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September 2, 2016 Comments (2) Community, Featured, Runner Spotlight

Speaking Up for Mental Illness – Running for Mental Health

North Face 100 2015

By Ben Hirst

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

It can happen to anyone of us at any time of our lives. I experienced a great childhood, I had plenty of friends throughout school and had suffered no traumatic events in my life. For me, all it took was long term relationship to end.

I depended on alcohol to deal with my problems and dull my feelings, since I really felt like I had no one to talk to. Also being stubborn, I just thought I’d push through it and brush it off.

Drinking was always a problem for me in my teens but it ended up turning into a full time habit. It got to the point where I had quit a job for the first time, eventually ran out of money and put myself in a lot of debt. My health was declining.

This, however, was all just masking a deeper problem.

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After years of struggling, hitting rock bottom and not having the strength to get back up, I finally decided to get help.

I moved back home with my parents. Away from temptation, away from people. Somewhere that I could start again.

I slowly built my life back from there, I started a new career, I reduced my drinking, I met a lovely girl named Jess.

And I started running.

Running was my outlet and my therapy. That feeling while running is indescribable, and when I’ve finished a long run I’m exhausted and sore but feel 10 feet tall and the strongest I’ve ever been. 

In the space of 2 years I went from an extremely depressed alcoholic, barely able to run 5km, to completing over 6 ultra marathons and running from Burnie to Hobart (340km).

Things just kept escalating from there, but now in a good way. Jess and I have been engaged for over a year now and are blessed with a gorgeous 4 month old daughter named Poppy.

I’m still terrified of things getting back to the way they once were, but i’m in an extremely good place right now with a huge amount of support at my side. 

When I attempted my first ultra I started fundraising for Speak up Stay Chatty! – A not for profit organization in my home state of Tasmania that raises awareness for suicide and mental illness. Since 2014 I have raised over $15,000 for Speak up Stay Chatty!, this year running 340kms in 3 days covering Tasmania to raise awareness across the state and most recently have starting public speaking to get my story and message out to the wider audience.

For me it’s about normalizing mental illness and suicide in society. If we as a community work together to change our way of thinking and know more about the illness, we will create an environment where people will feel comfortable to talk about their feelings and speak up and ask for help when they are doing it tough.

I recognize that I’m one of the fortunate ones who was able to get the support I needed, and realize it could have been a lot worse. If I can  encourage even one person to speak up in times of need then i have done my job. 

I will keep doing all I can to help those that are suffering in silence, I have already lost 2 people I know this year and do not want to lose another. 

2 Responses to Speaking Up for Mental Illness – Running for Mental Health

  1. Erica Berraho says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It has taken me a long time to share my struggle with others and then realized that I am not alone. You never know who or how it helps by speaking up.

  2. Karina says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Running is an important part of my recovery (addiction, depression, self-harm). It means a lot to hear it from others.

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