I like to think of myself as a bit of a runner - I did a 5k, a 10k and a half-marathon last year and, even though I'm slower than my AOL internet connection in 1998, it is something I enjoy. I also like to think that I know a bit about anxiety: I've helped lots of people who struggle with it and I've struggled with it myself for many years. For both of those reasons, when I found out there was a book coming out by Bella Mackie focusing on both running and mental health, I really wanted to read it. Having managed to get my paws on it over the weekend, this is a review of what I thought.
Bella Mackie writes with a startling honesty about her own difficulties with anxiety - the quiet parts of the illness that don't often get discussed as well as the more obvious ones. She's also incredibly funny, which is often really hard to do when talking about serious issues.
There's a lot of information about Bella's life in here, which she writes about in a way that only someone looking through the bitter-sweet lens of hindsight could write. Her life was dominated by anxiety from a young age, and what I found particularly interesting were the ways in which she made "bargains" with herself - shutting her eyes to try to block out the anxious thoughts and refusing to go anywhere she had previously had a panic attack. Anyone who has struggled with panic before will know that this strategy quickly disables your ability to go pretty much anywhere, and this is definitely what happened to Bella. She notes early in the book that she has spent so long avoiding the things that she finds difficult that she just doesn't know how to approach them. Developing ways to cope with her anxiety became more important than ever following the breakdown of her marriage, and she talks clearly about the things that don't particularly help (wine, smoking, crying so hard your head hurts) as well as the things that do.
There's also a lot of information about different types of anxiety in here - it tends to come in many different flavours, and I found myself identifying with quite a few of them (which will be unsurprising to many of my friends and colleagues). Crucially, whilst Bella's book is touted as a discussion of running and anxiety, it is so much more than that. She talks about the pressures on people to look a certain way, and how this puts people off from exercising. She doesn't suggest that running is for EVERYONE - and credits both CBT and medication as being part of her management plan - but talks instead about the benefits of movement, of finding something that gives you contentment, and of doing it even when you don't feel like doing it. Bella mentions that "giving in" to the thoughts in your head can feel quite tempting - after all, it is an old friend, and it tells you that it's protecting you - but that way leads to a life half-lived, hiding in the shadows.
I would give her book a star rating or something, but that feels unfair. There will be bits of this book that don't resonate with you and bits that do, and to boil it down to "x stars out of y" feels trite. Ultimately, Bella's book is much more than the sum of its parts. It holds a lot of truth and wisdom for everyone about the meaning of being human, and how to find ways to hold on to yourself when everything around you is falling apart. It also encouraged me to lace up my running shoes and get out there again, which I'm definitely grateful for!
If you think this is a book for you, click here to purchase from Amazon.
If you have read this book, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects