Running Away

Thankfully the title is not referring to any type of literal or metaphorical escape, but is in fact a reference to my new found addiction to running. Addiction is described as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice”, and I believe it’s use in this situation is apt, although thankfully it is not a dependence of the negative variety usually associated with the term. Perhaps ‘addiction’ is too strong a word, as that implies it is an ‘unhealthy pursuit’ precipitated by a belief that you cannot live without something, and that you will go to any length for your next ‘hit’. However, there are clearly some endeavours (such as exercise) where a craving is completely advantageous, and the negative repercussions are noticeable by their absence.

It started off as a functional avocation, primarily as an attempt to lose a bit of weight and increase non-existent levels of fitness. I’ve applied for the London Marathon next year through a few mental health charities and whilst this is not directly related (as a place is not guaranteed…and besides next April is so far away), in the back of mind I thought that it would be a good idea to start some basic training to see how I would cope. The second motivation, and one which has formed a basis for many failed attempts at joining and maintaining a presence at the gym, was the widely held belief that exercise can be invaluable in managing poor mental health. Whilst it can so often be a frustrating cliché (“why don’t you go for a walk”… if only it were that simple), it is certainly a theory based on scientific fact.  Regular exercise can “release feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids) and it can reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.”

This scientific jargon is all well and good, but putting it in practice is another thing entirely. Often when you find yourself a deep depressive episode you cannot drag yourself out to the gym or the park. Even if you can manage that, finding the motivation to maintain a regular commitment to exercise can be inexorably challenging. However, once I had got through the first couple of days (nearly being sick and struggling to breathe), the effects of the running were quite intoxicating. I haven’t found the confidence yet to run outside the confines on the gym, but I find the static and contained nature of the treadmill quite reassuring. During the actual running I push myself hard, and for that period of exertion my mind can become relatively blank; the need to propel my muscles to their limits, and fight the effects of the lactic acid build up, ensuring that there is little space for any ruminations or worrying. If I’m lucky the only noise in my brain is from the music that is being pumped in from my iphone’s Spotify app.

The effects of a tough run (I’m focused only on running rather than other cardio options) can remain with you for some time afterwards. Whilst the actual exercise can be painful at times, the after effects are mildly euphoric, both in terms of a sense of achievement, but also as a physical act of reducing anxiety and increasing energy levels. Admittedly these sensations wear off within a few hours, and thus only provide a temporary relief, but that is certainly better than nothing. I have occasionally pushed myself too hard, especially considering I’ve only been immersed in the exercise for a couple of weeks, and this can lead to some physical difficulties afterwards. But that is something I hope I will learn to curb over time.

Whether this is a pursuit I will be able to maintain, and whether the concept of achieving a regular attendance (let alone running a marathon) is all but a pipe dream, only time will tell. I’m sure there will be times that I cannot motivate myself to leave the flat, or when my mind is too frazzled to even comprehend a trip the gym. But like depression in general, this is a hurdle to overcome, and the difficult first step has been taken. The Black Dog revels in keeping you weighed down in lethargy and inactivity, so if this can present an opportunity to get one over on the old adversary, then I hope my running shoes will be called into action for a long while yet.

Brutal Truths

A short post today as I am struggling for inspiration and also the energy (both physical and mental) to conjure up any lucid and meaningful thoughts. I’m very conscious of not wanting to repeat what I’ve said in previous posts, but sadly the repetitiveness of the depression ensure that every day the same thoughts and feelings surface, almost predictably on time, and with no regard for how they will affect the already fragile mind. It feels as though you are stuck in quicksand, and the effort of lifting a leg out is irrefutably exhausting, and also utterly pointless, as your next step results in being pulled back down once again into the mire.

My determination to do the right thing is unwavering, and I fulfill all of the suggested techniques, modes of thinking and action, possible distractions and potentially positive pursuits of my time, but to no avail. Any occasional relief is temporary, and a self imposed (and circumstance imposed) sense of isolation and its subsequent feeling of ‘friendlessness’, precipitates a disconnect from reality and from the fundamental human emotions and ideals. A contradictory factor of depression is that you can often not even feel sadness, frustration, or any feeling at all, as you seem to become a emotionless shadow of your formal self.

Exercise has become an important force for distraction, and also mental clarity. Not only does it provide a temporary euphoric glow as a result of pushing your body to it’s limits, but it also produces the thought that you are doing something positive, albeit for the very briefest of moments. When engaged in this physical activity, you have little time or energy to think of anything else, and this short term relief (matched only by dreamless sleep) is like a drug, the resulting high something that you cling onto, but which sadly fades away once the exercise ends.

I think the most damaging aspect of my mindset is that I spend much of my time thinking how I can gain the approval and affection of other people, or what I can do to ensure that people realise that I’m reaching out or wanting to gain solace in their friendship, rather than thinking of how I can treat myself better. I tend to put my own wellbeing to the back of the queue, and I guess this is also due to my self imposed low opinion of both my worth and also of my value as a person. I begrudgingly concede that the only way to help myself is to take more care of my own health, and to prioritise my own wellbeing above all else, as only then will I be in a suitable position, and have the necessary levels of strength, to finally free myself from the quicksand altogether. But alas, the irony of this supposed truth, is that I cannot do that alone.