Howdy Heifers! You know what time it is?? It's time for another AMAZING Guest Blog post from everyone's favorite HE(ifer)....Brett.... Without further adieu.... I present to you:
THE ROAD BACK
‘The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and found their way out of these depths’. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
A few nights ago I managed to get out for my first run since I was struck down with the lurgi. The lurgi makes it sound somehow easier to deal with. In reality an inflamed lung, chest infection and Influenza B has been bloody awful; however the physical effects have hit me less than the mental. Today’s blog is a direct result of ‘being hit.' A freight train has come through my life and hit me full on.
Depression and anxiety are a multifaceted beast. They're chameleon-like. They have the ability to stay dormant for years and will reappear when the conditions are right. I’ve watched plenty of sci-fi films so I know how these things work. One drop of rain and boom, the lizards in the mud appear.
As I lay on the hospital bed I knew the road back would be tough. Never did I imagine just how tough and that every minute, of every day, would become an effort. An effort that would lead me to remind myself of the reasons why Relentless Forward Progress (a fantastic book) would mean more than words on pages ever could.
So what’s really happening? Well I know I am being made redundant at work. I’m a teacher but my subject is in decline so Design and Technology jobs are in short supply. My boss is proving incredibly difficult to work with. I’m too ill to run the distances I would like – I’ve managed one short run in the last three weeks and like most people I also have the inevitable pressures of life.
Like so many people I meet, running is a big, big remedy for anxiety and depression. Why? I honestly don’t know. All I can say is how I feel when I’m out which is free and when I’m finished is invincible. Running is just me, the road, the weather, the trainers, the form, the concentration, the music, the achievement, the isolation, the camaraderie. If I could bottle why running works for me I would. I’d stockpile a massive supply and keep it for a rainy day – like today.
Three days ago I set off for my first run. I picked a downhill course with a car waiting at my destination which I would then drive back. It’s a route I’ve run before so I knew the distance; I knew it was an easy run. I started and although I was incredibly apprehensive I quickly started to enjoy the sense of freedom as my troubles started to dissipate. As the run continued my mood lifted. At three miles I started to feel my lack of fitness kicking in, or moreover my illness started to make its presence felt however I pushed on, albeit a little more slowly. At 3.8 miles I arrived at my destination. I’d survived. I hadn’t needed to stop. Technically I’d even hit a decent pace but to be entirely it’s all irrelevant. What matters is that every step I took a little bit of me came back.
I need to get out running again. But I need to get well. To get well I need to get running. Catch 22. I know that’s not entirely true. I need to get better asthma medication – the illness has aggravated the condition to a whole new level and I need to live somewhere significantly warmer. Every UK runner is now saying amen to that or tru dat depending on how street they are feeling.
Running does something to my head. A good thing. But like running I am also acutely aware that I must do something for my head. There are pressures I put on myself; to be in a certain position in my career, to drive a certain car. However these things do not define me. As I taught a lesson today I reveled in the fact that the children in my care were enjoying my lesson, enjoying the interaction and learning about my subject.
I once said in a blog that I try not to worry about anything that, if a result of my worrying will not change. I don’t know what I will be doing in September when the new school year starts. But will worrying about it make me feel better? No.
I know my health will return. I know I will start running regularly again. I know my mental health, for now, will be a struggle. I know I will repeat ‘Relentless Forward Progress’.
‘The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself – the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us - that’s where it’s at’. Jesse Owens
‘Suicide is painless,
it brings on many changes,
and you can take or leave it if you please.'
It’s very rare I re-read my blogs. What’s in my head comes out, like a free flow. They are rarely planned and any planning that does happen is always during a run. However, after I’d written ‘The road back’ I knew something wasn’t quite right. There was a niggling doubt, a scratch behind the eyes; a sign that something extra was trying to get out. Something altogether deeper.
I often get comments saying I’m brave in what I write. Although the comments are lovely honestly I’m not. I’m just as scared as the next person. ‘The road back’ wasn’t what I wanted it to be because, on the day of writing, the fear took hold. Today the sun is literally and metaphorically shining. Today I have the strength to write.
‘Suicide is painless’ was written by Johnny Mandel. It became the theme tune to M.A.S.H. Johnny was 14 when he wrote the song. I remember hearing the song as a child lying in bed as my parents watched the iconic show in the lounge downstairs. Looking back now, knowing what I know I have to say what kind of 14 year old writes a song about suicide? The answer to me seems clear. I think a lot would, if they could. My ‘suicide head’ started about that time.
I work in a school. I work with a lot of 11-16 year olds. I see anxiety and depression all the time and what I don’t see is somebody wiling to say ‘it’s okay, you can talk about it openly’. If a 14 year old can write a song about suicide back in the 1970’s why then can’t we talk about anxiety, depression and suicide now? Is it the religious connotations? Is it that by discussing suicide we have to accept the existence of the ultimate demon? Is it simply because to do so simply hurts to damn much?
Whatever the reason I’m now 47 and this my time. Many years ago my friend committed suicide. I’ve mentioned him in a previous blog. For him it was a choice. When the pain of living with his head simply became too much he chose to take control. Perhaps that’s what suicide is to some. Control. I will choose to make the decision. I will choose to take that path. When I think of how dark things have become for me at times I can’t deny I too have seen suicide as an option, a choice, a method to stop the perpetual noise. Imagine walking along a mountain ridge. On one side you have calm, on the other ultimate chaos. Imagine walking along that ridge every day with only brief moments of respite. It’s the itch you can’t scratch.
Except I can.
I managed to get out for another run at the weekend. It had been snowing heavily; we’re talking a good 4 inches. I layered up, got out the trail shoes and ventured out. It was a repeat of the first run post illness. Although this one felt different as I was just that bit stronger. Just that bit more confident that my body would respond, even in the harsh conditions.
Within minutes I settled into the run and the transformation that happens every single time I run happened. That’s the best way I can describe it. A transformation. Every step I take I feel suicide recedes, just one step. It can’t keep up. I say it because it has a presence, it has a sense of being, it has a life force of its own. Yes, it’s malevolence scares me because I know it won’t go away. Not completely. It drifts way back into fleeting consciousness only to return when life gets just too damn hard. But when I run an energy courses through me and shouts screw you I can do anything. Inwardly I shout this is worth living for. This sense of overwhelming freedom from everything that brings me down.
I have no desire to let the beast win. I honestly believe I am here for a reason. I’ve been told my writing is a gift. It’s a gift I will pass on by writing in the most honest way I can. However, my gift is also a curse. The same head that allows me to write as I do rarely lets me rest. Unless I run.
Suicide can’t run as fast as me. Even when I plod.
If in doubt. Run.
ABOUT BRETT: Brett is a father, a teacher, a runner. He completed his first triathlon at the tender age of 17 and has gone on to run every distance from sprint mile to marathon and aims to complete his first ultra marathon in 2018 at the not so tender age of 47.
He is open about his battle with mental health and since hitting rock bottom 8 years ago has been on what he would describe as being a life changing journey ever since. He is a firm believer that through sharing and support anything is possible and that above all else we must strive to de-stigmatise mental health.
You can follow Brett on Twitter HERE.