This story is for The Westwood Rd Practice patients, to hopefully give those who read this, some inspiration.
From an early age I remember being anxious, pretty much about everything – going to school, travelling, playing sport, I guess most things I was thinking about that were going to happen – I could end up worrying about. For sport, the anxiety affected how I performed, which became a bit of a vicious circle battled out between my head and body until past the initial moments and into the activity. Through my teenage years and certainly when competing in athletics or rugby, whilst I loved playing the games, the stress I caused myself beforehand made me feel weaker than I knew I would be without the anxiety.
Anxiety presented itself in different ways as I went through my 20’s and into my 30’s – more around work, presenting to clients or at events, it just became a part of how I seemed to have to accept the way my brain and body interacted – and I didn’t seem to be in control of that process!
As I approached fatherhood I wanted to ensure I could keep up as a ‘Dad’ and returned to sport. After 6 months of running with shin-splints (and no anxiety but heaps of pain!) I slowly started to increase the distances I ran, and eventually got to running a few half marathon events around Sydney. As I reached an achievement, the goals or expectations would be set higher – which also increased the level of anxiety; I was (mentally) almost my own worst enemy. Even getting up early to do a week day run would present me with boundless opportunities to get anxious, but I kept going, and eventually put oil on the fire and started to do some competitions in triathlon. What was initially just a bit of fun slowly turned into more opportunities to question myself, and with a sport that requires focus and a dogmatic approach to perfect each part of the race and transition point, I buried myself under the pressure. It was always such a relief and sense of achievement to get to the end – but always with so much wasted energy beforehand which my family and particularly my wife had to endure.
When I moved back to the UK, a friend still in Australia threw the gauntlet down and suggested I trained for a purpose – to qualify in ‘proper’ races with the goal of representing Great Britain in a World Championships for Standard Distance Triathlon. By this point I had received some treatment to help get my anxiety under control, and for the first time in my life, day to day life was without that ‘knot in your stomach’. I felt mentally in a better position to give it a go, I also found a coach who helped me believe in myself with a simple statement of ‘We got this’. 9 months of training later – with anxiety free daily exercise – I had my first qualifying event. Even though I had some nightmarish things go wrong just before race day, whilst my stress levels were sky high – my anxiety was cope ‘able. I came 3rd out of the men that were qualifying for the Worlds event on the Gold Coast and secured my place to represent the country in the 40-44 Age Group category.
As with anyone training for one event – the following months had ups and downs of injury or bike problems, notably when I got to the Gold Coast, finding one small, innocuous piece of my rearwheel was not with the bike but back at home in the UK! My wife came to the rescue once again and helped get the part over to me before the event. The race was probably the toughest I’ve done, but not because I was anxious?. For the first time in a race, my water tank fell off the bike which made the 10km run, well, dehydrated and extremely tough, but by that point I was ‘in the moment’ and knowing there was nothing that could be done about it, had an amazing ride (going from 79 to 26th position). I finished the race 39th overall out of 93 competitors from 43 countries, with my mum and wife’s Australian family cheering me over the finish line!
Looking back at what I felt I could achieve 10 years ago due to anxiety, and where I have ended up – is hopefully something to inspire a simple belief in ourselves.
If you need help on something – seek the right advice and get some support. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t believe that the problem can’t be solved, or you are alone in experiencing that challenge.
Deep down we are all capable of doing things that when we first consider, would seem too much of a challenge.