Throughout #RunAndTalk week we’re hearing from a number of people about how running has helped their mental health. This is Jaime’s story:
For years I have battled with my weight and have known I needed to exercise but never really stuck to anything long term. Then in 2016 I saw an article for a local running club. I was incredibly nervous about attending. How fast will they all be? And will I be able to keep up? Am I too fat to run? And what will I talk about with other runners? I talked myself out of it at least five times a day leading up to it but somehow I found the strength to give it a go.
From the second I walked into Mossley AFC Running Club everyone around me was so supportive. We jogged together and talked about all sorts of things from kids to cooking and everything in between. When I got home after that first run I felt so good that I had started to do something positive to change how I was feeling. I have a habit of giving up hobbies after a few months but due to the friends I have made whilst running I don’t feel that this is even an option anymore. I find there is something very special indeed about the connections you make with people during running.
Sadly anxiety got the better of me in around June 2017. Although I had a stressful job and knew that things were feeling difficult for me, I kept thinking, “keep going, things will better in a few weeks”. I was snappy at people and my chest was always tight. I started to avoid social situations and one day on the way to the running club I had my first panic attack. I literally froze in the street and I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. I turned around and went home but sadly, the fact that I had experienced this panic attack on my way to the club meant that I had created an association with “the club” and this panicky feeling.
I referred into the local NHS Healthy Minds service but sadly it had a very long waiting list. Whilst I knew that running would help me to get through this difficult time, I couldn’t see a way that I could prioritise it anymore (even through up to a few weeks earlier I was running three times a week). At the time I didn’t recognise the extent of my illness.
I contacted the club and told them that I would like to resign as a run leader and a committee member. Fortunately, my friends recognised that this was out of character for me and skilfully kept the door open for me if I wanted to return (including my place on the committee). Not having the pressure of being in the club (and letting people down by not turning up) actually helped me to take the pressure off and focus on running just for me. Members of the club would check in with me and I was also able to join in a parkrun which allowed me to turn up and run, feel part of the community but didn’t require me to speak to anyone!! This is just what I needed at the time.
Day to day struggles with anxiety meant that I suffered from pains in my chest, feelings of light headedness, painful backache and shoulder pain, palpitations and a constant feeling of panic and stress. I noticed that after a run my body would feel more relaxed which meant I didn’t have as much pain in my shoulders and back. I also felt like I still had control over at least one aspect of my life that was just for me, my time to simply be!
I finally got into therapy and started to build up the confidence and manage my anxieties enough to go back to the running club and when I did I was welcomed back with open arms by all my friends.
It’s still not easy to ensure I include running within my busy schedule but it is definitely an effort worth making and I know the importance of this for both my mental and physical health. Mossley AFC Running Club have joined the England Athletics #RunAndTalk programme and I’ve now been appointed as one of their Mental Health Champions. I hope that by sharing my experiences and showing people that’s it’s ok to talk about mental health, it might help others to start running and experience the joy of running that I have.