If you have been following me for a while now, you will have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on my website since 16 Dec and had all but disappeared off of social media since February.
Here is my confession – from October through till beginning of May, I had lost my way. In fact I haven’t been very well at all.
Good news is that I’m back and finally heading in the right direction!
I didn’t touch my bike for six months, I didn’t swim for four months and I didn’t enjoy one of my Paris marathon training runs (which probably explains why I ended up injured and unable to run).
It is only now, seven months later, that I am starting to rediscover my passion for adventure, challenge and mental health campaigning.
There is something rarely spoken about in endurance and that is what happens after a big challenge – the “post-race blues”. From speaking to a number of people it turns out it is extremely common among people who take on these big challenges and is manageable if you know that it is coming.
Post-race blues I think sounds really trivial when in fact what I experienced, and still am experiencing from time to time, is seven months (and still counting) of depression – and there is nothing trivial about that. I have dealt with varying intensities of depression since about the age of 14 and this has actually been quite a scary time for me.
To say I went off the rails is a bit of an understatement and the scariest part of it all was that even with over 10 years experience of having a mental illness and talking to so many others about their experiences, I was still completely oblivious to how momentously I was falling deeper and deeper back into that black hole.
Let me rewind to being in Barcelona itself. This was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I think the photo of my crossing the finish line says it all. The high from conquering my challenge was like no other and it lasted from the Saturday all the way through to the Tuesday. I was absolutely buzzing.
So, if it made me feel that good, how have I ended up feeling this crap after?
When I was training, it took over my life for at least 10 months. I was completely absorbed in it. I was training six days a week and on my rest day I was preparing for training the next day. Each day provided me with a cocktail of incredible highs and lows but I honestly loved every minute of it. Whenever I hit a low I would feel amazing when I then pushed through it and ended up a winner.
Suddenly all of this intense focus is gone and you are left with nothing to aim for and this is a really bizarre place to find yourself in. At around the same time, I was really let down by someone within the sport, who I won’t name or go into details, that I previously had a huge amount of respect for and had put a huge amount of trust in with regards to my mental health.
Unfortunately, the incident with this individual was the trigger waiting to happen that then just toppled me over into that black hole. Disclaimer: I am not blaming this person and I certainly won’t give them all the glory of causing my issues but they were definitely the tipping point. It felt like overnight somebody has sapped out all of my enthusiasm, motivation and strength I had built up over the past three years and I was left back in a limbo of either being a nervous hysterical wreck or completely numb of any emotions.
In hindsight with a clearer head, and what a wonderful thing that is, what I should have done is spoken to someone about how I was feeling. However, at the time I think I was in denial that anything was going drastically wrong and thought I could manage it all by myself. And by managing it myself, what I really mean is my brain quickly went into – YEAH let’s go into self-destruct mode.
What then followed was a lot of heavy drinking, eating a load of shit, no exercise and I even started smoking again. I’d drank so much one night before a 10K run that I think I ran the race still drunk the next day – which is utterly ridiculous. These things are only just scratching the surface and as much as I don’t enjoy to admit the way I behaved – it is quite a common reality for those struggling with managing their mental health in isolation. You wouldn’t have had to know me for long to know that this is very unusual behaviour for me – and the result of which meant that I was only hurting myself and those around me by the actions I took.
As I said before though, the scariest part of all of this is that I had no idea that I had fallen so far down the rabbit hole. If people mentioned anything to me I would brush them off with things like – “Don’t be silly! It’s the festive party period, everyone is letting their hair down!!” or “Give me a break – I trained for 10 months solid, I think I’m allowed to have a few wild nights out”.
I remember sending this photo to a friend and making a joke about how crap I felt. Being the life and soul of the party, I was easily making light of a situation that in reality was far from a laugh. In reality – I was spending most of my spare time not leaving my bed due to being depressed or hungover.
The problem was, it didn’t end after the festive period and soon I had to face the reality that things were going very wrong because of me and my own health. It was only soon after I came back from a trip to Bali and started the process of buying my house at the beginning of February that I realised I needed some help – so I finally asked for it.
Admitting to myself and someone else that I was struggling again was the best thing I could have done. The first thing I felt was a huge relief – the friend that I confided in reassured me that it was okay not to be okay and that there was a way out. It helped me realise that was okay to take a break from a few things, like my blogging and social media or my personal training qualification, until I got better. It provided me with the clarity I needed to start building that ladder out of my big black hole.
So now I am seven months down the line and on my road to recovery, not for the first time in my life, and I am starting to feel a lot more positive. I am becoming passionate about the things I love again. I am feeling more motivated in my work and personal life. I am out adventuring again and loving it. Most importantly – I am rediscovering my passion for life and everything it throws at you.
A lot of people have asked me – do you regret doing the Ironman if it has caused this to happen?
My answer would be – absolutely not. I would not change a thing, I am grateful for everything that I have experienced and I would do one again just for that super hero moment that you get to feel as you cross that finish line.
I have learnt that as with anything in life – some things are bloody hard. Buying a house for the first time on my own this year was hard, with had ups and downs to rival those of my Ironman training! But the reward at the end of the achievement was epic. Plus, it is inevitable I will face another challenge in life that I am unable to avoid. The difference is – I will now be armed with all of the learnings of previous hardship ready to tackle the next one.
It is okay to lose your way and it is okay to ask for directions to find your way back onto the right path.