Living with anxiety, ‘being bold’ can mean different things to me on different days. Some days, to be bold is to set myself a new challenge like signing up for a race or a trek. On others, it is actually turning up to things I have planned, or walking into a room full of people I don’t know. Most of all, to be bold is to continue to be myself, unapologetically, something I have only really given myself permission to do in the last few months.

During summer 2016 I was medically signed off of work with severe anxiety as a result of workplace bullying. I walked home in stunned silence with my doctor’s note, emailed my employers a copy and collapsed with exhaustion for the first couple of days. As someone with chronic insomnia, the amount of sleep I had in those 48 hours was quite a novelty! I felt too physically weak to do much during the time off but was grateful for the head space, until I had to return to the office a couple of weeks later.

The situation at work improved for a short while. I began a course of online and telephone based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions and gradually managed to get back to my favourite spin studio, BOOM Cycle, once or twice a week. BOOM Cycle is where I first fell in love with fitness, a last-ditch attempt to fit more comfortably in my wedding dress back in 2015 –  I have flirted with unlimited membership there ever since. There’s something beautifully anonymous about a spin class in a dark room.

I was happy to be back training on the bike and soon I’d be in Morocco with my husband and friends trekking to the summit of Mt Toubkal. The summit was successful but the descent was horrendous and I found myself reaching my physical breaking point. I was told by the trek leaders that I was one bad stumble away from a broken ankle and I felt the stress and anxiety of the previous months coming back to haunt me. It seemed like whenever I thought I was making progress and leaving my worries behind, something was setting me back, putting me back in my place.

At the end of the year I enjoyed some time off over Christmas which allowed me to reset again. I started attending my local Parkrun in Harlow and made a promise to myself that in the new year, I would become a ‘proper runner’ and finally pluck up the courage to attend a session with a running crew I’d read about in Timeout magazine years ago. It’s hard to walk into a room full of strangers at the best of times. If you suffer with anxiety it can be your Mt Everest, your nemesis. But in January I decided it was time to ‘be bold’ and walk through the doors.

Running with Run Dem Crew for the first time gave me a glimpse into a life beyond my mental illness. People saw that I was new and made the effort to introduce themselves and put me at ease. That night I ran 4.3 party pace miles in the rain, the furthest I had run for a while and my first time running with other people. My mind was clear, I could feel the fresh damp air in my lungs, my feet pounding the pavement. I was in awe of the speed of the other pace groups but I was quite comfortable in mine. It was great and I vowed I would be back, except, I wouldn’t be. A couple of weeks later I lost my job as a result of a carefully planned constructive dismissal, masterminded by my workplace bully. To some extent I had seen it coming but I still spent a lot of time blaming myself and wondering what I had done to deserve it.

Once again I found myself at home feeling exhausted – I wanted to take myself into London for a spin class or a crew run. I would be dressed in all my workout gear, travel card in hand, standing at my front door but unable to open it. So I’d take a big sigh, swap my trainers for my slippers, sit back down on the sofa and tell myself I’d try again another day. By now I was frustrated and couldn’t believe the words and actions of another individual had made me feel so worthless. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a firm believer in the old cliché ; ‘everything happens for a reason’ and so during this latest enforced stint of being at home, I would rest and reflect until eventually one day, two things would hit me like a slap in the face:

1 – I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been anxious about something

2 – I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t being bullied by someone

Upon this realisation I sat there, my mouth gawping like a fish! The memory of that moment makes me smile now – an amazing, life changing epiphany. I must have sat there for a good half an hour just reflecting on my life thus far and laughing at how everything made sense now. The constant negative comments I’d received from bullies over the years were playing over and over in my head. Like most of us I’ve read my fair share of women’s gossip magazines, scrolled the social media feed full of ‘fitspo’s – all this combined, it is no wonder I was feeling so bad about myself really.

From the moment I had a disposable income I had been trained into thinking I should be a size 8 with the latest hair style, fashion and makeup collection, that I should follow the latest diet, be ashamed of my curves and hide my stretch marks because they are ugly. All the industries that cash in on the inevitable insecurities of women to make their fortunes were contributing to how I was feeling. I realised that my anxiety preceded much further than myself and mycurrent circumstances. It was years of this shit culminating at once!

For the rest of the day I floated around my house in a bubble of calm and vowed to never let myself, or anyone else, devalue me as an individual ever again. I began a new voyage of discovery in self belief, body confidence and finding out how far I can push myself both mentally and physically.

In between interviews for new jobs I made sure I got myself moving, whether in the form of walks into town via my favourite lunch spots, jogs along the river or HIIT workouts in my living room. I won a place unexpectedly for Brighton Half Marathon in February and survived it, even with lack of training and dire weather conditions on the day. Once I was back to my London commute I was able to make what I like to consider a triumphant return to my favourite bike at BOOM Cycle and to my running families, Run Dem Crew and Chasing Lights Collective’s Backpackers.

Despite not getting past the half marathon mileage, in April I took on the London Marathon at my own party pace and won. I cried a few happy tears when I crossed the finish line, looking down at my legs and wondering just how they had carried me 26.2 miles. It’s easy for someone to tell you that you can do it and that it’s just a case of ‘mind over marathon’ but you don’t believe it until you’ve finished. As we say at Backpackers, “it wasn’t fast, but it was done”.

I rode the runners high for days after London but I’d be lying if I said I got straight back on the horse. In fact I couldn’t be bothered with exercise at all and I didn’t move much for a few weeks until I was offered a place at the London 10000 in May. I knew I had to get back out there at some point and running through our capital city again seemed like the perfect opportunity. The morning of the race I laced up my trainers for the first time in what seemed like forever and dropped off my stuff at the baggage drop. Whilst making my way to the start pens I was reunited with a lady called Jill that I’d met on a trek in the Grand Canyon a few years back. It was so lovely to see her again and catch up. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly time passes. Whilst we waited in the toilet queue, I bumped into some other familiar crew faces and was identified by my leopard print leggings by an insta-friend I hadn’t yet met face to face. We managed to get a quick photo together and chat about the race before making our way to our start pens.

Before crossing the start line I made sure I took in a full 360 view of my surroundings and my heart felt full. It’s difficult to put into words what running has given me. There are the obvious mental and physical benefits of course but it’s been so much more than that for me. Here I was again on The Mall, remembering the marathon and the previous times I had run the London 10000 race alone. But this time, I was with family. Along the course I had hugs and high fives on the sidelines from various cheer points. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face, thankful for the people I have met and the obstacles I’ve overcome. The London 10000 wasn’t just a 10k run, it was the race that reignited my passion for movement, knowing that this amazing community has got my back.

And to any potential new runners out there, we’ve got your back too. The boldest part is getting to the start line.

My top 5 tips for life and well-being:

1) Go with the plan, not with the mood

This is the most valuable nugget of wisdom I took from my CBT course. Schedule some workouts in your diary for the week ahead and stick to them, no matter what your mind tries to tell you on the day. You will feel better after exercise; the biggest battle is showing up.

2) Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. 

This is about living that Tupperware life. If you are a busy bee after work or you exercise at different times each day, meal prep is an excellent way to ensure you’re getting the right kind of fuel recovery. Batch cook a few of your favourite meals so that they are ready to reheat and go.

3) “If you do not run you must cheer”

A RDC motto. If your friends or family are taking part in a challenge, be there to support them. A friendly face and a cheer can make even the tiredest of legs sprint that little further. Alternatively, swap your Saturday lay-in for a shift as a high-vis hero at your local Parkrun. They rely on volunteers for their events to run safely each week.

4) Re-evaluate your social media accounts

Remember that you are in control of the content you choose to ingest on social media. Unfollowing certain accounts improved my body confidence and general mental wellbeing overnight. Try it for a week and see how it feels for you.

5) Ditch the scales

Your worth is not defined by the number on the sad-step. Throw them away.

Follow Katie on IG @itskatiefam

Follow Katie’s favourite London based run clubs on IG @backpackersclc and @run.dem.crew