I have always been a perfectionist, strived for success, described as an over achiever and so on and so forth; traits that meant that I fell from a high height when depression hit me full force in 2012. In some ways I was lucky, as it did not come out of nowhere, or with no explanation as some poor soul’s experience.
Sadly, my Dad had lost his battle to cancer after a good old two-year fight, and I was in a stressful work environment at the time, so the two elements coupled together meant that I very quickly slid into a dark, numb place. I battled my mind for a year before I finally admitted that I was not coping, put my hands in the air and cried, a lot.
My desperation poured from me as I sat in my GP’s surgery waiting to be carted off to the mad house. Of course, this didn’t happen, I was referred to bereavement counselling and prescribed the usual pills for thrills which I hated, as at that point I had a mindset that taking drugs and crying was just weakness – a hangover from the stoic parenting of my Dad who maintained a cheery outlook and stiff upper lip practically until the day he died bless him.
Depression was a surprise to me. I was always one of those people that thought mental health, stress and depression were a load of bollox and people just needed to man up and get on with it. Dad and I used to use the inverted commas fingers sign over our heads when we said the words “I’m so stressed” and laugh. Good Lord, if he could see or hear me now!
The weird thing was, the diagnosis I could kind of accept as I knew I wasn’t right in myself, it was all the add-on’s that annoyed me the most about the big D. I found myself feeling unworthy, lacking hope, like a failure, with low self-esteem. Like I could not and would never again cope with any amount of stress in my life and would always shy away from tough situations or challenges. I was not me and I could not harness my old beliefs at all; I could not reach the happy me and this just made me even sadder.
My counselling sessions helped to a degree and the medication took the edge off the emotional rollercoaster I was on, but recovery was a long slow process and elements of my negative self-chat existed daily and still do. I still find some social and professional situations uncomfortable such as large groups or meetings where I feel that I am being questioned under pressure, like I might expose myself for being incompetent in some way, like I am not credible or qualified, or people will find out I am a fraud. I used to be that annoying positive person that completely believed in every way that if you put your mind to something, you could achieve anything. I had no experience other than this to go on as this mindset had always worked for me before. I reached a point where I needed something to help me believe in my mind again.
Just as things were moving in the right direction, I decided to embark on the journey that is getting pregnant in your late thirties. That threw in a couple of curve balls, namely miscarriages, and suddenly it seemed I was failing at becoming a Mum too. Not only was my mind fucked, I now felt like my body could not do the one thing that all women could surely be able to do with ease, conceive and give birth; thanks a lot universe.
I needed something to help get me out of the mental and physical funk. I needed a challenge, something which I could train for, that was within my physical capabilities but also one that I knew would require some mental grit as well. Having gone through two miscarriages and three surgical procedures, I was feeling a little delicate and did not have the physical or mental energy to engage with a full on training program or event like a tough mudder or marathon so I scouted around and then I saw it; The Isle of Wight 106km Challenge. Run, walk or crawl the advert said, I can do two out of three of those, I’m in. I signed up that day and then looked at my calendar which gave me seven months to train for the event.
I looked around the internet for any results from the previous years or similar events and then it dawned on me that I would be walking for over 24 hours, through the day and night circumnavigating the Isle of Wight. It’s only walking I thought, I can do that, and so training began.
Luckily, my good friend Laura said that she wanted to join me on my challenge and thank god she did. I would never have made it round the isle without her pushing me on. We started at 8.30am on the Saturday all bright and bushy tailed and then the night drew in and at 10.30pm we made the half way mark. We felt, good, well, okay, or maybe it was more optimistic, I am not sure. We cracked on into the night and then dawn. Weirdly sunrise at the 77km mark was at 6.06am, the exact time my Dad exhaled his last breath. We stood at the top of the Rye rest stop and cried. Our feet were blistered, our toe nails were bruised and bleeding, we were exhausted from walking for 22 hours non stop on some pretty tough terrain and we still had 29km to go. That for most people averaging 5km per hour is another 6 – 7 hours more walking. That is nearly another days hike to give it perspective – ugh.
We tromped on feeling less energetic and a little quiet, desperate to reach the finish point. The 90km food stop was nearing and we were almost at breaking point. Laura suffers with a painful foot condition called Plantar facillitis and was in a lot of pain at this point. I had blood coming through my trainers but could not give up when we so close to the finish line.
We steeled ourselves and headed out. God those first few steps after being sat down for 10 minutes discussing should we go on or give up, hurt. We tagged onto another group of walkers and with all of us moaning away about how much we all hurt, we stomped on. Six hours later, we headed up our final hill to the event site and finish line. We all joined hands and ran to the finish, hugging each other and enjoying the final adrenaline rush of the event clutching our finishers medals.
We found out from officials that 536 people started the challenge on Saturday morning, only 374 managed to finish and cross the line on Sunday afternoon. That gave us some perspective on what we had just achieved.
What’s interesting is that the thing which helped my recovery the most and made me believe in myself again was not talk therapy or pills to stave off the mad chat. It was a physical challenge that required me to knuckle down and focus. Finish, get over the line, get it done. Proof that I could achieve something with this mad mind and broken body of mine.
That challenge was over nearly four years ago now and I still use it as a testament to my mental steel in times of self-doubt or criticism. I draw on the strength of mind that powered us through the challenge. The one which did not allow us to give up, down tools and go home.
Even though my body felt broken after the challenge and it took weeks for my feet to recover, I could not have felt stronger mentally than I did after crossing that finish line. I now sign up for challenges that not only test my physical ability, but ones which test my mental strength to.
I use the challenges to prove to myself that I can, I will and that I will not give up, even on the days when my mind tells me that I am a crock of shit, a failure, a fraud.
Since completing the Isle of Wight Challenge (and finally having our little boy) we have taken on the Women V Cancer Ride the night challenge (67 miles round London through the night), and the Pier to Pier swim in Bournemouth two weeks ago in Bournemouth The swim scared me the most as I hate sea swimming and seaweed (plus sharks, jelly fish, tentacles of any sort, anything that is floating in the water, and the taste of salt in my mouth – aargghh!).
Despite feeling the fear and not wanting to go anywhere near the sea to swim, I knew that I had the power (visualise He-Man here please), to don my wetsuit on the day, do a really bad run into the water, followed by a shit dive type thing, probably lose my goggles and swim cap in the first 10 metres, and then crack on and swim the distance.
Recreating self belief in my mind and body has been a big part of my recovery from depression and I will continue to gather my comrades and get over the finish line. I will do it because I tell myself that I can and I also know that achieving these little physical hurdles for me is the antidote to my daily self doubt and mad mind chat that sometimes finds me slumped on the sofa wondering what the hell it is all about. I can look at my event medals and the photos of me and my BAM team on the day and say to myself “Yes. You. Can.” And that ladies is the best therapy of all.
To your bad ass