Let’s dive in.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That year, my mind took me from full-scale mania, where I ended up preaching from the middle lane of a motorway in Italy (not to be recommended), to time in psychiatric wards, to six months of crippling depression which left me completely debilitated. In 2017, after a testing five-year journey of recovery, I ran 1250 miles, solo and self-supported, from the Colosseum in Rome back to the London Eye, creating a huge platform to share my story and bring this chapter full-circle. And we did it. With massive support behind the scenes back home, we did it.
Now, one year on, I’m looking back and re-living the adventure which, as so many of you rock stars reading this will know, was so much more than just a little solo jog from ‘Rome To Home’.
This was a five year journey of overcoming adversity, of channelling adversity, of harnessing the beast that is bipolar disorder and making it work for me over those life-affirming 65 days. It was a true celebration – a celebration of speaking up when I knew I needed support, a celebration of putting the daily practices and habits in place to live a full life in spite of my mental health challenges, a celebration of doing whatever I needed to do to be truly happy again and a celebration of surrounding myself with incredible people who have my back no matter what, who’ve all joined me on this crazy little mental adventure over the past five years.
Rome To Home was also an oil painting. An oil painting that I got to live and breathe and taste and smell and see come to life first-hand during the two and a half months I was running, with this overwhelming sense of gratitude and sense of purpose to share my story every step of the way in the hope of empowering others (particularly men) to speak up when they’re suffering.
Let’s re-live it together.
It’s 7am on Friday 25th August 2017. We’ve woken up to a golden sunrise beaming through the arches of the Colosseum, we’ve got my wife, my mother, and a handful of loved-ones ready to send me off, and after a year of preparation it was go time!
We jet over the Vatican (a little emotional as you can probably guess), we climb up and out of Rome, looking back over the City, and we point North. We’re winding up through Tuscany, to Siena and over to the West coast near Pisa before taking on our first major hills to cross-over the spine of Italy before heading up between Turin and Milan to the Alps.
We’re either wild-camping or staying in registered pilgrim accommodation along the famous Via Francigena pilgrimage path that links Canterbury to Rome, and we’re meeting the most amazing people along the way, who all connected with the adventure and supported the journey. We’re heading up to Aosta and this is when I turn in to a 12 year old in a theme park, soaking up the mountains trails with barely another human in sight. Heaven. We climb two days up and two days down the Gt St Bernard Pass, dropping in to Martigny before blasting up to Montreaux on Lake Geneve. We climb up and out of Switzerland, we drop in to France and take on the flat countryside up to Paris, complete with a 54 mile day to arrive in style.
We jet up to the English Channel, we cross over to Newhaven in East Sussex and get ready to start The Home Leg – the final five day blast, for which I’d tee’d up many others to turn out and run with me. And so many did, particularly for the final blast from Greenwich Park along the Thames to the London Eye, where we were greeted by 130+ of my Dream Team, with Union Jack’s flying, drenched in Champagne and knowing we did it… we did it… together… we did it.
And here we are. One year on. In so many ways, the adventure is still well and truly alive. The legacy lives on and now (based on the overwhelming number of people who still reach out to me each week) I’m even more committed to my cause than ever before – to empower the UK to speak up when we’re suffering.
And here’s the message for any of you reading these words that may be struggling right now. We’ve got this. Together, we’ve got this. We’re all struggling with something, so let’s nurture the habit of speaking up about whatever we’re going through and truly show future generations how it’s done. You know where I am if you need me!
Dan is a mental health activist and speaker; find out more at dankeely.co or follow his story on Instagram and Facebook. Dan is also Snow Sports Community Manager at Snow-Camp, a British charity that helps turn young lives around through skiing and snowboarding.