Running with the Black Dog – Pt.2


Hello again and thank you if you’re reading on from the previous post.

I’ll try to make this post a little happier than the previous one, but it very hard to inject humour into what is essentially difficult subject matter; thing is I may be depressed, but I am the same person, whether I’m laughing or not. Anyway, without further ado, I will carry on from where I left off 🙂

After all the business that happened with my employer, I had the opportunity to leave York. This, at the time, was just what I needed as I could escape all the finger-pointing and judging from narrow-minded people that barely knew me. And when I found out exactly where I would be moving to, I jumped at the chance!
Don’t get me wrong, I loved York and still do, but I had no real ties to it apart from my younger broseph and his family, but there were too many bad memories for me there now. I know, running away doesn’t abolish said memories as they follow you everywhere, but it was the chance of a fresh start for me, albeit not necessarily in the best circumstances.

Briefly: I’d met somebody on the interwebs (as you do) and I started seeing her every weekend, travelling down. She unfortunately became pregnant very early on so I felt obliged to stay with her and move down to North Wales. At the time I did not want or need a child in my life as I was hardly ready for that upheaval, but life has a way of dishing out circumstances that are beyond your control.
We were as different as chalk and cheese and again, I was in a position that I wasn’t happy with, but I had a beautiful little girl.
A few years later, I made the absolutely gut-wrenching decision to leave, as the relationship was again destructive, and we had nothing in common apart from the ability to shout at each other. This would be having a very detrimental affect on my daughter as all I saw when I grew up was my Mum and whomever she was with at the time at each others throats, so I refused to let my daughter go through the same.
I suffered with massive attacks of guilt for leaving, but I knew deep-down it was the best thing to do and eventually things settled down and I started to settle into being single again.
I’m happy to say that now, my ex-partner and I have a good relationship, I have a wonderful seven year old little girl who doesn’t miss a trick (she’s clever like her Dad see 😉 ). She now also has a little brother to grow up with, something that I was very pleased about and a stable home life.

Anyway, moving on from that.

I’d had enough of being with the ‘wrong people’, as it were and I wanted to meet somebody with the same interests as myself, so I took the plunge and joined an on-line dating site. A couple of months on, this paid off. I had a date with an amazing woman, where everything was perfect and we had/have so much in common; she brought a smile to my face every time I saw her and made me feel valued, loved and cared for. Even better, I was up front about my mental illness history, and she still stayed. So I knew that I’d found a winner. Finally. I’ll never forget our second ‘date’ where I looked out of my window, and there she was looking up at me with a big smile on her face and a t-shirt that simply said ‘smile’ on it. I was made up. I realised I loved this woman so much!
I proposed to her on the Pont de l’Archeveche facing Notre Dame in Paris.

20120526142857_notre-dame20a1

I’m so happy to say that in July 2013, in the most beautiful conditions North Wales could offer, we were married.  I’d found my soul-mate. It was without doubt the happiest day of my life; I fell in love with a woman who loved me for who I was, depression and all. We honey-mooned in France, taking our road bikes with us as we are both avid cyclists and Tour de France followers. We had the best two weeks in Provence and the Alps. It was so relaxing, apart from the leg and lung-burning climbs up Mont Ventoux and Alpe D’Huez.

Here’s me at the summit of Mont Ventoux:

IMG_3364-33

And here’s me hanging-out my arse climbing Alpe D’Huez, throwing my helmet towards my wife on the bend we were camped on. It was so hot:

IMG_3704-1

Alpe D’Huez has twenty-one hairpins and is one of the biggest and liveliest spectacles during the Tour; we were lucky as this year, the peloton would be ascending twice (poor sods!) We were camped on turn four (from the top):

IMG_3849-83

We also met some fantastic people, a couple of whom we are still friends with and some lovely Spaniards across the road from us; the father of that family was soooo friendly that he made me fresh espresso a couple of mornings and lent me their moped to ride up to the top on so I could watch my wife coming up on her bike!
I have so many extremely fond memories from our honeymoon and can’t wait to go back…

IMG_3539-1
The ‘train’ enters Malaucene; it’s OK, they’re a way off I’m zoomed in! Cav sits behind the big man Griepel’s wheel, whilst Valverde sits centre, with Sky and ‘The Jensie’ extreme right.

Prior to us becoming ‘affianced’ (that word always cracks me up) I’d been seeing one of the best therapists I’d ever seen, who shall remain nameless. These were private sessions where I felt totally comfortable, and the therapist made me feel so much better about myself. He made me look at life so differently and I started to work on changing my thought patterns for the better. But I’ve also got my wife to thank for this too, as she always ‘grounded’ me and tried to help me look at things from a different perspective, often playing devil’s advocate, so I could see both sides to any argument; I used to be so stubbornly rigid with how I thought, never any ‘middle-ground’. This has really helped me and I’m now much more pragmatic about things and although I do still have a short temper (read: tantrums 🙂 ), it is nothing like it used to be. I am so much calmer these days. Here’s why I think that is: running.

“Oh bloody hell, finally” I hear the runners amongst you grumble 🙂

I’d always been a runner, but more so a road cyclist and whilst I still had a 30″ waist in 2007, I was quite nifty on my feet. But cycling always came first back then. But now, it’s the other way around. My waist, I’m glad to say, is only two inches larger.

I knew that exercise was and is one of the best ways to keep the black dog at bay, so around two years ago, I took up running again, after my back had settled itself from a previous, painful spasm.
Initially, I only ran two or three times a week, but as I became more ‘addicted’ to it, my mileage and runs increased, but I can’t say I ever got any faster; I just enjoyed plodding, but I wasn’t slow by any means.
My runs also took me into the mountains. This was a natural progression for me as I’ve been roaming the hills of the UK for a long time now with a heavy rucksack, so it seemed right that I should run in them, with a very light running vest instead, and hill walkers could now look at me and assume I was a little crazy to be doing what I did. I’ve had so many amusing comments! Like “There’s a therapist at the top of the hill, if you want to see him”; I did think it was funny, but if only that guy knew!
Fell running is very hard, no doubt about that, so you have to be a little bit ‘special’ to want to do it, but that feeling of going fast(ish) and light in the mountains, skipping over the rocks like you are some crazed Irish river-dancer, is amazing! The potential for injury is pretty high though, and I’ve had my share of hard falls, with thankfully only pride broken so far!
What I love about running in the fells is how hard I can push myself. This is one reason why it is so good for me. I’m not a quitter when it comes to physical things and I will push myself to breaking point to achieve my goals, no matter how much it hurts me. I think all runners are naturally stubborn 😀

I took part in my first proper fell race in 2014, known locally as ‘Ras Pedol Peris’ it is one of the hardest in the area and covers punishing terrain, including Snowdon for a distance of 18.5 miles. I was aiming for a sub-5 hour, and as my female friend ‘chicked me’ before the post, I made it in 4:59.22 and was quite possibly one of the hardest, physical things I’d ever done in my life, but I loved every minute! Here’s me at the start, all smiles:

pedolperisstartjpg

And the finish:

pedolperisfinishA
Look at those tan-lines! Legacy of a road cyclist 🙂

After that race, I was well and truly hooked on running. But me being me, I kept on running without thought, structure or training plan. Consequently, I got injured quite a lot and still never learnt from it. Problem was, if I couldn’t run, I’d become down again and I wasn’t always feeling up for cross-training on the bike. But over time, I would recover from these niggling, small injuries and I’d be off again.

I had two main races in 2015, the Snowdonia Trail ‘Marathon’ (it is just shy of 29 miles!) and the Snowdonia Marathon, one of the hardest road marathons in the UK, due to its amount of ascent at over 1,700 metres and the traditional, awful Welsh October weather. And again, I never had a structured training plan; I just got out and ran and when race day came, gave it the best I could. During the Trail Marathon, at mile 9 my hamstring pulled, which pissed me off no end, but thankfully, my friend had caught me up as I hobbled along so she helped to distract me by chatting (thank you 😉 ). I thought my race was over at this point, but as I kept hydrated and ate, it gradually disappeared as I chatted to a local nice chap from Caernarfon. Seeing my wife and in-laws was a major morale booster, although I felt crap for them getting cold in the rain; having support during a race is such a great help, especially mentally.

Here I am finishing that race, at just over the 5 hour mark:

trailmarathon

A few months after, I ran the road marathon, and blew pretty badly at mile eighteen as my legs, particularly my adductors (inner groin), were so badly fatigued; I was in a world of discomfort so walked a lot. S’funny really, as in training, I’d run eighteen, nineteen miles quite happily with barely any fatigue. I think I went off too fast, a classic mistake, as a good friend caught me up so we ran together but I was fuelling adequately, so who knows. But I hadn’t had a proper training plan in place and I’d been on and off with running due to ‘niggles’ prior to the event. I found the above race easier despite it being  nearly 30 miles over some very tough terrain!
I finished the road marathon in a respectable 4 hours 2 mins; it was my first road marathon, and only I would enter one as hard as this!

I’ll get back to how this helps my depression shortly, but if you’ve been reading the blog you’ll know I’m now in training for my third marathon in Edinburgh at the end of May . This time however, I have a structured training plan that I am sticking to, as I’m aiming for a 3:15 time. There’s no reason why I cannot achieve this, as it’s a flat course and training is going great so far.

So, depression and running. Since I’ve been bouncing around on my two feet, my illness has abated so much, that some days, I don’t even think it’s there at all. Sure, I’d be foolish to think otherwise, as once you have it, I believe you always have it. It’s not something you can get rid of, but something you can manage, if you know how. Think of your depression as an old friend you perhaps didn’t like and when he/she comes knocking, just do what I do, tell it to bugger off! Those feelings of loneliness, emptiness and darkness can return very quickly, if you let them; for me, over twenty years of medication hasn’t really eradicated this, but in just two years, I can honestly say, that running has and continues to do so.
The difference in me is immense and whilst yes, every  now and again, I do feel very down, usually due to external sources, e.g finances, my wife being away, injury etc. On these days, I can’t bare to see or talk to anybody, I just want to be left alone for me to sort myself out in my own way. I do have some good friends yes, but I don’t think many of them really ‘get it’; that’s no fault of theirs and I don’t blame them, depression is hard to understand.
So if I turn you down for a pint or something, it’s not you, it’s me (haha classic). My illness can make me quite a loner, but when I do go out with friends, I always enjoy it and if I see these friends out and about, I will always have a smile and a hug for them; you are all valuable to me, even if I don’t necessarily talk to you a lot 🙂

Running now is like an addiction for me; I cannot get enough of it. I think about it all the time, when I go to sleep, when I wake up.  My spirit is freed when I’m out there. But is that because I enjoy it so much, or because it kicks my black dog up the arse and gives it the Foxtrot-Oscar? Both. Just like an alcoholic relies on a drink for their fix, I too need mine, through natural, healthy methods though. It’s only in the past couple of years or so that I’ve not really been bothered by taking medication daily; it’s part of my routine. Previously I hated putting the drugs in my body, but like any other illness that cannot truly be eradicated, depression needs to be managed and I’m not ashamed to be on medication, and I’m happy to say that recently, I have been able to halve my dose! But this was more to establish if my restless legs would stop (a known side-effect), although I had been thinking about reducing for a while. It took a few days for the effects of reduction to disappear (mood swings, lack of empathy, etc) but I’m on the other side of that now and touch wood, my nightly restless legs have ran off too. Double prizes! 🙂

Although my wife has been one of the biggest sources of help for me during my battles and still is, there’s one person I have not given any credit to: MYSELF. Writing this brings tears to my eyes. Why? Well I think how I used to be, was that really me?  Did I really do all those things and make an attempt on my own life? Was I in such a low place that I felt that nothing could be my saviour? Back then, yes. My depression was all-consuming, like I was in a dark, damp hole completely alone just hoping that I could end the pain I was feeling; there was never, ever any escape. Imagine being imprisoned in a cage, and the key to that cage is just out of your reach. Can you imagine the pain and frustration you would feel when all you wanted was freedom from your suffering? Nothing can console you so you feel that to die is the only way out. Selfish yes, but until you have been there, in that awful place, you will never know what it feels like to want to do such a thing. Anger, guilt and frustration tear at you from every angle, and the teeth of the black dog bite into you and all you can do is curl up into a ball, hoping beyond hope that it will leave you alone. How can you end your own pain without forcing pain on loved ones at their loss? See the predicament? It’s impossible. And the hound keeps circling.

So, I have been my own saviour. I changed my mindset, I worked hard and still work hard to ensure that dark shadow is kept at a distance. I am not the person I used to be. I am kind, loving, caring and considerate to others and grateful to those who have helped me. I still have a ways to go, but you have to believe yourself that the key to your cage is within your reach, it really is! Depression will never leave you, don’t doubt, but you are the master of it, not the other way around. You can put that black dog in the cage that you were in and leave the key just out of its reach too (although he’d have trouble using it anyway, what with having no thumbs). Don’t be ashamed for the bad things you may do or have done, as it was your depression acting, not you. I regret some of my actions of course I do, but not others. People still don’t always understand that our brains have a chemical imbalance that may cause us to act and behave differently to others.

I’m very lucky that I live and work in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, to not have to put up with the stresses of city life or a 9-5 job. Being self-employed, whilst not always great financially, has given me the freedom that I needed to ensure that I look after myself and whilst I care for others, I will also put myself first; look after number one. Having good mental health is better than having lots of money, trust me (although, both would be nice). You may not think much of yourself, as I didn’t, but you are worth it (visions of nasty L’Oreal ads spring to mind).
Pick yourself up off the ground, dry your eyes, get outside into the world. And if you can run, I recommend you do so, as it has saved me from my many demons. Although, if you’re going long, make sure you grease your toes; blisters can be a bugger when you first start out 😉

I now have the support, care and security that I never had previously, and this has gone a long way to help me in my own journey to clarity. So if you can get support, use it, you cannot deal with it alone. Also, you are not weak. If anything, you are immensely strong for going through what you go through, as am I; I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been and ironically, it’s thanks to depression. Yes, you read me right. I’m proud of myself for coming this far and to able to thank the cause of all my pain!

I’ll leave it there I think. Just remember that you are not alone in your struggle and if you want to touch base with me, as a total stranger, then please do so and I’ll get back to you when I can.

In the mean time, I will keep on running. Long run tomorrow, then a walk in the mountains on Sunday.

Thank you so much for reading and take care of yourselves.

18. Fi, beic ac Yr Wyddfa

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Running with the Black Dog – Pt.2

  1. Just brilliant and good that your self concept has gone up by leaps and bounds. We may even have contacted each other briefly. I went up Alpes d’Huez a couple of times on the 100th tour (I’ve blogged about it somewhere), and remember hailing and waving at a few of the British contingents on the way up. What rubbish internal chemicals can do to folk, glad you got through the horrendous times.

    Where’s the last photo taken?

    1. Who knows I may have waved back at you! What a great Tour that was!

      Last pic at the top of a climb that locally is known as the ‘Drws y Coed climb’ and it looking east towards the great west face of Snowdon; it’s fantastic as you round the corner and see it 🙂

  2. Hi again, you’ve definitely made great improvements which is fantastic. Really loved to read the second installment of your life experience. Being open minded is always a wise way of seeing life and to deal with its challenges. So well done, to you and your wife for working on that. Indeed, we can always look at any given situation from different angles. Being gentle and compassionate with ourselves is always a good start.

    I note the way you always refer to depression as something that never, ever will go away once someone gets it. Please allow me to disagree with you if I may. We can always make choices. First choice: If one believes that depression is to stay for the rest of his/her life, than surely no matter what that person does it will stay, in greater or lesser degrees but it’ll be there, forever. Second choice: if one believes that it is possible to come out of depression through self-love, gratitude, mindfulness, therapeutic help, than it’s a question of time before that person sees life’s demons in a completely different way, that is from a detached perspective. You learn the skill of letting go.

    You seem to have so many things to be proud of. Focus on those. My suggestion is: try to avoid chemicals and instead love yourself, your loved ones, the things you enjoy doing. Focus on the positives of life (there is always something good, even if everything seems chaotic… again, it’s the way we see things, not the things themselves). Running may be an addiction, but it’s better than medication and keeps you fit 🙂

    Wishing you all the best, honestly.

  3. Another great post to read … And all the better for reading about the improvement in your life. Not often you will read something that genuinely puts a smile on your face but this did for me. It’s also an inspiration for me too. I have a self destructive streak a mile wide and I know it’s linked strongly with my depression and only now am I learning to understand and deal with that. It sounds to me that you’re also working along that path and you have so much to be proud of. Thanks for writing the last 2 posts, i’m sure they’ve helped you but putting things down “on paper” but if nothing else those posts have helped me put things in persepective and inspired me. Thankyou

  4. I’m glad that you found some inspiration there, Gareth. Yes I’ve worked hard but I have so much to thank my wife for as I might not be where I am today otherwise.

    Your destructive streak is hard to eradicate yes, I think only did that via therapy and changing my thought patterns but there is still an element of that there. I don’t want to pry but do you have any therapy sessions? You don’t have to answer that 😉 But if you get a good therapist, he/she can really help.

    The key is to take every day at a time, little steps and just deal with ‘life triggers’ the best you can. Write things down that may be bothering you as well as the emotions you may be feeling; this is easier said than done though, but it’ll help you put your thoughts in order, instead of a jumble in your head! Ask yourself why you may be feeling or thinking that way.

    I’m glad I have helped albeit in some small way. Like I said, if you to contact me about anything, just give me a shout.

    Take care, Gareth.

    Elt 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s