The very definition of achievement alludes to it being a very positive experience. Something done successfully with effort, skill, luck and maybe even courage. However, the aftermath of achieving something in our lives can often affect our mental health, leading to moments of sadness and depression.

There are countless stories of people feeling incredibly low on what should be one of the biggest days of their lives. Entrepreneur and the newest Dragon to grace the Den, Steven Bartlett, has gone on record saying the day his company, Social Chain, was valued at $300m after going public on the stock market felt like one of the worst of his life. 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson has said he experienced heightened anxiety and depression following the heights of winning the World Cup. And many Olympians, including 23-time Olympic Champion Michael Phelps, have experienced symptoms of depression after picking up a Gold Medal. The list goes on.

I’m no exception to this.

My medal haul featuring a Delorean from Back to the Future

I don’t have a company worth $300m on the stock market, I can barely throw a rugby ball and if you combine my Olympic Gold Medal haul with Michael Phelps’ it’s still 23. But I’ve achieved a number of things in my life which, more often than not, I tend to feel down about it after.

Teeline shorthand

In September 2019 I essentially went back to school as I became a trainee journalist for a year. I wrote for national publications such as the i, talkSPORT and a number of the South West London associated press while studying for the elusive NCTJ Gold Standard qualification.

I covered stories relating to sport, politics and, of course, the pandemic.

As part of the qualification, I learned Teeline shorthand. Shorthand is a form of writing used by journalists (or police) before the days of recording devices or when covering court cases where such devices are forbidden.

In order to achieve the highest grade NCTJ qualification – Gold Standard – you need to pass a shorthand exam at 100 words per minute (wpm).

As far as exams go, it’s on the shorter side, 45 minutes if my memory serves me. It’s made up of a two-minute passage spoken at 100wpm, then a break, followed by one minute at 100wpm, then a break, then another 30 seconds where there is a quote that needs to be taken. The idea is you take it down in shorthand and then transcribe it to longhand on the exam sheet. Sounds simple right? it isn’t.

It’s a test of accuracy. Therefore there is a very small margin of error. In the 100wpm exam, you are allowed nine errors, and the quote has to be perfect. It wasn’t something I took to initially, in fact, we were all in lockdown before it all fell into place for me. A lot of my classmates had passed by this point and I was definitely one of the weakest in the class for a long period of time.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I sat and failed the 100wpm exam. Sometimes it was close, others it was not so close. In one of the exams I made only four errors, which is usually enough to pass, but one was fatally in the quote which is an instant fail. I think it may have been a record number of attempts for the people who trained me. If it is then I hope there’s a plaque on display somewhere, ideally a blue one.

However, I kept going, and going, and going. I knew I wanted it and for a period of time during lockdown it was the only thing I thought about. I was both told and expected it to open so many more doors for me that I told myself the qualification was pointless without it.

Eventually, I passed the 100wpm exam. I’m not sure how many errors I made, all I know is it was less than nine.

I received the email telling me I passed and I was elated, although, if I’m honest, I knew I passed when the exam ended. I messaged all the people who helped me get there saying thanks and I told my parents. They responded saying I earned it and that it’s a wonderful achievement, which it is.

And that was it.

What followed was a negative feeling. Within a few weeks, my certificate arrived saying I was officially a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist. I opened it, took a look, and smiled a little before putting it back in the envelope and placing it in the top drawer of my media unit. I haven’t touched it since.

It was as if I didn’t want it anymore.

The sad reality is the 100wpm shorthand exam, and Gold Standard NCTJ qualification with it, meant more to me when I didn’t have them. It felt like I wanted it while it was out of reach. And there’s an abundance of these in my life.

The London Marathon

Ah, the London Marathon. I bet many of you are fed up with hearing about this by now, and for that, I apologise. However, the biggest achievement of my life so far and one of the most fantastic experiences of my life isn’t free of negativity.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the whole London Marathon experience. It created so much more for me than I ever thought it would. And to raise money for a charity and cause that is so representative of my entire ethos was just superb.

It’s a weird feeling finishing a marathon. Once I crossed the finish line after 4 hours and 19 minutes and 41 seconds of running I didn’t know what planet I was on.

Then, as the days went by, people naturally try to take it from you because more often than not that’s what people do. I lost count of times people said things like ‘Oh you did that much training and couldn’t break four hours’. Or ‘I know someone in their 50s who ran it faster than that’.

I’ve had people say similar things (Often more personal) about my travels, where I live and many other parts of my life. My skin has become quite thick when it comes to that sort of thing.

However, a few days after running my first marathon, once my legs felt normal and the scale of what I had done sunk in, I was a bit lost. Training for the London Marathon and fundraising for Mind had been my life for almost a year. During a pandemic year no less. And just like that, it was over. I have the medal, memories and even a tattoo to prove it.

How it impacts my mental health and how I respond

Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of both of those achievements and have zero regrets. They’ve both opened numerous doors that would have otherwise remained firmly closed. I just can’t help how I felt in the aftermath.

I decided to focus on shorthand and the marathon because they represent two aspects of all of our lives. Professional and personal. We all have a profession, we don’t all love our profession, but we all have one. The same goes for our personal lives. Not all of us run marathons, many people can’t think of anything worse. But we all have interests that make up our personal lives which in turn make us who we are.

Some of the readers of this blog will be following my series of posts about my Ironman journey. That whole venture is a perfect example of how I respond to my equivalent of ‘Gold Medal depression’. I effectively set my sights on something bigger.

Looking forward to getting the bike out for Ironman prep

Being Ironman specific for a moment, I know there will be many days where I question why I’m doing this. I had it with the London Marathon, I had it with shorthand and I’ve had it with most things in my life.

However, the whole process gives me a purpose, as well as another story to tell my nieces. Purpose and creating stories are the reason behind everything I do. With that motivation, my mental health is typically heading in the right direction.

Some of the feedback I’ve received regarding my Ironman aspirations is ‘How are you going to top that?’. Which is a very good point. There aren’t many more challenges more gruelling than an Ironman and for all I know I may fail. But I already know what my next challenge will be once I cross the finish line in Cork and get a tattoo.

I’m not the kind of person who goes to the gym for the sake of going to the gym. I’m not questioning the mental health benefits of getting a workout in. It’s hugely beneficial. But for me, there always has to be a reason why. Whether that is training for an event or wanting to reach a certain size/bench a certain weight. It’s just the way I operate.

Whereas with the shorthand, it’s slightly more difficult. I achieved the highest qualification, so where do I go from there? Thankfully, with the help of time, the ‘gold medal depression’ eased as more doors opened for me. It just wasn’t so obvious at the time.

Gold Medal Depression: Mental health struggles after a big achievement

Jordan Camp

I’ve been sharing my writing with the world since 2015. Back then it was about travel, then I transitioned into wellbeing and mental health awareness. Soon after I was being paid for it as I wrote about sports, politics and, of course, the pandemic. My words have been published in the i, Mancunian Matters and a number of the South West London associated publications. In 2021 I ran my first marathon, for the UK mental health charity, Mind. I currently live in Essex where I am training to become an Ironman.

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