I used to be a runner. I used to write this cool running blog; I was one of the most driven, ambitious people you were likely to meet. I had a vision of a new career, making a fresh start as a personal trainer.
I discovered running in my mid-thirties and found to my surprise that I was pretty good at it; having just the right combination of physical endurance and mental stubbornness to make a half decent marathoner. Writing a blog seemed the most natural way in the world to share my enthusiasm and experiences with the people around me. And there were a lot of them; runners are incredibly supportive of one another. At one point, my involvement in the online running community became such a source of inspiration to me that I decided to study for a personal training qualification and make a career out of the only thing that I had ever felt truly passionate about – encouraging others fulfil their potential. I was fitter and more confident and focussed than I had ever been. Until my world fell apart.
Divorce in Ireland is still a bit of a taboo subject, and when I told the people around me that it was happening to me, I was surprised by their reactions. Some people cried. Others looked away, unable to meet my eye. One person gave me lilies, potently symbolic of death. Other mothers on the school run would back silently away from me, afraid perhaps that my situation was contagious. People I had known as close friends turned on me in that passive-aggressive, pseudo-friendly way that only other women can. And then came the stalker.
The internet is such a powerful, all-pervading presence in our lives these days that it brings us together in a world where we are often physically isolated from those who are emotionally closest to us. I, being a Londoner in Ireland, was as isolated as anyone, and I had a huge internet presence on social media through my interest in running. And practically overnight, that support network and the source of so much joy and inspiration, became the vehicle through which the most unpleasant and malicious presence I have ever experienced was able to come close to destroying my life.
I will never know who my online stalker was, other than to know that it was someone close to me, in whom I confided the most personal of information. Both my ex-husband and I began receiving vicious anonymous text messages revealing information about our respective online activities. Whoever was monitoring us tracked down our mobile numbers, e-mail addresses and social media accounts. Every detail of our lives was there for the taking – they relayed real information to him from my Facebook account about my social activities, as well as inventing the most vitriolic, hateful things about me, interspersed with a frighteningly accurate knowledge of my most private thoughts.
Worse than the horrific violation of my privacy was the knowledge that this person could probably find my home address online, if they didn’t already know it, and I found myself living alone with my two small children, unable to sleep at night; utterly terrified for our safety.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for the level of paranoia I would feel, living in fear that my stalker could be any one of the people I interacted with on a daily basis, or spoke to on the phone, so I simply stopped seeing or talking to anyone. I deleted my social media accounts and blocked many of my friends on Facebook. I let my running blog lapse to the point where it became unsalvageable, losing all my writing. My loss of confidence led to my career plans floundering; I ran less and drank more, hiding from the world. I lost a fair amount of fitness, put on weight and found myself falling in with new people who were as directionless as I –but who at least post-dated my stalker and were therefore trustworthy.
My one saving grace was that I continued to run. Not as much or as passionately as before, but it was the only positive force in my life and I held on to it like a drowning person about to go under. Even throughout the darkest times, there was rarely a week when I didn’t lace up my runners and get out there, even just for a few miserable miles. And eventually, after the stalker inevitably gave up and faded away, and I had been hiding from reality for over a year, running gave me a base from which to start again. I began to run a bit more, and feel a bit better. My fitness improved, and with it my lifestyle. I deleted the toxic people who had taken hold of my life and took the first tentative steps towards rediscovering my confidence and resurrecting my career plans.
I regret that I let one unhinged individual have such a negative influence on me. But perhaps it was necessary to hit rock bottom in order to realise how strong I am and how many truly supportive, kind and positive people I could have in my life if only I would let them in. And I am letting them in – and it is a truly humbling experience.
I used to have a vision of a new career, making a fresh start as a personal trainer, and finally my vision is becoming a reality. I used to be one of the most driven, ambitious people you were likely to meet, and now that is tempered with humility. I used to write this cool running blog, and I will write it again. I used to be a runner and – as it turns out – I still am.