OCD, mental health and running

Wednesday, 05 September 2018 Ben Thomson

Ben blogs about OCD, mental health and running in the lead up to the Simplyhealth Great North Run.

At thirteen years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – I’m now 30 and have two children. I never used to think about mental health as a problem, but I have seen first-hand how long term physical illness can impact your mental health.

Today people are more aware about Crohn’s disease and other bowel related illnesses, but when I was 13 there was less known about it and it’s unusual to be diagnosed at a young age. I missed a lot of school and found that managing day-to-day life was really difficult. I was quite secretive and kept myself to myself, so I never opened up to anyone about my issues at school.

Over the years, and after a number of NHS admissions and various operations I started finding life a little bit more stable, but the stress of the illness has had a huge lasting impact on my mental health. I have never liked asking for help or telling people, even those close to me, how I’m feeling, so even as I grew up I avoided seeking support.

"I was getting serious intrusive thoughts, obsessively trying to achieve perfection."

Although men cannot be officially diagnosed with postnatal depression, the birth of my first child (in 2013) had a big impact on my mental health. After my wife gave birth to my daughter it brought some deeper issues to the surface. My mental health really deteriorated, I realised there was something wrong when I was getting serious intrusive thoughts, obsessively trying to achieve perfection. This was when I finally asked for professional help and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Order (OCD).

I was already extremely sleep deprived, as I would get involved with the night feeds. On top of this, I would intentionally not go back to sleep so I could focus on sequences and numbers. This - combined with combatting Crohn’s and going to work at 7am - left me completely exhausted.

"(OCD is) like a tornado – anyone can get caught in the crossfire."

OCD is destructive and it comes first before any other rational thoughts. It’s like a tornado – anyone can get caught in the crossfire. My experience with OCD had both financial and family implications. It took my wife a long time to learn how to deal with my mental health, and I know it’s really hard to understand OCD unless you’re living with it. There’s a reason why OCD is classed as ’the secretive disorder’ because it is exactly that, and it put a huge strain on our relationship, but we have since worked through these issues together and are now moving forward.

"I still find it hard to talk about how I’m feeling, which is why I found Mind’s website really helpful."

Even when I went to see my GP, I didn’t have a great experience with them. They just told me to talk to my family, so we found local counselling. At the time I found it embarrassing – I’ve never asked for help, I’ve never looked for help in that way. I still find it hard to talk about how I’m feeling, which is why I found Mind’s website really helpful. Especially as it’s proven very difficult to access mental health services in my area - it took me a good eighteen months to navigate my way through it and get a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

I used to really enjoy running, but when I became so unwell I stopped. Last year I begun personal training and developed a really good relationship with my trainer. He was the first person I opened up to about my mental health and what I’d been through - he has really helped with my recovery.

"These events, fundraising and getting back into exercise with the support of my trainer are all helping me feel good about myself again."

This year I have taken part in local running events around Hull and national runs in Edinburgh, Manchester and Lincoln – it’s going well and the training for the Simplyhealth Great North Run is all coming together. So far I’ve raised nearly £3,000 with a goal to raise £5,000. In fact Just Giving notified me to say I’m ranked 20th nationally for money raised across all charities participating in the Simplyhealth Great North Run. These events, fundraising and getting back into exercise with the support of my trainer are all helping me feel good about myself again, rebuilding my self-esteem.

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The Simplyhealth Great Run Series - the UK’s biggest mass participation running series – features 30 events across ten cities including Edinburgh, Manchester, London, Newcastle, Bristol and Portsmouth. For more information and to register for Team Mind visit our fundraising pages.

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