A friend of mine from back in my Southampton dayz posted recently about something called RED January, which she said she would be doing to raise money for the mental health charity MIND. This piqued my interest and I decided I would do it as well! Then I looked at what RED stood for: Run Every Day. Then I felt a bit less up for it, as despite being a health and fitness coach running is definitely not my friend.
I signed up anyway, and once I had started to learn a bit more about RED January I realised it's not strictly just running every day. The focus is on getting ACTIVE every day, as this is a seriously effective management tool for depression and anxiety. You could run, you could walk, you could swim, you could go to the gym, you could climb...it's really up to you. I guess they went with Run Every Day because it makes a good acronym, and Get Active Every Day just spells GAED and it's not quite as memorable. I get it guys, good move.
Anyway, I already know that whatever I do, RED January is going to be a great movement to be a part of. A lot of the participants seem to have struggled with their own mental health, either in the past or currently. The 7000-strong community group on Facebook is amazingly supportive to each other, it's incredible to see. This alone is going to make a huge difference to people.
My own mental health
I've had mental health challenges in the past myself, and I have written a bit about them here and here. I have had a good run over the past 5 years with just the odd day or few days where I'm out of action. The last big stint of poor mental health was just before I left teaching, and for a little while after. That was until this year, about 6 months ago.
I don't know whether this is part of the guilt I always feel with my depression and anxiety, but I feel the need to drop in that I know there are many more people out there who suffer more than I do. I'm not feeling suicidal, I haven't needed to be hospitalised or anything like that. I kinda need to stress that I'm not looking for sympathy as I am well aware that others are struggling way more than me. Whether that's the guilt or not I just needed to include it.
At the beginning of July this year (2017) I started getting some pretty savage physical symptoms which were potential indicators of a lymphoma relapse. One of the biggest was zero energy, to the point where I had to stay in bed almost constantly. I also had swollen glands, difficulty breathing, sweating...stuff which rings alarm bells with my doctor.
As a result of all kinds of emotions rushing back which I hadn't dealt with last time around, I began to spiral down into depression and anxiety. I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling this made the physical symptoms worse. I ended up unable to work for 3 months, and when you're self-employed this means no income. Cue more anxiety and worry.
On top of this, we moved house in August, right in the middle of everything else! This could have been a blessing though, as we are now much closer to my mum (we're even sharing some of the house!) which is ideal to ease the childcare situation.
Where I'm at now
After having numerous blood tests, X-rays, and a CT scan we found that it wasn't lymphoma (phew) but it was probably a severe virus and I needed more tests. To be frank, I was so relieved it wasn't lymphoma I never went back for the other tests. I realise that's pretty silly.
Now, almost 6 months later, I am still reeling from the whole thing. I used to find it easy to get up at 6am, or even 5am, but now I struggle to get up even at 8am. I used to train intensely at the gym, but some days I barely have the energy to get upstairs. I'm also having to build my business up from scratch after 3+ months of nothing.
I've been struggling a bit.
But here's the thing: I know it's down to me.
Not in a kind of 'mental health is a choice' kinda way, we all know that's bullshit. But more about how I respond to it. If someone has a physical illness, they can either let it define them and drag them down or they can use it to motivate and uplift them. Even if it's terminal! You see people with 3 months left to live and they cram more life into those days than they ever did before!
Mental vs physical
Mental health and physical health are the same in a lot of ways, and you always see campaigns to have them treated equally. Your brain is an organ, same as your heart or liver, and it has certain functions. Mental health challenges come about when that organ isn't functioning correctly. Heart disease is when your heart is having trouble doing it's job, liver disease is the same again but with your liver.
Your brain is so complex that there is way more that can go wrong there than anything else! Mental health isn't only equal to physical health, it IS physical health! It's the health of certain parts and certain functions of your brain. This is how I try and think of it anyway, it might not help you but it certainly does me.
When you have a physical illness, I'll use cancer as an example as I've been there, you don't have to become the illness. You HAVE cancer, you aren't 'cancered'. I feel the same about my mental health: I have depression, I am not 'depressed'. It's not who I am, it's separate to me but it's something I have to live with. It's something I have to manage. At least for now, it might not be forever.
Just writing this down is helping me massively, so thank you internet for being wonderful. Even if nobody reads it.
I'll get back to RED January
This came at a great time for me. I know new year is a great time in general for many people, but I just feel ready you know? I'm not one for wallowing, but I feel that in the past I have stuck my head in the sand. My positive mindset philosophy has developed beyond 'be happy about everything all the time' to 'be aware of your personal challenges, and then use them to your advantage'.
I feel that RED January will be a catalyst for me to make some positive changes to my own management of my mental (and physical) health. I also feel that it will be a catalyst for me to help others as well. These two things often go hand-in-hand for me. The better I feel, the more proactive I'm being, the more I can help others to do the same.
I have self-referred to my local depression and anxiety service with the hope I will get some treatment. I would prefer the route of CBT rather than medication but we'll see what happens. If it wasn't for registering for RED January I don't think I would have done this.
One of the most effective tools for me is physical activity, so it's clear that this is going to help. I was initially concerned that I wouldn't be able to run every day. Now I see it's just about getting active I know I can do it.
I also know that ANYONE can do it!
Make it happen
Even if it's just a walk round the block every day, it will help your physical and mental health. The fact you can do this while raising money for an amazing charity is a bonus!
Speaking of fundraising, please PLEASE sponsor me! Help me raise funds for an incredible charity, no matter if it's £50 or 50p it all adds up. Head over to my JustGiving page and help me support all the other people who are going through some tough times with their mental health.
So here's to 2018, and to RED January!