Alex has kindly volunteered to tell us his story. Alex describes how he has suffered from insomnia and anxiety over many years and how exercise (for both body and mind) helps. Thanks so much for this Alex. Your story will resonate strongly with many of our members and there are are lessons for all of us to take away from your insight.
Name: Alex Webb
Date joined: Spring 2018
Swim, bike or run? The run. I enjoy the bike but I’m probably a naturally better runner. Definitely not the swim but I keep persevering.
Currently training for: Aiming for my first 70.3 Ironman next year.
First ever Tuff session: Wednesday night track
What made you take the plunge and join? I did my first triathlon (Olympic distance) in September of 2017 at Woburn Abbey in memory of a friend who’d died from cancer earlier that year. It was a baptism of fire (especially the swim!) but I really loved the training and race was a real buzz. I was keen to keep it going. Plus I now had a wetsuit! Soon after that I started swimming lessons and about 6 months later I entered the Frosty. I came to my first track session a couple of weeks after that.
Worst moment in triathlon.:The swim at Woburn Abbey. It was a 1500m lake swim. I couldn’t do front crawl at the time but had done a fair amount of breaststroke training so was pretty confident. The water was cold and when they said go I realised I couldn’t put my head under the water – a combination of the cold and adrenaline. I panicked and thought I might have to get out before I had even begun. Somehow I managed to get round through a combination of backstroke, breaststroke (head above the water!) and doggy paddle. I started to learn front crawl soon after that!
Alex’s mental health journey
I first started to get anxiety about 20 years ago when I started university. It was a hard time; it was the first time I had lived away from home and I had huge issues with confidence. There’s a history of anxiety and depression in my family but it was still a shock to me. I didn’t really tell anyone about this at the time and didn’t seek professional help (I think I was ashamed). However, I had an amazing group of friends and it was also around this time I met my wife who has always been my rock. Slowly I started to feel better and was able to carry on with my life.
Skip forward to about four years ago. I was working in a stressful job and had a young family. I started to get bad bouts of insomnia and the anxiety started to come back with a vengeance. Things got worse and I ended up referring myself to the doctor. I tried all sorts of drugs to treat the anxiety and insomnia and saw a counsellor but nothing seemed to work. I think drugs and counselling can work for some people but I just never found the right ones for me. At my lowest ebb I was hospitalised in America whilst on a work trip after during a really bad anxiety attack after days without any sleep.
Then someone suggested two things to me that have changed my life – exercise and meditation. I hadn’t exercised since I was a teenager but I had been a pretty good runner in school so I gave it a go. It was hard at the start because I was so unfit. Running calms my mind and the release of endorphins afterwards was amazing.
Meditation was a something I was hesitant about because it’s not really part of western culture and I couldn’t see how it could work. However I signed up with the app Headspace. If you have never meditated before Headspace (or any meditation app) is a really easy way to get into it. You just listen and follow the instructions. Training the mind to separate thoughts from emotions is beneficial for those who have a tendency to overthink, which I do. It’s exercise for the mind.
How does being part of Tuff Fitty help?
I think being part of something bigger than yourself is really beneficial if you have anxiety or depression. It stops you living too much of your life inside your own head. I had only ever exercised alone but when I started coming to Tuff track sessions it was great to start to get to know people who had similar interests and there’s a great sense of community. If you’re feeling a bit down one day or just don’t feel like going it’s motivating to know that other people will be there and you always feel better after a session.
Any advice for potential members who might be struggling with MH issues?
Try and find someone you trust to talk to about it and try not to be ashamed. Know that there are many many other people out there who are also dealing with MH issues. Sometimes just remembering this can help. I don’t think there’s the stigma about mental health that there used to be but some people still find it difficult to talk about, which is understandable. Seeking professional help can be really helpful for so explore that. Maybe give meditation a go. Along with the tri training, that’s my secret weapon. And keep up the exercise!