I was speaking to a young woman the other day about mental health and advising her on a few things when she concluded her email with:
Jess, can I ask a question? What makes you keep going?
It took me by surprise because usually it's me asking those types of questions so I had to shut down my email and sit down with a cup of tea to take it in. I was then transported to a very important day last year, the day I decided to sign up for the Great Wall of China marathon.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was walking to my favourite coffee shop in the city for my lunch hour, glazed vision, taking no notice of my surroundings. The most alone I had ever felt despite being surrounded by loads of people.
Deep breath, I ordered a coffee, salmon and cream cheese bagel and sat down with my journal and pen, headphones in. I decided to write a list of all the things I wanted to do. At first, I couldn't write anything. I was staring a blank page for a really long time. I then sat there for an hour staring out the window until I had a lightbulb moment.
I want to sign up to a marathon.
I had never ran a marathon in my life and the thought of it was daunting but I knew I could run a half marathon as I did so earlier in May, my first ever Hackney Half, and I loved it. But I didn't want to do an ordinary marathon like Paris, Berlin or London, I wanted to run a marathon on the other side of the world and get completely lost in it. A marathon that would really challenge me. So I researched and researched and found the Great Wall of China marathon online.
I took the plunge, signed up and paid the deposit that evening. I also decided to fundraise for Mind. I set up a JustGiving page and it was there I spoke openly about my own mental illness for the first time.
When it came to me answering that infamous question, it took me back to the journey I had whilst aiming to achieve my goal.
My journey allowed me to join a running community, make new friends and achieve others goals. I ended up running three marathons and two half marathons (one which I paced on behalf of the organisers) in the lead up to China. A year before, I hadn't even run 5km. I look back now and think, if I hadn't of set myself that one goal, would I have achieved everything else?
In a society drowned in technology, the ability to step out of the virtual world and into the real world is increasingly becoming more difficult. People spend too much time on social media comparing their own lives with others instead of spending that time reflecting on what they are able to do in the real world.
And don't worry, I've been there. We all have.
It's good to take a step back, breathe, and look at what you want to do. It's good to be selfish in this context because you are the only person responsible for your happiness in life. Only you can make that change.
If you are ever feeling lost, goal setting is a powerful tool to re-motivate your mind and to plan for your ideal future. A future of achievements.
Sign up to that dance class. Attend that free art workshop in your neighbourhood. Learn that language you've always wanted to learn. Give yourself a timeframe but make sure it is realistic and won't interfere with your current lifestyle. I started with the goal of knitting a scarf - I taught myself by watching YouTube videos.
So, what does keep me going?
The knowledge that I am capable of anything I put my mind to and the ability to live life to its fullest. The fact that I have conquered four marathons, including the Great Wall of China marathon, in just a year. If I can do that, I can do anything.
And so can you.
Do the Unimaginable.