Crying For No Reason

This post has undergone multiple different versions in my mind before today. Initially I planned to call this post Living With Depression but I don’t want to suggest, or imply that this is every persons experience. This is my experience, which I’m sharing because I don’t believe I’m the only one.

Personally, one of the hardest things that happens when I’m struggling with my mental health is being asked ‘what’s up?’ It seems like a harmless question doesn’t it? The sort of question anyone can answer. But when I’m in the midst of a tough time, it’s often a question I can’t answer. Not because I don’t want to. Not because I’m trying to be awkward. Simply because I don’t know.

See what many people don’t understand is that depression isn’t simply feeling miserable because life’s given you a bad hand. Depression is an illness that clouds your mind, clouds your feelings and your emotions. Whilst difficult circumstances certainly don’t help the way I feel, and can be triggers, the effects of depression can strike at any time.

One of the hardest things for me has been dealing with questions like this since I started to be able to talk publicly about my depression. When people who know about your illness ask such a question, or, in my mind the far worse ‘what’s up now?’ it rips you to the core. Fifteen months ago when I first spoke openly about my own battle, one of the driving factors behind that decision was wanting people to understand what’s going on in my life. When one of those people then asks such a question I just want to scream at them!

DON’T YOU GET IT! I’M STRUGGLING! BEYOND THAT I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S UP! I DON’T KNOW WHY I FEEL THIS WAY! I DON’T WANT TO FEEL THIS WAY. PLEASE JUST GET THAT!

However what people don’t see is that depression is more than just not feeling great, or, as I’ve had said more than once ‘being in a bad mood’. For me, there are days when life just seems to require more effort than I’ve got. When I wake up and can’t bring myself to get out of bed. When I can’t get the motivation required to open the front door so I spend the most beautiful day of the year lying on my sofa without going out the front door. When talking to friends feels like too much effort so I text them and say I’m busy, when in reality the only thing I’m busy doing is avoiding people.

What I find hardest is that there is no rhyme or reason to it. I can have every reason to be happy that day, and yet I can’t summon the energy to be happy. I can have had great news and yet feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Some days I can be smiling on the outside and breaking on the inside.

And yet, somewhere in all that I know I’m lucky. Personally, I know there are two things in my life that are crucially important – my work, and my training. They are two things that will always get me out of bed in the morning. Two things that I know I simply cannot miss. Two things that even on the toughest days I’ll brave, even if I’m not feeling brave.

“I push all my problems to the back of my mind
Then they surface in my dreams, they come alive”
(Katy B, Crying For No Reason)

Yet sometimes it feels like this perpetuates the problem. I let the world see I’m OK when I’m not, let the world think I’m doing fine when I’m struggling. And then when I’m alone and have finished the ‘must-dos’, it all comes crashing down, and I’m back on my sofa on my own.

Why write all this on my blog though?

I write it because I want to help people understand. Ever since I started to talk about depression a year ago I’ve been met with many people who think that depression is just ‘feeling sad’. Equally I’ve been met with people who tell me they’re ‘not surprised’ I’ve got depression with ‘everything you’ve been through’.

I want to help people understand that there are so many ways depression can affect you. It’s not just taking news badly, or feeling sad. Understanding the effect it can have on peoples lives is crucial.

I want people to be able to look out for signs with their friends so they can offer genuine care and compassion. Again, this is different for everyone, but there are times for me where I wish someone had understood what I was going through. Where rather than asking what was up they’d seen I was struggling and just sat with me.

I want people to know they’re not alone. Honestly, until very recently I thought I was the only person who went through these periods of lacking motivation for the simplest of tasks. It was only through reading something online I understood I wasn’t alone.

And so I’ve written this post. Not really with anything profound to say. Not with any answers to the huge questions I have. But I’ve just written, very bluntly, about a small part of my experiences. I hope you’ll take it as it is, respect what I go through, and look out for those around you who may experience very similar feelings.

 

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#Manchester

manchesterI’ve been debating all day whether to write this blog post. I realise that today it is a topic being discussed a lot. There’s a lot of people writing a lot of stuff. What can I add to the thoughts that have already been put out there about the senseless murder that happened last night? Absolutely nothing. What can I add to the descriptions of a beautiful, vibrant and special city? Absolutely nothing. And so I’ve simply applied the same decision process I do to every blog I write. I’m writing because it’s on my mind, and I need to get my thoughts out.

Firstly, I simply want to echo the thoughts of so many people today about the city of Manchester. If you’ve never been there it’s a special place, and a place that holds so many special memories for me. I saw my first Premier League games in that city, first European game, my first England international. Many of my favourite musicals I saw for the first time in their world class theatres. The most special moment of my life came in the Etihad Stadium, dancing in the Commonwealth Games Closing ceremony. I’ve laughed and cried on the streets of Manchester. I raced for the first time in a racing wheelchair on the streets there. Just last year during a weekend with one of my best friends we sheltered from the rain in the foyer where so many lives were devastated yesterday. And in all my time in Manchester I can say one thing. The high profile people giving beautiful descriptions of that city today are not exaggerating one bit. It’s a brilliant place, it’s vibrant, and the people are lovely. And that’s not just something I’d say today…people who know me know just how much I love the place.

The stories of people going out to help are not surprising either, and not just because of the circumstances. Manchester is a place where you feel safe. The kind of place where, when you fall out of your chair outside a busy bar, you’re suddenly surrounded by people who run out of the pub because they want to help. Why do I write all this? Because it’s tragic that the best in a place, and the best in people, only comes out, or gets reported, in the worst of circumstances. I want to say that this is Manchester all the time. A lovely city, a city of people who care, a city where I’ve always felt safe.

I could go on, for hours talking about this city I love, about the pain and sickness I felt today whilst waiting to hear from my friends in Manchester, but I simply want to write down 3 things that have struck me. They are things that seem more important today, but things that apply all the time. Things that can apply to Manchester today, but apply anywhere, all the time. I don’t want to dwell on them, or write an essay, I just want to put out there 3 things that have struck me today, that will maybe help others too:

  1. In times of grief or despair, let people deal with it in the way they need to.
    In the midst of all the tragedy today, as always, the internet has not failed to amaze me in the things that some people can write. People who in the midst of the suffering of others have the audacity to start worrying about whether a gig will be cancelled, or to start analysing, or passing comment upon, the way other people deal with grief or anxiety. We are all individuals and we deal with things in different ways. 
    Whether directly affected, or simply scared by a situation that seems a little too close to home, because of the location, the industry they work in, or simply because of an anxiety disorder, everybody’s own way of dealing with situations is different. Please don’t judge people for their decisions, don’t use the internet to tell people they should be acting in a different way. People are individuals and deal with things in different ways. Whatever the circumstances, whether today or a year down the line, support them, and give them the space to deal with whatever the situation is.
  2. Be careful about what you post on social networks.
    On all my social channels earlier today I posted a video taken from this mornings BBC Breakfast where Dan Walker addressed the fact that some people were posting fake reports, and fake victims, to gain ‘retweets’. Unfortunately this concept isn’t a new one (in fact I wrote about it in some detail back in 2015). We have to be aware not everybody on social networks is posting stuff for the right reason. Whilst some people post these pictures or information simply because they want to boost their public profile, there have been stories of people posting ‘help me find…’ posts in order to breach protection that has been put in place by courts to safeguard the wellbeing of others. In times like this it is easy to allow compassion to take hold and for the heart to make decisions, however please think before you share posts you can’t verify. If you want to help, follow official channels and share their posts – for example today the best thing you can share is information about Greater Manchester Police helpline and emergency stations.
  3. Live life to the full
    It risks being one of those things people just say, but today is a reminder to live life to the full. Yesterday evening’s attacks were horrible and senseless. People went out to enjoy a night of music, and dozens didn’t come home, either ending up in hospital or worse. The fact that many of those were so young seems to make it even worse, when you think about all the things those youngsters may not get to do. Things that right now, we still have the chance to do. So when you get presented with opportunities, grab them with both hands. Don’t have regrets. Live life to the full.

To finish, and return to Manchester, I want to share this video. It needs no words.

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Strong

Adj. ability to withstand force, pressure or wear

Some of you will have seen from my social posts this week that I’ve started wearing a new necklace. That necklace is a key which has the word strength etched into it. Why? Because strength is the one character attribute that I feel I need more than any other in my life these days. Not just me though. Strength is an attribute that we should all aspire to demonstrate in our life.

What is strength though, and what difference does it make? If someone was described to you as strong, likelihood is you begin to picture someone with big muscles, someone who participates in a lot of sport, maybe the gym-goer type. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

But increasingly the word strong is being used to describe someone’s character, and their mental state. I can’t think of a greater word. If the definition of strong is something that can ‘withstand force, pressure or wear’ than to be strong is to withstand the pressure, or the barrage of challenges, that life throws at you. To keep on going despite the force that is pushing you down.

At the school I work at this is a characteristic we advocate. We encourage our pupils to be resilient children. Resilience is, in essence, a more character-based word for strong, and I love it’s definition!:

1) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

2) the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape

I think that imagery is great! Because withstanding pressure doesn’t mean that we don’t take knocks along the way. Those knocks are the challenges life throws at us and can be anything from the health issues that seem to attack me and wear me down, to financial worries, employment struggles, bereavement, and much more beside. Even titanium scratches under pressure. But what makes a truly ‘strong’ person is someone who springs back into shape! Someone who doesn’t allow those challenges to keep them down forever; someone who ultimately withstands the pressure.

A few years ago I came across a TED Talk by a former teacher and psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth about ‘grit’, and I was then lucky enough to see her lead a seminar on this topic at BETT just a couple of years ago. Duckworth describes ‘Grit’ as ‘passion and perseverance for very long term goals’. Again we come across this same theme – perseverance is defined as ‘persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success’. What is significant about this is that Duckworth looked into this in great detail in schools, businesses, and army training camps. And in every situation she found that grit, this desire to push towards long term goals whatever challenges you come across, was a ‘signicificant predictor of success’ – more so than financial starting points, IQ levels and more.

And so whatever word you use: strength, resilience, grit or perseverance there is no doubt that this is an attribute that we should all desire. The ability to keep going, to withstand challenges, to spring back into shape. An attribute that can make a huge difference in life.

But how do we become strong people? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. For some it comes naturally, for others it’s a struggle. In her TED talk Duckworth even confesses she doesn’t have all the answers as to how we teach grit.

I want to suggest just 2 small things that are starting blocks for me:

1) We talk about it, a lot.

Over the last few years these ideas of grit, resilience, or perseverance have become commonplace to many. The fact that resilience is a word that rolls off the tongue of primary school children is evidence of that. And this is key. If we develop a culture where this terminology is commonplace it can make all the difference. If we regularly discuss the importance of perseverance over failure we can encourage a culture where people gravitate towards dusting themselves off and going again.

2. We encourage aspiration and think long term

In my last blog I talked about the importance of aspiration, and I don’t want to repeat this material, but I do believe developing long term goals is a key factor in being strong. Duckworth hints at this in her previous description of grit, and it’s a sentiment I would echo. It’s easier to get back up, to keep going, when you have your eyes on a long term goal that could still happen. Despair, and a lack of desire to keep going, creep in when your only focus is on short term goals that evaporate.

To conclude, I wish that our personalities could be like titanium, one of the strongest metals around. Pretty much impossible to break. Experience tells me it’s not that easy. Personally I break all too easily. All too often I find the barrage of pressure I am under is too much. But I know that I want to be strong. I desire more strength. I desire the ability to not let all the rubbish going on in my life affect me.

So I’ll wear my word, strength, around my neck every day. I’ll talk about strength, resilience, grit or perseverance when I can. I’ll take the opportunity to commend and compliment others when I see those characteristics in them. And I’ll continue to try and withstand the challenges thrown at me, think long term, and hope one day I’ll feel like strength is a word that lives round my neck, because I’ve earned the medal.

Notes

1. My new necklace is purchased from a US company called The Giving Keys. They are a social impact company who support people transitioning out of homelessness by providing employment opportunities. The words printed on their keys (of which strength is just one) are a reminder that, like the keys, we’re all unique, one-of-a-kind, and sometimes we need a reminder of that inspiring word that keeps us going. You can read more about their work, and purchase your own key, here

2. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance is a TED talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth, which I’ve embedded below for your viewing. If you want to explore the topic more than the book of the same title is available to purchase here

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The day we stop lookin’ back

We all have those albums we play on repeat for long periods. Those albums that we become slightly obsessed with.

This time last year there was no doubt that the album I had on repeat was Thomas Rhett’s ‘Tangled Up’. There were 2 songs on that album that grabbed me more than any other. Whilst the rockier anthems like T-Shirt were great singalongs, and Die A Happy Man spoke of such a content love (one that Mr and Mrs Rhett clearly truly have from their social network feeds!) that I couldn’t help but listen to it ALL the time, it was 2 hidden gems on the album that truly caught my attention. The sentiment in Learned It From The Radio (which talks of understanding how to walk through life thanks to music) was one that I could completely relate to – it’s the way I feel about music, and why I have ‘Music Has Value’ on a wristband. Then there’s ‘The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back’, a song I believe we can all learn a lesson from.

It’s in our human nature that we get obsessed by what’s gone on in the past. Our failures, our flaws, our successes, our achievements, we are taught to reflect, to analyse, to deconstruct and to learn from our mistakes. There’s certainly merit in this at times. In my racing and my work there are times where I’ve thought to myself ‘I’ll do that differently next time’. Times where I’ve realised I’ve made a mistake, not done as well as I could and that a change could bring real benefit. Occasions where I’ve seen something work brilliantly and made a mental note to repeat that in future.

We live in a culture where ‘reflection’ and ‘analysis’ are buzz words, and can even be a profession…analysing past performance is a full time job for some. And when analysis or reflection is done with the purpose of benefitting someone in future it truly can be very useful.

But I also believe that this culture can be harmful if we allow it to overtake our lives. Encouraging reflection can build a culture of looking back. Looking back isn’t always helpful, and can become dangerous. Whilst looking back in order to benefit us in future can sometimes do just that, it opens the risk of stewing on what we could have done differently. ‘What if I’d just done that?’ ‘What if I hadn’t said that?’ ‘What if I’d spotted that sooner?’ That sort of thinking doesn’t help anybody. And the reality is, it doesn’t change anything. No matter how much we look back at what happened in the past, we can’t change the past.

There’s a key difference between positive reflection which asks what can I do differently next time and negative reflection, which asks what if I’d done it differently last time. One can make a difference to your future, the other doesn’t. In fact the latter ensures you get stuck in the past.

If we return to one of those Thomas Rhett songs I became obsessed with, in a song that focusses on relationships Rhett observes:

The day that you stop lookin’ back girl, is the day you start moving on.

This sentiment I believe is true in all areas of life. I think when we get stuck in a cycle of negative reflection it’s difficult to move forward, to take the next step. As long as you’re hung up on what happened in the past then it’s difficult to focus on what comes next. In the example of this song the implication is that a girl is so busy thinking about a past relationship she can’t move on to the new one, that could work out. There’s no saying it will, but she won’t know if she doesn’t try.

It could be that you’re so busy getting frustrated about the last crushed dream that you can’t focus on the next. Too busy getting frustrated at the last failed attempt at a qualification that you don’t consider trying something new.

If reflection, or looking back, is something that I think is unhelpful, then the opposite, I believe, can be the answer: looking forwards.

At the school I work at we teach our children core values, and one of these values is ‘aspiration’. Understanding what you want to achieve, where you want your life to go next.

The very nature of the value is that it provides a focus that allows you to move forward. Aspiration doesn’t have to be about clearly defined targets, about running 100m in 12 seconds by next Wednesday. It can be about knowing vaguely the direction you want things to go next – for example that you know you want your next job to be in a certain sector, or you know you want to get fitter, or learn more about a particular topic.

By having this mindset, by knowing where you want to be, it can provide focus, meaning, even energy. I’ve regularly talked about when I first ended up in a wheelchair, and how I was just so consumed by it all. What turned my life around was finding out about the Great South Run, and giving myself a focus (which was simply to complete it). At the time it got me out the house, and truly got my life back on track. I never could have guessed where it could have taken me, although I’m not naive enough to suggest that this is how every optimistic ambition ends (and I can share plenty of my own stories to illustrate this).

I do know however that setting a focus gives you something to think about, to work towards. Having an aspiration, whether that’s a professional target, a physical ambition, a desire to see more gigs, or a plan to do some work to your house, is the first step in making plans to get it done. Knowing what you want to achieve allows you to think about how that will happen, and start to make changes. In contrast, thinking about what would have happened if you’d made changes in the past won’t actually change anything.

If we return to reflection, I mentioned earlier that I don’t think that’s it’s always a bad thing. I think reflection has a place, and it’s tied together with aspiration. See if we spend time looking back, it should be to help us move forward, to help us reach the goal we’re aspiring to. Professional footballers for example will watch back highlights of games, not to make them feel bad about mistakes they made, but to help them think about how they can play better in their next game. Even when they’re looking back, in reality they’re looking forwards to the next game.

If we’re looking backwards, wishing things could have been done differently, we don’t help ourselves, or others. We need to encourage a culture that looks forwards first, that knows what the next step is, and that knows that looking back in regret, or with a desire to ‘wind the clock back’ can only be destructive.

Looking backwards can’t change your life. Looking forwards can.

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An update about my racing, and about me

In February this year I used my blog to talk about my racing and my current health situation, as I wanted to provide an update on why I wasn’t racing at the moment. At the time I explained that I hoped to be back racing in May. Since then I’ve used my Twitter and Facebook profiles to announce my withdrawal from various individual races and with May now nearly upon us I wanted to explain publicly the current situation and where I see things progressing this year.

Unfortunately further medical investigations have meant that treatment for the pain I’ve been experiencing to my cochlear implant site didn’t progress as quickly as had been anticipated by either myself or the medical professionals who were treating me at the time of my last blog post. At the time it was believed that the pain was caused by an infection around my implant site however it now appears that the cause is more complicated, and as a result the treatment will be too. Whilst I don’t have exact timescales I know with certainty that I can’t expect any progress until mid-May at the earliest, which is obviously devastating. Furthermore I’ve also had confirmed that some of the medication I’m on to control my pain can affect the medication that is controlling my lungs after the problems I had back in 2015, which completely eliminates any chance of even partaking in light training until this situation is fully resolved.

With this in mind I’ve had to think very carefully about the rest of my racing season. I have to be realistic about the lack of fitness that I’ll experience when I am allowed to train, and the fact that it will be a slow process working back up to full training. With all of that in mind I’ve taken the decision to pull out of all races I had lined up until the end of July this year, where my season was due to take a natural break anyway. My aim, as long as medical investigations and treatment progress how I hope in early summer, would be to race in this years Bury 10k in September – it’s a distance that gives me something sensible to work towards, and as a race I enjoyed winning last year it gives me a clear goal to focus upon. At this moment it’s unlikely that, even if I manage Bury, I’ll race the Great North Run, a half marathon I’ve wanted to complete for a long time, as I want to stick to races I know and am confident with the courses when I do return to racing, but this is a decision I’ll finalise nearer the time.

I know it will come as no shock to some of you that I’ve been struggling with my depression quite severely over the last few months, which is perhaps no surprise, and I want to be honest in saying this has played a significant part in the decisions I’ve made. I recognise that I’m in a fragile state of mind at the moment. Over the last year since I’ve been able to talk more openly about my own mental illness I’ve grown to understand some of the triggers of my depression and I know that to rush back into training if/when I get the OK from doctors later in the year, and compete before I’m really ready to, could make me feel much worse than I need to. This isn’t a risk I want to take.

Many of you will know that this year I teamed up with Right To Play until the end of 2017, to promote their work and raise funds for them. The reason this came about was plain and simply because I felt passionate about the work they do as a charity and I wanted to support them in any way I could. This hasn’t changed, and they are still a charity I care deeply about. When I return to racing I will work with them to continue this partnership for as long as is possible, and hope to continue to work to support them throughout 2018 when I hope to race a full competitive season. I’m delighted that I’ll also use some of my free time in July to support the fundraising Right To Play will be doing at the London Stadium as they have once again been chosen as the official charity partner of the Anniversary Games.

Finally, I wanted to talk not about my racing, but about me. The last few months have been some of the hardest of my life. Some of you who know me well will have picked up on this through my writing, but hopefully most of you are unaware because I hope I’ve hidden it well. After the difficulties of the last 18 months, and the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on, I genuinely believed that 2017 would be ‘my year’. Everything seemed to be going right in training, and I was excited about the year ahead. Clearly things haven’t worked out the way I had hoped. The medical challenges I’ve faced, and watching more dreams come crashing down around me, have been one of the toughest things I’ve faced mentally.

I posted a short update on my social network profiles a few weeks ago talking about some of the attitudes I’ve experienced over the last few months which have made things tougher for me – having an illness that people can’t see seems to make some people feel they can pass judgement on how you cope with it, or how you deal with it. Dealing with being in intense pain on a daily basis and knowing that some people have the audacity to make their own judgements about the pain you’re in is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced and as I said at the time has regularly left me to break down in tears. I want to address this again one last time. The constant pain I’m in is leaving me not only incredibly uncomfortable but is leaving me physically exhausted. Unfortunately despite my best efforts some days that becomes evident in the way I act.

However when I’m in the middle of one of the hardest spells of my life it would be mentally detrimental to put my whole life on hold. Not being able to train is the hardest news I get, every time I get it, and things like football, and going to live music, are the things that keep me going, and give me the mental strength to continue day by day. That doesn’t mean I’m not in any less pain, it just means I’m dealing with everything that’s going on in the best way I can.

Over the next few months my priority is to get back to full physical health, as well as to improve my mental health as much as possible. I believe that being realistic about my return to racing will help both these aims, and I hope you’ll support me in that.

I’ve got a few things planned for the next couple of months that I’m really excited about and I want to share with you as a final thought. Many of you will have seen the blog I wrote last week about how I believe country music has helped my own mental health. I was overwhelmed with the response to that. I received a staggering number of messages from people who expressed their thanks for what I wrote, who said it had helped them, and much to my amazement I also received a message from one of the country artists whose music has helped me so much, encouraging me to keep writing. Over the next few weeks I hope to do just that. I want to get back into blogging about some of my favourite topics, and I’ll be using this platform for that.

I’m also super excited to have a number of great gigs lined up that give me something to focus on and look forward to, including getting to see Sheryl Crow live for the first time – one of the two artists who I attribute as responsible for my love of country music thanks to her music being regularly played when I was young!

Finally, if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’ve been playing about with my own music again recently, regularly using my guitar and keyboard, along with the wonders of iPhone apps, to play my own music. It’s a really helpful outlet for my emotions, and further reinforces the deep emotions in many of my favourite country songs, so I’m looking forward to spending a bit more time developing that.

So whilst it’s not been the most eloquent piece of writing I’ve ever done, I hope this blog gives you a bit of an update on where I’m at right now. I hope that you’ll understand why I continue not to race, and what’s going on in my mind right now. I hope it will serve to answer any questions about what’s going on medically, and hopefully explain to those who think they know better why I’m not curled up in my bed every evening getting angry about my situation, even though there’s days when that’s truly all I want to do. And I hope also you’ll see that I’m desperate to get better, both physically and mentally, and everything I’m doing right now is a part of that process.

Thanks as ever for your support

Chris x

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Dealing with my depression (a blog I can finally write thanks to The Shires)

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of my country music. In fact it’s such a poorly kept secret that this weekend comedian Mark Watson (who evidently had been Twitter-stalking me just before he came on stage!) remarked on stage after establishing I was in the audience ‘bloody hell, you’re really into your country music!’ 

I really am into my country music, and there are 2 reasons for that. The first is the brilliant musicians you get in the genre. As a child I really  wanted to learn guitar and had regular lessons. Even now my Fender semi-acoustic is one of my most prized possessions, with me regularly sitting with it working out the chord patterns to some of my favourite songs (although the strong musical gene that my brothers appear to have been blessed with certainly doesn’t extend to me)! One of the things that draws me to country music is being able to pick out and hear the phenomenal musical talent that comes through on so many tracks. The genre has so many great guitarists and I love to listen to that.

The second reason I love country music is the way it tells stories. Not just fictional novels but real life stories. Things real people can relate to. Brad Paisley perhaps explains this best in his song This Is Country Music where he writes:

You’re not supposed to say the word “cancer”, in a song. And telling folks that Jesus is the answer, can rub ’em wrong. It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks, Little towns, or mama, yeah that might be true. But this is country music and we do. This is real, this is your life in a song. Yeah this is country music

It’s this raw, emotional story telling that has drawn me to country music. There are so many moments in my life which I can name the song that went with that moment: those moments of happiness where I’ve had the same song on repeat for hours; those tough moments where a certain song has got me through; even those moments of despair where music has been my solace – with a song simply summarising my emotions and helping me know I’m not alone.

That’s the reason I find myself writing this blog in the depths of the night when once again I can’t sleep because of the pain I’m currently in as a result of ongoing medical problems. Because where I’ve tried to write a blog for weeks summarising a few thoughts, I’ve finally heard the song that has helped me to write what I’ve been trying to say, that expresses perfectly how I feel. This Sunday I’m heading to see British country act The Shires in Bournemouth. I’m a big fan and in preparation for their gig, as I do before any gig, I’ve currently been reacquainting myself with their back catalogue as it helps me cope better with being at a live music event with my cochlear implant when I’m familiar with what I’ll be listening to. As I’ve been listening there’s one song I’ve put on repeat multiple times, a song that I remember falling in love with when the album first came out, and that’s ‘Save Me’.

I should say at this point that I have no idea what the inspiration behind this song was for The Shires, but both when I first listened to it, and again over the last few days, I’ve found this song to be the perfect summary of how depression affects me.

This time last year I wrote a long blog about my depression. It took all the strength I had to admit to some of the struggles I’ve had, and if you’d like to know more about that you can read more here. But that isn’t why I wrote this, and I don’t want that to be what you take away from this post, because I didn’t write this blog about me specifically – I’m writing in the hopes that this blog might bring clarity to someone in the way that songs bring clarity to me.

Since I wrote my blog a year ago a lot has changed in my life. I guess the headline is that over the past few months I’ve experienced some major health problems that have stolen ambitions and left me feeling an emotional wreck. But that’s not the whole story – I have to remind myself of that. The flip side is that before those problems plagued me I got a massive personal best in the wheelchair race at last years Yorkshire Marathon with a 2nd place finish, alongside two 1st place finishes in 10k races in the months prior to that. (If you’re interested the songs that have soundtracked those moments were Brad Paisley’s ‘Today’ which reminds me to hold on to those positives from last year, and his older song ‘One of those Lives’ which just gives everything a sense of perspective…)

As things have gone uphill and downhill more times than a rollercoaster I’ve found myself struggling with my mental health. I’ve found myself in the depths of depression again and again and unable to explain why. I’ve had people ask why I don’t snap out of it, people ask when I’m going to get over it. And sometimes I wonder why too…this is something I have to adjust to right – something that I just need to get used to? I’ve known about these latest health problems for nearly 3 months now and I know things aren’t going to improve any time soon, so why do I let them affect me? Why is it that sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings, I don’t want to talk to people, I can’t explain my mood? Like I say, sometimes I question and blame myself, and those are the days when my depression really has a hold over me.

In The Shires song Save Me they sing:

Here he goes again, Keeping me up all night, He knows every weakness, Just where to stick the knife, I’m fighting, I’m bleeding but yeah I’m still breathing, Oh it hurts like hell, Oh God I need somebody please, To save me from myself

What has this got to do with anything? Over the last few weeks there has been an increased amount of press about mental health, with the BBC hosting a series of special TV shows, many of which are worth looking out for over the next few days. Reading many of these articles helped me to understand that the symptoms I continue to feel are not just my own – they are real struggles that many other people experience too. And here’s the killer…sometimes there’s no logical reason for it. See, people can try to rationalise depression or mental health issues. They can try to explain it away, and tell you why you shouldn’t feel that way (it’s been too long, it’s nothing really, you just need to get on with it).

But that’s not how mental illness works. For starters, it’s just that – an illness. It shouldn’t just be ignored or trivialised. I find that those lyrics in Save Me perhaps sum up how depression is for many people. Because the thing about depression is that you’re fighting your own worst enemy. Your mind and body understand exactly what makes you struggle, what makes you feel worse, what is going to make your day more difficult. Every weakness is under attack, and it really is a constant fight. There are days when that fight gets too much. Where all you can do is give in for the day, accept you’re still breathing, and not seek more accomplishment than that in the day.

I share this in the hopes that if you know someone with mental health issues this will help you interact with them. See too many times people tell me how I should be dealing with it. Why I’m getting it wrong. Why I shouldn’t be upset that my ambitions once again have fallen by the wayside. And I’m sure sometimes, some of those people think they’re helping. But in many cases these messages seek to reinforce feelings of helplessness or inadequacy that already exist. It is, like those lyrics suggest, sticking the knife in exactly the right place, at exactly the wrong time.

And so, on so many occasions, people with the best of intentions cause harm when they don’t mean it. So often people think they’re being helpful by encouraging you to get on with things when it can only make you feel worse. What then is the answer? Later on in ‘Save Me’ it says

But you, You love me for who I am, All the darkness, the doubt and the fear disappears, When you take my hand, You know my heart, and nobody else can save me from myself

I honestly believe if there was more of this attitude in the world then people like me, even if they didn’t ‘conquer’ their depression, anxiety or other illness, would find it a lot easier to live with, or to manage on a daily basis. Too often I think other people think they need to find a ‘cure’, to suggest a way of helping, or simply to encourage someone to snap out of it. The reality is that not all illness can be cured. Not all illness gets better in time. Many people like myself living with chronic disabilities, and many far worse off than me, are living proof of this. Sometimes what people really need is someone who will walk beside them on the journey, who will take their hand when things get tough, and who will accept them as they are.

The reality is that many people like myself who have mental health illnesses are already speaking to people who are there to help. Many people are ready to ask for help if they need it. And often what they really need is to know there are people around who won’t judge them when they’re having a bad day. People who won’t try to explain it away (‘another bad appointment?’) when there may actually be no real trigger. People who won’t expect you to cheer up and get out of that mood (‘how can you be like that when you’re going on holiday tomorrow?’). People like that, the people who will just walk alongside you in silence on a bad day, but will still walk with you, are the people you come to trust. The people who you know you can talk to when you do need to. The people you feel comfortable around in those darkest moments. Why? Because they don’t make you question yourself. They don’t make you think you’re doing it wrong. In essence, they really do save you from yourself.

On a personal note this isn’t meant to criticise, or hurt, or upset anyone who’s ever tried to help me in any way. As I’ve mentioned in this post many people often try to help. In fact I firmly believe that the majority of people want to help those with mental illnesses and truly aren’t sure how to. My hope is that this post might prove a useful starting point for many people who have friends and family struggling with similar illnesses to understand things and relate. It’s not always easy for people with such illnesses to explain their thoughts – I know it’s something I’ve tried many times myself, and it’s only through re-listening to Save Me that I finally realised exactly what I wanted to say! I guess selfishly I do also hope my own friends and family will read this too and that it will help them to understand too, why a year after talking about this I seem no better off. Why I still struggle to come to terms with the endless barrage of problems I face. And why it’s really not helpful when you tell me to cheer up!

Crucially, I hope that this may be a help to you if you’re struggling with similar illness yourself. I know that both last year when I first felt able to talk about my own depression, and again recently, one of the most comforting things was knowing that I wasn’t alone. Reading other people’s stories proves so valuable to me. So often they provide no answers, no magic wands, but they do remind me that I’m not the only one that feels like this. They make me realise that that feeling of desperation, loneliness or isolation isn’t just something that is made up – that it’s a real illness that others struggle with too. Doctors can tell you this but personally I’ve found hearing it from other people can make a real difference. Can make you feel OK on a bad day. Can counteract some of those moments where you’ve been told to ‘get a grip’ or ‘get on with it’. Perhaps you may even find yourself sharing this with your own friends and family to help them understand how you’re feeling. If it helps you put into words what I’ve struggled to explain for so long then please go ahead.

And finally, I’d like to share a few more songs that are regularly playing on my iPhone right now. They might mean nothing to you, songs are a personal thing. But if it helps you to discover a song that helps you then great. Before that list I guess I’d give a special mention to my ‘power song’ right now. The song that I relate to more than any other, and which is getting overplayed by me. A song that reminds me that whatever I’m going through it helps make me who I am.

Bailey Bryan performed at C2C this year and I got to watch her twice, as well as briefly meet her. I wish I’d known then how much her music would carry me through this spell so I could have told her. The song that keeps me going right now is Scars

They say when you’re broken, the light gets in, Hoping that’s where the healing begins…I’m broken, but I’m healing, I am who I am. We wouldn’t be who we are, Without our scars.

What other music is keeping me going right now? I think I’d highlight:

The rest of Bailey Bryan’s EP

Music is Healing by Florida Georgia Line

Rae Lynn’s album Wildhorse

Little Big Town’s album The Breaker

American Young’s album AY

I really do believe music is powerful – its helped me to write this when I couldn’t have otherwise, and I know many, many others who could share similar stories. If you’ve got songs which have helped carry you through key moments why not share them with your friends, or even on this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter?

And if this blog has helped you in any way please do feel free to share it. I really hope that in some small way it helps people like me who are struggling, and that it helps their friends and family.

An extra little note to Ben Earle, Crissie Rhodes, Brad Paisley and Bailey Bryan, on the off chance they ever read this

I realise I’ve used your song lyrics on here without any permission, and without any knowledge of how you intended the songs to be understood. The way I’ve interpreted them has shaped my life, which I believe is the power of music, but I apologise if I’ve misheard, or mistyped any lyrics, misinterpreted them, or misused them. I hope however that I’ve used your lyrics in a way you’d be really happy with.

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A note about my racing…

I’m disappointed to have to write that for the second year in succession I’ll be delaying the start of my season for health reasons. It’s a decision that I didn’t want to make, and have put off for as long as possible, but I know categorically that it will be the right decision long-term.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experiencing significant pain to the site of my cochlear implant site. Whilst the exact cause of this pain is still a mystery I’ve been backwards and forwards to hospital both trying to get a clear diagnosis, and getting more medication whilst the pain has got worse and my health has deteriorated for the last few weeks. Clearly this has stopped me from training, and continues to do so at the time of writing this.

I’d been putting off making a decision, hopeful that I could get back into training soon, but I now know that however soon that could be if things improve, it won’t be soon enough for the start of my season. With my first race only 2 weeks away, I’m on medication for at least the next week which would stop me from training even if things improved, and so the decision has forced itself.

I can’t explain how disappointed I am and how hard it’s been to make this decision. After a difficult start to 2016, my season ended in an amazing way, and I remember sitting on the finish of the Yorkshire Marathon discussing what a good 2017 I could have if I had a solid winter training. Winter training has gone exactly as I hoped it would, and for the last couple of months I’d been telling everybody that I felt the fittest I had in a long time. I’ve been genuinely excited about the start of this season and honestly felt that I could break my course PB at the Silverstone Half in 2 weeks time.

I’m also disappointed to say that I’m going to have put on hold a dream that I set myself last year. Many of you know that I’d set myself the aim of completing a marathon abroad this year. For the last 6 months I’ve been working towards completing the Paris marathon, an ambition that I was ridiculously excited for and have spent all winter pushing myself to be fit for. It was to be my flagship fundraiser this year for Right To Play. That race is now only 6 weeks away, and with the break I’ve already had from training, and with me knowing how fatigued my body feels right now, I know it’s the right thing to make a clear decision now then put it off longer. I’m absolutely gutted, but again I know it’s the right decision. Anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am, and how much pressure I put on myself, and to do my first marathon abroad when I’ve not trained as much as I’d like, and won’t get as good a time as I’d want, would only frustrate me further.

For as long as it takes my focus needs to be on getting back to full health, and hopefully if I do that I’ll be back in training within weeks. I certainly hope that I’ll be back in time to race in the Great Bristol 10k at the beginning of May, but ultimately that will be a decision I’ll have to make in a few weeks, by which time hopefully these latest health problems will be well behind me.

I wouldn’t normally be so honest and clear about my decisions in public, but I’ve written this blog for one clear reason. Hopefully you will all be aware by now that I’ve partnered this season with an excellent charity called Right To Play. Right To Play work with over a million children each week in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, using sport and play to develop new skills, educate and transform the lives of disadvantaged children. They believe that through the power of play children can receive a high quality education, overcome obstacles and see their lives turn around. They train local people to lead these programmes, creating a long-term and sustainable solution for communities facing poverty, disease and conflict. Paris was due to be my flagship fundraising event for them this year, and it’s that fact that has made this such a difficult decision. Putting my own ambitions on hold is something I’ve got used to when health problems arise, and have grown to accept, but to have to let down a charity I believe in so passionately has been absolutely devastating. I wanted to explain my reasons for having to do this clearly and openly. I feel like I’m letting down a group of people whose work I believe in so much, and it’s made this a horrible decision to make.

As I’ve mentioned, I hope to be racing again in May and will do so with the Right To Play logo proudly displayed on my kit as had been planned for this season. Once I know I’m fit again I’ll also be looking for further opportunities to promote and fundraise for Right To Play this year.

In the meantime I’ll finish this by pointing you to my fundraising page again. If you haven’t yet taken the time to read about why this charity is so important then I’d love you do so, and if you would like to donate then your contribution would be valued so much.

Again, this is a decision that I’ve struggled to make, but hopefully it will be the right one to ensure I get back to full health as soon as possible.

Chris

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/chrisrighttoplay

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