May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness month in the US. Sport can have a positive impact to ones mental health, I (MM) believe it’s important to share common and similar experiences. I’d like to introduce you to Ben (BT) an Ultra Runner who is raising awareness and breaking down the stigmas attached to mental health.
MB: When you have experienced depression, and are in the low moments, what advice would you give to people about how they can ground themselves?
BT: It’s an extremely tough thing to have to go through and it’s those moments that you feel very isolated and worthless and sometimes you really can’t talk your way out of it! In my lowest moments I used to stay in bed, play some music and try sleep it off, I really wished I just had someone to just hug and listen to what I had to say being able to have someone there that knew what I was going through or even just cared would have really helped.
BT: It’s terrible to think that having a mental illness is seen as a weakness in society, this is one of the main reasons men don’t speak up in times of need. People that deal with a mental illness every day are some of the strongest people going around. Think of climbing the tallest mountain, then think about having to do that every day on your own without any help. That’s what these people have to deal with in their toughest moments and this mountain might have to be climbed to just get out of bed or out of the house. We have had to carry intense emotions, other people’s emotions, and perhaps the world on our shoulders as well having to deal with our own problems there is always a huge amount of things going on and this can be hugely overwhelming and to have to go through all this multiple times a week and still stand strong! Does that seem weak to you?
MB: In your experience, how important is the link between physical health and mental health?
BT: It’s an extremely important link but when you’re ill, just getting started – stepping out of the front door – is a mountainous challenge. Having a Mental illness can bring associated feelings of low self-esteem, low energy, lack of confidence and isolation does create barriers, and prevents people from doing what they know is good for them.
I started to get into running to help my deteriorating health and top clear the head and it has certainly worked for me and I have been sharing the love ever since. Whenever you go to a race or a run with others you will always hear of a similar story on how that person found running to help their mental health.
MB: You have a great social media presence, especially on Instagram. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and if you could accomplish anything via social media what would it be?
BT: I struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my twenties and I depended on alcohol to deal with all my problems and dull my feelings as I really felt like I had no one to talk to and didn’t want to tell everyone that I had failed, also being stubborn, I just though I’d push through it and brush it off.
I became an alcoholic, had racked up a heap of debt and my health was declining. After years of struggling and hitting rock bottom I reached out to my parents for help. I moved back home away from everyone and started to re build my life and I started running.
Running was my outlet and my therapy. That feeling while running is indescribable, and when I’ve finished a long run I’m exhausted and sore but feel 10 feet tall and the strongest I’ve ever been.
In the space of 2 years I went from an extremely depressed alcoholic, barely able to run 5km, to completing over 10 ultra marathons and running from Burnie to Hobart (340km).
Things just kept escalating from there, but now in a good way. I am engaged and set to marry next month and have a beautiful 1 year old daughter named Poppy. I’m still terrified of things getting back to the way they once were, but I’m in an extremely good place right now with a huge amount of support at my side.
When I attempted my first ultra I started fundraising for Speak up Stay Chatty! – A not for profit organization in my home state of Tasmania that raises awareness for suicide and mental illness. Since 2014 I have raised over $15,000 for Speak up Stay Chatty!, this year running 340kms in 3 days covering Tasmania to raise awareness across the state and most recently have starting public speaking to get my story and message out to the wider audience.
I hope to use Social Media to give a voice to people who are doing it tough, If I can encourage at least 1 person to speak up in times of need that would make me very happy. I will keep doing all I can to help those suffering in silence and aim to normalize mental illness and suicide in society. I think if we as a community work together to change our way of thinking and know more about the illness, we will create an environment where people will feel comfortable to talk about their feelings and speak up and ask for help when they are doing it tough.
I plan to keep doing crazy fundraising runs to get the conversation flowing and raise some funds along the way.
BT: The one thing that motivates me the most is hearing people come out and speak about what they are going through and realising they have a lot of friends and family that are willing to hear them out and not judge them.
On the other hand I love seeing people getting their confidence and self esteem back through running. There is nothing better than witnessing someone finish a race and see the look on their face knowing they have achieved something they didn’t think they were ever capable of.
BT: Ultra marathon running can be a very isolating experience, being out for hours on end without seeing a person can really mess you around. usually when the negative thoughts start creeping in I will try and eat a few jelly beans to boost my glucose levels, I find singing out on the trails can help but mostly I think of my family and that the fact that I will get to see them after the run. The best thing is to try and block out everything and clear the head and that does happen when your extremely tired.
BT: What works for me is that I don’t follow a training plan or schedule, I run when I want to run and I make sure I venture out to some place new! I don’t want to make it seem like a chore but rather an adventure. Whilst running by yourself can be soothing and refreshing, running with others once or twice a week for some conversation can be nice too.
MB: What one lesson which you’ve learnt in running, which you can apply to your life?
BT: Never give up! No matter what comes your way, you may feel like you are going backwards and that does happen in life, you just have to keep on fighting. I have participated in ultra marathons that can take up to 24 hours to complete and there are moments where you think you are not good enough and just want to throw in the towel, the one thing I have learnt is that people have so much more to give and are capable of amazing things it’s the ability to believe in ones self that truly matters the most.