Gerard Daly writes on Training and Anxiety | Enable Ireland

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Gerard Daly writes on Training and Anxiety

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2020, Gerard Daly from Enable Ireland Adult Services in Kerry writes about overcoming his anxiety and pushing himself to achievements he would not have thought possible this year.

profile photo of man wearing a head lamp

"My name is Gerard Daly. I'm 38 years old and I have Spina Bifida and hydrocephalus. I live in Ballyfinnane with my parents and I'm the youngest of three children. I have a degree in Journalism from DCU although I've never used it professionally. I am currently unemployed.

My present situation?

Living at home with my parents and haven't had my usual PA service due to COVID since March. This means that, apart from days in Enable Ireland and a couple of trips to Inch with friends, or one or two trips to Killarney with friends for exercise, my only opportunity to get out of the house since March is when I go out for exercise. I started exercising regularly on St. Patrick's Day and as of today I have now done 2,300 kilometres since then. To put that into context, I did 31 races last year, which is the most I have done in a single year since I started participating in races in 2013, and in those 31 races I did 219.6 kilometres.

I’ve come a long way from the person who had to get his Dad to walk behind him on his first 5k because of my fear of getting lost!! It is strange, but soooooo gratifying, that I have gone from being anxious on the day of my first race to now doing levels of training that only a year ago would have seemed completely implausible to me, and now my training has actually become the most relaxing and enjoyable part of my day because it’s mine, I own it, and I’m out there doing it on my own for my own benefit.

Training and Anxiety

I’ve always been an “over-thinker”. For example, in my last job, I would come home some evenings and be stressed out because I would be trying to remember if I put the postal address on an envelope that I sent out that day. It never transpired that I hadn’t written the address on an envelope, but the uncertainty of it was something that I would bring home in the evenings, meaning that I never got a relief from the stress of it. I never really considered it consciously but I’m sure this lead to a vicious circle where I was going in to work every day waiting for something to go wrong, so inevitably it then WOULD go wrong, which affected my belief in myself, which would result in me making more mistakes. I didn’t see it in myself, but more than one person has described me as a “perfectionist” and I think the way I was approaching things was to make sure everything was done exactly right so that I wouldn’t be beating myself up about making a mistake, but the effort to be absolutely perfect was, in itself, causing me anxiety and leading to mistakes. I also used to get very stressed out because I had done a course in computers before I got my last job where I did particularly well and, as the other employees knew this, they would often (at least in the beginning before they learned not to!) ask me if they didn’t know how to do something on the computer, but usually I wouldn’t be able to think of the solution on the spur of the moment and this used to leave me feeling that they must have thought I was stupid. They probably thought no more about it, while I would spend my time mentally beating myself up about it.

When I did my first road race, a 5k in Annascaul in August 2013, I even got my Dad to walk the route with me because I had an irrational fear (anxiety) of getting lost, as I have a bad sense of direction. However, over time I have now started going to races with friends in Cork, and I do a race in Galway every year, and I’ve taken on the responsibility of participating in races in areas that I’m totally unfamiliar with. If I need help I’ll have a friend on the end of the phone, but otherwise I’ve faced into the challenge of the race myself and just accepted that, if something does go wrong, c’est la vie.

Man in wheelchair smiling with yellow racing flag in background

When the prospect of lock down became a reality this year I started going out for short 5k exercise pushes on St. Patrick’s Day, and it has proven to be the best thing I could possibly have done. As I live alone with my parents, who are both aging and facing their own health problems, there can sometimes be stress in the house if we can’t get a break from each other, and this would definitely have been the case during lock down, when my parents have been cocooning and my PA has not been able to visit me and get me out of the house, due to social distancing restrictions. Initially I started going out for pushes just to get some fresh air as many days as I could as I didn’t want to be cooped up in the house all day, but over time I started going for pushes on local roads that I had never pushed on, and probably never would have if it hadn’t been for lock down. I have now pushed myself on every local road that it’s possible for me to go on in my wheelchair this year, and the furthest distance I have pushed myself in one day this year is 34.48 kilometres. In “normal” times I had one or two friends that I know through participating in races who were prompting me to participate in half marathons (at that point my longest race was a 10 miler, which I felt was just about within my comfort zone), but I always scoffed at the idea because I thought it was unrealistic.

I had been advised that there is a half marathon in Charleville which would be suitable for me as it is particularly flat, but when I enquired about it I was advised that I would have 2 ½ hours to complete it. I didn’t dare attempt it because I was worried about not being able to complete it within that time limit and I knew that I would be putting myself under massive pressure if I tried. However, having gained so much confidence doing exercise this year and knowing that I had the freedom to spend as much time as I wanted exercising, I completed my first half marathon on April 22nd and yesterday I completed my 31st half marathon. When I got to my back door yesterday I discovered that I had somehow been locked out of my phone so I couldn’t turn off my Runkeeper app. The phone said I would be locked out for 35 minutes so, despite having already completed the half marathon distance, I went out again and ended up doing another five kilometres! I was tired afterwards but looking at the bad weather today I’m actually really glad it worked out that way yesterday because, as it happened, through completing the extra five kilometres it meant that I have now done 2,300 kilometres in 2020, 2,270 of those being done “solo” since St. Patrick’s Day! At the start of this year I never thought I would be doing a half marathon this year, never mind doing a half marathon PLUS five kilometres in one day!

I have completed challenges this year to do the Ring of Kerry, the length of Ireland, and the length of the UK “virtually”, and being able to complete all of these “solo” has given me a massive boost in self-confidence and self-belief.

Collections of sports medals

I’ve come a long way from the person who had to get his Dad to walk behind him on his first 5k because of my fear of getting lost!! It is strange, but soooooo gratifying, that I have gone from being anxious on the day of my first race to now doing levels of training that only a year ago would have seemed completely implausible to me, and now my training has actually become the most relaxing and enjoyable part of my day because it’s mine, I own it, and I’m out there doing it on my own for my own benefit.