Blog: Time to be me…
Blog: Time to be me…

It’s time to confess I’m a fraud – the person you all think you see, the things you think I do – they aren’t the reality of me, who I am, how I live.

What I think and feel inside is very different to the person you see in hundreds and thousands of selfies. I’m not a big one for sharing the real me, the truth behind the facade, it’s taken years of practice to hide the real me, only letting out snippets and for a long time this has felt the best way to be. A safe place to hide. But lately I can’t hide it any more. Lately things haven’t gone so well. Lately I’ve felt a call to finally be me.

Since I was 12 years old I’ve experienced depression, not all the time and at varying degrees of severity. Sometimes it has taken me to the very edge of life itself and I’ve worked hard in many different ways to try and come through it. Find ways to cope with it. Find ways to live my life to the best it can be. Happiness is something we’re all taught to seek out at all costs. But recently I’ve begun to understand we can’t be happy all of the time. The phrase “it’s okay not be okay” has to be embraced. It doesn’t mean trying to force yourself out of that position. It means learning to live with all the emotions life throws at you.

I’m starting my journey again. Learning new skills. New ways of being. It’s not easy and I’m not comfortable with it. But I’m trying. On the most recent downward spiral the first thing that fell away was running. I completed my first every ultra – Race to the Stones – 100km over two days with my running family Danny and Jules. We smashed it. Went through the pain. The agony. The mental challenges – but finished running, smiling and with a few tears. We made new friends on route and shared experiences that will stay with us forever. Without doubt the highlight of my running journey so far.

But afterwards I was tired. Physically and mentally. We put so much in, it isn’t surprising it took so much out. Stupidly I’d entered a marathon just 4 weeks later and as the day approached I knew I couldn’t do it. The pressure of that feeling, the painful realisation that actually everything wasn’t okay – combined with the pressures of life outside of running started to cause my carefully constructed world to unravel. Downgrading from the marathon to the half seemed a simple step, not as simple as going to my GP to ask for help. Not as simple as confessing to my wife and my best friend that I wasn’t coping anymore. But the two things collided and following the weekend of Salisbury Half Marathon I didn’t run a step for a month.

When I returned to running – a short 3km around Mote Park, I found my legs were rested and felt strong. My lungs didn’t feel quite the same and my mind was still playing tricks on me. Since then I’ve tried some longer runs with friends and without. I’ve managed a 5k run around Mote Park without stopping and this weekend I returned to Maidstone parkrun for the first time as a runner in 2 months.

When I can’t cope with life around me the first thing I do is withdraw. If I can’t withdraw then I fix that smile to my face and become the best actor in the world. Talking about other people is far easier than talking about yourself. No one ever looks past the response of ‘I’m fine’ to the question of ‘how are you?’.

Why though am I suddenly sharing the truth? On Thursday night I went to an event organised by the Kent Sports Trust about how sport changes lives. So many inspirational speakers, sharing their journeys. Reminding us all we have a journey and chance to inspire others. People often tell me I’m an inspiration. I did go from over 18 stone to where I am now – I run marathons, I take selfies, I like to encourage others to run and enjoy themselves. Not for times or glory but for fun and friendship. But I do it all the time knowing I’m hiding the truth about myself. I don’t feel inspirational, I don’t feel like I’m deserving of any praise. By helping others I’m actually doing my best to try and hide anyone from looking deep enough to see me.

My absolute hero is Dame Kelly Holmes. When you hear her speak so openly about her demons, her past struggle with depression, with self-harm, the journey she took. It resonates so deeply inside of me. I’m no Olympian but that feeling of isolation, of despair, of self-loathing is one I recognise and relate to. The fact she can talk so openly about it is something I’ve aspired to and felt too afraid to do. What if alarm bells ring so loudly….will the risks be worth the results? I’m about to find out!

I want to encourage others to run. To look after themselves. To find that space in life that running gives me. My mind disappears into nothingness. Only when I run do the voices in my head stop talking. The questions about work, about money, about when to tidy the house, who’s done the laundry, have we enough volunteers for parkrun, what’s happening on Facebook…..running is my solace.

It took me from someone losing weight, to someone who’s lost weight. To someone who can achieve a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon, a marathon, an ultra. Someone who can find freedom in that space and who also found friendship. People I could start to open up with – as frankly if I can poo myself mid-run with you then I can tell you I cry myself to sleep at night.

At the moment I want to try and keep running, I’ve got Royal Parks Half shortly, then Beachy Head marathon – then who knows what around the corner. But I know it isn’t easy. People say the hardest step is that first step out the door. It can be. But actually they can all be hard. They can all feel impossible. Even when you finish it doesn’t have to be this great cathartic, spiritual experience. Running sometimes does suck! But that ability to keep trying. To keep going. To find friends who will go with you. Who will walk when you want to walk. Wait when you’re lagging behind. Realise you need to stop to take a selfie as otherwise you’ll die any moment. Those people who won’t ask you how fast you ran, or judge you because you can’t stick to a training plan.

But also to find those who are experienced runners. Who have that ability to crash through the self-imposed barriers. Who break their PBs, win those races, strive to be better, faster, fitter. But still – some days just turn up and run for fun, alongside you and your slightly podgy, sweaty, struggling body. That’s what makes it worthwhile. That’s what tells you – actually it could all be okay, because yes it IS okay not be okay, in running and in life.