How running helped to save my life.
By Rick Rose-Coulthard
Rick Rose-Coulthard is a successful ultra-runner, yoga enthusiast and is part of the Brooks Run Happy UK Team. He is a loving father and husband. He is also a survivor of a traumatic childhood, which has led to mental health struggles throughout his life. He is now an advocate for mental health, and uses his platform to help open the door to more honest conversations around this. In this candid interview, Rick bravely talks about his own experiences, and how running and living an active lifestyle has helped, and continues to help, him manage his mental health.
When did your challenges with mental health begin?
I grew up in an abusive home and from a young age I believed that I wasn't 'good enough'. Looking back to those days, it is clear now that I had mental health problems from a very young age. I accepted that this is what life was like, because I didn't know anything else. I would do things in anger and confusion, which in reality were cries for help. When those cries weren't answered, it led to more issues. It’s only now, in my thirties, that I’ve accepted what happened to me and started a journey of trying to come to terms with things. This has been extremely tough and has even felt shameful at times.
Can you tell us about your experiences of struggling with your mental health, for example, how does it present itself (anxiety, depression etc)?
Writing this blog has been terrifying for me. As a child I was diagnosed with dyslexia and reminded daily that my English skills weren't good enough. I grew up in a house where you had to be the best at everything and my best was never going to be permitted.
I sometimes think, who am I to talk about mental health when there’s days I want to hide from the world? My nose will bleed with stress, I will run to the point I pass out with exhaustion.I battle with someone else’s voice reminding me I’m not good enough, I can hear the accent and tone clearly 15 years on. My body is covered with physical scars but it’s those words, the emotional abuse, that hurt the most. This is what my anxiety looks like. I know I have triggers and I now know the symptoms when my anxiety is taking over…
headaches, can’t sleep, nose bleeds, cold/flu, my sinuses swell. I’m short, snappy, closed, want to be alone, refuse to talk. As the anxiety grows, it manifests into that feeling of ‘not being acceptable’. It grows more and more if I allow it to stay.
When and why did you start running?
As a child I had twisted hips and legs. I had numerous operations and social services had my legs wrapped up in callipers for a year just like Forest Gump! I had asthma that was so severe I would have emergency oxygen tanks at home and school. If there was a test of reasons not to run ultra-marathons I would 100% pass with flying colours.
Around 10 years ago I got out of breath walking up some stairs, in a hotel in Bolton, out of breath to the point I was scared. I was 22 stone and obsessed with body building because I was convinced if I was strong physically then I could fight off the trauma of the abuse from my past. I’m 6ft 6in so I felt like the Hulk walking down the street. That set of stairs will always be my turning point.
Not one to do things by halves, I booked a 10km race in Accrington the following week. I ran it in just over an hour. I was told that was good so I booked a half marathon in Blackpool for the week after. It was tough but I got through it. So I booked the Blackpool Marathon for the following weekend. At mile 19 I was sat on the floor in floods of tears, my legs not bending, throwing up,my body shaking. I felt that I had failed.
Since then, I have learnt that tough times comes and go. I can outlast the problem, I just have to have faith in myself. This idea of ‘what if I can do this?’ took me from Blackpool Marathon failure to happily running 100km races across mountains.
How does running help your mental health? And does your mental health become affected if you can’t run through injury, illness etc?
To me there is nothing more natural and liberating than to lace up, wrap up and head into the great outdoors. As I enter the woods I feel my shoulders relax, my breathing slow, my mind calm. I struggle with claustrophobia due to incidents as a kid. The feeling of being in a wide open space where I can choose my destination is a feeling that words can never describe for me. I am simply free.
I have been guilty over the years of using my mental health as a way of pushing my training harder and harder. I would race and compete to a point which my body wasn’t ready for. I wanted to make someone proud of me. I feel ashamed to write this but truthfully, I was‘self harming’. It would do lasting damage with injuries which in turn would mean no running. It was a vicious circle.
I now have a coach who, whilst I may drive them nuts, reminds me to really think ‘should I be doing this?’, ‘what’s the outcome going to look like?’
When my anxiety comes and I need those mountains to recharge me, I accept that if I’m injured,I’m not running but I can jog or walk it!
Can you tell us about the Brooks Run Happy Team? How and why did you get involved?
Brooks put an application out onto Instagram last year. It didn't contain your usual questions, everything was centred around how running makes you and your community feel. I applied, and it’s been a life changing experience.
We are a group of 25, and growing even bigger in 2020. We are spread out across the UK and are part of a wider European team. The Run Happy Team are everything in their title. There’s no elitism or ego with us. We all share a passion for running whether it’s a 50 minute 5km, to the SkyRunning World Championships.
Brooks support us with shoes and clothing, which in turn helps us all be out in our running communities and at races. We’re connected through Brooks and meet for racing, events, talks or just drinks! They have become my bedrock of support. A truly inspiring, lovely group of human beings.
What advice would you give to others who may be struggling with their mental health?
If you can recognise that you’re having some challenges, then you’re already one step forward.
Most challenges can be overcome with a decision and that decision is within ourselves to make. So ask yourself, how bad is this? Logically, what’s the worst that can or will come from this? So if this is how I’m feeling, what’s the reality?
Just saying the problem out loud to someone will take some of that weight of your shoulders.
The first time I said out loud what had happened to me as a child, I turned out all the lights in the room. I turned my back to them and explained that I didn’t want a solution or to repeat anything I was about to tell them. I couldn’t let them see me cry, couldn’t let them see me be weak, I couldn’t risk someone else finding out. I was shaking in fear of being rejected. I felt broken and dirty. But I did it, and it was the best decision I could have made.
You will have a friend you can text, email, call. There will be someone on social media who is always about to natter. There is many support groups you can visit or even message online. I have never spoken to my GP but know friends who have and gone on to use counselling with amazing success.
When I need some head space from my anxiety, I become practical. My coach set me on a path of hot yoga which allows me to breathe and relax. I use apps like Headspace to help me sleep or meditate. When I feel like I’m being buried with problems I force myself to look for the positives by sitting quietly and writing a 10 point gratitude list. I will turn my phone off, sit and draw a picture with a cup of tea. These turn my brain off and put it in standby.
Being open about mental health has never been so widely accepted than it is today. Tomorrow, it will be even more acceptable.
What advice would you give to someone who may want to get active but has no idea how to get started?
I’m a runner and love yoga but that’s my thing, you need to find yours and it may take some time. My thoughts…
- Look for an activity which excites you.
- Pushing a hoover is active (but boring) and so is flying a kite (fun!).
- Try some groups! They will be full of people in your shoes.
- Can the whole family do it?
- Want to run? Try the Couch To 5k app, it’s AMAZING!
- Walk to the shop, buy a treat. Being active is rewarding!
- Want to stretch yourself? Google some coaches, they want you to succeed!
- Try yoga but don’t worry it’s not full of people trumping, it’s a lovely community.
- Lace up and try a long walk, slow jog, slow run… a run!
- It’s okay if things are hard at the start.
- It’s okay if you don’t pick it up quickly.
- It’s okay if the rest of the group are better.
- It’s okay… You’re being active!
Don’t over think it, do it for you.
If you have been moved or inspired by our chat with Rick, please do reach out and let us know your thoughts. You can follow Rick on his journey through Instagram by following his account, @confessions_of_a_runner