Since I started running in 2013, I have completed 19 marathons, most of which have been for Mind. Running the 100km London to Brighton Challenge this May was a step into the unknown for me, doubling my previous longest distance of 50km, and it turns out that running over 62 miles gave me ample time to reflect on why I was doing it.
I expected that the challenge would lead me on a journey of discovery. What I didn’t expect to discover was how alike the physical journey was to my journey with mental illness – in my case, bipolar disorder.
I had my first manic episode at the age of 16, but I didn’t get diagnosed or understand that I was ill until the age of 31. Those 15 years felt very dark, and it wasn’t until after my third attempt at taking my own life that I found Mind and began my road to recovery.
It wasn’t a sudden epiphany and, like any long distance run, it has rarely been a straight, easy or flat route, but it has never seemed hopeless or without direction.
Now I genuinely see my illness as a gift, because it has given me the preparation and opportunity to help others.
I realised that I could not live my recovery behind closed doors but I never imagined that I would tell my friends and family that I was living with a mental illness and had tried to end my own life on multiple occasions, let alone the whole world. But when I did, it was empowering; I finally felt free of the chains of mental illness, of the fear of talking, of the stigma of being judged.
But for me, talking wasn’t enough; I felt the desire to impact people’s lives, to reach out and give others hope where I had seen none. In the last few years it’s been a privilege to do media work, speak at public events, and deliver employment skills training amongst other things. Perhaps the most significant area for me has been running for Mind.
I felt the desire to impact people’s lives, to reach out and give others hope where I had seen none.
When I started running in 2013, the Great Manchester 10k seemed like a good idea to lose a few pounds from my stomach and raise a few for a charity that meant so much to me. However, this journey took on a life of its own due to the amazing staff I’ve worked with at Mind, and I’ve met some incredible people through running for them.
Paul Farmer, Mind’s Chief Executive, so aptly reports that: “People come to us because they need our help and support, but as they receive that help and support they often then become part of our movement for change.” This is such an accurate description and it is what drives me through endurance events.
So along the rolling hills of Surrey and Sussex, on a wonderful sunny day in late May 2017, I ran 100km from London to Brighton in aid of Mind. It was a special day in so many ways- of course, there were moments when it hurt, and times when I wondered what I’d been thinking when I decided this was a good idea! But then I would remind myself of why I was running, and remember everything I’d overcome in my life, and what others could overcome with the right encouragement.
The toughest stretch was between 25 and 42 miles; at that point, I had run the equivalent of one marathon but still had far enough to go that I couldn’t begin to count down. Once I was into the last 20 miles I had nothing but a conviction and visualisation of making it to the end, even with the imposing climb onto the South Downs clearly visible in the distance.
In that moment, I realised that overcoming life’s challenges brings a far deeper joy than never being challenged at all.
It perfectly encapsulated my journey with mental illness; there have been tough climbs, steep drops, moments when I couldn’t see the end of the road. But the end always came, and these days I always have the conviction of reaching it.
When I neared the end in Brighton, I had a special moment of realisation. In those final miles and moments, I reflected on the 42 years that had brought me to this defining moment, of all the things that I thought I could never do with my mental illness. In that moment, I realised that overcoming life’s challenges brings a far deeper joy than not being challenged at all.
For me, it’s never been about how quickly I run or how much I raise, although I am proud of both. The only thing that matters to me, what gets me up at 5am on a dark and freezing January morning to run, is changing lives. The way I can do that is by being the very best role model, by showing people that mental illness does not have to be a barrier to success and happiness.
My biggest joy and achievement is overcoming and living with mental illness and reaching out to others on that same journey.
All those years ago, I lost hope and wanted no part of this life. Now, I will give everything I have to help others avoid that darkness. So whilst I am successful at work and I am a successful runner, my biggest joy and achievement is overcoming and living with mental illness and reaching out to others on that same journey.
I feel that where Mind exists, so does hope, and it is that hope that will see me through my 2017 running and fundraising campaign of 12 marathons and 5 ultra-marathons. Split seconds of achievement will disappear in that moment, but how we make people feel about themselves lasts a lifetime, so while I have life in me, I will always join Mind in their mission to ensure that everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.
You can support Rohan in his 2017 running via his Virgin Money Giving page here.
Want to join Rohan? Find out more about running for Mind here.