Gavin's story: running from the black dog

As a child growing up in the 80s, I remember many dark times, I hated school, I always struggled to get out of bed in the morning and I was a loner.

Struggling with my mental health in school

I remember countless times when I had to attend meetings with my parents at the school, with the school board and with the doctor. My attendance in the last few years at school was 50%. I hated sport with a passion, possibly due to being very overweight and was used as an example of the opposite of malnutrition by my science teacher – I was told “you’ll always be a couch potato” by my PE teacher.

I went through life with many ups and downs and in my late teens I first heard about depression. I lost count of the amount of times I tried to go to a doctor but just couldn’t put across how I was feeling, I felt ashamed!

Learning to open up and seek help for depression

The biggest turning point of my life was meeting my wife Kerry at the age of 21, she helped build my confidence and gradually I began to talk to her.

It still took until I was 35 to build up the courage to approach a doctor due to the stigma and until I was 40 to start openly talking about it. At that appointment with my doctor at the age of 35, seven years ago, I was put on antidepressants.

The antidepressants took a while to work but they changed me massively, I grew confident, I went from driving a dustcart to becoming a Manager within Supply Chain and went back to education becoming a Part Qualified Accountant and gaining many other business qualifications.

Introducing running into my life

As I reached 40 I began to worry about my health. I didn’t want to pay to go to the gym so instead I downloaded the NHS Couch t0 5k App on my phone. I hated running at school but thought I’d give it a go.

The first few weeks were really difficult. It was hard work and I had to repeat some weeks. At the beginning I struggled to run for 30 seconds! Through perseverance I eventually did it, I ran 5k (3.1 miles) without stopping!

What I also discovered was that no matter how hard it was when I was running, I would feel amazing at the end!

The unexpected mental health benefits of running

I began to get a buzz about running and noticed that if I didn’t run my mood would be lower. I wanted to take it further, so I looked for a local running club.

I turned up one evening with huge butterflies in my stomach as I struggle with social situations. The club members and coaches were so welcoming and friendly. I remember asking my coach, Theresa, how far we were going to run on that dark, cold November evening, “only four miles” was the answer, I nearly choked, three miles was far enough but I gave it a go, and everyone supported me. 

The running continued to give me that buzz of endorphins and helped pick my mood up whenever I was low and still does.

The social benefits of running

Being part of something with the club makes me feel great and gets me socialising more. I feel much more comfortable running and chatting than going to a pub and chatting.

Running gives my mind headspace

When I run it also gives me headspace, no matter how busy my head gets with worries or negative thoughts when I get running within half a mile my head just goes blank, that inner voice quietens down and all I focus on is the rhythm of my breathing and I take in the sights.

Starting my blog – Running From The Black Dog

Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a cure and I still get low days. Stress at work late last year brought on anxiety and deep depression and I ended up being off work for six weeks.

You still need to look after yourself – however, the running has helped me recover and kept me going through dark times. Yes, it was very hard to get going but I knew that once I got running that the cloud would lift, and it did!

I must add my employer and my work colleagues were fantastic. As part of my therapy and to help inspire and encourage others I started to write a blog called Running From The Black Dog.

My achievements and personal goals

Since beginning running two and a half years ago, I have run countless races with a large display of medals from 5k up to 20 miles and I have run my first marathon! Later in the year I will be running a 35 mile ultra-marathon and completing my first ever triathlon, including an 800m open water swim!

I also plan to come off the medication with my doctor's help and purely use exercise and CBT to manage my issues. Check out my blog to follow my adventures.

I want to help others start getting active to help with their mental health.

Read Gavin's blog​​, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Learn about mental health and exercise

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