Lets talk about Mental Health

Often an overlooked part of our training and our lives is the mind, which controls everything in our lives. I don't know if I've ever written about this but it is your mind which holds you back during a physical effort. When you are trying to push yourself hard, your mind tells you stop because it perceives the effort you might put in and correlates it to the pain which might follow and tells you to stop. Like the great Craig Alexander said to me "Pain is not going to kill you. It will just hurt for a while. It is a matter of outlasting your competitor". If you do forget your pain centre at home, you might be at a risk of killing yourself. It is a very fine line between going hard and going bonkers, but we are not here to talk about that.

We are here to talk about mental health because today is World Mental Health Day! Specifically about depression. Depression is something I have faced in life and gone through and has affected many people, including many of idols who took extreme steps in life because of it.

We often ignore or mistaken mental illnesses as a "weak mind". Everyone in life has problems. Some are bigger than the others. But no problem is too small to be ignored. I recommend that you always talk about your problems, no matter how small they seem and to people who are not judgemental about them.

At the end of 2015, I was in a stage of absolute glory. At the beginning of the year I had run a Sub 3 Marathon at the age of 24. I was strong, in the best shape of my life and felt bulletproof. Then I signed up for an Ironman and things began to unravel a bit. I signed up for a shoe deal which ended up in Pink shoes and shin splints. I tried using Whey Protein and only thing that happened to me was I gained weight and the people who called me skinny, began to call me well built. (I was getting FAT, no question about it, I care less about the opinion of the people with paunches passing comments on those who can lap them twice in a 400 meter race on the track)

Used to look this good. #BeachBod

Things had moved fast for me, in 3 years as a runner, I had moved from a 2:23 Half Marathon to a 2:56 Full Marathon, I was 9th in my AG in Ironman 70.3, I could swim well, run well and bike well (all by Indian standards, which are very low btw). I signed up for a hilly Ironman course and I trained for it. But not the right way. I was flying high on confidence and thought if I can tackle challenges like learning how to do an openwater swim during the swim leg and learn how to ride with cleats and aerobars on the race week of my 1st Ironman 70.3, I can tackle the Ironman easily. I was wrong, by a lot. And because things had never gone wrong for me before, I quickly fell apart. I finished in 13 hours, which (not being arrogant) is not what is expected of me.

And then I quickly jumped on to doing 7, 70.3s in 7 days and got injured because of it and pulled out of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. And then again, I quickly jumped into the arena and ran a 30 km slot in my 2 hours at a relay stadium run. I refused to accept that I need to hold back and listen to my body. In the midst of all this, a lot of other things were going on. I had gotten myself a credit card and I didn't know how to use it and was bleeding money there. I hated my job and was trying to get out it. I had been selected for representing India at Ultraman and that was added pressure on top of everything else. Financially and mentally, I wasn't ready to go for it but I decided to because the opportunities don't present themselves so often.

I was getting fatter and fatter and I could not train because I kept getting injured. I went to Mumbai for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and pulled out after 6 kms because I just could not run.
I hated my job and running was my outlet and I could not even do that anymore. I had applied for AISTS and I had been put on hold there. I tried to smile but I had that sarcastic undercurrent running through me. I was miserable. I avoided the world around me. Not that people were very sympathetic to me, but I too wasn't myself. It was tough and looking back, I cannot believe the thing I went through. Everything was falling apart for me, within 1 year from having a future in sports and a happy life to being miserable and angry and stuck. I did start training in March and was coming back but by then I was shrouded in a cloud of doubt.

"Will I be able to finish?" "Will it be another one of my failures" "Where will I get the money from?" "What about AISTS, what if I get stuck here in this job?"

When your life is in a rut, every failure hits you like a sledgehammer hitting a thin sheet of ice.
I wrote to people for sponsorship and got rejections. Adidas called me in to their office, promised the world and gave nothing. 1 cycling jersey. For an Ultraman. No media coverage. Nothing whatsoever.
And I was told "you need to build social media presence". As if people pressing the like button will make me bike more. Nothing felt good, for the 1st time I doubted myself. I don't like to be the kite, I like to be the one holding it and I have a plan for everything in life. But in those months, I was lost, nowhere to run or hide. I didn't want to speak to anyone, I just cried alone in silence. I cried a lot, all alone in anguish. I tried speaking to friend who is a psychologist and she encouraged me to talk, but I just don't have it in me to go out and speak the words. I can type and type, but when it comes to speaking I am not that bold.

And then one day, amidst all this nonsense, when I was going for a movie with my cousins, I got into an argument with my parents.

And I broke down. And everything came gushing out. That blockade of emotions broke through and I felt at ease. I spoke and spoke like never before. And as the words came out so did the solutions.
It was a good thing I didn't have sponsors, no burden of expectations. It was a good thing it didn't get media coverage, very few eyes looking at me (hoping I would fail again, hahaha).

And things changed for good since then, everything came together. I finished the Ultraman, got through to AISTS and since I have been in Switzerland I have taken up Vipaasna Meditation and gotten more in touch with nature and have tried to become more and more understanding of how small my problems are in context of this universe and how with patience and intelligence, everything can be overcome.

And I urge you all, to help those who suffer from depression or if you do suffer from it, speak out. Talk about it, to a professional, or to me. You don't need to torture yourself.



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