Worth Living Run Ambassador Brett Anderson

Living in the north of England, Brett is a father, a teacher, a runner. He completed his first triathlon at the tender age of 17 and has gone on to run every distance from sprint mile to marathon and now ultra-marathon which he completed at the not so tender age of 48.

He is open about his battle with mental health and since hitting rock bottom 10 years ago, he has been on what he would describe as being a life changing journey ever since. He is a firm believer that through sharing and support anything is possible and that above all else we must strive to de-stigmatise mental health. You can follow Brett on Twitter @firstrunlastrun and cheer him along as he battles his anxiety and beats it most days.

Warning: Suicide is discussed

Worth Living

To encapsulate 30 plus years of running and more importantly WHY I run initially filled me (to be entirely honesty) with dread. Such was the enormity of the task. However, following a day of reflecting, I think I can bring it back to one simple mind set.
‘Suicide is painless’ was written by Johnny Mandel. It became the theme tune to M.A.S.H. Johnny was 14 when he wrote the song. I remember hearing the song as a child lying in bed as my parents watched the iconic show in the lounge downstairs. Looking back now, knowing what I know what kind of 14 year old writes a song about suicide? The answer to me seems clear. I think a lot would, if they could. My ‘suicide head’ started about that time.

I work in a school. I work with a lot of 11-16 year olds. I see anxiety and depression all the time and what I don’t see is somebody willing to say ‘it’s okay; you can talk about it openly’. If a 14 year old can write a song about suicide back in the 1970’s, why then can’t we talk about anxiety, depression, and suicide now? Is it the religious connotations? Is it that by discussing suicide we have to accept the existence of the ultimate demon? Is it simply because to do so simply hurts to damn much?

Whatever the reason, I’m now 48 and this is my time. Many years ago, my fried committed suicide; for him, it was a choice. When the pain of living with his head simply became too much, he chose to take control. Perhaps that’s what suicide is to some. Control. I will choose to make the decision. I will choose to take that path. When I think of how dark things have become for me at times, I can’t deny that I too have seen suicide as an option, a choice, a method to stop the perpetual noise of self-doubt. Imagine walking along a mountain ridge. On one side you have calm, on the other ultimate chaos. Imagine walking along that ridge every day with only brief moments of respite. It’s the itch you can’t scratch.

Except I can.

I remember clearly a particular run. It was about two years ago. It had been snowing heavily; we’re talking a good 4 inches. I layered up, got out the trail shoes, and ventured out. I had just recovered from illness and I was starting to feel stronger and confident enough that my body would respond even in the harsh conditions.

Within minutes, I settled into the run and the transformation that happens every single time I run happened. That’s the best way I can describe it. A transformation. Every step I take I feel suicide recedes, just one step. It can’t keep up. I say it because it has a presence, it has a sense of being, it has a life force of its own. Yes, its malevolence scares me because I know it won’t go away. Not completely. It drifts way back into my subconscious, only to return when life gets just too damn hard. But when I run, an energy courses through me and shouts “screw you”, I can do anything. Inwardly, I shout this is worth living for. This sense of overwhelming freedom from everything that brings me down.

Suicide can’t run as fast as I. Even when I plod.

If in doubt. Run.

Worth Living Run Ambassador Sarah Eisan

Graduating from Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Commerce, Sarah worked as an IT professional until she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Over the last year since her diagnosis, she has been on a leave of absence, learning how to navigate the Mental Health system and becoming an advocate for others struggling with Mental Health. Sarah has found exercise and running to be an important part of managing her Bipolar Disorder and hopes that sharing her journey can help others find the courage to get help.

Through the Darkness

Mental health is something I’ve always been aware of, even from a young age. Several members of my family have struggled with various mental illnesses so it wasn’t taboo in my family, it was just part of day to day life.

You would think this would have prepared me for the mental health challenges that I would face during adolescence into adulthood but instead I bottled everything up, put on a brave face, determined I would be the success story, I would be the person in my family who wouldn’t have mental health issues.

Through my teen years and into early adulthood, I remained steadfast that I wasn’t experiencing mental health symptoms despite feedback from those close to me that maybe I was. It wasn’t until after the birth of my daughter,  that I admitted I wasn’t as strong as I let on. It had been a difficult pregnancy that resulted in my daughter suffering a stroke during childbirth so at least now I felt justified in my struggles; surely going through this situation would be enough to make anyone struggle so I reached out for help, taking the first step of what I didn’t realize then would be an incredibly long and strenuous journey.

I was initially diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I accepted this and took the medication expecting that to fix me, I wasn’t interested in talking to a stranger about my struggles, I wasn’t ready to accept that there may be more pieces to this puzzle I was dealing with. Over the years I continued on medication but also continued to struggle. It wasn’t until several years later when a co-worker introduced me to running that I found an outlet for the depression and anxiety I was still continuing to experience.

Now before you picture a typical runner, lean and athletic, let me assure you that was not me. I was overweight, short and slow, in fact my best time ever for a 5k race was 42 minutes, but the benefits running gave to me were immense; it was during runs that my mind would briefly clear, the racing thoughts and negative self- talk would disappear for a short time and it was magical, for a brief time, I didn’t feel depressed or anxious.

For the first time in a long time, life was becoming manageable and I thought I was finally starting to get better, then life happened… a freak painting accident left me with a severe concussion and now I couldn’t run. I tried and failed miserably setting back my concussion recovery which caused the depression to become worse than ever. I was off work for over a year and even when I was well enough to work, I still couldn’t run without the post-concussion symptoms taking over, sidelining me and I am ashamed to say, I just gave up. The years that followed were the darkest that I could ever have imagined and it all came to a breaking point the day my husband said to me, I think we should take you to the hospital.

I thought this day would be my lowest point, my rock bottom but it wasn’t. There would be several more “rock bottoms” I would experience but on this day, at the hospital, terrified, talking about my darkest thoughts with strangers. I received a diagnosis that would change everything, Bipolar Disorder. This day, this diagnosis, set my life on a new path consisting of new medications, individual and group therapies, and despite my best efforts, more hospital visits.

By this time I had gained even more weight, feeling less athletic than ever, but over time, seeing Facebook posts from a local gym inspired me to give it a try. Maybe I could get that part of me back and maybe it would help my mental health. I started at The Barn, a small local gym with an amazing supportive community feel and slowly I began to regain my confidence and my strength. Now with my newfound confidence and strength I’m beginning to run again, slowly and with lots of walk breaks mind you, but I’m doing it and I can feel the mental health benefits already. I know I still have a long road ahead of me and there will be ups and downs but I also know that I can help myself by going to the gym and running, I know now I can do this and that my life is worth living.