There’s an old saying. Commeth the hour, commeth the man dressed as an eight foot black dog… Well, apparently… I myself am still in denial. Yet, believe it or not, this time tomorrow I’ll be running the Great North Run dressed as a giant black dog. What started as a somewhat eccentric idea – is now almost reality. Objectively, people tell me I’m 99% there. The training is finished, the dog suit is made. All that’s left to do stuff my face with pasta and trot around Tyneside for a couple of hours.
Except, that last 1% does make me nervous. For a start, this week hasn’t been as restful as I’d have liked. When I haven’t been at work, I’ve been either frantically finishing my costume, or desperately devising new ways to promote myself and raise more money for Mind. My final practice run also went disastrously wrong. An attack of IBS brought me to a halt after six miles in agonising pain. Not exactly the confidence boost I was hoping for. But it did remind me of an important lesson. Mental health problems, like physical illness, are not something we chose and rarely something we have much control over. In other words, all we can do is try our best, and be proud of our effort.
And the truth is, I am proud. For me personally, #BlackDogRunner was about pushing myself. Giving myself a project that could help me engage with life. As my health has improved, I’ve been able to push myself more and more, which in turn has brought it’s own rewards. But I haven’t always got the balance right. Three months ago, I was crippled by fatigue. I could barely get out of bed, never mind run a half marathon. That’s when I was forced to remember the other side of the lesson. You can never push yourself too far. This can be intensely frustrating when there’s something you want to do, but like it or not, we don’t have a choice. You can’t ‘snap out’ of depression and run a half marathon any more than you’d be able to ‘snap out’ of having broken legs. So it’s about knowing your limits. And however small they may be, whether it’s going for a walk, or just getting out of bed, trying to be equally proud.
Except, of course, it’s not that easy. I’m one of the lucky ones. My health is good enough such that I’m about to run a half-marathon. For millions of people with crippling mental health problems, that would simply never be an option. Yet, I get lavished with praise and words like ‘inspirational’, and they get nothing but silence. Those heroic millions, struggling every day to survive, yet often simply ignored. That is what I want to change. To celebrate those invisible heroes. Like we do, so often, with sufferers of physical illnesses, like cancer. To recognise their strength and their bravery. As I struggle through my run tomorrow, I hope it can symbolise the struggle of every one of those brave souls. For their heroic battles, for when they push their limits, and for simply keeping going. I also hope that when they see me, they’ll realise they’re not alone. It’s time to bring the black dog out of the shadows, to break the silence, and break the stigma!
The Great North Run will be televised on BBC One from 9:30am onwards. I will probably be running from about 10:30am – 1pm (UK time), so if you’ve got nothing to do, switch it on and give me a cheer and a wave. It’s genuinely really motivating to think of people waving at me. I will try to wave back whenever I see a camera – provided my arms haven’t completely conked out.
Donations are, of course, still accepted and welcomed – however small. My donations page is: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/blackdogrunner