Running, mental health and a graph

17th January 2019

I started writing about Action Cures to talk about, and remind myself, that the cure for depression is action.

By filling my mind and body with good, positive actions, I believe I can crowd out the negativity which, like rain water in a fissure, finds its way in and starts breaking up its host (i.e. Me).

Following a week of ups and down it’s sometimes hard to know if I’ve made any progress in my attempts to own my mental health.

Progress with mental illness can be really hard to see.

I don’t keep a diary or anything like that, so it’s hard to look back over the last few years and see what progress I’ve actually made.

What I do have is a detailed log of my progress with my most important Action Cures — running.

By looking at my running data, I can see how my actions have helped my actions. I know I’m generally much happy than I was four or five years ago, but I wanted to do this to see what links and correlations I know must be there.

The graph below shows all the runs I’ve done since I started back in 2015 (date x distance in km).

As you can see, it breaks down into three chunks — the first year of growth (struggling to do 2km up to a 10km run a year later).

A middle year where I plateaued on a steady 6km run every time.

Then the last few months where, to be frank, I’ve focussed and made the 10km my standard run with a bunch of 10 milers thrown in too.

No, this doesn’t show the actions that have made me happier, but it does show how the actions I’ve taken have impacted the thing I can measure — my running.

And as I’ve got better at running, I’ve definitely felt more in control — being able to better navigate the mental storms.

Hopefully, unpacking these periods, might provide me/ you with some useful insight and evidence for why actions are the only way.

Continuous improvement

I started running on 2nd May 2015. Almost exactly a month after my dad died. Didn’t really spot the connection at the time.

I’d been anxious for years by this point, but the depression had been settled in for about five years.

I had to do something. Dad’s death was the trigger.

I started running and although that helped (you can see I was working hard to run further each time) I wasn’t really nailing my mental health.

What running did though is, for the first time, show me I could be in control.

It gave me the nudge to take the next action — I got help from a professional. My wife got me a doctor’s appointment (to be honest, I still couldn’t really face it and I was scared).

I got referred to do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT was amazing. Within the first few weeks I felt I’d changed. I was even more in charge. I learned that I had been proper depressed and that I had Imposter Syndrome.

Five months later, I had tools to take on my head and ride the storms. I was winning.

Plateaued

Entering late 2016 I was feeling in control. I dropped my work week down to 4 days.

I used my Fridays super productively to do things I enjoy with a passion — fixing up the house, making things, writing music, hanging out with people doing things which inspired me.

You can see here that my running levelled out. It wasn’t my priority, but it had become a core part of my mental health management.

Then my job got really tough. I couldn’t seem to handle the volume or size of the mental challenges it hurled at me.

My head got worse. I had start to CBT again.

The period of plateau then ended with a bump. I hurt my foot (plantar fasciitis) and my elbow (lateral epicondylitis — tennis elbow from decorating).

I felt old. Again I began to feel useless at life and at work.

I stupidly stopped running thinking it was the right thing to do. Baaad idea. Although I got my regular mental boost from CBT I didn’t have my crutch.

Blam!

The final phase (Blam!) has been where the real magic happened (note: magic is obviously relative).

A catalyst was this podcast from a man called Mills. His daily JFDI podcast of brilliant ramblings — unpacking and tangientos* of life, work, and running — became a proper motivator for me (thanks chap).

That got me back running.

Then I decided to focus on my diet. I’ve always been vegetarian, so kind of assumed I didn’t have to worry… duh.

I bought a Nutribullet and put real thought into avoiding crappy snacks and eating goodness that would help my body and my mind. I discovered protein.

Then, thanks to the JFDIcast (and Mills’ constant references to the supremely tasty Rocket Fuel coffee), I switched my running regimen.

I fuelled my body before a run with coffee and my mind during with podcasts.

Immediately 10km become my standard.

Letting my mind wonder, whilst injecting my ears with goodness, gave me the confidence and the content to start writing about my mental health and my Action Cures.

And my friends responded — a few people emailed me, a few mentioned it as an aside after a meeting or coffee.

People had noticed and understood what I’m trying to talk about and appreciated it. That felt really good.

All this goodness gave me confidence. It made me ambitious with my running.

I started doing 10 mile runs

Ok, still a bit of walking involved, but I didn’t care — it was progress. This felt super good.

I’ve recently finished CBT again. Cate (lovely wife) has noticed a bit of a dip in my happiness, but I feel confident.

I’m doing more running, and many, many other Action Cures. I’m in control.

But the point to note, and the point that I hope is useful to whoever reads this, it’s taken a long time. There are five years of being proper low before this graph begins.

The difference, that has made the difference, are the Action Cures.

The doing of stuff that makes me feel in control, gives me something new to think about and, in fact, gives me some hope when at times I’ve felt utterly hopeless.

I only wish I’d figured it out earlier. I wish I hadn’t waited until after dad had died to do anything about it.

It’s really obvious, but not always really easy — Action Cures have to start today. They’re not worth putting off.

Get in touch, wear the badge, remember #actioncures

*this will make sense to other listeners of the JFDIcast.