Sometimes you need to break into 1000 pieces before you can let the light in.
In 2013 I was depressed. Filled with such a deep and unexplained sadness it changed my life in so many ways. 6 years on and the decision and actions of that year are still with me today. I am constantly searching for answers and continuing to look after my mental health.
‘Anxiety is like an injury, it flares up when you don’t look after yourself’
Part of the reason for writing this blog about being an Anxious Athlete, is to try and understand my own issues by sharing them with you, in the hope that I might be able to help someone who feels in a similar situation and give hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
So back to 2013 and feeling so sad, depressed, lost, lonely and empty. But I had no reason to feel this way. I started the year off by with my (then) boyfriend celebrating our 5th anniversary together and putting in an offer to buy a house. I had a stable job which i enjoyed and even did some career development courses and took on more responsibility. I had a group of close friends and we would go away together on random getaways to Europe. It was also the year I ran my first half marathon, bought my first mountain bike and completed my first mile ocean swim. What did I have to be sad about?
As the year progressed, so did my depression and anxiety. I wasn’t happy buying a house, I didn’t feel that I deserved it, even though I had saved hard and made the sacrifices. Hello Imposter syndrome. Things were spiralling downwards, but I needed something to take my mind off the situation. I tried running and entered the local half marathon. My training was sporadic and short lived, with my longest run being abut 3 miles (5k) and that was mostly walking. I hobbled through the half marathon in 3hr 33 mins, read the full story HERE. That was in April. We moved into the new house in May. It was a bad idea, as I had already said I didn’t want to, but I went ahead with things anyway, not being able to see an alternative and hoping things would improve. I just couldn’t understand WHY I felt this way. I should be happy, but everything in me was rejecting it.
The stress and the turmoil, agony and anxiety was too much to handle and towards the end of May, on late shift at work, I felt myself break and shatter on the inside. I slumped to the floor, not caring that I was probably now sat in a puddle of piss from cleaning the toilets and I cried. I was due to fly out to Stockholm the following morning to meet up with Donna, but I just couldn’t. I felt completely incapable of doing anything. Thankfully I worked with some amazing people and, as was customary on a Friday after work, we headed to McDonalds. I stayed in McDonalds with Ben till about 1am. He had to go home and I needed to make a decision. I went home, back to the house, to the bed on the floor and lay there waiting the return of my partner from his night shift. I felt so helpless I didn’t know what to do, or how to explain how I felt as it seemed so ridiculous. I had shattered on the inside, broken from trying to cling on to something for too long, distorted from trying to fit into a box that wasn’t right for me.
July came round and I decided to buy myself a mountain bike. I didn’t have much money left over from buying the house, but enough to get me a bike to play in the woods. Ben (saviour from work) took me out to show me the trails. Its a good job he knows first aid, as I put his bandaging skills to the test on our first outing buy going over the bars into a tree. 6 stitches later and I can call myself a proper mountain biker. I had wanted to do this for years, but fear, self-doubt and perceived judgment from others had held me back. I didn’t care anymore and was so happy to be finally out exploring the woods. The adrenaline made me feel alive and the crashing didn’t put me off I was back out with in a week and loving it! Finally the light was starting to shine through. But I wasn’t through the rough stuff just yet.
I’m still not sure how much of what happened over the next few months was due to my depression and anxiety and how much may have been influenced by concussion from the crash, but things got worse before they got better. I would have anxiety attacks at work, where I would start shaking, get blurred vision (not good as a lifeguard) headaches, hot flushes, nausea and the feeling that there was a swarm of wasps/bugs in my head. It was horrible. I ended up going to the hospital a few times to have my heart and head checked, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. It just made me feel more confused and worried about the situation. I’d managed to get a good Doctor at my local practise and we went through a whole host of different medications to try and relieve my symptoms. I would try some pills for 2 weeks or so, record how I felt and go back to try something else. I think in the end we settled on Fluvoxamine and Beta Blockers, as well as changing my contraceptive pill. It just made me feel more numb.
By the end of 2013 it was agreed that things weren’t going to work and that we should part ways. I was already sleeping in the spare room by October and by February 2014 had moved out into shared accommodation. I’d started seeing a counsellor every other week, but didn’t really feel I got much out of it, other than increased anxiety about having to go and feel that I’d improved. I wasn’t being honest and it wasn’t working. In the house, I kept myself to myself, but was still out riding my bike as much as I could, either commuting to work or tearing up the woods. In September 2014 I began my PCGE Teaching qualification at Exeter University. I was still struggling, still on anti-depressants and things didn’t work out here either. The pressure to shape the future of so many young people, when I felt like such a failure was too much and I left the course just 4 weeks before the end.
It was now May 2015, 2 years after I broke into 1000 pieces. The light was beginning to shine through and I booked tickets to New Zealand, via SE Asia to leave that September. I went to the local pool to beg for a job (thanks Ben and Harry) picked up some work in a pub and spent my summer saving and packing up my life. I wasn’t happy, so I decided I would go and do what did make me happy and that was riding my mountain bike. The best place to do that is in New Zealand, so thats where I went and thats where I’ve stayed.
That first experience riding through the woods had lead to so many amazing adventures and opportunities. I am forever grateful to those of you have have been, and still are, part of my journey. I haven’t shared the details of this story with too many people, and certainly not publicly, so this is a big step. But I hope it helps. You don’t need to be depressed because of something in particular, and my search for answers and understanding just made it worse. Focus on finding joy in the small things in life, making connections and embracing new challenges. Its tough and my mental health issues will never fully go away, but thats ok. I’ve learnt to channel my energy not into fighting it, but to embrace the dark times, cherish the good times and figure out how to cope, stay healthy and make it through each day.