Otieno Ogeda started jogging after he hit rock bottom. He was short-tempered, broke, depressed and an alcoholic.
About three years ago, his newspapers and magazines business that he had started in South Sudan collapsed.
“I had begun it when the country got independence after noticing a gap in the business publications market. I saw a bright future, I was earning about Sh500,000 weekly,” he says.
Then war broke out and shortly thereafter, the government devalued the South Sudan currency by 100 per cent.
“At the time, my money was still in local currency as it was always difficult to get dollars. So the devaluation made all my profits worthless and I ended up losing everything,” he says, adding that on that day, if someone had an equivalent of Sh1 million, then it reduced to about Sh90,000.
“I was rich in the morning and in the evening, I was staring at poverty.’’
The drastic change took a toll on him. He came back home, moved his family to a cheaper house and transferred his children from a private school to a public one.
“That killed me. I felt useless and considered myself a failure since I couldn’t provide for my family as I used to,” he says.
Then he plunged in depression, but he was unaware of it.
“Everyone seemed to irritate me. I would quarrel and say nasty things when talking to people. Close family members began avoiding me,” he says.
Once a man with a vibrant social life and big heart, he suffered in silence as friends he had helped in the past deserted him, upon learning of his predicament. The loneliness and self-loath pushed him into alcoholism.
“I would drink so much to try and forget my problems then go back home when everyone was asleep. The idea was to avoid my wife and children because even though they were very supportive, I still felt that I had let them down terribly,’’ he says.
“One day, I took one too many and lacked bus fare back home. This was one of my lowest moments. I was ashamed of the man I had become and contemplated suicide to end it all.”
His fitness regime
Luckily, a cousin came to his rescue.
“He counselled me and gave me some hope. Then he introduced me to a psychologist who told me of the benefits of physical exercises in managing stress, depression and other mental health challenges.”
That is when his ‘love-affair’ with running and physical fitness began. And he has never looked back. He says that jogging provided him with an avenue to vent his anger.
“I would run and push myself harder and harder to release the pent-up tension within my body,” says the 40-year-old who looks like he is in his 30s. Besides running he does 500 press-ups every morning, sit-ups and stretches. The exercises would consume most of his time and make him really tired.
“So sleep just came easily. I no longer had to struggle with it or keep awake all night thinking about my problems,” he says.
Fellow runners that he found on the jogging track eased his loneliness and distracted the depressive thoughts.
As time went by and the anger subsided, Mr Ogeda began enjoying his “me” time on the jogging trails.
“It provided me with an opportunity to reflect about my troubles in a calm and positive way. Life had dealt me a huge blow but at least I was still alive. And I had a loving and supportive family that was worth living for,” he says.
We caught up with him on a Saturday after his morning jog along Naivasha Road between Uthiru and Kabete in Nairobi.
“I always look forward to Saturdays as I get to run longer like I am doing a marathon,” he told BDLife while holding his two signature dumbbells (weighing three kilogrammes each) that he runs with every day.
On Saturdays, he covers a distance of up to 42 kilometres and about 27 kilometres daily from Monday to Friday.
“I wake up at four o’clock in the morning then do seven kilometres before going to work. In the evenings, I run for about 21 kilometres. But during weekends I just run in the morning,” he says.
After a while, the depression tapered off.
“The problems were still there. But they were no longer weighing me down as I was able to cope with them effectively,” says Mr Ogeda who now speaks at company and other events about the benefits of exercising.
“I can’t stop running. This exercise saved my life, so I will keep doing it no matter what,” he says, adding that he is now employed in public relations.
He now weighs 78kgs, having lost 20kgs and has started a fitness consultancy service known as ‘Ooh My Fitness’ that helps people to enhance their mental well-being through jogging and other physical exercises.
Dr Chitayi Murabula, a psychiatrist and mental health advocate, says that unknown to many people physical exercises play a key role in preventing and managing symptoms of various mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and dementia.
“Such people usually feel extremely low. But while exercising, the body releases feel-good hormones which help in lifting their spirits,” he says.
Physical activity also serves as a distraction, allowing people to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Studies have also shown that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent affected individuals from relapsing.
Even though physical activity has many benefits to people with mental illness, Dr Murabula says that it should not be used in isolation.
“Exercises can be used alongside other treatment approaches such as medication, psychotherapy and counselling,” he says.
In less severe cases of depression, exercises and counselling can enable affected individuals to recover fully with minimal or no medication at all.