So recently on July 9th 2017 I completed the Southend Half Marathon (my first) in 1 hour 58 minutes and 51 seconds. Finishing 710th out of 1539 runners. As part of my ‘Summer of Running’ of doing this race and the London Vitality 10,000 on the 29th May 2017 I have fundraised £200.42 for Rethink Mental illness. Thank you to all of those who supported me.
I found the half marathon more mentally than physically challenging. It’s true my legs were getting tired towards the end but mentally I was not in a good place before I started. The ban of wearing headphones during the race (which I always wear when running) prevented some self soothing and the lack of signage with a confusing route provoke some anxiety (I literally stopped to ask marshals how far I had gone and that I was going the right way – I can laugh at it now but I was very agitated at the time). However my resolve and passion to complete the race in 2 hours (I call this my human spirit) was what delivered the result I wanted no matter what my mind or body felt.
The last few weeks before the race my mood had been quite low on the depressive side and around early June I was somewhat troubled with anxiety with some latent paranoia and persecutory thoughts that I manage on an ongoing basis. All of this became quite challenging and I had to have a few days off work for the first time in almost a year. I was not able to train for my run for a week and a half as I focused on my general wellbeing – looking after my personal needs and getting back to work ASAP. Fortunately I was back to work quite quickly.
Getting the support I needed has not been easy. My Mother passed with Cancer last year and thus I have no family for support in my life now. My best friend, Rethink and the NHS are my only true support. It is very hard to advocate for myself when my mental illness is troubling me. Unfortunately the Mental Health trust I am a service user to is not very accessible. There is often what I call a ‘Wall’ when you try to reach out. I will make phone calls (when I am able to) asking for appointments with a psychiatrist and be told none are available. When I phoned in June to ask for a psychiatrist I was told to phone back in August as there were no appointments available or to go to A&E in hospital. Now my experience with A&E is that there more concerned about your safety and nothing else. There main option is to admit you in to hospital as an inpatient and that was not the kind of help I was looking for or needed.
Suffice to say the NHS are very effective ‘firefighters’ in a crisis – they definitely save lives but if one wants to pre-empt a mental health crisis or recover to your full potential then the ‘wall’ is at maximum height which makes it very hard to deal with when one is vulnerable as your not a priority. One may then try to get past this ‘wall’ of the NHS in order to get support but the mental stress they cause with their bureaucracy (and somewhat apparent lack of resources) in trying to get support may actually lead one to the very mental health crisis they were trying to avoid. I have met patients who have made suicide attempts as a result of this odd system. They will attempt suicide due to the severe mental crisis they are experiencing in order to end the pain of their suffering and often that is what gets results. A suicide attempt will either end in two ways; the patient either dies (and that stops the pain for the patient) or they end up in hospital. If the patient ends up in hospital there treatment is more likely to be fast tracked. One will have their mental health and medications reviewed within days by a consultant psychiatrist which one cannot practically get for months as a outpatient. Other services could also come accessible at speed too such as psychotherapy, Care co-ordinators, Home treatment team etc…. I think it’s very sad that system seems to work like this and it seems an awful waste of resources. The cost of being in hospital and the damage a suicide attempt does to a persons life (employment, family, physically, stigma etc…) must surely cost more than if there were prompt treatment and good support for outpatients. It makes it very challenging to recover fully from a sometimes lifelong illness without the vicious circle this system seems to precipitate.
Fortunately I was able to get some support from less official parts of the service and they were helpful at that time. Just listening and talking can be enough to help someone through. It’s the lack of compassion one can experience and disinterest from others of being helpful that can make one feel even worse than what they already were and thus are put off from even seeking help until it’s too late. This reminds me of a quote from Star Trek when seeking support for an episode to be mindful of others behaviour that can lead to a “unstable element into a critical situation”.
So my advice to anyone suffering a mental health episode out there:
- Be mindful where, when and who you seek help from as you want to feel better and not worse from doing so. It’s often a calculated risk, the emotional cost and risk of seeking help can often outweigh the benefit. However, sometimes the benefit appears in places you least expect so in my situation I often look to the quote from the film ‘Man of Steel’: “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later”
- Keep expectation minimal when looking for support as a expectation that isn’t met may make you feel worse. Likewise the more someone exceeds your expectation the better you will feel.
- Be especially kinder to yourself. You can’t control how others behave towards you, however although we can’t directly change how we feel – we can modify our behaviour even for a short period of time. So get the tyranny of “shoulds” out of your head (at least for now), focus on the essential priorities for your well being and be kind to yourself. There are times where I am behaving like I am the best Doctor and Nurse in the country treating myself who feels like the worst patient in the country.