How #runandtalk helps me

by Lucy Rider

I work in recruitment, or rather I did work in recruitment, at the moment I’m having a small break which is giving me much needed time to do a few very important things and one thing I wanted to do was to tell people a bit about it.  

Overjoyed after reaching the end of 91 miles of walking Hadrian’s Wall path!

I don’t think that my life is especially noteworthy, but the reason I wanted to write this is because I’ve been a mental health champion both within work, but also within Hyde Park Harriers and the one thing that is clear is that whilst we have numerous days marking “Mental Health” and the conversation is much more open than when I started my career 20 years ago, it’s still clear that some people will be going through incredibly challenging times alone and thinking they are the only people feeling that way.  It’s important for people to talk, but it’s also important for them to be able to listen and realise that they aren’t a terrible individual for feeling like they do because actually others feel the same.

The first thing I always say is that is that mental health isn’t a competition and this is something really relevant in Covid times as the vast majority of us have had some pretty awful things happen in the past 18 months and if *your* experiences don’t feel as worthy as others to be sad or depressed, but you still can’t bring yourself to go out for a run, speak to a friend or even brush your hair it doesn’t mean you don’t have the “right” to feel sad.  Sometimes it’s harder to tackle mental ill health when there isn’t an obvious cause so the best advice I can give is that if you aren’t feeling yourself or you notice that you are avoiding things you used to enjoy doing regularly, please start a conversation with someone whether that’s a good friend, family member, a colleague or a professional.  Likewise if you notice someone you know is behaving differently a simple check-in of how they are or inviting them for a walk can make more of a difference than you might imagine.

So back to me.  I’ve worked within recruitment for 20 years as of the 1st October this year and during that time I’ve had barely any time off ill, not missing a single day when I had broken my shoulder and was typing one handed for weeks and on very strong pain killers.  Discovering that I have low self esteem in 2017 (which was cleverly disguising itself as my assuming I am a competitive person) I would be likely to be overperforming in work if there was more horrible stuff that I was having to deal with outside of work.  Work was escapism and a place where generally if you worked hard you’d get validation, that you were a worthy person by beating colleagues on monthly sales league tables. I even went into work to sell a retained advertising package for a senior role less than 24 hours after being mugged in the work car park and was most likely mildly concussed after being hit on the back of the head twice.  

Recruitment is always a competitive industry and to a certain extent I thrive in this environment. Certainly in covid times I was always grateful to be working throughout, even if it was flat out at home with the physical boundaries between work and home removed.  I was notching up 50 – 60 hour weeks with nothing to distract me away from the laptop with hundreds of emails and tasks to be done.  I worked for a well established large recruitment firm since 2008 and I led my small team through the  covid crisis and we started to break records.  I was consistently anxious, worried and finding the world a challenging place, but work remained a safe place for me and I knew I get paid at the end of each month.

In January this year there were a few changes and that is the norm in large recruitment businesses.  I had a new boss who I’d not really met or worked with before and we went straight into the 3rd lockdown.  I don’t know why exactly, but this new relationship didn’t work.  I carried on doing my job and my team continued to perform really well, but in Februrary I noticed I was waking up every morning with a headache.  This wasn’t a new thing as I have had this before when I’ve been under stress and would typically go when the stress dimished, but as time went on in March I was still struggling and even focussing on my laptop screen was a challenge in the morning.  

In March I went to see a fellow HPH for an eye test and all was normal and so I called my GP who was rather unhelpful and suggested it was because I had too much screentime.  I knew that this was unlikely to be the issue as the headaches were very recentl and I was fortunate to be able to use a my health insurance for a private GP appointment who referred me to a neurologist.  In June I had MRI brain scans which were all clear and was diagnosing with chronic low level migraine and prescribed Amitriptyline that acts as a preventative medication taken about an hour before bed.  The challenge many people have is that it can make you very drowsy the following morning and not being a morning person already, it did make the first couple of hours of work very challenging

The headaches were slightly better, but still there and alongside this I had begin to realise after doing a little health, wellbeing and purpose audit as a result of reading Dr Alex George’s book – “Live Well Every Day” (and no I’ve never watched an episode of Love Island!) that change was needed for me in work.  I identified that my key passions and purpose revolve around health and wellbeing, nature and conservation and helping and supporting people.

I started to consider a few different options, but nothing progressed very quickly and things started to get more challenging at work when it was very clear that there were quite deep misunderstandings between myself and my boss.  Running alongside the challenges at work over the summer were a number of family issues with my immediate family who all live 5 – 6 hours drive away.  My Dad was suddenly diagnosed with a silent stroke and Parkinsons and over the space of a week lost mobility to walk without shuffling and use fine motor skills and then two weeks later my brother had some serious issues with his young family as well.  

I take some responsibility for the challenges at work as I’m sure I could have made more proactive efforts to build a better relationship with my new boss, but when I noticed I was being excluded from meetings, I asked for a catch up and it was clear that my longer term aspirations and the company plans for me were totally different.  I proposed some solutions of what I could do that were being considered, but then early September I got back from leave to discover some very major changes had happened, but that no one had told me.  After a discussion with my husband Alan we concluded that I should resign from a job that I had for a long time and had provided me with significant financial and personal security without anything lined up to go to.  

Over my lifetime I’ve had different strategies to manage my mental health including talking therapy and at one point I was on various anti-depressants for 12 years, but drawing upon past experience. I felt very strongly that how I was feeling this year was my mood responding to a situation and that if I could change the situation my mood would improve without needing to use anti-depressants.  (I would like to re-emphasis that there is nothing wrong with using anti-depressants, but I personally wanted to make sure on this occasion I’d explored other solutions first)

First Tuesday was of course #runandtalk day and I was looking forward to relaunching in-person #runandtalk and whilst I was naturally feeling worried about everything that was going on, I knew that a run with friendly people would make me feel better and it really did.  We ran, jogged and walked around the city centre on a warm evening chatting away and taking time to smell the roses and look at some beautiful landscape photographs outside of the town hall and I knew that whilst I was making a scary change, I had people around who were really supportive and that I’d be ok.

Rolling forward 6 weeks and I’m in a very different place.  I managed to hand everything over at work which was a challenge as I had a lot of pre booked annual leave and so only had 14 working days to finish everything and my last day of employment conincided with me completing the Hadrian’s Wall Path walk (91 miles in 7 days)  Spending time being active in nature and beautiful surroundings with Alan was exactly what I needed and guess what – the headaches have more or less disappeared entirely!  I now have something new arranged that I’m looking forward to starting and my anxiety over the years had forced me to save up a bit of a rainy day fund (one “benefit” I suppose of always catastrophising everything from being pre-disposed to anxiety!).  For now I am in a very fortunate position to enjoy resting, focusing on my health, spending time with Alan (cooking him lunch every day!), trying hard to complete writing my novel that I started last year, helping my family and getting ready for a fresh start.  

I’ve not really talked much about running in this post (and I’ve done a lot of it this year to help with headaches and my mood), but then much like parkrun for me #runandtalk is more about the talking than the running.  It’s about getting out of the house, into the fresh air and moving your body and noticing the world around you whilst being around friendly and supportive people.  You don’t even really need to talk, I’m sure there have been people who have come along and said very few words, but go away feeling that they’ve done something positive with their evening and that can sometimes be far more important than people would imagine.

#runandtalk will mean something different to everyone, but as one of the Mental Health Champions for HPH I want it to be somewhere you can come to be active and social (even if that’s not talking, but just being around people).  In our sessions we’ve talked about everything from our favourite type of biscuit to some more mental health specific topics, but no one is forced to disclose anything they aren’t comfortable in doing and it’s always good fun.  I share my experiences not for pity or praise, but because I hope to make a difference to that person who doesn’t feel like anyone else could begin to understand what they are going through, that might have lost hope and I just want to create a friendly and safe community who will be there on the first Tuesday each month to offer support.  I am fortunate that I love running, I love talking, I love being outside in green spaces and I loving supporting people and so being a #runandtalk mental health champion and even a regular HPH leader helps me enjoy all of these elements and if any of this has resonated with you then please come along to the next #runandtalk session on the 2nd November we’d love to have you there.  If you’re interested in becoming a Mental Health Champion you don’t need any specific qualifications, just ideally lived experience of mental health either personally or through supporting someone else and willingness to give it a go – get in touch if you want any more details or have any questions.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope everyone is doing ok, but if you are struggling, please reach out to someone or if you don’t feel you have anyone to talk to – here are some helpful contacts: