Dan blogs about how he decided to do ultramarathons to raise money for Mind, and how running helped his anxiety.
Dan is the technology chief for a new meditation app, and a keen ultramarathon runner. He blogs at howtohumanbeing.com
Four years ago I had a panic attack at my birthday meal. I was already feeling a little fragile from the night before, but suddenly I felt very strange and scared. The sense of fear grew, and I felt like I needed to get out of there quickly.
At the time I had no idea it was a panic attack. I thought I was dying. The attacks continued to occur and I became convinced I was physically ill. I went to the doctor who instead told me I was having panic attacks.
"I left the doctors in disbelief."
I left the doctors in disbelief. I felt confused and unsure, as the attacks felt so physical and alarming that it was difficult to believe they were anything to do with my mental health.
Since then I have been on long journey with anxiety. I struggled on my own for a while until the anxiety began to impact on my daily life. It stopped me doing things I wanted to do, and started having an impact on my relationship.
"I was sceptical and thought of it as a problem I should deal with on my own."
My girlfriend at the time (now wonderful wife) eventually told me she thought I could do with some help. I was sceptical and thought of it as a problem I should deal with on my own, but I eventually saw a CBT therapist and began my journey of understanding anxiety and panic.
Years on, and with plenty more therapy under my belt, the attacks are now fewer and far between. After opening up to everyone around me, the support has been overwhelming and has actually brought me closer to many people.
"I immediately signed up for a half marathon."
Running has also played a big part in my recovery. I started running properly about 18 months ago. We had moved to a new house in the countryside and I’d just watched the Rio Olympics. It inspired me to sign up to a 10k. I loved it so much I immediately signed up for a half marathon.
The process of running really seemed to soothe my anxiety and give me a much needed break from the complexity and stress of my day job. Running also taught me that I could really push my body, and that gave me a lot more confidence in standing up to the anxiety that was always convincing me that I was about to have a heart attack or mental breakdown.
"As the race day got closer, another challenge materialised."
At some point I started hearing about ‘ultramarathons’ and became hooked on the idea of running one. I had also been aware of the work of Mind for some time, and was very happy to find that they were involved in an ultramarathon called the Cotswold Way Challenge. It started in Bath and continued along the Cotswold Way to Cheltenham.
With over 2000 people involved, it sounded like an amazing event, with some people walking the route over two days, whilst others ran the whole 100 kilometre in a day.
I of course fell into the latter camp. The combination of pushing myself to run that far and the opportunity to raise money for Mind seemed like a perfect way to honour what I’d been through and fundraise for a charity that supports others who are also struggling.
"I’d been planning this day for so long that as soon as I was set free I charged forward and didn’t look back."
As the race day got closer, another challenge materialised: the longest heatwave the UK has experienced in 5 years! I felt very nervous, but prepared for the heat and enlisted my Dad to crew for me.
I did it. It was a long day, but it went remarkably well considering the conditions. I’d been planning this day for so long that as soon as I was set free I charged forward and didn’t look back. I had a dream race for about 75k, and some tough times in the last quarter. But it was an incredible experience, a beautiful route, and a one-off chance to do something I love for a cause I care so much.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.