2017, could qualify as a year of running as i have great plans – yes plans and we all know how they can turn out don’t we?
In earlier days, i was a great one for making New Year resolutions, usually about fifteen to twenty of them – nearly all to do with self-improvement which always included getting fitter. Then i would get ill again and all plans would go out the window. A young co-worker this time last year consistantly referred to me as the most optimistic person he’d ever met. I thought to myself, ‘if you could only see inside my head’. Then i realised that no matter what negative thoughts and beliefs were bounding around in side my head like a squash ball in a hard played tournament, it appeared that i gave out positive waves. That’s probably a good thing, isn’t it?
In these darker days, internally and out, i don’t make resolutions or vague improvement plans and i don’t look forward to the first of January or my birthday with the excitement. I used to find a new diary with all the promise of blank days, blank pages, all that unwritten history so exciting. Now i don’t even buy a diary. I have changed in a lot of similar ways, like now i often struggle to finish a book, or carry out some work that needs doing. Most of the time i have five to fifteen books and projects ongoing, none of them approaching completion with anything which could be measured by any aspect of physics such as velocity or speed, and would in fact struggle to be measured by any word in the English language. Progress is almost an alien concept to me at this stage in my life.
Excluding age, which is obviously a contributing factor, I have narrowed these behavioural oddities down to two possible causes, developing wisdom or incipient depression. I had hoped i was becoming wiser, moving in a measurable way down the path of enlightenment, becoming less attached and less willing to waste my time reading a book i had lost interest in or finishing a project i was not committed to.
Of course, it could just be depression, that bouncing ball in my head suggested. So i started another meditation course, read, or started to read, some more philosophy and religious tracts, started my search for Jesus again telling myself that he was looking for me but i was just avoiding him.
But the thought kept bouncing around.
A friend gave me a book for Christmas, ‘The Line’ by Dr Ian Gargan, which is about the causes which create criminals. The principal causes being family circumstances and mental health and the two being interconnected. Dr Gargan tells us that chaotic family backgrounds, mental health challenges and very poor parenting, as well as a genetic predisposition to criminal activity are the principal factors and the most important of these are a dysfunctional relationship between mother and child. He goes further and states that such a dysfunctional relationship is very likely to result in the child, at some stage in life, suffering from depression. Now my relationship with my mother would fall into the dysfunctional bracket, though nothing like some of the cases Dr Gargan recounts, and a little bit of understanding came into my life. Dr Gargan also referred to drug abuse and alcohol abuse as ‘self-medication‘ – and i thought my teens were spent just having a good time.
So i booked a few sessions with my therapist – i wanted to talk out these ideas and see where they led me. They led me to realize that i have always suffered from a touch of depression, though not like the onslaught of recent years. Self-medication too was an art i was well practised in.
My circles of family and friends were rocked by a couple of tragic suicides, one after another as life piled on its pain.
We talked about anxiety and depression, about coping mechanisms and backups and why sometimes it all fails. The answer to my conundrum, which turned out just to be me trying to fool me, is incipient depression; the clue being in the lack of joy. That particular ball stopped bouncing around as soon as i spoke the obvious.
Doing things, that’s a remedy for depression, for mild depression. If you can at all, do something and it feeds back into a positive cycle and helps lift your mood and clears away the grey clouds. It can be that simple – if its mild depression.
So i booked a few races.
Sometime last April, around Easter i guess as Ireland was celebrating the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, i thought completing the Dublin Marathon would be a great way to celebrate those brave and valient efforts to obtain Ireland’s freedom. I would run 26.2 miles in honour of all the lives lost and families bereaved in that ill -fated revolution. About the same time i was given a GloHealth Fit4Life 52 Week Training Diary at one of the races in competed in and i decided to use it to map my training progress. I started, appropriately enough, on May 07 with the Darkness into Light 5k run at Marlay Park and followed it up the next day, T2, i annoted it, with a 4km run in Cruagh Woods in the Dublin Mountains.
A month later i noticed that i was missing a lot of days and they were not all Recovery or Rest Days so i started tracking them too. All went fairly well until the middle of June when i got a chest infection, followed by a flare up of my IBS which, combined brought me to a painfully slow 6k Liberties Fun Run five weeks later. The pattern continued, run, sick, tired, run and repeat for the rest of the summer. Coming into September my health improved but i started working long hours and had no energy for training. The work was wonderful though, outside in that glorious sunny Autumn we were gifted in Dublin, and fairly active as i was working outside on site most of the time.
The week before a marathon is supposed to be taken easy, tapering off from training, so i didn’t worry about being too busy and concentrated on resting and eating. I had clocked up T37 the previous Saturday at the Marlay Park 5k parkrun and was feeling pretty good. The night before the marathon, the clocks went back an hour so i got some extra sleep. The day was perfect and so i set off and, many hours later, finished my first ever marathon in the far from auspicious time of some 5 hours and 40 odd minutes. But I finished and that meant everything. I had kept my promise to the fallen heroes of a hundred years previously.
25% of the days between the 07 May and the end of October were marked in as ‘Sick’. If i hadn’t kept a record i would not have realized that there were so many of them.
As to which comes first, physical or mental illness, there is no simple answer but one reinforces the other.
Which is why i’m a little bit cautious about making plans.
Which is also why i’ve signed up for the Dublin Marathon again this year with the ‘hope’ of knocking at least an hour off last years time. I’ve also signed up for six or seven half marathons throughout the year to help the process. I might even do another marathon or three if health smiles upon my endeavours.
And this year, 2017, i will run in honour of all who can’t, of all those who just could not keep going on this exhausting and demanding marathon of life.
My son bought me Sylie Simmons biography of Leonard Cohen, ‘I’m Your Man – The Life of Leonard Cohen’, one of my heroes, as a birthday present. There is much to learn about depression and self-medication in those pages and i will leave the last words to Leonard as he eventually, late in life, found the clouds to part;
“ – by imperceptible degrees this background of anguish that had been with me my whole life began to dissolve. I said to myself this must be what it’s like to be relatively sane. You get up in the morning and it’s not like: Oh God, another day. How am I going to get through it? What am i going to do? Is there a drug? Is there a woman? Is there a religion? Is there something to get me out of this? The background now is very peaceful”.
Stay well my friends