I do not want to die, moreover I am actually truly terrified of dying. This is how I genuinely feel in the few lucid occasions my conscious mind very generously bestows on me, perhaps several times a month, or if I am lucky, several times a week. However, the mental illness that resides in the Presidential suite of my mind has other preferences. For example, it likes me to be solitary, to reject friends and companions. Relationships are not really its ‘thing’. It enjoys quiet evenings in – self harming, cutting is a favourite past time along with encouraging its amiable host to choke himself until he passes out. But mostly, within the media room, it projects endless visions of suicide, a bit like M Night Shyamalan’s Film ‘The Happening’ on repeat.
My name is Matt, I am 36 and have lived with (lets generalise it as no professional I have ever seen can seem to define it) ‘depression’ for 23 years. I am also an alcoholic, and for the last four years a running addict.
9 weeks ago I tried to commit suicide. This was my 5th attempt, surely a bottle of gin, 15 or so pints, 25 Diazepam and the same again of Venlafaxine would do the trick? Clearly not, I obviously have insides made of Kevlar (thankfully). After leaving hospital and having time to process what I had done, I knew that I had to do something, anything, to ensure I dont end up in this position again (this was a lucid moment!). Ive never really talked about my illness to anyone other than professionals and close family. Ive been treated with a million different pills,none of which have ever worked, so I turned to alcohol to try obliterate any thoughts of mostly anything in my head. But the one single thing that has always been able to take the pain and dark thoughts away is running. So I decided that if I could find the right platform, perhaps opening up about my illness, laying it all out there whilst sharing my passion for running, I could find something positive to concentrate on, and hopefully talk too and seek inspiration from other people who also suffer mental health issues and find solace in running. And so @running_from_the_edge on Instagram came to be.
Lets get to the good stuff, running. I started 4 years ago, at the time I was in one of my sober periods and had been body building quite seriously for about a year or so. I wanted to lose a bit of fat to get ‘cut’ as you do when bodybuilding, so I thought it might be good to have a little jog occasionally to lose some weight. I had never in my life ran before but thought it was worth a go. Well fuck me, Ive never lifted a dumbell in anger since! From my first agonising 200 yards I was hooked, I ran a bit walked a bit and within a week I could run 5k. In 3 weeks I ran 10k. I just couldnt stop, nor wanted too. I would say to myself that im going to try and run 9 miles today, and 9 miles in id be ‘well what do I need to stop for?’ and I would keep going and going!’ So after 5 weeks, I was running 13.2 miles just for sheer fun. But more than anything I discovered that whenever I ran, my mind was better, not a single bad thought ever occurred, still even now. All I am aware of is the sound of my breathing, my feet on the trail, the coolness of the breeze or the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the natural world all around that I have the fortunate gift to be a part of. Over time I ran farther and farther, Ive ran various race distances but Ultra-marathons are what its all about for me. Its hard to put into words the joy of finishing an Ultra, the journey, (cheesy) of every race is something you never forget and draws you back again and again.
Now herein is where the problem lies. Considering it wasnt so long ago I overdosed, you might say running isnt really doing that much for me if Im still depressed and having suicidal thoughts, but thats just it, the problem is when im not running, the awful thoughts come back with a vengeance. I must make clear my depression isnt circumstantial. Like anyone, I can list off things or events that have been shit over the years. Being so badly bullied at school to the point where I had to leave when I was 14, missing all my exams as I was deemed a ‘schoolphobic’ (the school wouldnt admit there was a bullying problem so turned it around to be my fault somehow!?!), discovering at 19 that my now convicted paedophile father sexually abused me until the age of four, or at 15 when I left home and was in a real mess mentally, I was given the chance of a safe haven by a support teacher from my old school, who then over the course of 6 months plied me with drugs and alcohol so her and her male friend could rape and abuse me. I could go on, but everyone goes through unfortunate periods. I dont actually ever dwell on bad things that have happened in the past or day to day issues that can make us all down at times. The feelings I have are practically always there, I describe it a similar to when you feel hunger in your belly, I have what seems like a physical feeling in my head as an urge to hurt myself (as opposed to eat something). Its so hard to explain probably hence why Ive never had a clear diagnosis. And this brings me to my alcoholism, for me it just wipes it all away, but of course before I know it im drinking daily, sometimes from morning till when I pass out at night. Then eventually the depression wins over and makes a a pleasing mixer with the alcohol and thats when I decided to have another shot at suicide. Please understand that I do have long periods of sobriety, but as the depression is still always knocking away at my head I always end up turning back to the bottle to try and make it go away, stupidly, but out of desperation.
So to the present. As of now I am 9 weeks sober and the aim really is never to drink again. It has always been remarked to me that I have some modicum of talent for running. Although I havent really been running for that long, I do think if I can apply myself properly i.e training without using alcohol as a recovery drink, that I have the ability to actually be competitive at Ultra distance races. So Ive currently got several Ultras planned for next year to look forward to and focus on and I am hoping from there I can push on to even greater, more challenging races at home and abroad in the future.
Finally, I cant stress enough how much setting up my Instagram account has been of help to me. In the 6 weeks or so since I started it I have received more help, encouragement and support than I have ever had in the 23 years Ive been ill. I dont have to wait 8 weeks for an appointment to speak to someone, or call some random on the phone at a help-line, I have at my fingertips the ability to talk to another person, from wherever they may be, at anytime of day or night, who understands what I am going through. The running community is special anyway, we all ‘get’ each other, but having discovered so many people who suffer from mental illness and use running as their escape, I finally feel there is a place for me in this world where I can be free to express my feelings without prejudice and know there are people who truly care and want to help.
So please, I promise you are not alone. We are all here for each other. Please dont be afraid to talk and suffer on your own. And whenever you are able, get outside, take in this beautiful world around you and Run4YourMind.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.