By way of explanation, rather than apology, I’ll begin by saying that this is a therapeutic blog for me. I need to put some thoughts down to help me make sense of them. However, I’m going to put it out as a blog, because I know how bad I felt a couple of years ago hiding behind a smiley face when, behind the mask, things were not right.
A good few years ago, when my job seemed constantly to be on the line every few months, I thought I was coping well, until I began to develop what the medics called “an anxiety syndrome evidenced by sporadic irrational panic attacks”. It’s too long ago and too buried inside bad memories to revisit in detail, but I came through it. I wasn’t running very seriously at the time. I still had big commitments to lead parties in the mountains during periods of paid and unpaid leave. You can read something about those days in some of the pieces I’ve written in my other blog, which tells the story behind a few of my favourite photos.
Those days came to an end when the company for whom I worked was taken over and asset-stripped. I found myself with more time for running, and actually pretty competitive, as I came to discover, not only in domestic competition, but at a European and World level too. Those things have been the backbone of this blog for many years now.
Dealing with the anxiety and stress of preparing and waiting for big competitions was a real education. Call-rooms before a major event take many forms, but all leave you pretty much alone with your thoughts, be they rational, or the other sort. It was my extremely well-known friend and frequent race rival Dr Steve Peters who taught me most of the techniques I know to cope with that stuff, both by his own example, and through stuff on some courses that he ran that I attended.
I’ve made an oblique reference to my run-in with depression, and since “coming out” about it, I’ve always felt able to talk about it freely, with friends and on this blog. Depression is an illness. A physical illness. Many people still, sadly, regard it as some kind of irrational psychological affliction, neatly confusing cause and effect. There are many more sports-people living and coping with depression than you’d realise. Some have been high profile in the media. Most of us are not, of course. I have had huge support from athlete friends who “have been there” or are still “there” and, I hope, have done my own bit to help them in turn.
My regular blog reader won’t need reminding that I’ve had a couple of years in which my racing and training has been totally banjaxed (lovely Irish word, that!) by lower leg and foot injury. Thankfully, I seem to be coming out of the end of that at the moment. Training since I came back from the Alps just on a month ago has been good. I think I even felt the benefit of six weeks living at altitude! I’m currently quite focused on racing at the World Masters Indoor Championships in Budapest next March.
I left full-time work in 2011 when yet another reorganisation revealed an escape tunnel I could use on acceptable terms. I’ve worked much of my time since then as a freelance photographer, done a bit of social media training and some “critical friend” work with some small charities. It’s been particularly rewarding in an intellectual and emotional sense. I came home from the Alps this time with a diary I’d intentionally managed to keep almost completely empty. This was a way to help me get as much as possible out of my time away. It soon began to fill with photographic jobs for great organisations, and I was nearly what you might call “busy” once or twice recently.
One of those jobs (yesterday as I write this) took me back into my old place of employment. I’d only made two fleeting visits previously in over two years. This time I was there for a whole morning. (I’m privileged occasionally to be shooting stuff for the Kent Foundation, who are doing a cracking job.) Before I left the building, I even bumped into a few people I knew from the old days who hadn’t even realised I’d left! Same building, same receptionist, same decor inside, same coffee in the staff restaurant. It was the stuff of time travel.
Now, I need to confess (if that’s the word) that on several occasions since I left, and at random times, though frequently on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve felt very anxious about what felt like the need to get ready and go back to work the next day. Most vivid was one day when driving south on the M25 towards the Dartford Crossing. Nonsense of course, and I’ve often had to give myself a stiff talking to, and remind myself that I don’t do that any more. Never researched it, but I bet it’s common amongst people who’ve retired or been made redundant.
So, is it just coincidence that, out of the blue this morning, I experienced one of the worst panic/anxiety attacks I have ever had? I’ve spent a day lying low, trying to make sense of it. This blog is, as you might have realised by now, an attempt to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces into some kind of order.
More to do, but thanks for indulging me. It’s helped already.
(My reader will also know the effort I go to to find a suitable song title from my music collection to head my blogs. I even managed with this one! “Psychotherapy” is a great tongue-in-cheek song from the pen of Melanie, who for many is just associated with the song “Brand New Key”. She was, and remains, a huge, versatile talent.)