In two weeks time I will undertake the most difficult physical challenge of my life.
I will be hiking 40 miles for 24 hours straight through the Lake District the raise money for Mind. I have lain awake most nights this week utterly terrified at the prospect and wondering why on earth I decided to do this to myself in the first place.
In my early twenties, when I first was gripped by the anxiety and panic attacks that would dominate my life and put me on medication for the next 10 years, I would look in the mirror and barely recognise the person looking back at me. I had been a confident teenager with real direction of how I wanted my life to go. I no longer knew who I was, but I knew that girl was long gone.
I understood so little about my anxiety then. I could not trace it origins nor understand why this was happening to me. One night, lost in insomnia and feeling utterly helpless, I decided to call the Mind infoline. I spoke to a lady called Susan. I think I will remember Susan for the rest of my life.
She was the first person I had spoken to about what I was feeling that I felt truly heard me.
She did not just tell me I would be fine; did not tell me to overhaul my entire existence; did not make me feel alone.
She simply listened to me.
In my 20s I never had the chance to push my boundaries like many of my peers. I simply muddled through life. I had convinced myself that I was working within my limitations, but in reality I was so terrified that if I ever tested myself, that even this small version of life would collapse around me like everything before it. My anxiety had boxed me in so tightly that I had no idea what I was truly capable of – if I could learn to push through the fear and really try.
When I would think back to that teenage girl who was so determined to build a life for herself, I knew I had to do something to push myself forward in anyway possible. I had read a lot about beneficial effects that exercise could have on your mental health and had always wanted to incorporate it into my life somehow. Unfortunately, it was not as easy as I had initially hoped.
Anxiety is utterly exhausting. When your mind is running at 100 miles an hour and your body is full of unrelenting tension, the physical effects are palpable. I would drag myself in from work and some days could not even face making dinner, let alone doing any exercise. I felt weak, both physically and mentally. I could not develop the positive thought patterns to stop myself quitting at every juncture and on the days where I could muster some mental strength, my body would collapse out from under me. I knew it would take time, but for the first time in a long while, I was determined to make something happen for myself.
Exercise and training have been utterly life changing for me. They have allowed me to develop the mental tenancy to push past discomfort and fear and achieve some brilliant things, often so much more than I ever thought possible. Anxiety makes you doubt everything around you, that you are even capable of making changes. Exercise has taught me that this is not the case: it has given me small but tangible rewards that I can see and feel everyday. It has shown me that the fight or flight response that my body would generate to stop me living, was not always an accurate response to my surroundings. It has shown me for the first time that I strong, that I am capable, that I can persevere.
One day earlier this year whilst scrolling through Twitter, I saw a post asking for applications to raise money for Mind and I remembered Susan and how she had been there for me at my most desperate moment; I knew I had to do it.
So, here I am, two weeks out and still utterly terrified. The difference now is that I know that I am mentally and physically strong enough to undertake this, not just for myself, but for the many other people who may need Mind’s services in the future as I did that night.
I would love if you would consider sponsoring me! Every penny counts:
Small but mighty, Sabrina is a writer, burpee lover and mental health advocate. Through her blog Anxiously Active, she shares her experiences of anxiety, depression and finding solace in fitness.
Sabrina can usually be found either in the gym or watching Gilmore Girls with a jar of peanut butter and her cat.