There’s always been a plan. It may not seem that way – what with the disappearances, the hissy fits, and the dramatic decline in the quality of my blog posts – but there’s always been a plan. And it’s time I let you know about it…
Last year, when I was suffering from severe depression, a dear friend ran the Great North Run half marathon in memory of her father. She isn’t fond of running, and she’d never done a race before. But since he’d been a keen runner, and had always wanted her to be, it was something she was determined to do.
Around the same time, I also started running. Not to run a race – don’t be silly – but to help my mental health. Now let’s be clear, I am not what you’d call a natural athlete. Most of my adult life has been spent wobbling on the edge of obesity. In fact, the nearest I’d get to ‘running’ was ‘running late’. But I was also pretty desperate. And I was getting tired of being given the same advice:
‘Have you tried running?
So I did.
As suspected, it wasn’t the miracle it’d been made out to be. But it did help a little. Especially with my agitation and anxiety. Before long, the running had become a bit of a symbol. That I hadn’t given up. My black dog may have had me on the run, but I hadn’t stopped running. You could say that’s when #BlackDogRunner was born, the part of me that kept running when everything else wanted to stop. But please don’t. It sounds horribly corny.
When my friend finished her half marathon, I was overwhelmed with pride. But, I also felt something else. A sense of responsibility. Like the baton had passed to me. As my health improved, it was getting harder to stay motivated. I needed something to keep #BlackDogRunner alive. So I decided that on 7th September 2014, I would run the Great North Run myself.
But who would I be running for? Don’t get me wrong, clearly I’d be partly running for myself. The ups and downs in training for a long race seem like a surprisingly good metaphor for the ups and downs in the recovery process. But that isn’t enough. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m terrible at motivating myself for myself. Which is when it hit me. What if #BlackDogRunner could be a symbol, not just for me, but for everyone with a black dog? For all those brave souls fighting depression right now? For those millions with invisible dogs, that are hidden behind the veil of stigma?
From then on, it all fell into place. Clearly I’d need a costume. Every good vigilante needs a costume. And I’d need a way to get to message out. So I joined Twitter, I started blogging, and I even recently set up a Facebook page. *Shudders*. I’ve tried to stay anonymous. I like the idea that – in theory at least – I could be any of one those invisible millions with depression. But the most important thing is just to get #BlackDogRunner out there; to raise awareness, bash stigma, and hopefully raise lots of money for a good mental health charity. Which reminds me, I’m going to be fundraising for Mind – the UKs largest mental health charity. There are some magnificent mental health charities out there, but Mind were one of the few with specific places at the Great North Run. In any case, their mission, to ‘provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem‘ and ‘campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding‘, seems absolutely spot on.
Of course, life as a masked vigilante hasn’t proved to be quite so simple as I thought. For a start, I don’t have any of the usual benefits. I can’t fly, I don’t own a ‘customised vigilante transport system’ (i.e. a ‘dogmobile’), and it’s seems to be an unpaid position (like one of those internships that’s ‘good for your CV’, but useless for paying the pills).
Also, not long after starting to promote myself, my health decided to take a turn for the worse. I originally hoped to blog once a week, but my black dog has been trying a new line of attack (chronic fatigue) that makes blogging, or indeed anything even remotely useful, doubly challenging. It wasn’t long before I revised my target down to ‘once a fortnight’, ‘once a month’, and finally, ‘I promise you a doggy treat if you manage to write a couple of words today’.
Chronic fatigue also isn’t great for the whole half marathon / running / training thing either. Two months ago I just about managed 12 miles. Two weeks ago I collapsed before managing a single one. This obviously makes me nervous about running the full 13.1 mile race. Especially given some idiot has suggested I run it in a costume. But, then again, it wouldn’t be a very good metaphor for depression if it was easy.
So there we are. That was – and still is – the plan behind #BlackDogRunner. If you want to donate to my run – please donate to my run- then my fundraising page is:
In the meantime, I’m going to try and post blogs on preparation, frustrations, costume design etc. I haven’t actually made the costume yet (did I mention I’ve been suffering from fatigue?), but it’s something I’m really looking forward to. If you can, please keep in touch with me on Twitter or Facebook. And wish me luck!