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Mental Health Week 2021 - Gary's Story

Intro: BADRAT approached Gary some time ago and asked if, following a series of discussions and the introduction of the 'white flag run' concept, he'd feel up for sharing some insights and some background into his experiences. What we couldn't have expected was such an open and honest piece, and we are hugely grateful for his input and willingness to open up about something so personal and difficult to talk about.

There has long been a link between running and the mental health benefits it can produce, and it has been a pleasure to be able to explore this, to show you this, from two of our awesome members through these blog posts.

Without further ado, over to Gary...

"When I was asked to write about mental health, no words came to mind. Well, actually a lot come to mind but it was mainly emotions such as panic, fear, anxiety and an overwhelming feeling of not being able to do this or even worse, not doing it right. I know that there is no right or wrong thing to say when it comes to mental health but it still scares me. I have started and deleted this so many times over the past month, which coincides with dips in my mood but with support, I want to share:

I mean how do you explain the one thing that you hide away and hope that no one realises you suffer with. “How are you feeling today?” Always gets the same reply “I am fine thank you” but really you are not. You want to say “I want you to listen, don’t say a word, don’t talk to me…..just listen” or “NO I AM NOT OK.”

What I find happens a lot, with most people I know, is that they try to pick up on your mood before approaching the “do you need to talk?” question. It is usually because they don’t want to deal with the blubbering, snot dripping, rocking baby that they expect you to turn into. This very rarely happens (I can’t say never but I can say it rarely happens in front of people) but what usually does happen, is that I am not ready or able to talk about how I am feeling or about the internal fight that I experience every single day.

It has taken a very long time for me to realise that it is actually “ok to not be ok.” It is ok to struggle. It is ok to cry. It is ok to show your emotions and it is ok to feel sad, angry, grumpy or agitated. As a man I think we all feel that we can’t struggle with life. We can’t cry or people will think we are weak. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t cried or hasn’t struggled with a situation in their lives. If you know someone who says anything to the contrary is a liar. I mean that in the nicest possible way, obviously.

When life really gets me down it can affect me in so many ways. I can be an emotional wreck and the smallest things brings the lump in the back of my throat and tears to my eyes. This can include my children doing something cute or a song or a film (I cried at big hero six and brother bear – both whilst at a packed cinema with my children.) I really don’t want to eat (this includes chocolate or sweets) or even feel hungry for days. I can not sleep or even worse, I can get to sleep and then wake two hours later and not be able to sleep for the rest of the night.

It isn’t all doom and gloom and I have found ways in which I can counteract these feelings. They don’t always work instantly but slowly they do make me feel better. I listen to my favourite songs, sometimes on repeat because I just need to hear the words. I reach out to a very close friend, who fully understands me and has never pushed me to explain my mental health. He has never walked away when I “hibernate” – basically when I shut myself away from the world, which can last for months. He always knows what to say or how to act around me (it is at this point that the tears are streaming down my face and it is time to take a break from writing)…..

…..I am lucky to have him as a friend and even though he doesn’t feel like he is doing anything, he has actually become such a rock in my life.

I LOVE TO RUN…….mainly on my own, as this is all that I have known for so long. It is my escape, it is my chance to get away from everyone and everything. Headphones in, music on and escape, giving me time to clear my head.

Now I know that at this point, I am sure you are wondering how this connects to the BADRAT running club?

I heard about BADRAT running club through a friend, they were a newly formed club at the time. I was intrigued to see what they were about. At this point I realised that one of the founding members of the club was actually my cousin, I knew that this was going to be a well organised club. After contacting him and exchanging text messages, I decided that I would like to see what group running was all about. As you can imagine the thought of going and meeting a group of people who I don’t know was daunting. I arrived at the meeting point and took part in the awkward “hello, how are you?” introduced myself and tried to look like I had a stretching routine but was actually avoiding eye contact with the other group members. The run started and I relaxed a little, every person within the group approached me and spoke to me. Maybe I was a group runner now? No I was a BADRAT runner.

BADRAT running club has been brilliant for me and every person, from the super quick to the first time runner, is made to feel welcome. Experienced runners sharing tips and helping in any way that they can. Well organised club runs, entering events as a group and all the support you can ask for.

I have always wanted to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health, as I feel that the more people who feel comfortable to speak out is a massive positive. I put forward a suggestion to the BADRAT group about using a white flag to mark any run that they complete because they just needed to escape. This is a way to show others that they are struggling and may need support.

White flag conversations are there for people to show that their mental health is not the best. It is easier to use a white flag than saying “I am drowning in life. Please help me.” It is not a sign of surrendering, it is a sign that you are struggling. I really encourage everyone who struggles, no matter how small or big, to have a white flag conversation. If you see someone raise the white flag, please talk to them even if you don’t know them personally.

It has been exhausting sharing my inner thoughts but I really hope that it encourages others to do so as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this. "

Thanks Gary.

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