It's just after ten on a Saturday morning, you're walking down the street you look up and coming down the road in front of you is a battered little car and at the wheel is Batman.
You shake your head in disbelief and look again. But you're not seeing things. You then notice that sat in the passenger's seat is Robin, complete in mask and cape. As the car drives passed you notice that both Batman and Robin are laughing. Really laughing. In fact, they're laughing so much that they're bent over as their stomachs are hurting they're laughing so much. You find yourself smiling at the strange sight, it's not every day you see Batman and Robin driving towards you.
I was the Batman.
My friend and I had just completed a fun filled parkrun. The reason for our costume? We had both entered a virtual race where we earned a Lego Batman medal if we did a two kilometre walk or run. Any excuse to dress up, my friend and I decided to go to our local parkrun dressed as Batman and Robin. We had a blast! Not only did our fellow parkrunners give us such support but we had so much fun that we both came away laughing and had decided to spread the joy with the people of the local village. Their faces when they saw us coming towards them was the cause of our hilarity.
This, you may think, is not the picture of depression and anxiety. No, it isn't. This is just a small slice of time when everything felt right, when all doubts disappeared, when all feelings of self-loathing faded into the background. This was a moment when positivity was the only thing possible.
A year ago, I never would have thought it possible to have moments like these.
Over the span of twenty years, life had thrown at me two mentally abusive relationships, undiagnosed post-natal depression, two cases of bullying in the workplace, unemployment, single motherhood and several close friend and family deaths. All this had contributed to a deep and dark depressive state. My lowest being the point where I simply could not get through the day without sleeping. The depression led to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and a twenty cigarette a day habit. With the help of counselling I was able to take away the guilt of being depressed and came off the anti-depressants. This worked for a long while and I found the confidence to get a job.
In the meantime, I had fallen in love with someone who turned out to be a master manipulator, someone who dragged me so far down that I didn't see a way back to the person I was before. My confidence was shattered, I felt completely useless and I thought I was the worst mother ever. That person enabled my alcohol problem, they liked the fact that I was so low in self confidence that I turned to them for 'help and guidance'. Thankfully, I was able to break away and slowly I started to believe in myself again. Until, that is, I was bullied by a manager in a job that I loved. His sly bullying sent me back to the doctors and I reluctantly started the anti-depressants again.
The inability to cope with any stress brought on a fresh feeling of guilt and I wondered whether I would ever be strong enough to cope with what else life threw at me.
Then something truly wonderful happened.
An old school friend announced that she was going to try for The London Marathon Ballot. We were both turning forty soon and it seemed a great way to celebrate such a momentous occasion. A marathon! That's what I would do, I would start running and tick a marathon off my bucket list. So, with great enthusiasm I searched online and was pointed in the direction of parkrun. I couldn't believe my luck, a local place where people get together and run, for fun, a five-kilometre route.
That following Saturday I ventured out, on my own, and stood around in silent awe at my surroundings. The reality of the situation started to hit me. I had come out alone, I had come to run when I hated exercise and couldn't see the point of running and I was surrounded by people. Social anxiety was becoming a huge problem with me, I either freeze up or speak too much then I worry that others think I'm strange. However, something happened that I wasn't expecting at all. Everyone was so nice to me, they welcomed my presence and encouraged me to do well. Walking over to the starting line I became aware of the atmosphere, there was a tangible excitement in the air. I started to feel excited too. The good-humoured banter between the marshals put a smile on my face and before I knew it we were off.
Reality hit for the second time. I was unfit. Run? I could barely walk a mile let alone run for three! Despair started to descend as I realised the mammoth task ahead of me. Then the tail runner came to my rescue. She encouraged me and helped me when I struggled and before long I was actually enjoying myself. We reached the half way mark and I knew I wasn't going to be able to do the full five kilometres so I called it a day, thanked Andrea and said my goodbyes.
It was as soon as I sat down in my car that I felt it. The high. A massive rush of endorphins that brought my mood up. My legs tingled pleasurably and I found myself smiling inanely. I had actually enjoyed that. This high lasted all day, as did the smile.
I have tried cycling, yoga and many work out dvds and whilst they did provide some sort of enjoyment I had never experienced anything quite like I had after that first run/walk. I began to feel anything was possible but I didn't know then how possible.
The buzz of what I had achieved continued throughout the week and, if I'm honest, it's also carried me through a whole year of running. I still, to this day, get that delightful rush; in fact, it's what I long for when I'm out on a run. It's what urges me on, it's what helps me dig deep to continue when I get that naughty negative thought of self-doubt. That buzz, that whole physical and mental rush is one of the best things about running.
However, it isn't this buzz alone that makes running so fulfilling. It's also the running community as a whole. The friendliness at my first parkrun wasn't a fluke, it permeates throughout the entire running community. Everywhere I have gone that involves running I have been met with genuine support and pleasantness. Worried you'll be too slow during a race? You'll have those worries pushed aside by kind, encouraging tail runners. Scared you'll be alone through a parkrun course? You'll meet people with the same worries and strike up a conversation that gets you to end before you've realised what's happened. Every runner supports each other and they take a genuine interest in your progress. I have seen so much good will and made so many good friends through running that my whole faith in humanity has been restored. There are good people out there, they may be running faster than you or they may be on the side-lines but they're always ready with a cheer or a few words of encouragement.
I still suffer with anxiety but it's because of the warmth of the running community, and the welcome I get at my home parkrun or a race that the severity of the anxiety isn't as bad as it was. Being amongst over twenty thousand people at Cardiff Half Marathon was proof to me that my ability to deal with anxiety has improved.
My depression has also become much more manageable. I have successfully come off the anti-depressants, I still get my days when I'm low but I know that a run will help elevate the mood. Running has also helped me to become less dependent on alcohol. I rarely drink now as I would hate to go for a run with a hangover so if ever I do drink it's one or two and for pure pleasure rather than because I 'needed' it. Running has also helped me to give up smoking, which I thought would never be possible. I was unable to breathe properly during a run and I knew it was down to the amount I had smoked that week. It was a simple case of deciding what I wanted more: running or smoking.
Running has an instant effect mentally, yes you go through the usual 'why am I doing this' or 'I hate this' but because of that great feeling afterwards you learn to dig deep and push on until you start to enjoy. Digging deep is something else that you learn to do in running that filters into your everyday life. You start to believe in yourself, you start realising your own strength, determination and you find yourself smiling again. You're not the slave to your own negative thoughts anymore, yes you have your bad days but then you have this knowledge that things will improve, you will get through it and there's always something good to look forward to. Your next run.
I used to say that I didn't see the point of running, now I can't imagine life without it. It doesn't just give you a physical rush, it gives you a life rush.