Written by Paul Riley
Look in the mirror. Try to recognise yourself. Who you are. Where you’re going. Where you’ve come from. Choices you make. Choices that are made for you. Having control of a situation that actually you have no control over what so ever….. mind-set. Mental health. Finding out who you really are.
April 2018. For a few weeks, prior I could sense things were not right. Then smash ! Sledgehammer, car crash fucking atomic bomb… she doesn’t love me anymore but there’s no one else. Three kids. My youngest was just 1 years old. I experienced the most overwhelming sadness that I’ve ever felt. I’d lost loved ones etc. But never felt like this.
We’d been together for 11 years. Built a life together. She gave me three amazing kids and I loved the bones of her. But on reflection. There were reasons and I can own the situation that ultimately, I caused.
I was selfish, overweight, lazy, unappreciative. I never showed her enough how amazing she was as a mother and as my partner. Stuck in a rut. Going through the motions, I was dancing around the relationship self-destruct button. And I pressed it.
You start to think about your life in ways you never have before. You look at your upbringing. I am an only child. Is that why I was selfish. I always got what I wanted. Within reason. I always had control of my situation. So, there I was. Shit state. Not eating, not sleeping, drinking excessively, taking drugs anything to ease the hurting. There were days, weeks, when I didn’t want to get out of bed. But I used that as a positive. Just getting up. Tick. Having a shower. Tick. Although mentally I was dying inside, I was winning because I actually got myself up. I went to work, and when I had my kids I was right. I fronted up.
The love and the strength they gave me wasn’t apparent at the time but looking back now it was the difference. The biggest stigma around mental health and wellbeing is the feeling that you can’t talk about it. There’s a fear that people will think your weak, or that you’re not a real man. When it takes more bollocks to put yourself out there. To release your emotions. If it makes you feel better for five minutes. That’s five minutes when you’re not feeling shit.
I was fortunate. I had an amazing support network. People who made sure I was still functioning, who told me everything would be ok. People who would hold me, people who I could cry with. I never cried before. I was a man. I didn’t cry.
One man in particular, is the real reason I’m where I am now. He gave me hope, positivity, a focus and a goal. So, it started. I started to run. I’d played rugby for years. But I didn’t run. That was for weirdos with lycra. Why would you want to do that? It just looked painful, boring and certainly not my bag.
Oh, how wrong I was. Little did I know I was about to morph into Forest Gump.
If I felt shit mentally I’d run. If I felt lonely or isolated, I’d run. I didn’t enjoy it to start with but I knew if I was blowing out of my arse, then I didn’t have time to think about my situation. It got me out the house and into an environment that I was in control of. Turn left. Turn right. Whatever the mood takes.
I find myself in a different world when I run. In a moment constantly arguing with myself, keep going. Go further. Don’t stop. Then in the next moment smiling and laughing. That’s another mile, just 9 minutes.
I remember the first run, it was June time. It was stinking hot and I was almost certainly hung over. But I’d made up my mind and I was going. There’s a circuit around the outside of my town. The “Dave Blythe” circuit as it’s known round our way. 3.68 miles’ door to door.
I set off like a rocket, like a bat out of hell. It soon became apparent that I was way out of my comfort zone. The pace slowed to what could only be described as a fast walk. Like the walk you do to the toilet when you’re bursting. The sweat pouring from my head was 90% gin. It was burning my eyes. But…. I made it round. When I got home, the way I felt to start with was desperate. Shoot me now status. But as my lungs recovered and the gin cleared from my eyes. It started to come over me. The endorphins, the feeling of achievement. I was winning. The day owed me now. More gin.
Now I run at least twice a week. Sometimes more, I get the itch and I’ve got to go. Thankfully it goes a bit better now. The lungs and legs are good, and some obscure lessons learned include duct tape on the nipples. So, I signed up to the Brighton marathon in 2019. Running for the go commando charity.
Helping the children of a Royal Marine. Stevie Irvine who sadly took his life in February last year having suffered with mental health issues. I never met Stevie, I know almost nothing about him. However, my best mate who was in the Royal Marines with him. Dragged me in and I’m so thankful he did. Stevie left behind two kids so all monies raised via the charity will go towards helping them with their future. Being a parent I was instantly up for it. Knowing the kids or not knowing them. I’m looking forward to meeting them someday.
So, what’s my point? My point is everyone is different, everyone acts differently. The only common denominator is your choices. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to say I’m struggling today. It’s ok to want someone to pick you up when your rock bottom.
You find out who you really are. Don’t get me wrong I’m far from perfect. But I’m still here and I’m still stepping. Getting towards a year on.
Time with my children is better than it ever was.
My fear of loneliness and isolation has turned into contentment. A feeling of ease within my own company.
The situation has undoubtedly made me a better person.
The next person who comes along in my life, who I love will get all of me and more. There was and still is, a massive fear of opening my heart up again. Getting close to someone to have it shattered again. But instead of looking to replace what’s gone. Chasing that feeling. I’m going to leave it. Let it find me, and if it does then that will be amazing. If it doesn’t, then I know I’ll deal with it. I’ll keep stepping.
The dark times. The depression has developed into feeling of strength. A feeling of, I got through this. I can do anything! I’ve made friends along the way that mean the world to me and I have also realised who the real friends are.
The one thing I would say, and it’s something to be very weary of and that’s hope. Hope can be a dangerous thing. It can mess with your mind. It can set you back massively. Looking back now things were broken beyond repair. But in the early days I was desperate to claw back to what I was losing.
Instead, find a solace within yourself. Love yourself and things will go your way. Good vibes, positivity, courage, commitment and the odd bucket full of gin.
In April 2019, I will run the marathon. I will make my kids proud. I will cry.
Sink or swim.
Paul Riley is a time served plasterer, father of 3 and a former rugby captain. He’s 37 years old and loves the outdoors and beach. He is running the Brighton Marathon to raise money for charity in remembrance of his friend Stephen Irvine (Former Royal Marine Commando)