Chasing The Chemical (Biological) High

Dalia Hawley

I had the sort of summer that Enid Blyton would have written about (minus the racism and sexism); adventures, making new friends, being outdoors and exploring.  I completed an ultra, of the walking variety, but still an ultra and endurance event! With some incredible team mates too. We trained from mid year onwards, Sundays spent trekking the Dales. In between I was running and cycling, smashing my first half marathon distance, then my 16miles, I was cycling anything from 20-70miles, there were picnics, paddling in Ilkley, swimming in lakes. Underlying all this was a challenge to myself, to push myself out of my comfort zone, then push myself that bit further, to chase a high of feel good endorphins. The aim being that when it came to the day of our team ultra, I would be able to handle anything thrown at me and I would be able to push through mental and physical barriers.  I became stronger, less afraid, more tolerable and more able to stick my head down and just ‘crack on’ with it as one would say – I mentality and physically thrived off this. The ultra came and went with success; some rather harrowing floods, storms and rain, but still, all the training made it a success to me personally.  This event was quickly followed by a very surprise and unexpected trip to Bali with a new friend, summer hadn’t ended, my challenges were still there. I ran and cycled in the jungle, hiked down a pretty horrific bit of land and made a solid friendship for life.


I then came back to Leeds, to rain, to cold, to normality, to no challenges. I crashed, I well and truly crashed. Situational depression has always lingered with me. I may not experience it for a year, several years or a few months but when it comes along, it’s horrid, dragging myself out of bed becomes a chore, showering, remembering to put a different pair of clothes on. I have to wash my hair, it’s been 3 days now, I must put make up on and I must function. This very routine in the morning will exhaust me for the rest of the day.  I go to work, I see my clients, I engage with people but I have no emotional feelings towards my situations, people ask how I am, how was the holiday, how are things and I just give them a standard pre prepared response which I know they will like to hear.  Oh, I also come down with one mighty big cold. I realised I have crashed because of the lack of challenges, lack of goals, lack of situations where I can chase my high….the endorphins, dopamine and raise my serotonin levels through the roof. Friends give me challenges, one is a 23mile walk/run in November, what the hell have I got to lose, I can walk 50miles so I can run 23… is the slightly twisted logic that comes to my mind.


Next comes the attempt to get back into running, with a stinking cold I drag my friend out to the hills, who also is feeling poorly, I figured the fresh air would do me good, I’m old fashioned like that! I crawl up to Stoodley Pike, no energy, angry, upset, anxious and fed up. It’s windy, it’s cold. We get the top and look over the Calderdale Valley and decide, after a quick munch on an energy bar, we will descend, yey! That’s when it happens…my arms loosen, my shoulders drop, I keep my eyes flicking from the stunning view of the Moors and the hills in front of me to the rocks and mud below my feet, my head begins to tingle, a silly grin comes to my face, my arms develop a life of their own and my head begins to feel like its going to explode….well hello there endorphins, you have been missed! I want to scream and cry down the hill, this time not with sadness but with happiness, because, for once, I can feel something, I don’t feel like a robot, I actually have emotion, heart pounding, running across fields, through woods and straight into Hebden with gusto feels incredible – I’m laughing so hard!


The high lasts for a bit, I crash again. I go on a bike ride, I enjoy that as it’s outdoors and I get my chemicals delivered to me nicely by riding my mountain bike along the canal to Wakefield but it’s still not enough. Then Monday run club comes along, my favorite and first running club, Veggie Runners. I’ve not been for a few weeks and feel a bit shy but it feels great seeing everyone again, just putting my trainers on feels good. We head East towards Thwaite Mills, the sun is orange, boats are out on the canal and the water is calm. I struggle as normal with the first few K’s but then, boom! Chemical hit, I feel how orange the sky is, how the air feels on my skin, how great my head feels as it tingles and I run and run and run and run, I run all the bad feelings out.  I am apart from my run buddies at various parts, sometimes we are together and we chat, sometimes I run ahead, I can’t stop, I can’t slow down, it’s here again, those chemicals, the ones that make me feel things again, I run towards the orange sky, my body and legs feeling stronger than they have felt in a long time, I am gasping for air, sweat pouring off me, people are behind me but I keep going, the chemicals are pumping around, my senses are alive, I want to close my eyes, I want them wide open, I just want to keep going!


I have another sunset run, I chase that buzz as much as I can, sometimes I wish they would prescribe running down hills and to sunsets on the NHS as it makes you feel amazing! In between my runs I have been out on my bike, riding solo, with the sun on me and through some back country routes, cycling will relax me, running makes me alive again. I don’t think I’ve quite returned to ‘normal’, I am just surviving, being productive and making the changes I need to do as I know that will make me better. I’ve had one or two good days followed by some days where I will sit at home in between work and cry or hide under my duvet with Netflix, wishing something to numb the bad feelings again. I still struggle to feel an emotional connection to a lot of things, especially ones that require social interactions but as soon as I’m out running, every single part of me becomes alive again. I’m running on Ilkley Moor in a few days. I’m literally counting down the days to my next fix, because I know as soon as my brain floods with dopamine on top of the Moors, all will be okay with the world again.


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