Claire on Running and PTSD
A text reminder just popped up on my phone ... it’s from my GP reminding me of my appointment tomorrow afternoon. And straight away my mind has taken me back and is playing that video. Again.
You see that’s the thing about living with Post Traumatic Stress Disease, PTSD, it’s never far away and will take you back to the darkest depths at the smallest trigger.
I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD last year. At first I thought I was getting depressed but it was only when I spoke to my GP and then a Psychologist that I was given an explanation for my mental health struggles and a formal diagnosis.
PTSD doesn’t just affect ex service personnel or those involved in horrific accidents, like I originally thought. It covers people just like me. My struggles stem back to issues in my childhood and growing up, and then my miscarriages in later years.
I’m currently having EDMR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy in an attempt to reprocess my memories and make them easier to live with.
Last week I went for my counselling appointment and was unable to even voice what had happened to me, I couldn’t say the words. I felt like a failure. How can I get better if I can’t even tell someone what happened?
My counselor explained that for some, voicing their experiences is too raw. So we decided I’d go away and attempt to write down some of the things which happened to me, instead of talking about them, in a bid to start the process.
So I did that. I wrote some notes as my “homework” - it was hard but I understand that me getting better isn’t going to be quick nor easy.
Anyway, getting back to the point - I promise this is a post about my Liverpool Rock n Roll half marathon, all this writing down and thinking about the past affected me in an unwanted way.
The last week I’ve had recurring nightmares and felt panicked at the slightest things.
My flashbacks have been triggered by the smallest things so much so that I withdrew from some planned activities and spent more time at home in my “safe bubble”.
On Friday I traveled over to Liverpool with my friend Rachel. We had planned some parkrun tourism and then the Liverpool Rock n Roll half marathon on the Sunday morning.
We went out for pizza on Friday night and laughed together as we watched Gogglebox whilst drinking tea in our hotel room in the evening. That night I had my usual flashback nightmares but just tried to put them to the back on my mind.
The following morning we got up and went to Crosby for their parkrun, which was great fun. I took it easy and felt relaxed during my run. It gave me a confidence boost that my race tomorrow would go well.
Again, we went out for food at night and then prepared our kit ready for the following morning.
Sunday morning arrived and we ate our porridge pots, cheaper than hotel breakfasts (we are from Yorkshire after all), drank our electrolytes and headed to the start line.
I felt calm and relaxed as we waited in our pen for the race to start. I recall thinking to myself that this would be a flat ish course and maybe I could get a new PB.
Rachel and I crossed the start line together, clicking our Garmins to log our run, and we chatted the first mile as our legs warmed up.
Then at just 1.25 miles in it started. I can only describe it as having a video of your worst nightmares playing over and over in your head. I started to panic, trying frantically to put my thoughts to the back of my mind, trying not to cry, desperately trying to carry on running. I was sinking fast.
But the mental videos continued. I couldn't stop them. Right there and then they felt so much bigger than me.
“I don’t think I can do this” I say to my friend, pulling up and crying.
Rachel was amazing, talking to me, calming me down and just being there when I needed someone. I explained what was going on.
I was in a bit of daze. Spectators were asking if I was ok, fellow runners were giving me encouragement as they passed us by.
I was just in the middle of a massive battle with my own mind. I was so frustrated that it was doing this again (this happens to me a lot), doing this now. I really needed my mind to work with me, to help me through those 13.1 miles, to remind me I’d ran a marathon just 4 weeks ago. But no. Instead it’s doing the opposite. Taking me back to the darkest of times, making me revisit and relive awful awful experiences. Today it was showing me how weak I was.
Rachel and I ran / walked to around 4 miles and I felt I couldn’t carry on. I told her I was going to call my husband and drop out and made her run on despite her concerns for me.. He told me all the things that my mind should be telling me, he calmed me down and gave me focus.
I started to run / walk again and I was all set to drop out at the next marshal point. It would be my first ever Did Not Finish.
All this time I was listening to music, I always listen to music when I run. A song suddenly came on my playlist - it was Dakota by the Steteophonics which, ironically, was playing as I finished the London Marathon less than a month ago, and it made me think I didn’t want a DNF. I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to finish. I had 2 kids at home waiting for me to come home and show them my medals. I had other races planned and to not finish would shatter my self belief.
So right there, at mile 5 I made a deal with myself. I promised my mind that if I got to the end of the race I wouldn’t race again until I was better and stronger mentally. I just had to get myself to the finish line then I could take a break from racing and concentrate on feting better. And that’s exactly what I did.
I ran / walked the rest of the race. It seemed an awfully long way to go - and there were so many times I wanted to give up, to stop, but I just dug deeper. I visualised seeing my little boys, getting the best hugs from them and telling them how much they are loved.
I spoke to other runners and picked up a lady around 10 mile in. She was coming back from injury and was struggling with pain so we stuck together, chatting about all sorts and everything.
Once we got the finish line in our sites I told her to run. I told her we were going to finish strong. I kept on telling her she could do it, that she was going to finish. I grabbed her hand and lifted it above our heads as we crossed the finish line together. She was a total stranger but for that split second she was my best friend.
We had a hug, I cried yet again, and I went to collect my medal and to find Rachel.
Straight after the race I felt so disappointed in my performance, it was my slowest half marathon ever and my legs had so much more to give. But ultimately it was my mind which let me down.
However, on reflection I did better than I gave myself initial credit for. I finished in tough circumstances. I didn’t give up. And whilst I might have decided to withdraw from some races in the next few weeks, I’m not giving up running.
I’m going to continue to run for fun. I’m going to continue to get myself better and then I’ll come back to racing.
I’ll be stronger, both mentally and physically, just you watch.