‘From the Colorado mountains, To the California sun, I won’t stop until I get there, I will run, run, run.’ I’ve been running for a long time. And the lyrics to Michelle Lewis’ song Run, Run, Run, get right under my skin.
Running belongs to who I am in the world. It reaches parts of me that other things can’t. It’s got away once or twice but it’s stuck by me through some tough times.
So the announcement today that SAMH whose board I chair will be working in partnership with Scottish Athletics to deliver Jog Scotland makes perfect sense. Not just strategically, but everyday sense. Unfortunately, when I was approaching my lowest ebb, it didn’t make the same sense to those from whom I sought help.
In the summer of 2002, besieged by thoughts of suicide I went to my GP. After a short chat, I was prescribed some pills. Even in the fog of depression, I had misgivings but I gave it a try. I picked up my new happy pills from the chemist, started on the recommended course of treatment and waited for happiness to kick in.
But it didn’t. And five months, two stays in psychiatric hospital and two changes of drug later, I tried to take my own life.
I should say right up front that this is not an argument against anti-depressants. Drug treatment has its place and for some, it works and works very well. It can be a lifeline. But for me, in and of itself, it was not. That was then. But when I look back at that trip to the GP now I understand rather more about what didn’t happen.
In the brief time we had, my GP asked me a bit about what was wrong and why I felt the way I did. But she didn’t ask me what, in normal times, got me out of bed in the morning. I was so ill by then that I was more likely to be going to bed in the morning having been up all night. When your mind gets poorly, insomnia is both cause and symptom on the descent into madness.
In fact, it wouldn’t have taken long to establish that, when times were better, I loved to run. Just a little longer and the conversation could have surfaced the fact that running had played its part in making me resilient at an earlier stage in life. And if that had happened I might have left the GPs surgery that day with a social as well as, or instead of, a medical prescription. Perhaps to take part in a local running group or club.
Running wouldn’t have been a panacea. I was too unwell for an overnight cure. But joining a running group again at that point would have done a number of things which taking some pills alone didn’t. It would have got me out of the house. Literally. It would have made me tired physically so that I might have stood a chance of sleeping at night. It would have taken me away from the emotional noise of my immediate surroundings. And out of myself.
How do I know all this? Because in the succeeding years running proved to do all of those things. When I first moved to Edinburgh the following year I started running again. Just occasionally at first. It was a way of discovering the contours of my new found home. Of connecting with it and, from the extraordinary vantage points of Arthur’s Seat and Blackford Hill, looking beyond it.
There was a world inside my head which could still be painful, cluttered and messy. But there was a world out there which was empty and clear and beautiful. A world of possibility, even opportunity. A way to go.
Fifteen years on from that desultory summer, my life has purpose. And in running, I have a way of managing the highs and lows that it throws at me. I’m part of a big club, training with teammates and racing on a regular basis. It’s by far the best way I know to leave the stresses of the day behind.
But some of my best running moments, especially when I’ve had a bad day, are those when I go back to the top of Blackford Hill and stare. If you’ve been there you’ll know.
You don’t have to run, of course. There are loads of other physical activities which could do the trick if running isn’t for you. And even if you do run, you don’t have to join a club like mine or compete.
The beauty of running though is that pretty much any of us can do it. A pair of trainers is about all you need. And the Scottish running scene has so many different aspects to it, you’ll be tripping over them as soon as you leave your front door.
Jog Scotland is one of those opportunities. It’s one with more than 40,000 members and 300 groups already there. I will always rue the day my GP didn’t send me running. And that’s why I’m so excited about the partnership which has been announced today.
I’ll leave the last word to Michelle who says it better than I ever could.
‘I have loved you for a long time
Always knew you were the one
If you need me I’ll be by your side
Yes I will run, run, run
Yes I will run, run, run
I will run, run, run.’