Last updated: 04-Dec-20
Meditation is the art of being still. However, the misconception is you must still the body to also still the mind.
Having suffered for many years with anxiety and panic attacks, my body produced too much adrenaline making it near impossible to achieve a state of calm even at rest. I began to run to use up the overwhelming power I felt. Without a way of managing it this power starts to consume you, twisting you into a person you no longer recognise. Mental health struggles can trigger physical pain, capable of taking away your identity, your breath and your freedom.
Personally, I found relief from these struggles when I rediscovered the sport that had been a huge part of my youth. I quickly understood that the faster that I ran, the calmer my breathing and the further I went, the stiller my mind became. The higher I climbed, the greater the sense of accomplishment I felt in myself. Running was my meditation, and with that I could work my way towards recovery.
Photo credit: Jake Boykew
In 2020, this outlet for relief became more important than ever as I was identified as one of the individuals required to shield for 12 weeks, which in itself does strange things to the mind. Coincidently, at the same time, I was given a choice to take 9 weeks furlough alongside my work project. I am in no doubt that those 9 weeks saved my life, and equally I believe have redefined what it will look like going forwards.
For years I had been career driven, my purpose and value defined by progression in the corporate world. When you actively have the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate who you are as a person, without sacrificing anything, you understand the true meaning of freedom. I had no structure and no performance measure; I could start each day fresh focusing only on what bought me peace. As time progressed, I found myself drawn further to the feeling of stillness and serenity the outdoors bought to me.
Over those 9 weeks, I found a new purpose – a purpose to help those around me discover the healing benefits of the outdoors. Not only to get them to experience it but to integrate it as a core part of their life. It takes years to find out what works for you to overcome struggles with mental health. My discovery came just in time to save me. Not everyone is privileged with the opportunity to discover this, and yes, I do perceive my journey through 2020 as privileged.
Many others are suffering similar issues in silence, and I strongly believe it is this silence which leads to suicide being the biggest killer of my age group in the UK.
Time spent training in the outdoors has allowed me to tame my demons. To understand how to use them to my advantage and how to work with them to make me stronger person. This is what I want to help people of any age with mental health struggles to realise.
Although we struggle, we are strong and we are unique. We share as a community an ability to keep fighting every single day. Until one day you realise that you’re not fighting anymore, you are not just existing, you are living.
This message is reason why I started my Instagram blog. From the very beginning, this was intended to be a platform from which I could create a community. A community of individuals committed to driving action, spreading awareness and creating a culture of acceptance around mental health struggles.
Photo credit: Jake Boykew
From an action perspective I knew if I wanted my message to be heard and respected, I had to push myself further than I had ever been before, into the extreme. It was at this point Mission 2021 was created. In partnership with Ultra X, Mission 2021 will see me cover 500 km and over 21000m of elevation gain during three multi-stage ultramarathons.
The first of these events will be the Ultra X 125 Azores in April. Followed by Ultra X 125 England across my home of the Peak District in September. And in true Grand Finale style, I will cover 250km over 5 days in November through the Copper Canyons of Ultra X Mexico.
It may not be totally clear what running these extraordinary distances has to do with a mental health movement, but personally I have found Ultra Running is as much about the strength of your mind as it is the strength of your body. Michael D’Aulerio summed up beautifully the powerful mental shift that occurs when you push yourself further than you ever thought possible.
“How long you can run is proportionate to how long you can suffer. If you have overcome great struggles in your life…then you have the mind-set to run extraordinarily long distances. And you may not even know it”.
“If we can learn to find hope inside of suffering, we can heal from the unhealable, believe in the unbelievable and finish the unfinishable. This goes for running and in life itself”.
My journey to and through these events will be blogged in detail to deliver the real purpose of their completion. It isn’t for the competition itself, is to prove to others who may be struggling with their mental health that there is light at the end of the very dark long tunnel that is recovery.
Struggling with a mental illness provides us with an inner strength which allows us to take on the extraordinary. Over my journey you will see I have many days where I am not ok, and I will share how I manage and overcome these challenges. Normalising this as a voice of authenticity.
In addition to sharing my journey, I will also be raising funds for the Charity ‘Mind’ over the year. They, like me, believe that no one should have to face a mental health problem alone. This is why the work of Muddy Mountain Miles is so important.
We are creating a community, a family.