Why running saved my life.
I had my first panic attack when I was 16. I remember it so well. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone what had happened, at first I didn’t know what to call it. When I plucked up the courage to tell my mum, she gently held my shoulders, sympathetically smiled and said ‘ oh darling, I think you have had a panic attack..’., and gave me a huge hug. Mum knew, she had experienced them before too. I was instantly relieved but also confused and terrified it might happen again. To me, a panic attack made me feel like I was going to have a heart attack and die. This experience was a trigger for bouts of anxiety throughout the rest of my life. The mind is incredibly powerful and it’s a battle I’ve had to cope with ever since. But I’ve found ways to control it, and had long periods where I experienced no anxiety at all. But soon after I had our second son Cooper, it all came flooding back again.
When I was at boarding school in the 90’s, I did well to hide my anxiety, most of the time I found sport and exercise really helped ( along with some therapy ). I used to wake up early and take the matron’s dog for a run around the rugby fields. Running became my thing, a way to be at peace with myself and the world.
In my mid twenties, a heart breaking relationship breakup sent my anxiety and panic attacks skyward. I was grieving and couldn’t sleep to the point of terrible insomnia. I found myself putting my running shoes on again and running the quiet streets in the dark. But here I found peace again.
8 years ago when my step father was dying of Cancer, I signed up for the Paris marathon. I had never run a marathon before let alone run a distance longer than 10km. But I was compelled to raise money for Cancer research as my best friend’s dad was also suffering from Cancer, and my father’s good friend had been diagnosed too. Sadly all 3 of these amazing men lost their battle that year. 6 months after Paris I ran the New York marathon and did a sub 4 finishing at 3hrs 56mins and raised a few thousand dollars for Cancer Research. The grief of losing someone is gut wrenching. My way of coping? I chose to run, but I could have easily gone down the road of self destruction too, but running kept my head above water.
I hadn’t had a panic attack since my early twenties ( I’m 38 now ), but 5 days after Cooper was born ( Nov 2015 ), I experienced a doozy. I asked my husband to call an ambulance one night. My heart was racing, I found it hard to breathe, my legs wouldn’t stop shaking. I really thought I was going to have a heart attack. A call out doctor came to visit the house. My vitals were all normal, but he said my iron level was very low and that he suspected I had had a panic attack. It had been so long that I had forgotten the feeling! As soon as he said it, I relaxed. Of course! What triggered it? Probably the ‘trauma’ of having Cooper in under 3 hours, I nearly had him in the car on the way to the hospital. But the body keeps score. It’s like muscle memory.
Given I had a history of lower back pain since having Charlie in 2012, I thought my running days were over. But given the more recent experience, I felt once again compelled to get the running shoes back on and find a way to self heal. I needed to run. I could feel the anxiety build up again and I needed a physical release and some head space. I decided to see an Osteopath during the early weeks after Cooper was born to help get me to a place where I could be pain free. By the time Cooper was 4 months old, I started back the gym to do gentle cross trainer exercises and kept up my lower back stretch routine, This alone helped alleviate any anxious feelings I was having. By the time Cooper was 6 months old I went for my first run in over 2 years. And I haven’t looked back since. Running has really saved my life.
As a busy mum, I love to get the kids the stroller and take them for a blast around the park. It’s a win win! I get a good run in while the boys enjoy the scenery. Nothing better.
Running isn’t for everyone, but I’d love to hear what exercise you love to do that makes you feel good! Please comment below!