At the start of 2016, I was in the grips of the worst depression I had ever experienced.
My public persona was bubbly, confident, loud and sometimes obnoxious, but in private, my world was filled with regret and sorrow. The relationship I had with the first man I ever loved had ended abruptly, leaving me feeling crushed and broken hearted. On top of that, my career was falling apart; my boss was emotionally abusive and tore me to shreds until I crumbled.
I felt so unhappy with my life that I tried to end it. Every day was filled with darkness. My anxiety would keep me up all night, while my depression would make me languorous. All I seemed capable of was watching one psychological thriller after another, glued to the sofa in my parents' house.
After six months of being at my lowest ebb, I decided to lace up.
I joined a running group in London called Run Dem Crew. I thought most running clubs were pretentious and cliquey, but our group would chat running six or so miles across London, racing back to gorge on our favourite salt beef bagels.
Running made me feel energised but at peace, which was a far cry from how I felt on a daily basis. I made so many friends there; it was a community. There was no pressure to be a good runner and no one was ever left behind. It became my escape where I would leave all my worries at the door.
But depression hit again and I had that voice constantly at the back of my mind telling me that I was worthless. I couldn't sleep or eat or get out of bed, to go to work. It was ruining everything I had worked so hard for. So I decided to take action.
I took out my debit card and scoured the internet. I wanted an adventure and I wanted something to look forward to. That's when I decided to book a solo trip to China to run my first marathon on the Great Wall of China Marathon. I had always wanted to run a marathon, but I was scared. The most I had run was 15 miles and even that almost killed me. Yet, this time around, I had a mission.
In May 2016 I travelled halfway across the world on my own to a country that was completely foreign to me. It was my equivalent to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: I ate Chinese food, prayed that I wouldn't die and vowed to learn how to love myself.
Every step I made on that Wall was one step closer to feeling better. I will never forget the breathtaking views of the historic Pass of Huangyaguan, the abrupt mountains and cultural atmosphere.
I will never forget running towards the finish line at Yin and Yang Square, with heavy legs and a light heart, hearing: "Jessica Morgan, Great Britain." I will never forget bursting into tears collecting my finisher's medal as my legs buckled. I will never forget the feeling of being embraced by the friends I made in China who also ran for similar reasons.
China was the biggest challenge of my life – not just because I had to run 26.2 miles in sweltering heat, but because I had to fight the demons inside my head too. The goal I set myself during a depressive episode had been reached through perseverance and grit.
This was strength I never knew I had.
The race gave me perspective in every way possible: that I was enough. If I can run 26.2 miles on the Great Wall of China, I can do anything.
For once in my life, I actually felt alive.
"Don't lose yourself," said Lily, our Chinese tour guide, as she led us through the densely populated Beijing Summer Palace. What she meant that day was lost in translation, but what came out of her mouth stayed with me for years to come.
This story originally appeared on our sister site, Grazia.
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