It was probably my darkest day. I can’t even recall the date now but it was 20 years ago. I’d sunk into a darker and darker depression – I’d stopped going to work, I wasn’t getting up at all as I just couldn’t face another day, I wasn’t eating either. I had gone crashing down into a never-ending downwards spiral. I couldn’t see any way out of it at all.
I was single and hated the fact, I was working as a cycle courier and was fed up with it. I just couldn’t see much of a future let alone a bright one. I was in my late twenties and the depression had taken a strangle-hold on me in a big way. I viewed myself as nothing short of a total and utter failure. The months leading up to this point had been a major struggle – I was drinking heavily and really couldn’t give a shit about anything or anyone.
It was a Sunday and I had filled up two empty bottles with water and filled them with paracetamol – I had put around 50 effervescent tablets into each bottle – before starring at them for an age and eventually drinking the contents of both bottles. This wasn’t a cry for help, this was me at the very end, no more answers having accepted the only solution was to end my life. I thought that the quantity of tablets would knock me out before my life ended. I didn’t leave a suicide note. I just didn’t see the point.
Several hours later I was hunched over the toilet being sick in a way I have never been sick before. It was continuous and seemed never-ending. I ended up in A&E at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital that night. They managed to stabilise me and I spent the following week in hospital. That first night in the hospital was strange. I felt confused and I was scared but felt at peace as well.
The following day a really good friend came to visit me at lunchtime commenting (rather ironically) ‘that if I tried something like that again she would kill me’.
I learnt a lot that week in hospital. I realised that my depression (and episodes of depression) needed to be tackled head on and couldn’t engulf me like it had on this occasion. Back then mental health wasn't widely spoken about as it is today. There was still a certain amount of stigma associated with it as well.
The doctors told me that it was lucky that I was so fit as certain blood counts associated with the overdose were off the scale and they had never seen anyone survive with such high levels before. Thankfully the majority of the damage was to the liver and this would eventually heal.
On the ward I got talking to the bloke in the bed next to me – he had to be admitted to hospital every couple of months due to having sickle cell disease – he was really upbeat and was just getting on with it. One thing that stayed with me was watching an elderly man at the other end of the ward die. I was looking over towards him in those last moments of his life and watched his last breath. I spent a week in the hospital before being discharged. That is when the real hard work started. I was at rock-bottom and needed to rebuild my life again.
I’d come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be easy, it wouldn’t be instant, and it was down to me to sort the mess out which had become my life. I also had to accept that I suffered from depression and that I needed to control it as best I could – this is something that I am still doing 20 years later. There are times when I think I’m doing well and other times when I think I need to get my act together. That has happened quite a lot over the last 20 years.
I think in the last 20 years I’ve achieved a lot and learnt a lot about myself. I went from working as a cycle courier to becoming a performance manager for the company I was working for. I started a career in the civil service (and was promoted twice within my first 8 months). I studied and trained to become a sports massage therapist, worked for myself and gained an excellent reputation as well as working with some brilliant and inspiring athletes. Another career change has seen me working for the British Red Cross for the last 7 years and advancing, learning, and studying along the way.
One of the things that really helped was exercise – I finished another 8 marathons (I had completed my first a few years before), finished multiple triathlons including four ironman distance, as well as racing for Great Britain at the European Long Distance Championships in 2007.
In that 20 years I’ve been in 6 relationships and am now single again – I’m not that fussed about that, some days I think it’d be great to be with someone, most days I’m happy being on my own.
I don’t really speak about that dark day very much. I know that it changed me. I know that it made me see that if I wanted to achieve anything I would need to really push myself hard. I’ve learned that failure isn’t a bad thing as long as you learn from the mistakes made. That dark day helped me to build a very strong mind-set where I refuse to give up, give in or stay down when knocked down by life.
That dark day was the first step to everything I have achieved since.
I’ve completed the first full week of a more structured training schedule which I’m pleased about. I’m having to get up at 5.30am to get some of the sessions done - I don’t mind doing this as it is part of what I’m trying to achieve. It has been dark, cold and sometimes wet when I’ve headed – I’m not bothered about that though as the pavements and roads are clearer and quieter. Once I’m back I know that the training for the day is done and I feel like I’ve achieved something before the day has really started.
One of the differences I have training for an ultra next year (compared with losing focus earlier in the year) is I’ve sat down and put more structure into the training and built up to achieving that particular goal.
I’ve decided to run half marathons in December and February (both of which will be treated as training runs rather than going for a specific time) and then finish the season off with the Great South Run (October) and another marathon in next December. This will give me those short-term targets to aim for rather than just focusing on the one target as well as keeping the momentum going after the ultra.
The key to achieving that is remaining injury free, consistency, belief, discipline, and strength. I’m in control of all of those factors.
Remaining injury free – a sensible approach to training, not pushing it too far too quickly, and proper recovery. Since I’ve moved my diet and lifestyle have improved greatly and that is going to help as well.
Consistency – I need to have a no excuses approach to the training. I’m might not be in the mood or don’t want to get out of bed at 5.30am but that is not the reason for not completing the training.
Belief – having the self-belief that I can achieve these targets and goals. I like a challenge to work towards and it needs to be a challenge as well. If the goal is to easy then the motivation isn’t there and that sense of achievement is watered down considerably. Having that proper challenge and having that belief that I can achieve it is important to me.
Discipline – having a sense of self-discipline and not quitting. Knowing that I need to remain consistent with the training and do it. Knowing that I need to constantly push myself. Having that no excuses approach to the training and getting it done. Other options of doing things may look better in the short term but are they going to help with the longer-term goals? Probably not, therefore I need to remain disciplined to get the training done. Looking out of the window knowing it is cold and raining but still having the discipline to head out of the door rather than hiding under the duvet for another hour.
Strength – I’m not talking about physical strength (as that will develop with the training). I’m talking about mental strength and the ability not to quit when it becomes tough. I have several strategies that I have developed over the years to help build my own mental strength. I give myself little prompts as to why I’m doing the training. When I’m feeling tired during training and just want to stop I ask myself how I am going to feel if I do stop (and how much I will then beat myself up mentally for stopping). There are going to be days when I’m fed up for a variety of reasons but it is having that strength to put that aside and get the training done. There are going to be times when the training session isn’t that A-game performance and again it is having the strength to put that behind me and concentrate on the next session.
Overall it is having the strength to say to myself I have the ability and capability to do this – NO EXCUSES are going to be accepted.
One of the other reasons I do the training is that it makes me feel good about me.
I started this blog around a year ago, give or take a couple of weeks.
At the time I wasn’t in a very good place for various reasons and I had a lot of questions that I needed to ask myself at the time. Some of the answers I probably didn’t want to hear if I’m being honest. I had also entered an ultra marathon and had begun training for it. I never made the start line of the ultra marathon for many reasons.
A lot has changed in those 12 months.
Reflecting on the last 12 months and not being in a happy place at the time there were multiple things I needed to change in my life – some of those I have achieved and others are a work in progress. Compared to 12 months ago I am in a much better place now. I have moved and now have my own space – it is utter bliss.
I wasn’t happy where I was living and craved for my own space. The move has brought a lot of structure back into my life. I need structure in my life otherwise I get distracted and side-tracked and lose focus on the things I should be doing. When this happens a bad habit kicks in – procrastination – and when that happens I start drifting almost aimlessly. I’m aware of the things I should be doing but due to a lack of focus I put them off. When I put them off I feel guilty for doing so and that pushes me into a very low place as I feel I am letting myself down and selling myself short.
12 months ago I was bored in a role that I could do with my eyes closed. I’m much happier in my job as well. It involves a lot of travel at times but compared to my previous role it is more challenging and has allowed me to develop new skills and gain fresh knowledge. It has also allowed me to push myself professionally and I think that this has been noticed by senior managers. This could be useful for future opportunities.
12 months ago I had been knocked to the floor again. Very much like when this has happened in the past I refuse to stay down (even though that may look like the best option at the time). A few people have pointed this out to me over the last couple of months – there is something internal that refuses to stay down and give up, it is almost like I should be broken but it is just the start of something new and I’m just breaking myself in, having to start with a blank canvas refusing to accept defeat.
I’ve faced some very tough challenges over the years but have a huge inner reserve that always pulls me back up. It takes a certain amount of mental toughness to do that.
So things are much better than 12 months ago, lessons have been learnt, challenges overcome, opportunities taken and others missed. I’m constantly asking myself those tough questions and never accepting complacency.
Since moving I’ve got back into a training routine. Not being on the start line of the ultra marathon in August has been niggling away at me. It is something I need to complete for my own reasons. I’ve seen the event I want to do and now I’m happier with things. I will be on that start line next July and believe me I will cross that finish line as well.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.