1: Pandora’s Box
‘Please stand clear of the closing doors, the next train will be along in two minutes, stand clear of the doors please’. The broadcast voice, seemingly disembodied, in fact emanated from an embattled station staffsperson; undaunted, the impatient crowds pushed determinedly into diminishing and non-existent spaces between compacted torsos.
I dutifully stood clear of the doors, watching as the unmistakably branded steel cylinder began its way along the tunnel. A habitual urge to join the human tide inside had been curtailed both by the unfailingly coercive tones of pain and concern for a damaged right arm supported by a friendly looking blue sling. The precious minutes were grudgingly sacrificed.
The next train did obligingly seem to be arriving as predicted, lights heralding its imminent arrival. ‘Just one more step matey’ – no terrifying stranger was behind me, this was, thankfully and less distressingly, the briefest of internal monologues. It signalled something I’d been keeping well clear of for a handful of months since I got back to running again: that spectre of depression and anxiety had returned rather determinedly.
I don’t know where such phantoms normally reside in the good times, I assume somewhere dark with a lot of soul… maybe a jazz club. I didn’t think about this riposte to my internal demons at the time, but to be fair they tend not to share my sense of humour about this sort of thing anyway.
Re-writing this nearly a year after the event in a bright room early in the morning, it’s hard to conjure to mind anything like the same fear, and I think that’s important. I’ve always felt when writing about my own mental health that there’s a real risk of over-dramatising, which is okay for something kept to myself, but if the point of the writing is to get a message across and encourage others to do the same, it fundamentally undermines it.
Looking back on this after really struggling through a shorter period of much less serious injury, the need to do more with it really hit hard. Despite having made a lot of progress with my running in the last six months, I feel like the mental health aspect hasn’t strengthened along with that, and I’d like to do something about it.
The reason for the title is that I use running largely not as a solution to these problems, but as a stopper, something to keep the anxiety and depression away. A deterrent rather than a solution. That’s not to say it hasn’t helped me make huge progress, but much of that tends to be short term, and I’d be very concerned about what would happen if something stopped me running for good, which could easily have been the case ten months ago.