What, according to the World Health Organisation, will be the second most debilitating disease after heart disease by 2020? Surprisingly it will not be cancer, diabetes or arthritis. It will be depression.
The Depression Alliance helps many sufferers who live with this crippling disease. They raise mental health awareness, serve to combat the stigma surrounding it and increase understanding. They provide emotional support and practical help and information, as well as initiate research into causes and treatments.
The work of the Depression Alliance is very close to my heart, as I have first-hand experience of the erosive and terrifying disease that is depression. Several people I know have suffered extensively at the hands of it - they are some of the bravest, kindest and most understanding people I know. That’s why in February I will be embarking on a 29 Day/29 Mile Challenge. Every day in February I will be swimming one mile in my local swimming pool in order to raise funds for the Depression Alliance and I’m asking if you would kindly sponsor me for my efforts.
Times are tough, I know. Christmas is always a drain on resources and there are so many worthwhile causes to support. However, if you can manage the price of a pint, the cost of a coffee or perhaps a little more I would be so very grateful. Simply click on the ‘donate’ button above to contribute to my challenge.
The below highlights just how debilitating this illness can be – I hope you can spare a few minutes of your time to read it.
Depression affects more than 120 million people worldwide and more than 5 million in the UK. It is most prevalent in those between the ages of 25 and 35, but it does not discriminate. It shows no respect for type, gender, class, money or success. In fact, 75% of us know someone with this mental illness, whether we’re aware they have it or not. Many sufferers may have a perfectly normal social exterior, often too scared to show or admit to a disease that is associated with so much stigma.
Yes, depression is a disease - this has been proven by neuroscientists. It is not simply a passing mood. It is neither a moral flaw nor an immoral state. It is not a matter for shame, guilt or secrecy, despite it being such a taboo subject. It is a medical fact, like breaking an arm. Telling someone with depression to 'snap out of it' or 'cheer up' is like telling someone with cancer to cure themselves. However, media-fuelled images of people staring through windows at drizzle and the way the word ‘depression’ is bandied about with gay abandon does nothing to help understanding of this corrosive and harrowing illness. It is starkly different to that Monday morning feeling we all, at one time or another, experience.
You have to experience depression to truly understand it. Explaining it to someone who has never endured its power or subtleties is very much akin to explaining colour to someone who is blind. Depression is existing in a black abyss. It is an overwhelming and unmanageable onslaught of every human fear and difficult emotion. It is a very insular disease where the sufferer exists in their own private hell which feels impenetrable and unendurable. It involves loss of and lack of perspective and proportion and a perpetual inner dialogue of catastrophic thoughts. Every single cognitive process - concentration, memory, logic and reason - are all affected. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, emptiness, worthlessness, paranoia, agitation, disassociation and a frightening sense of isolation are all part of the illness. It takes away the sufferer's ability to cope with problems - big or small - and prevents them from seeing or constructing a future.
It is not just a disease that affects mental wellbeing. Fifty per cent of all patients suffer multiple physical symptoms too. People with depression are 4 times more likely to develop intense or disabling neck and back pain and are twice as likely to have a heart attack. Other symptoms of the disease include extreme fatigue, fluctuations in weight and appetite, digestive problems and sleep disturbance. It can also damage or destroy careers and personal relationships. In short, it is the gradual mental and physical erosion of a person, depriving the sufferer of their normal life. In most cases the illness also has severe implications on the lives of the sufferer's loved ones; loving and caring for a person with depression can be daunting and emotionally draining.
Many sufferers make a full recovery, but approximately 30 – 40% do not. Many of those will engage in self harm and 20% of patients with severe depression will commit suicide.
Depression varies depending on the individual and is therefore incredibly complicated to treat. It can be attributed to underlying biological or genetic factors as well as lifestyle and environment. It can also be brought on or exacerbated by relationship breakdowns, job losses, financial problems, an abrupt or unwelcome change in circumstance or the death of a loved one. The tolerance, compassion and constancy of loved ones are all essential to a sufferer but, as with any other disease, the correct treatment and care is paramount. The Depression Alliance is on hand to ensure sufferers find the level of help they need. Ultimately, this charity helps to save lives.
Thank you for reading and for any contribution, however big or small. I will be updating this page throughout my challenge, so be sure to return to check on my progress!
“That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as they see the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key” - Elizabeth Wurtzel
Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer.
You can also sponsor me via text message. Simply send a message to 70070 including the code Aqua77 and the amount you want to donate (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10). For example, if you wanted to give £10 simply send text message saying Aqua77 £10 to the number 70070.
Day One (1st Feb): Well, the first mile is now under my belt! Went to the pool at 6.30am today after having to de-ice the car in the dark. Completed 123 lengths (it's a small pool!) in 45 minutes. And I also did an extra length for good luck. Only 28 more miles/days to go!
Day Two (2nd Feb): Mile two complete. And another early morning start. Had to dodge a few flakes of snow to get to the pool this morning! Only one other person swimming today so didn't have to compete for lane space which was good. Feel quite revitalised!
Day Three (3rd Feb): Another mile done. Unfortunately crashed my car after visiting the pool today! Looks like I'll be getting the bus to the 'baths' over the next few days!
Day Four (4th Feb): Number 4 in the bag! Was tough today seeing as my crash yesterday has resulted in a sore neck and bruised elbow. And very little sleep made it even more of a struggle. But completed nonetheless!
Day Five (5th Feb): Woke up to see a blanket of snow outside the window this morning and, in all honesty, the last thing I wanted to do was head to the pool. However, thanks to my lovely Mum, I hitched a ride into the city and did my fifth mile. Only 24 more to go!
Day Six (6th Feb): Number 6 complete! Seem to be managing to knock a little time off my lengths now. Sharron Davies watch out! ;o)
Day Seven (7th Feb): Felt exhausted today as I only had about one hour's sleep last night! Getting to the pool in the cold, using the bus and then plunging into decidedly chilly waters wasn't much fun! But, number 7 done nonetheless!
Day Eight (8th Feb): Well, 8th mile done. I'm starting to feel like I'm half woman/half fish! I'm also starting to wonder how long I'm going to have to rely on the Norfolk bus service... (hopefully car should be fixed soon so I can get to the pool by the power of my own two wheels).
Day Nine (9th Feb): Man said to me in the pool today: "Aren't you tired yet?! I feel exhausted just watching you!" I have to say I think I'm getting fitter as I don't feel out of breath during or after the swim now. So that's good! Mile 9 complete. Only 20 more to go...
Day Ten (10th Feb): Into double figures now. Today was a bit of a struggle, felt tired and also had some niggly heartburn which made my swim a little uncomfortable. Not nice that it's still sooo cold outside either. But the 10th day/mile is now complete.
Day Eleven (11th Feb): Had the pool to myself this morning... probably due to the fact that no sane person would go swimming at 9am on a Saturday! Number 11 dutifully completed.
Day Twelve (12th Feb): Again, a distinct lack of fellow swimmers this morning. Got to the pool at 9am. It felt a bit of a slog completing the 123 lengths today - think a degree of lethargy is starting to creep in. :o(
Day Thirteen (13th Feb): Was a real struggle to complete my mile today. Maybe it's the '13 mile itch'... or getting up at 6am is starting to lose its appeal?! Anyway, unlucky number 13 now complete!
Day Fourteen (14th Feb): I 'heartily' enjoyed my swim today. Not just due to the Valentine-esque connotations, but because today marked the halfway point. Even had a friend for company for some of the swim - nice to see you EB. :o)
Day Fifteen (15th Feb): Shoulders really ache after today's swim and I think I may have ingested about three litres of chlorine due to a rather over-zealous swimmer in the next lane. Only 14 more miles to go. Phew.
Day Sixteen (16th Feb): Don't want to swim anymore! :o( 16th mile complete.
Day Seventeen (17th Feb): Am finding it quite tough now. I feel like I'm in the film 'Groundhog Day' but with more water involved. Still, only a week and a half to go! My 17th mile has now been done.
Day Eighteen (18th Feb): Another early morning Saturday swim today! Still feeling quite tired and waterlogged, but will soldier on. Number 18 done.
Day Nineteen (19th Feb): Ugh. Difficult mile today, mainly owing to a late night the previous day. My shoulders are reeeally aching now. Think I'm going to have to invest in a sports massage sometime soon! 20th mile tomorrow so will be coming down the home straight.
Day Twenty (20th Feb): Couldn't muster up enough energy to do my usual early morning (6am) swim, so went after work instead. Felt ravenous afterwards and thankfully some of my mum's home cooking hit the spot! Only 9 more miles to go...
Day Twenty One (21st Feb): Swim complete... despite feeling tired. Looking forward to pancakes this evening to up my energy levels!
Day Twenty Two (22nd Feb): Lunchtime swim today. Quite nice to have the pool to myself. Can't believe there's only a week to go! Whilst it's been tough, the time has flown by. This time next week will be my final day of the swimathon. And I'll probably do a lil' dance of joy...
Day Twenty Three (23rd Feb): I will not miss getting up at 6am to go swimming! 124 lengths completed this morning (extra mile for luck). Really feeling quite stiff and still tired, but pleased with myself for sticking to my challenge (despite the odd hurdle along the way).
Day Twenty Four (24th Feb): Lunchtime swim today as had the day off work. Heading to Chelmsford this evening for a 'knees up' so am hoping I won't have toooo much of a sore head tomorrow for my last Saturday swim! Mile 24 complete.
Day Twenty Five (25th Feb): Despite a few pina coladas last night, was in fine spirits for my Saturday swim. Another mile complete and only 4 more to go...
Day Twenty Six (26th Feb): Fear I may have the beginnings of a sniffle! Desperately hoping I can fend off any sort of bug until Thursday. But, come hell or high water (excuse the pun), I will finish my swimathon! 26th mile done and only 3 more day's to go.
Day Twenty Seven (27th Feb): Had to battle for lane space in the pool today... grr. Feel really quite pooped. But, only 2 days to go now. Mile 27 done n' dusted!
Day Twenty Eight (28th Feb): Well, the penultimate mile is now complete. Can't believe tomorrow will be my final day of the challenge. Shoulders ache like hell and I feel a mixture of exhausted/exhilarated! Despite the odd bit of whinging... I've found the whole experience to date very rewarding. Just one mile to go.
Day Twenty Nine (29th Feb): And - finally - my challenge is complete. Completed my 29th and last mile this morning at 7.45am. Felt tired and even a little emotional, but so very pleased that I successfully managed to raise awareness and monies for the Depression Alliance throughout it all. Thanks to everyone who's supported me, offered words of encouragement and given so generously. This has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.