Well hello there! This is one of those slightly awkward “hello world” posts. I’ve made a few in my time, having been an on-again off-again blogger for many years. My longest-lived blog was Reality is Awesome, where I wrote about science and skepticism. I’m pretty happy with what I produced then, and I’ve been halfheartedly meaning to return to it for ages. After all, I love writing, and the idea of having even a few people reading what I write is quite exciting.
By way of introduction, my name is Helen, I have a PhD in chemistry and work as a research scientist at a big facility in Oxfordshire. When not at work I can be found either at my flat in Didcot, or in Cheltenham where my other half, Matt, lives.
I’ve been a (very) casual runner for a long time – going back to the last year of my undergraduate degree when two of my housemates and I entered the Race for Life. For me it was meant to be cathartic – a way to finally put the memory of painful high school cross country runs to rest. Race day was hot and sunny, and I remember how awesome it felt to run with the support of a crowd of people. As long as I don’t concentrate too hard I can almost forget the intensity of the sunburn that resulted from forgetting the sun cream…
I started running regularly two years ago, when a colleague persuaded me to sign up for the 2015 Reading Half Marathon. That winter I learned about GPS watches, running tights, what running for more than an hour felt like, and the very strange sensation of the coldness of my body cooling my hot shower water to tepid as it ran down my back! The Reading course finishes magnificently with a lap of the Madejski Stadium and I felt absolutely unstoppable when I ran into the cacophany of cheers and across the line. I was hooked.
In 2016 I have completed 3 more half marathons (Bath, Reading again, and Cheltenham) and crossing the finish line is still a giddy thrill. I’m excited to see where running takes me next.
The story of my struggles with mental illness is an even longer one. Anxiety has been a constant companion ever since I can remember, although for a long time I was unaware that it was, in fact, an illness. My first real experience of depression came while I was at university, but again it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can recognise it for what it was. I’ve had ups and downs since then, but in the last 18 months or so things worsened to the point that I struggled to function at work and in life in general. About a year ago, the concern of my friends and family got me to the GP surgery, and these days with the right combination of medication, an awesome therapist and a healthy dose of self-awareness, I feel pretty stable.
Running has been hugely helpful in managing my symptoms. It gets me outside, keeps me moving and helps me to feel like I am accomplishing something. It gives me time to think or to simply exist in the world around me. It helps to silence the nagging voices of depression and distract the noisy chatter of anxiety. Although I’m still shy about donning the badge that says “runner”, it’s part of who I am. That’s why I want to write this blog. To talk about running, to share my story. To be another tiny voice in the growing chorus that is saying “mental illness is here, it’s not going anywhere, and we need to talk about it”.