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Mental Health, Running and me

by Gina Jackson (RRC

When I was asked to write a blog on how my running has helped with my mental health, I thought this would be so easy.

I’ve written loads about how much my mental health can be affected by running but it’s easy to send it to the world of my followers (of whom there aren’t that many and I know all of them) than to send it to people I’ve known for a year who may not know my journey but are my newly acquired family.

I’ll try and be brief!

I gave birth to my gorgeous boy, in June 2016. My family have history with anxiety, depression, manic depression, and post-natal depression. I thought I’d be fine, I knew what to look for and I wasn’t like my family, I was different.

I wasn’t different.

At all.

PND and anxiety hit me like a brick at about six weeks in, ironically enough after my check up where I was asked about ‘baby blues’ and I adamantly insisted I was fine. It crept up on me, I am shy (yeah right) and I hate meeting new people. It fills me with absolute fear, so mum and baby groups were a no, I tried and I did make friends but they all lived close to each other and were already planning on going back to work part-time or not at all; and what they’d do on their days off and where they could go etc. I didn’t have a choice; I knew I had to get back to work, for money and my own sanity.

Months passed, I got worse – there were days when I’d have energy to drag myself and Callum out of bed and drive to my mum’s or sister’s to stare at their walls whilst they looked after Callum. I was numb, I guess a lot of it was the fact I couldn’t breastfeed which I’ve never really acknowledged.

It was hard, there were a lot of arguments between me and Craig in that first year. It came to a head when I was sobbing in the floor of our living room, trying to decide if I could live on my meagre wages and leave Callum with his dad so he could have a better life.

I went to the Doctor and she was amazing. She mentioned exercise as way of getting some of my missing identity back, plus time to myself. My sister (fondly known as the Gazelle) had been running for about two years to aid in her PND battle and it was working for her. I decided I was going to try!

Running and I have had a chequered past, I’d tried numerous times when younger to get fit as it’s apparently free(!) and I’d always given up before even getting to 300 metres!

On the advice of the Dr and my sister, I got some cheap trainers and went walking. I’d go in the day to get Callum to have a nap; at first it would take me an hour to walk to our local Co-op and back which is less than a mile. I’d get Cal asleep, put my headphones in with a podcast and away I’d go, until he woke up or I got tired, whichever came first.

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I’d stay close to home in case I needed to get back quickly and I did that for 4 months. When I went back to work, I could walk to the Co-op in 20 minutes. I carried on at night, in the dead of winter I’d put my trainers on and a big coat and head out. I could be out for hours; Craig must have worried himself silly but I needed to just be on my own with my own thoughts and not be a mum for a little bit.

Callum was one when I saw some runners near my house as I was trudging back from Tesco (two miles from my house) and I thought ‘hmm maybe I should graduate from walking’. I downloaded the C25K app, got some cheap leggings and a t-shirt and off I trotted. I honestly nearly died that first run, it was horrendous. I persevered though and every run I did, I felt better. I came off the very light dosage of anti-depressants I was on and began running three nights a week.

In 2018, we went on a big family holiday to France. I was now running regularly and had completed Manchester 10k in a respectable 1hr 15 mins. I had already signed up to the Salford 10km in the September and my sister was helping me train. We did a few very hot runs and she mentioned I should join a club to help me when I get back as she wouldn’t always be able to run with me.

That’s where you guys come in!

I looked up clubs on a Tuesday and a Thursday when my mum had Cal and lo and behold, who popped up but Ramsbottom Running Club!

I messaged and was told where to go and what to do and, on my son’s second birthday (mum of the year award goes to me), I rocked up very nervously (I hate meeting new people) to a brewery in Rammy. I was so scared; I’d have run off if it wasn't for a very kind lady who came up to me to see if I was ok. I introduced myself and she pushed a pen and a new person form at me and said, “I’m Ann, fill this in and then we’ll tell you what to do next”.

I then went on one of the hilliest, hardest runs I’d ever done – thanks Stubbins – but Ann and John Hall were with me the whole way. I’ll never forget that run – I’m getting emotional thinking about it – I couldn’t have asked for a better welcoming committee.

After that first run, Rowan pulled me to one side and asked if I’d had fun. I just beamed at him and said I’d be back next week. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve been running as a full club member for a year as the Bury 10k in 2018 was my first outing as a proper member and I cannot describe how much I love you guys.

Anyway, mental health!

So, with running I feel free, I can be me again, not a mum or partner – I’m Gina. I’m off all medication and it’s all down to running. I know when I haven’t run for a while as I get really snarky and get sent for a run by Craig.

I run because I can, because I’m lucky to have stared PND in the face and told it to bog off, because I want to be well to enjoy time with my son and partner. Running is my therapy; it probably costs the same as private therapy, so I guess I’ve done alright out of it.

Running is my new family, I’ve made friends with people I’d have never met if it wasn’t for running, and there’s always someone up for a run at daft o’clock on a Sunday morning.

Club champs, the ‘big’ races and little local races that need support, you can pretty much guarantee one of us will be there and it warms my heart that we’re such a lovely club, with a great reputation for being ‘all-inclusive’.

My mental health has never been better, running saved me and my relationships with Craig and Cal and whilst I would do anything to have that first year back with my boy and enjoy it more than I did; I can enjoy watching him grow up knowing that I made it through.

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Taking time out to yourself is so important and I’m a massive advocate for running or any sort of exercise being able to improve your mental health, it’s pretty much all I talk about at work to the point where most of the guys at work are now running so they can join in the stats chat on a Monday morning!

So if you’re feeling blue and you don’t fancy chatting to someone, but have a spare half hour (and childcare if needed) get out for a run!

I don’t need to tell you lot that its amazing to just get out of your own head for a bit and feel the adrenaline, endorphins and serotonin coursing through your veins as you all do it!

I think it’s important that the message is spread far and wide and it makes me happy to see GPs doing parkrun surgeries and kids doing the mile a day in school, plus who can forget our fave thing ever; parkrun!

Oh, and the walk to the Co-op that used to take me an hour? It now takes me 15 minutes to walk, about six minutes running.

Pretty proud of myself for that.