. I felt like my fitness was in a good place, and that I had stuff I wanted to say, and could say, about depression.
As soon as I met everybody involved, I knew Mind Over Marathon was going to be special. It just all clicked. We all bonded on the first day in such a unique way, getting to know somebody’s darkest secrets - the bits they normally hide from other people – first. It’s a totally different way of getting to know somebody, and inevitably it’s the most powerful because there was so much respect within the group.
It has been a totally different experience from my walk, which was just me making myself better. But being part of this group for as long as six months, and to have such a strong bond, has helped me in a completely different way.
I’m trying to really enjoy it. If the whole thing makes me anxious and uncomfortable then I won’t remember how special it was. If I think about the marathon too much, I’ll start to get nervous.
I think physically I’m in alright shape. I had a bit of a scare about a month ago. I’ve got really flat feet and they’ve just taken a bit of a pounding in training. Apart from that, I feel like I’m physically ready.
Using exercise has had a real effect on me. I think I’ve realised throughout this whole experience that there’s definitely strength in numbers, and the more people I’ve spoken to, opened up with, and listened to, the more connected I’ve felt to people.
I’m just excited about the big day on Sunday - what a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As told to Nick Arnold.
Details of organisations offering information and support with mental health are available here.
Mind Over Marathon is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.