When the going gets tough it is all too easy to look for a quick fix and reach for the chardonnay but the road to mental and physical wellbeing is full of twists and turns. Adele Frances tells of how she learned to calibrate her exercise and turn to her Tribe for help.
The day I knocked on my friend’s door in Riverdale Road is the day I knocked depression into touch.
Half an hour earlier I had left the doctors surgery. I was sleep deprived, exhausted and suffering from extreme stress. I picked up my drugs and drove straight to see her. Her husband suffers from depression and has never hidden it. When I arrived at their door, I felt a wave of relief; I could talk about it freely. I didn’t leave for two and a half weeks.
I can pinpoint when my tendency to depression started, even though at the time I was oblivious to it. I believed my ‘sad’ days were par for the course.
My childhood was happy…I have memories of summer days playing on the farm where I grew up in Yorkshire, by my mid 20s, the dark spells of mental anxiety began to descend. I could manage my way through them but it became more and more difficult.
The biggest blow came when I was made redundant from my job in The City. Five years on from the Global Financial Crisis and jobs in my sector were still hard to find. After many interviews, I secured a job in Oxfordshire, driving the 70-mile round trip daily. On the way to work one morning I had a car accident. At first I thought I had escaped without injury, but soon the pain in my lower back became unbearable. I was a runner, but I was unable to run with the pain and I exercised less and less. My mood began to change.
Before the accident I ate healthy food and rarely drank alcohol, I was now eating chocolate and drink wine daily. I put on a lot of weight which compounded my low mood and increased my backache. I was in a dark place.
At the time of the crash, my running friend, Natalie, lost her childhood friend to cancer. One evening whilst we were enjoying a festive drink at her flat, she said that she wanted to raise money for various cancer charities. Her boyfriend was a triathlete and had competed in the Abu Dhabi triathlon the year before. She decided to race her first triathlon in memory of her friend.
To this day, I blame that glass of wine for my decision to be her tri buddy. The sheer enormity of what I had agreed to didn’t dawn on me until the January when I tried to swim in the pool at the gym; 20m breaststroke was a huge struggle. With the triathlon six weeks away, I booked four swimming lessons and hoped for the best.
Neither Natalie nor I owned a road bike. We dutifully bought all the gear and signed up for a local cycling event in Windsor. Never was the phrase, ‘all the gear and no idea’ more apt. We turned up on a bitter cold and misty February morning; excitedly unloaded our new bikes from the car, changed our shoes, gingerly removed our jogging bottoms revealing our new ¾ length cycling trousers, donned our fingerless cycling gloves and clip clopped our way to the start line. You can imagine the looks of pity we got from the seasoned cyclists.
We finished the cycle, having suffered nausea the entire way from the bitter cold. But we were buzzing, the endorphins were coursing through us, the dark fog that seemed to hang over me had disappeared and sunshine streamed in.
On the day of the triathlon, we arrived at the venue in Abu Dhabi brimming with a mixture of excitement and nerves. Traumatised at the thought of the harbor swim, I hadn’t given a single thought to how I would run in the searing heat.
Lining up on the beach in my new tri-suit, I ensured I was at the very back of the pack to avoid the arms and legs in the fight for space at the front. The horn went and the other competitors ran and dived into the water. Walking calmly, I entered the water. I don’t remember the distance feeling long, I was thinking about not drowning. I swam the full 500m distance front crawl, albeit with my head above water.
In the bike stage I started to race. Last out of the water, I caught and passed competitor after competitor, the intense heat from the sun beating down on my back. By the time I entered transition for the run, I was no longer last. I set off with legs of iron, anyone who has done a triathlon for the first time and failed to incorporate ‘brick’ training, will know the feeling. It was the most difficult run I had ever done, my legs were heavy, my back painful, my mouth dry, but when I crossed that line and they announced my name, I had forgotten it all. The sense of achievement was overwhelming.
The next day, I signed up for the London ITU triathlon. I was a triathlete. That year, I completed four sprint distance triathlons, took part in the ‘Ride LondonSurrey 100’ and completed a ‘Lakes Challenge’.
I left my job and went traveling to Australia, all the time feeling well, the black fog hadn’t returned. Back in the UK I saw a chiropractor who alleviated my back pain. I continued to exercise, shedding weight, eating mood boosting foods and secured a job back in The City.
In the initial months of my new job, I worked long hours, missing out on daylight; my mood became low. Instead of exercising and eating my way out of it, which had proved so successful the year before, I returned to old habits, eating processed beige foods and chocolate. The drinking hadn’t returned, but I struggled to fit in exercise.
Spring arrived and I signed up for a couple of Olympic distance triathlons where my parents lived. I wanted to feel that pride and sense of achievement as they watched me cross the line.
I threw myself into training, swimming five mornings a week in the pool, increasing my distance daily, conquering that elusive front crawl breathing. I ate a healthy balanced diet and started running again. I completed the Hampton Court Half Marathon, started swimming at the Shepperton Open Water lake; where with the help of Malcolm Mowles, I overcame my fear of open water swimming.
I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon in Leeds, my birth city. My mum came to watch me but my dad had been feeling ill for months and found it hard to walk without getting breathless, disappointed, he stayed at home. I signed up for the Castle Howard triathlon on the 24th July, knowing we could easily seat him at the event. On the 21st July my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He watched me complete my race that day and was there as I crossed the finish line and claimed my medal, but he wasn’t well.
I began to work a three-day week in order to spend time with my dad. My approach to exercise became extreme, I would bicycle the 26-mile round trip to work from my home in North Kingston, Monday to Wednesday, then drive the 200 miles to Yorkshire on the Wednesday night, returning to London on the Sunday only to start the cycle all over again. I thought I was coping but I wasn’t.
I would wake up in the morning with my mattress having shifted six or so inches either side. Gradually I slept less and started to drink to help me sleep. I went into a rapid decline, within weeks, I had stopped sleeping, managing an hour or two a night at best, I had increased my alcohol to one and a half bottles of wine a night to try and rectify this, I didn’t have the energy to cook so I ate convenience foods.
I hadn’t been able to read a book for months, a characteristic of depression, but by now I couldn’t read magazines or watch TV. I was at a heightened state of restlessness. I was exhausted. Work became increasingly stressful and then one day, someone asked me how I was and I just cried, once I started the tears wouldn’t stop. The following day went to the doctors where I was diagnosed with depression.
It’s now two months since I was diagnosed; the tablets I am taking agree with me, the care and support I am receiving from the doctors at my surgery is outstanding. The ongoing support from my friends and family has helped me recover rapidly.
I made a decision early in my diagnosis, not to hide it from anyone. I am gradually returning to work; my company is progressive; they care about the wellbeing of their staff. My work colleagues have valued my honesty and responded with genuine warmth and understanding.
I am back eating fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and mood boosting snacks such as avocado and nuts. I am cycling, running and swimming again, but in a less intense regime, and I have added yoga.
I made a decision to become a healthily, active person, then I made decision to be open about my illness and ask my Tribe for help. I know these decisions changed the direction of my life for the better.
If you feel you are suffering from depression, or supporting someone who is, help and support can be found at www.mind.org.uk
©RiverTribe Magazine 2017