Running for Mental Health

My first running event – the Waiheke 10km!

If you know me at all you’ll know I’ve never been an athletic person. It’s not entirely through lack of trying- I’m very much a ‘have a go’ person. It’s just that my brain never properly sends those co-ordination signals from my head to my limbs.

I was never the first person picked for sports teams in PE class at school, I was never going to get any sports awards and the only way to get me to run voluntarily was if you set an axe-wielding clown or maniac with a chainsaw onto chasing me.

Are you getting the picture yet? Historically, running and I have not mixed.

And yet at some point earlier this year, things changed. I enrolled in a 10km race on Waiheke despite only ever running that distance once before – two years prior on a treadmill.

I’d love to say I trained extensively but the truth is I ran approximately three kilometres, three times before struggling through the race where I remembered exactly why I don’t run. 

So naturally, I got home and signed myself up to run 21.1km in the Auckland Barfoot and Thompson Half Marathon in October.

Yes, you read that right. I’m running 21.1 kilometres from Devonport to Victoria Park with a few loops and detours on the way.

Why would I put myself through such torture, I hear you ask?

The answer is simple. I’m running to raise money for charity. Not just any charity – a charity close to my heart. I’m running as a charity hero for the Mental Health Foundation.

Suicide. It’s a big word. No one really likes to think about it, let alone talk about it.

And yet whether or not we talk about it, it happens. Far more frequently than we’d care to admit.

Recent provisional figures show New Zealand’s suicide rate has increased for the fourth year in a row. Between July 2016 and June 2017, 606 people took their own life.  Let’s just let that number sink in. Six hundred and six people – in our tiny country – decided that their lives were no longer worth living. That’s more than the number of students in a lot of schools around the country and to be honest, I find that statistic truly horrifying.

New Zealand has some of the highest suicide rates in the developed world and I refuse to sit back and accept things the way they currently are. People should not have to wait weeks on end for professional help – especially not people who actively want to die.

Depression is a dark, lonely place. Multiple emotions running through your head all at once – including, but not limited to, anger, inexplicable sadness, dread, guilt, self-hate and loathing. It’s an ongoing battle in your mind. Simply getting out of bed is an overwhelming thought, let alone having a shower and getting dressed. The negativity feels like a constant weight physically dragging you down.

I know first hand how debilitating it can be because I have been there before.  I understand how everyday tasks can become ten times harder. On a good day, I could go out and socialise. I could laugh with my friends and have fun and quiet the little nagging voice in the back of my head.

But on a bad day, simply having a shower and getting dressed was a huge accomplishment.  I didn’t know why I was sad, I just was and I was angry with myself for feeling that way. I was filled with self-doubt, convinced my friends didn’t actually like me and that no one would really care if I spoke about how I was feeling. I was scared of being told that other people had it worse, I was scared of being accused of lying and I was scared that people would judge me for how weak I felt for feeling the way I did. 

I became a master of deception. I’d go to school and try to function normally but no one knew the dark thoughts in my mind. No one knew I would come home and cry myself to sleep.

When I finally did ask for help, all my fears proved to be false. I was believed immediately and signed up to counselling.  When I eventually spoke out publicly a couple of years later, I was met with even more love and support.

Since I’ve started running, my mental health has improved significantly. Even just going for a short 10 minute jog can do wonders for clearing my mind.

It’s easy to think that ‘one person won’t make a difference’ but that’s where all the difference can be made.

So on October 29, I will take to the streets to pound the pavement for 21.1km and while I silently curse myself for putting myself through the pain and torture, I will remind myself I am one of the lucky ones. 

I was lucky to not have to wait weeks or months on end for professional help like so many do.

I’m lucky to have people surrounding me who love and support me, I have coping techniques and the ability to recognise when I’m going downhill mentally.

I count myself as lucky because I saw the light at the end of the tunnel when so many people don’t and now I want to help as many people as I can out of that dark, lonely tunnel because I know what it’s like.

I am alive – and that makes me one of the lucky ones.

Need to talk?

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions)
www.depression.org.nz – includes The Journal online help service
SPARX.org.nz –  online e-therapy tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling down, depressed or stressed