Keeping busy is the name of the game. Doing things to get a buzz. Sometimes it can be counter-productive in the grand scheme of things but this “stuff” is better done than the thinking “stuff” which drags you down. A very good school friend of mine sent me an email about Simon Hattenstone’s contribution to The Guardian’s “Why I Run” piece in it’s magazine on Saturday. For me it was freakily familiar. I even recognise some of the Charlie Brown in me, much to my dismay. I’m sure others of you will recognise some of this too. Addiction or not, the things that make us less depressed must be better than the things that do?
To fight my demons. By Simon Hattenstone
I can’t stop. I know I can’t. Even now, writing this, right here, right now, I’ll probably break off for a quick one. My name is Simon Hattenstone and I’m a running addict.
People who hear about my running habit assume I’m training for a marathon or that I’m a club runner with a chest full of medals. If only. Truth is, I’m rubbish. I can keep trundling on a good day, but that’s about it.
So what’s it all about? To look good? No, I look ridiculous – tight Lycra shorts highlighting my belly bulge, wife-beater T-shirt, back humped after decades of pitiful posture, feet splayed. And then there’s the sweat. Buckets of it. Oceans of it. When kindly strangers see me slumped against a lamp-post, wheezing asthmatically, purple with exhaustion, they ask if I’d like help and should they call an ambulance. When I say I’m fine and smile beatifically, they say this can’t be good for me. They may have a point and, yes, I know it’s bound to knacker my knees and worse, but what the hell.
Most days I run six miles at lunch. Occasionally I pretend I’m doing something different because I don’t like people to think that running has become a “problem”.
So why do I do it? Because it makes me feel great. That’s GREAT! – with italics, caps, bold type, exclamation mark.
See, if I don’t run, my head tends to take a turn for the worse. I shrivel up and back away from the world. Charlie Brown understands. “This is my depressed stance,” the Peanuts hero says. “When you’re depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better. If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.”
Sometimes depression comes from thinking too much about things. Always a pointless pursuit, as my existentialist friend Eeyore knows only too well. “The old grey donkey, Eeyore, stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things,” wrote AA Milne in Winnie The Pooh. “Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, ‘Why?’ and sometimes he thought, ‘Wherefore?’ and sometimes he thought, ‘Inasmuch as which?’ and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.”
It’s not that I’m a misery guts or bleat on about it endlessly, it’s just that I have bleak moments. All you clinical depressives out there will know what I mean – anxiety, negativity even when things are objectively fine, paranoia, tearfulness, a metronome constantly click-clacking in your head, making it impossible to answer complex questions such as, “What’s the time?”, wanting to stay in bed for ever, not looking forward to anything, and feeling guilty about feeling so crap because you know there are people out there who really do have reason to feel crap.
But when I’m running, most of these feelings start to dissipate. Just that feeling of mainlining fresh air, the utter exhaustion, the brilliant mindlessness of it, the buzzy buzz that is often achieved illegally, the positivity that transforms you from Leonard Cohen to Stevie Wonder.
Plenty of people take antidepressants to get this serotonin kick. Me, I do both. Double bubble, win-win. And the amazing thing is, however crumpled I am at the end of the run, a few minutes later my body does begin to straighten up and my head does hold itself higher and the world does look that little bit brighter.
The full, original article appeared in the Guardian Weekend on 2nd July 2011 and is available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jul/01/why-i-run-ronson-hattenstone-catherine-bennett-clooney.