Up until Friday last week I felt fine, relaxed, at ease, almost hopeful. I was lulled into a false sense of security, believing that maybe I would be able to have a restful weekend, especially as I had done my long run on Thursday, and so I didn’t have the stress of doing that on Saturday morning. However, by about 6.30pm on Friday, I was feeling rock bottom again. It came out of nowhere, like a train erupting from a darkened tunnel, and hit me hard in the gut. I was dazed. Where had this come from, and what had caused it? Well that’s the point; it comes from nowhere, with no warning, and with an unrelenting single-mindedness. It also seems to come just at the moment when you think that things may be getting better, or when you feel you have escaped the Black Dog. As if it would let you do that.
It didn’t affect my ability to achieve the things I needed to do: short run, cooking, cleaning, washing etc. If anything it made me a slightly hyper, unable to sit still and relax for more than 10 minutes, ensuring that come Monday morning I was feeling considerably unrested. Even sleep couldn’t offer a respite, as I found myself tossing and turning, and being flooded with anxiety, struggling to keep my head above the surface, and wishing that it would just leave me alone.
In under 4 weeks time I will at last be running the London Marathon, and all of the months of training will finally be put to the test. I’ve found the last few months extremely tough, and training for a marathon has a knack of mirroring the symptoms of depression: both physical and mental. The physical sensation of legs feeling like lead, and heart hammering to escape the chest, mirrors the feelings and sensations that come with crippling anxiety and debilitating depression. Similarly the mental strain of pushing yourself to run another mile, without capitulating to the temptation of stopping and giving in, is an apt reflection of when you feel that you don’t have anything else to give mentally, and when there is nothing left in the tank, and the mental struggle has become too much and too overpowering.
For anyone who watched ITV’s This Morning today, you will have seen its main feature revolved around mental health, and involved 84 sculptures being adorned the roof of the ITV building. These statues were part of ‘Project 84’, an art installation from US street artist Mark Jenkins, to raise awareness of the fact that 84 men take their life each week in the UK. It was quite a powerful sight as I walked in to work, almost uncomfortable in its starkness, but if it gets people talking then it’s done it’s job. Sometimes you need a shock and awe approach in order to get through to people.
I have to try to remember the reasons why I’m running the Marathon. It’s not just to raise money, but to raise awareness and get people talking about mental health. In its most simplest form, it’s about trying to live in a world where as few people as possible feel like I did at 6.30pm on Friday. It’s also about trying create a society where people affected by mental illness can see another way out. 84 men taking their own lives per week in the UK is 84 too many. That figure doesn’t take into account the number of women who are driven to suicide, and those men and women from around the world.
I hate the fact that I feel the way I do. I also hate the fact that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Whilst common experience should in theory engender a sense of unity, it actually makes me feel deeply sad that this silent epidemic of poor mental health is spreading its way throughout society, and the stark truth that 84 is going to become 184 if things continue in the way they are. We must do better.
If you can donate towards my run I would be incredibly grateful, and it will make a huge difference: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/james-wiffen