Friday, 30 March 2018

Basil Bites Back: A tale of depression, running and medication.

Basil Bites Back:

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

Basil is Corrosive
When I named my depression, ‘Basil the Alien’ (Basil has his own FB page ) ,
I was just coming out of a mild depressive episode.
It seemed like a good idea at the time,
to name this parasite which had taken up residence in my mind and body.

I thought: “I will own Basil; I will belittle Basil; Basil will not control me”.
To give my depression a slightly humorous name would help put everything in
perspective and it would help making talking about depression easier,
especially if it had a form,
rather than
some elusive ‘feeling’. I am in control, not this pathetic little alien parasite.
But recent events have made me re-evaluate this. Basil is anything but funny.
Basil is a nasty vindictive, corrosive, homicidal Alien.
Growing, incubating inside of me.
I am harbouring an Alien.
But stuck with the name Basil.

Who Let The Alien Out?
Basil was for some time locked up,safely, in a cage.
With big,  metal, steel doors keeping the little bugger safe.
I could hear him scuttling about every so often, reminding me he was still there,
but he couldn’t hurt me, or anyone else.
Running was one way I used of keeping Basil in check.

 But then around September 2017 I began to notice he had got out.
At first I didn’t realise.
The little shit had probably been partying for some time, in the shadows.
The sneaky little fucker scuttled about making things nasty and difficult,
not just for me,but also for other people.
Slowly and imperceptibly taking over my moods and ability to function.
Bit by bit, stalking and killing my good moods, my confidence, my self esteem,
my ability to reactrationally & appropriately to situations, my sociability, my energy,
my enthusiasm.

I turned nasty. I hurt the ones I love.
Sometimes I am aware this is happening, sometimes I’m not.
And finally it took my ability to function at all.
Including my ability to be a reasonable human being.

Including my ability to run or do any exercise.

By the time I became fully aware, it was too late.
The damage had already been done.
Basil was strong. I was unable to even get out of bed let alone go outside.
Running was not an option.

Basil gloated and goaded;

“You're worthless; You’re shit; You don’t deserve anything;
Things will never get any better; Everyone hates you;
You’re a worthless human being, a crap friend, a shit husband;
You’re shit at your job; Look how pathetic you are, you can’t even go outside;
There’s nothing wrong with you, no one will believe you’re ill,
stop feeling sorry for yourself.
You’re shit, you’re shit, you’re shit, you’re shit......."

……..  SHUT THE FUCK UP………...
Just Shut Up
Please. Please. Please.
Please be quite.
Leave me alone.

The Alien had not only resurrected, but hatched new babies.
There was no violence, no deaths, no bloody mess;
but there might just as well have
been for all the emotional carnage it had caused, not only to me,
but to those closest to me.

I was in hell; but so was my wife.

All Hail Netflix
I went to see my GP. He listened and was sympathetic.
He made a referral for me for CBT ( Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
I started medication again (Citalopram and then Sertraline)
I needed it and I took it.
Fresh air and running can only take you so far.
Which is why I really take issue with this fb meme .
I was signed off work, then went back to bed.
After a few days I had the energy to move down stairs.
As I lay on the couch, I tried to watch ALL of Netflix.
I couldn’t even do that. Loser.
But to be fair, there are a LOT of films and TV programmes on Netflix!!
However, I did my utmost to succeed.
I found most of ‘Netflix Original’ programmes which had run
for several series were the best, as you didn’t have to do anything;
one episode automatically
rolled into the next. You don’t even have to press ‘play’
(well, apart from at the beginning!)

Can You Outrun an Alien?
Can you outrun an Alien? Sigourney Weaver might argue otherwise,
as she always fought the Alien, usually by blowing it up, setting fire to it
or blasting it out of an air lock. I didn’t have those options to me
(unless I fried the bugger with ECT, but I’m not at that stage; yet. (thankfully).

I needed to tame my Alien in other ways, and running is one of those ways.
One of the (many) reasons I run is to keep sane.
But when I’m at my lowest points - and thus arguably in need of a run the most--
I can’t do it.
I just can’t summon the energy to get out of the house, let alone do any exercise.
Netflix and antidepressants will just have to be enough for now.

The evidence that just being outdoors, participating in outdoor activities / exercise, especially running, improves and helps to manage your mental,
as well as your physical, health, is substantial ;
but at times, you just can’t face getting up .
Even an active person like me finds it hard.

Fuck it. Let’s watch more Netflix.

But after Netflix, what do you do? Personally, I find having a goal helps.
Entering a race / organising a walk or activity with friends can often help motivate you.
It generally helps me. I enter lots of races (but there are always more to enter!).
I like the ‘bling’ (!) and you do get to meet great people and run in scenic countryside.
This time I had a pretty big goal to aim for; the Arc of Attrition, a 100mile coastal race in
February 2018, and I needed to get back out.
(I appreciate that a 100 mile Ultra is not your
average distance, but I had been training for this for a long time).

But first I had to finish watching ‘Stranger Things 2’, then ‘The Sinner’, then
‘The Punisher’;then anything else on Netflix that didn’t involve actually doing anything
other than lying about
and trying to block out all those negative, destructive thoughts.

Days turned into weeks.
I went out, but not for long. It’s scary outside, but the dogs needed a walk.
Oh, it’s not so bad. Oh, there’s someone coming, please don’t talk to me.  
Days passed.
The medication had started to calm my mind slightly.
Maybe I’ll go for a short run now.
So I did. I wish I could say I felt better. I didn’t. It was hard work.
I felt ‘wonky’ , ‘dissociated’ and, well, alienated.
I barely made 3miles. It felt like wading through treacle with lead boots on.
A few months before, I could run 48miles. I hadn’t suddenly lost my fitness,
Basil had eroded my joy of running.
My mind had turned against against me.
Basil had turned on me.        

I had a Netflix day, then went back out the next day. It was just as hard.
This is shit. I feel like shit.
The lure of the couch is strong.
Small steps. I need to get better, but it’s blimmin hard work.
Loved ones are helping. Friends are helping.
The medication is helping, but I want to get out
Walk the dogs. Go for a run. Try and admire the countryside.
Take in the scenery.
Get back on it. A chat with my coach. Feel better.
But not by much. Try again. And again.
Fresh air and exercise is meant to help. It always used to work.
The science says it works.
Why don’t I feel it? Back home. More Netflix.
Try again next day.
It’s good for you, and besides, you have a 100miler to train for,
and you don’t want to fail at that
as well, do you?
Now that was a little below the belt I thought, (even for my own thoughts!),
as for anyone else, a
100miles is a long way, especially a Mud Crew 100miler!

Slowly, but surely, I got myself back out running, and back together.
A schedule was certainly helping. I’ve given up too much for this.
Can’t let myself down. Can’t let my coach down. Can’t let my wife down.
Surely that’s in the wrong order?

Days blurred into one. Eat.Sleep. Netflix. Running. Training Peaks.
Walk the dogs.
Fuzzy brain.
What’s causing it,  Depression or Sertraline? Don’t care, must run.
Feeling better. Legs still strong.
Brain still fuzzy, but the fresh air helped.The running helped.
I was getting better.  
The support of my wife, family & friends helped.
The medication helped.
Luna & Georgie helped (my dogs). The CBT helped. My GP helped.
Eventually, I was finally strong enough to go back to work. That helped. I like my job.
Normality (!) was resumed………..I was back.

The Aftermath
As I write this (March 2018), I really, really, really wanted to report that it
was running that was the all conquering activity that saved my soul
and delivered me from the darkness.
Especially as I originally started  writing this article for Sarah Cooke
on the premise of running and depression.

I have depression, and I run. I like running. I like running on trails,
and getting dirty, and wet, and muddy. I like running a long way.

It’s cathartic, atavistic, and cleanses the soul.
I feel alive, refreshed and revitalised,
both during and  after a run, especially if it is wet and muddy.

Running helps keep me sane; and I don’t say that lightly.
I enjoy it. It brings me joy.
It brings me peace. It makes me feel good.

But sometimes it isn’t enough to stop me feeling shit.
To stop me feeling depressed. To stop me BEING depressed.

I knew I suffered from depression, and so I took steps to help myself.
Exercise, especially running, is a proven activity for helping that.  
And for me, and for many others, running is the solution.  

But what happens when it it stops being the solution;
what happens then?
Run further? Run Faster? Run more?
Spend even less time with the people you love?
What if running isn’t the solution to everything?
I love my wife, I love my dogs, I eat reasonably well, I like my job, I’m happy.
I like running.
But that didn’t stop me being being depressed.

So where does that leave me?
Where does leave us runners who suffer from depression……?

Running is great. I love it. It has undeniably helped me.
There is no question about that.  
But if you (like me) suffer / experience quite serious depression,
running (or any other exercise)
is not the only answer.   

You can run, but you can not hide.

There may well be the need to find other ways to address your depression,
along with your running.  
Talking to people. Your partner / friend / GP / therapist (*all of the above*).

And , as far as it affects me, taking medication as well.

Mindfulness based techniques have also been incredibly helpful.

Once you have done that, then you can really enjoy, and benefit from, your running.

Until then, Basil will always be on you back.

Post Script
I started this article in November 2017, and finished it in March 2018.
A lot happened in between.

I got to the start line of the Arc of Attrition , but , after all of my training
and sacrifices, I didn’t complete it due to a virus.
At times, the Universe fucking sucks. No two ways about it.

As I finish writing this in late March 2018, I am (mentally at least!) )
in a better place than I have been for a long time.
Whilst running, dog walking, a mindfulness practice and general activity
have undoubtedly helped, this is not the complete picture.  
In fact ,it isn’t even the main picture;
that accolade goes to my wife and my family.
Without their love and support, I’m not sure where I’d be now.

Sertraline also helped. As did therapy.
As did Ruby Wax (but that’s another story).

Sorry if that’s an anti-climax;
but love, mindfulness & medication helped me in this instance
as much as running did.

But who’s to say that without running, I wouldn’t have been in an even
worse state of mind to with?  
Maybe running helped in keeping Basil occupied,
and therefore less dangerous,
for longer.


So I’m not giving up running
(or loving; or mindfulness; or my medication).


Because then where would I be?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Soup and Salbutamol

Soup and Salbutamol

A short story about an attempt on the Arc of Attrition

It was 6pm on Saturday evening, and I was sat in the pub with a friend, pint in hand. I was warm and dry. Outside, it was cold, misty, wet and windy. But outside was where I should have been, for this was not just any Saturday, this was Saturday 10th February, Arc of Attrition weekend, and if my race had gone to plan, I would have been somewhere on the north Cornish coast path, heading towards Porthtowan.
Towards my first 100mile Buckle.

But my race had not gone to plan, and in fact had ended in a flurry of violent coughing fits at Lamorna Cove, on the South Cornish Coast, in the wee small hours of Saturday morning; not even half way through the race.

Friday 9th February. 2018. Race day. 

Alarm went off at 05.00hrs. I was ready. I had trained hard for this. I had given up a lot over the past year. A year of planning had gone into this race, and I was excited. I felt slightly off colour, but put it down to nerves. First Breakfast; porridge, toast & coffee, and it was time to go. Thanks to one half of my excellent support crew, Martin & Hilary, I was picked up for an uneventful drive down to Porthtowan for kit check and race briefing. Second and third breakfasts followed. 

More food. 
More fluids. 
On coach to start. 
Nerves and excitement rising. 
You're ready. 
You've got this. 
Game on.

Coverack 12:00hrs: GO!!

I raced from the start, as the going would be tough and the cut offs tight. I wasn't going to be chasing cut offs. Not me. Although mucky underfoot, and a cold wind, it was a gloriously sunny day and I settled into the race. My legs felt a bit weak, but they'll warm up soon enough. Look at the scenery. Rugged splendor of the South West Coast Path, sweeping panoramic views.  

Chat to fellow runners. 
Try not to slip in the mud. 
Move forward.

Kennack Sands, first contact with the other half of my crew, Rachel & Jo. Good to see them. Quick chat. Food, water, carry on. First detour along the lanes. Back on the coast path. 

Up. down. Around. Mud. Rocks . Mud. More mud. A few hills. Steps. Beach. Rocks. River crossings. Bogs. More steps. More mud. 
Can't get no rhythm. 
Very, very scenic. Can't stop to look at the view though.  
Why do my legs feel so weak still?    

Around Lizard Point. 10miles done. All my crew in one place. I love my crew. They will get me through this. Food and onwards. Not far off planned times. The Lizard really is some of the most dramatic scenery on the course, but it is exposed, and the wind is cold. Coming down into Mullion, I needed to put leggings and jacket on. I was beginning to have trouble breathing and eating at this point. Rachel got cross with me for not eating. But it's because she cares I told myself. My chest hurt. I was beginning to cough. Maybe it was just the effect of the cold air on my poor , old, asthmatic lungs.  My 'Bricanyl' inhaler was having little effect. 

Press on though. 
Look at the views! 
Think of the Buckle! 
I so want that Buckle. 
I was slowing down though. Get a move on. 

Loe Bar and the big detour. Got chatting to another runner, Adrian. Headtorch on and prepare for the big slippy mud fest that awaits on the detour; and it did not disappoint. 
Energy sapping fields of mud. 
Mustn't grumble. 
Almost at Porthleven.

The Arc Angels of Porthleven were welcoming and efficient, and between them and Rachel, I got sorted. Soup.  This weekends Nectar of the Ultra Gods. Breathing wasn't good, and the medic decided I needed Salbutamol, and said I should have shit loads of it. So I did. (NB: I am a bit deaf, and may have misheard and misquoted the medic here, but he def gave me some Salbutamol!)

A combination of soup and Salbutamol, and I was back on it. For some time after Porthleven I felt good. I like running at night and find it quite meditative; your vision is limited to the area of your head torch, and, especially during an event, there is nothing to do but move forward and concentrate on your running. The simplicity of it is soothing.  The rhythmic sound of the sea, swishing on the rocks below and the clear shiny stars above, helped bring some much needed clarity. 

This is it. 
This is what it's about. 
Nature and running. 
I'm enjoying this. 
I'm in the zone. 
But another violent coughing fit shook me out of my reflective mindful state.  

Fuck, that one hurt. 

My brain is rattling around I coughed so hard. You're slowing up. Shock those legs into action and run fast for a bit. So I did. But not for long before I coughed again. 

My whole body began to ache with the tell tale signs of a flu virus. 
Tough shit. 
Deal with it. 
Move on.

At various points my crew popped up, Food, water, inhalers and words of encouragement were all dispensed. 

Runners passed. I couldn't keep up. I've still got this though.

Marazion. First costume change. Out of wet muddy shoes and into road shoes for the next stretch which was all on tarmac and mostly flat. Make up some time here. Hilary did the dirty work (thank you!) whilst I ate a porridge pot. I felt good. Let's do this. With renewed energy I trotted along the seafront to the Penzance CP. It was 23:49hrs. Rachel and Arc Angels sorted me out. Soup & potatoes. Medic gave me some more Salbutamol. Out the door, soup and snatched flapjack in hand. 

Only 10mns inside the cut off. 
I was chasing cut offs now. 
This was not in the plan. 
Plans change. 
Deal with it.

As I shuffled through the deserted quay side streets of old Penzance, I re-evaluated my situation. It's OK. You can slog this one out. You've trained well. You have an excellent support crew. You know the course. I remained positive.

Mousehole. Rachel & Jo changed me back into trail shoes (thank you!) Pizza. Water. Encouragement. Back on the coast path proper. 

A technical section. Narrow paths, slippery rocks. Jagged outcrops. Sheer drops. Racking coughs. Getting more violent. 

I can't go on. 
Cough, after cough, after cough brought me quite literally to my knees. 
I was bent over double leaning on my poles. I'm sure I've bruised my frontal lobe with all the coughing, it hurts so much. 
I had to sit down.

Fuck, I feel like shit. 

Week and feeble. Nothing like a highly trained Ultra runner at the top of my game. Oh, how quickly things change. I turned off my lights, took a moment. Ate some food. Drank. It was like swallowing broken glass. I looked at the stars. Listened to the sea. 

Get up. 
Move forward. 

It was now taking all my energy to stay upright. This isn't safe anymore. Runners caught up. I moved over to let them pass. All asked if I was Ok. Fine, I lied to them, just a bit slow. If I actually told anyone how ill I was now feeling, they may actually stop to help (because that's how considerate ultra runners are), and that would ruin their race. So I lied to them.  I had a phone and an emergency bivy bag if it really did go all Pete Tong.  

As I saw the lights of Lamorna Cove, I knew that was where I had to stop. I was barely moving. My coughing was now relentless and very, very painful. My whole body ached. I still had 60miles to go. This was not something I could tough out. I knew my body well enough to know that I was rapidly becoming proper poorly.   I just hope there would be mobile MudCrew support there like last year. There was. 
And I stopped. 

My race was over, less than half way through. It had ended with a cough and whimper. 
No feats of heroism. 
No stories of fighting sleep monsters. 
No athletic feats of endurance. 
No fireside stories. 
No bragging rights. 
No buckle. 
Just a DNF. 
Just disappointment.  
And a broken dream.


 As I left the pub on that Saturday night, I reflected on what might have been. Could I have finished? Could I, Should I even, have slugged it out? Then the cold , damp air got into my lungs and I bent over double, coughing relentlessly and painfully.   

No, I couldn't have made it. It was a hard reality, but I had made the right decision.

More importantly. I was safe.


Saturday 17th February: As I finish writing this, a week after my DNF, I can report that I really have been very ill over the past week. I also managed to infect most of my support crew and my wife (sorry!), who can all attest to how nasty this virus has been. I am also aware that in writing this, it could sound a little bit like one of those sick notes you got your friends to write for you at school, when you were little, so you can miss P.E:

" Dear MudCrew, 
Sorry Murray could not finish the Arc. He had a cold. 
Lots of Love, 
Murray's Mum". 

But I did develop a virus, and I was too weak to finish. But that also begs the question, would I have been strong enough to finish anyway? Maybe, maybe not. The Arc had a 65% DNF rate this year and you really have to be on the top of your game to finish. 
I wasn't. 
And I didn't. 
I guess we'll never know if I could.

Until I return...........