Canicross and my battle with depression and anxiety

Posted by Gail Walker, 16th May 2018

It is common knowledge that owning a pet and doing regular exercise are good for your mental health. So, it makes sense that taking part in canicross is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing.

In a frank and honest account of her own personal battle with depression and anxiety, Cat Burchell explains how canicross has played a significant role in managing her illness.

This is Cat’s story…

A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

Depression is so personal to each and every person who has it but for me I was left with this numbness. I didn’t enjoy anything, I’d go to bed wishing I wouldn’t wake up and I had terrible thoughts about ending my own life.

Needless to say I wanted to hide all of this from everyone, but smiling through your day and functioning as ‘normal’ is so exhausting when you have depression. 

I stopped going out as much; I didn’t want to see friends or family as I didn’t want them to know. I started to become anxious about things and suffered mild panic attacks as a result. I had panic attacks on my way to work, even at work, hiding in an office or toilet trying to catch my breath and fight back hot tears. I got anxious about everything; from driving to going into the supermarket to get food. 

It’s at this point that having a dog was so beneficial. When I felt like I couldn’t face the world in the morning there was always this living being that was depending on me to take care of their basic needs. So I instantly had a purpose and a reason to get up and start a routine each day. This, combined with the unconditional love that dogs give, was a good start to improving my mental health, but I was still very ill. 

This is where canicross played a huge part in my recovery.

Going on group runs was something that was initially daunting and this was a huge challenge to overcome in terms of my anxiety. Everyone in the group was friendly though and you didn’t have to talk about anything too difficult as all initial conversations are about each other’s dogs!

We all love to chat about our dogs and their funny little ways, so this was great. But as time goes on you form friendships with people and talking about deeper topics while running is therapeutic. I actually felt I was able to confide in my close canicross friends and talk to them about what I had been going through. As a result I now have a group of friends who are supportive, understanding and inspirational. 

It was these friendships that helped pull me through some really dark days.

On days where I was full of self-doubt, self-loathing and thoughts of ending my life, it was really hard to step outside the house. But I’d committed to the run, my dog needed exercising and I knew I’d feel better once it was done. Friends would be waiting for me to turn up and all of that was just enough to get me out of the house.

Running and talking is easier than having an intense face to face conversation with someone. I felt able to open up while running alongside someone, especially as we were both partly focused on our dogs too. It just felt like a less pressurised way of discussing things and was so therapeutic.

I felt great after canicross runs. I loved running with my dog, building a bond with him and feeling like I was accomplishing something.

As my confidence in my ability improved I signed up for some canicross events. Again this was a massive hurdle to overcome. At first I would be anxious, not only about the actual race but also everything from driving there to being in a new environment and meeting new people. But the feeling I got after an event was amazing. I had that runners high but also a sense of achievement for overcoming so much mentally as well as physically.

mental health and canicross

So, over the years canicross has helped me through an incredibly tough time and to this day it continues to be my therapy.

I still find the winter harder than any other time. The short days and dark mornings and evenings have a negative effect on my mental health but training for canicross events through the winter has given me a reason to get up and get out, even if I have to wear a headtorch. I always feel better after moving, bonding with my dog and seeing my brilliant friends. 

So yes my dog has helped improve my mental health but canicross has gone the extra mile 😉

*I had regular visits to the GP to assess my mental health and wellbeing and also had counselling and CBT available to me through this time.*

These support networks have been a great resource: 

https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx 

https://www.mind.org.uk/ 

https://www.blurtitout.org/ 

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