Mental Health Awareness Week: Jools' story - out of the darkness

Twice a year England Athletics ask people to get out for a jog or run with friends, family or colleagues and have a chat to support Time to Talk Day and World Mental Health Day. #RunAndTalk events are taking place from Saturday 6th to Friday 12th October to support World Mental Health day on Wednesday 10th October. Why not read how Jools used running to help her with her depression and anxiety?

I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20s. I was prescribed medication and after a few months I started to feel like the darkness was lifting. I stayed on medication for around 18 months. I didn’t understand mental health back then and assumed that as I came off medication and I felt ok that I was cured. Actually, it was the beginning of a rollercoaster cycle of feeling ok for a while, but always reaching a point where I’d need prescribed medication again to bring me out of the darkness.

Along the way I’d experimented with things to try and make me feel better before going to the doctor. I’d self-medicated with alcohol, spent all my time either working or out with friends, completely isolated myself away from friends and family, overspent and got myself in debt, ate too much and ate too little.  None of these things worked and ultimately, I needed professional intervention.

I became better at recognising my symptoms and triggers. At my worst I couldn’t find any joy in life. Things I’d normally look forward to, I’d avoid, I pushed away those who love me because I couldn’t explain what was going on and I felt that I’d drag them down with me. After having children, my symptoms changed.  I had post-natal depression but now also suffered from crippling anxiety.

Depression made me unmotivated and made me feel worthless.  The anxiety feels like walking close to the edge of a cliff. The combination of the two felt like I was crazy.

One day at the age of 37, I was socialising with some friends. We meet a few times a year. For some reason this time we decided to enter a triathlon for fun! At this point I could swim, but hadn’t for about 6 years, could ride a bike but didn’t enjoy it but I’d never managed to run. At this time, I hadn’t been on medication for my mental health for around 18 months and was just starting to notice I was having more bad days.

I started a couch to 5k programme on my own, I was so overweight and unfit I couldn’t face letting anyone see me try to run. I remember those first few 1-minute runs and literally willing the seconds to tick away so I could stop. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed running from the start but what I did discover was I liked the feeling I got after running. I felt accomplished, like I’d done something good, just for me.

As the weeks went on I looked forward to my run days, not the run itself yet, but that happy feeling I got when I was done. I got to the point where I felt brave enough to run with other people, not people I knew but I tried parkrun to see what 5k felt like.  I couldn’t run 5k but got round with a run/walk. One day a lovely lady chatted to me. She chatted all the way round and before I knew it we were at 4.5k.  I’d never run that far without stopping. That day was my first nonstop 5k. I thanked the lovely runner who’d helped me and she suggested I join her at her running group.

I was so nervous going to my first RunTogether group. ‘What if no one talks to me?’ ‘What if they do and I can’t reply because I’m gasping for breath?’ ‘What if I’m way slower than everyone else?’  I needn’t have been concerned. I was welcomed by the run leader, the lady from parkrun, who took me out for a gentle couple of km.  From that week on I’ve booked on to the RunTogether groups once, twice sometimes three times a week.  Booking gave me the motivation to keep going.  If there’s a run leader out there, giving up their time in the dark and cold waiting for me the least I can do is turn up.  Going to a group where I know they understand about mental health is so reassuring.  Some days I want to talk about it to people who will not judge or try and fix me. Some days I just want to run and not talk, but it’s so much easier with other people. I have met so many inspirational people and love the hour or so we spend together each week running and chatting.

Since I’ve started running regularly I haven’t needed to go to see my doctor for my mental health. This is the longest stretch without medical intervention since I was first diagnosed.  I still have bad days but I’ve found that a run helps to clear my head and sort out my thoughts.  Those closest to me tell me that I’m more communicative and less withdrawn than before I was running. My husband can tell if I’m having a bad day and tells me to go grab my trainers and go out for a bit!  Running hasn’t cured my mental health issues but it has massively improved my mental wellbeing and makes me prioritise ME for a while each week. I’ll never be the fastest runner but I’ve realised that’s ok.  I want to be better than I used to be and don’t compare my running journey to anyone else’s. I feel that the non-competitive ethos of RunTogether is perfect for me.  I can also now say that I enjoy the running as well as the positive effects it has on my mental and physical wellbeing.

Oh and I completed the sprint triathlon and went back the following year and smashed my pb.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be visited by the GB Olympic selectors though!

Between 6th-12th October we're encouraging everyone to improve their mental wellbeing by starting, returning, or continuing to run as part of our #RunAndTalk campaign.