When I went out for my first ever run, in September 2015, I wore denim shorts, a short-sleeved knitted top, and fake converse-style shoes from Primark.
I had nothing else aside from old trainers from my school days buried deep in my wardrobe, so this debut running outfit was the most logical I could conjure up.
I figured, who cares what I wear? I just need to run.
A number of people, including friends and counsellors, had recommended running to me.
‘Have you tried exercising?’ they would say, and ‘endorphins can really help depression,’ and ‘running will relieve stress,’ but I just laughed at the thought of running fixing my mental health.
I’ve been an overachiever all my life and was confident that I would over-achieve my way through university as well.
But instead I struggled like hell throughout the whole three years, with everything from friends to course to accommodation, and it only got worse when I graduated and moved back in with my parents.
I thought that would fix everything and I could go back to normal, but within months I was sat in my GP’s office saying I wanted to kill myself so please, oh please, just let me get on with it.
Antidepressants were my saving grace.
Of course, getting myself to my GP and admitting I needed support was the biggest step and integral in my recovery, but medication was like a safety net beneath me.
It gave me a breath, just a few seconds to evaluate before a bad thought could manifest.
That’s where running came in.
I downloaded the NHS’ Couch to 5k app. I knew I wanted to run but I didn’t know how, and this programme seemed to fit my need.
The first run was HARD.
I only had to run for one minute at a time. One minute! That’s nothing!
But I was so unfit and my body panicked, it didn’t have a clue what was happening.
Why was I moving? Where was I going? Why was I using so many parts of my body?
For the first time in years my brain had to work together with my body to keep going… and keep going I did.
Couch to 5k gave me little goals every day to work towards and I thrived on it.
It was progress, it was positive, and it gave me control.
It felt amazing, and once I’d finished the programme and could run for 30 minutes without stopping, I wanted more.
So I signed up to Parkrun and was introduced to the community aspect of running.
I was now identifying myself as a runner and had running friends who all had different reasons for running.
Running was a chance to look after my body, which was getting fitter by the week, and my mind, which was getting stronger by the minute.
If I was having an off day, I’d go for a run.
Nothing could stop me putting on my trainers (I finally bought some proper ones) and running.
I wasn’t running away from my problems, I was working through them instead of letting them fester.
I wasn’t allowing them to do that anymore.
Running enabled me to switch focus and either distract me from spiralling or allow me to work through a thought or problem in the fresh air.
It was a process that I controlled.
I signed up for my first race, the Vitality British 10k London, last February, only five months after putting on those denim shorts.
When I ran it in July, it was a game changer.
The training, the support during training, and the support on the day was incredible.
As soon as I got home, I signed up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon.
But I worried that running was becoming too much of an obsession and that my overachieving streak was clinging on to this new love.
I think there is a thin line between running being healthy and unhealthy for those who struggle with their mental health.
But if you and your support system are aware of that, and know your signs of unhealthy behaviour, then you’re sound.
Completing the Royal Parks Half was such a huge achievement both mentally and physically.
I’ve found that the longer the race, the more the challenges are mental rather than physical.
I injured my foot during the Half but it was my mind that was consequently more damaged.
I beat myself up tirelessly for not being able to run for a month and it took a lot of work to get over that.
I’ll be running 26.2 (the .2 is important) miles in the year of the mental health marathon, to support others as well as continuing to support myself.
It’s going to be tough, mentally and physically, but it’s also going to be incredibly empowering and inspirational too.
I’ve said that this will be the only marathon I’ll ever do, but who knows?
I’ve surprised myself umpteen times in the last year and a half, so I’m sure there are more surprises to come.
What to do if you’re struggling with your mental health
If you feel like you’re suffering from mental health problems, speak to your GP.
If you’re a young person who feels like they need support for mental health problems or any other issue, from money to relationship troubles, then The Mix can help. They provide free online and phone support to people under the age of 25. Call them on 0808 808 4994.