Running, Mental Health & Me: Alice’s Story

As part of our series on Maternal Mental Health Awareness, we’re sharing five incredible stories from Mums in our community, who have battled with perinatal mental health issues. Each of these amazing ladies has bravely agreed to make their story known, in the hope that it might encourage someone suffering the same symptoms to speak up, seek help, or even just get the headspace that they need to process how they feel and what’s going on.

Alice Tanaka runs with our Wandsworth mums.  When her son was born at 28 weeks, Alice’s world was turned upside down and she was faced with an entirely different experience of becoming a mum from the one she had imagined. She shares her story, and explains that it’s never too late to seek professional help.


My first (and only) son was was suddenly born 28 weeks and 4 days into my pregnancy, with only stomach cramps as a warning sign. He weighed under 3 lbs. As there had been no complications for me during the birth, I was discharged from the hospital after 3 days.

Leaving the hospital, no longer pregnant, without a baby, on the day my milk came in, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My son had all the usual issues for a premature baby born at his gestation, chronic lung damage, jaundice, brain bleeds, a PDA (hole in the heart that usually closes soon after birth – his didn’t) and obviously, he was just so small.

He also had other complications: a chemical burn from a procedure that went wrong and he got sepsis. The scariest part was when our son frequently forgot to breathe and his heart rate would drop to dangerously low levels (again, a common issue for premature babies). This set off all the alarms on his incubator with nurses and doctors rushing over to wake him up. Luckily, my son grew well and with that he grew out of many of his issues from being premature. He came home, on oxygen, just before his due date.

I hadn’t realised at that time, the emotional strain of visiting him everyday for 12 weeks, most times wondering if he was still breathing.

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During the time my son was in hospital, I was incredibly anxious and stressed all the time. I also thought I was to blame; I mean, it was my body that had pushed my son out too early. I felt guilty that I’d ruined my husband’s first experience of becoming a dad, that he had to get used to his new role under the watchful eyes of nurses and doctors. So I stopped talking to my husband about how I really felt.

I also just felt so angry. Angry that we weren’t able to have the “normal” first time experience most parents do. I didn’t feel able to connect with other mums. We had missed meeting new parents at NCT class as my son came before our classes started. Once my son was home, we couldn’t go to playgroups as he was at a high risk of infection and then when that passed, I found it hard to pick up where we should have been.

After my son’s first birthday, I couldn’t understand why I still didn’t feel better. My son had grown to a normal size for his age, was hitting regular milestones and didn’t seem to have any lasting damage from being premature. But, I was still so anxious all the time and I couldn’t relax. For a long time, I thought maybe this was how I was a mother, that all mums get anxious about their children.

When I went back to work, the additional stress of a project I was working on just pushed me too far. I cried everyday in the toilets at work, I was drinking every night at home, I wasn’t running.

I tried to hide this all under a smile that I was doing fine and loving being a mum! But, the thing that made me get help was my anger. I had never felt so much rage before. I finally called an anonymous advice line at work and then went to my GP. I felt a massive relief just to admit how I was feeling, as I was exhausted from trying to hide it from everyone.

The GP diagnosed PTSD, anxiety and depression and I received 12 weeks of CBT therapy. The therapy was amazing. Talking to a stranger allowed me to be completely honest about how I felt as I didn’t need to be concerned with their feelings. I finally voiced some of my darker memories from my son being in NICU. I realised that although the trauma was over, I will still living in that state. The therapist also helped me identify a negative pattern of behaviour I often get stuck in and we worked on things I could do to break the cycle.

Around the time I was getting therapy, TMR started in Wandsworth. I had run a lot before I got pregnant and knew running made me happy, but it was so hard to start again. However, I found TMR so inclusive. I am a slow runner and I think back then, as I was still building up my fitness, I was even slower.

At TMR someone would usually hang back and run with me and the loops meant I never felt like I was too far behind the speedy runners. The Sunday runs and wanting to meet up with everyone motivated me to go for a few runs in the week. I loved finally being part of a “mum” group too. As the mums all had children of very different ages, I didn’t feel the same pressure as other mum groups where it can descend into a competition about what your child can/can’t do.

Before I got pregnant I ran to lose weight, now I realise, I run for my mental health. Running with a lovely bunch of people on a Sunday is even better for my mental health! I now notice such a difference to my mood, my outlook and my energy when I’ve been for run outside.

Running, Mental Health & Me: Amanda’s Story

As part of our series on Maternal Mental Health Awareness, we’re sharing five incredible stories from Mums in our community, who have battled with perinatal mental health issues. Each of these amazing ladies has bravely agreed to make their story known, in the hope that it might encourage someone suffering the same symptoms to speak up, seek help, or even just get the headspace that they need to process how they feel and what’s going on.

Amanda, who runs with our Greville Smyth mums in Bristol, describes the effect effect that losing her dad soon after giving birth had on her emotional and mental wellbeing, and the benefits of being open and tackling the problem early on.


I’m a mum of two, my eldest is three and my youngest seven months. I found out I was pregnant with my daughter at Christmas in 2017. A few days before that, my dad was suddenly taken ill with what was a few days later diagnosed as a cancerous and inoperable brain tumour.

He received various treatments throughout 2018 and was thrilled to be here to meet my daughter when she was born in the September of that year. In the December, we were told his treatment was no longer working, and he passed away late January 2019. In addition, just a few days beforehand, my grandpa – his dad – had also passed away after a long illness.

The experience of going through pregnancy and having a baby whilst also navigating grief has been strange and overwhelming at times. Sometimes I felt guilty during pregnancy that I didn’t have as much time, energy or emotion to devote to thinking about the baby, but it also made me more grateful for what was happening and the things we had to look forward to.

Looking back to when my eldest child was born, although I never sought professional help, I now recognise that I was probably suffering with postnatal anxiety. I’d heard a lot about postnatal depression but, despite having struggled with anxiety at times before I had children, I can’t say that I’d heard much or knew much about how postnatal mental health issues could manifest as anxiety.

I knew with my second pregnancy that I was probably at an increased risk of struggling given my previous experience and what was happening with my Dad.

Once my Dad passed away I felt as though it was time to get some professional support as I was starting to feel overwhelmed and unable to get my head around everything, and that was making me less present and less patient with my family.

I had weekly counselling sessions with a psychotherapist for a couple of months and found it extremely valuable. It was great to have time each week to talk about how I felt, and speaking to a professional who was also completely unconnected to my family meant I could really open up and be honest about everything I was feeling. It really helped me to be kinder to myself and stop worrying about whether I was grieving in ‘the right way’.

Throughout the pregnancy and since I’ve had my daughter, I’ve had lots of support from my husband, family and friends and have tried to make sure I do as much as I can of the things that I know help keep me in good mental health.

For me, this includes getting outdoors, seeing friends, and trying to carve out a little bit of time each day on my own to clear my head. Not necessarily easy or always possible with a newborn, but getting back into running means I can usually tick off a couple of these at a time!

Although it’s been overwhelming at times, going through all of this at once it has meant I have really tried to live more in the present as much as I can, so when something good is happening or I feel happy, really noticing that and feeling gratitude for it.

At times, I’ve struggled with not having much time to myself to process what was happening. I make a concerted effort to try and get a bit of time for myself wherever I can (often now this is actually on a run) and counselling has helped me to accept that every experience of grief is different and doesn’t necessarily fit a model or expectations.

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I have found running to be of huge value for my mental health. Before having children, I loved running as a means to relieve stress and clear my head, but I wasn’t sure if it was something I’d be able to get back into once I’d had a baby.

After my son was born I spoke to Mel at a local fair where she was running a TMR stall, and realised it was totally something I could do again! I went along to a social run not long after and have never looked back, even completing a half marathon in 2017 and training as a Run Angel.

I’ve made a few really special friends through TMR, have met so many lovely people on runs and am continuously inspired by all of the stories that are shared through the online community.

Running, Mental Health & Me: Sara’s Story

 

As part of our series on Maternal Mental Health Awareness, we’re sharing five incredible stories from Mums in our community, who have battled with perinatal mental health issues. Each of these amazing ladies has bravely agreed to make their story known, in the hope that it might encourage someone suffering the same symptoms to speak up, seek help, or even just get the headspace that they need to process how they feel and what’s going on.

Sara Knowles is one our Cardiff Run Angels, with an incredible story. Here’s how she tells it.


I gave birth to my son 15 yrs ago this May.
The birth was long and traumatic, with a shoulder distention and all contractions stopping amongst other issues. In spite of the complications, our son, Jack Elan, was absolutely perfect, and after a difficult fourth stage and stitches, we were left in peace to rest and enjoy him.
Sadly in spite of every effort on my part alone at home, three days later he developed starvation jaundice and we were both admitted into the paediatric ward of our local hospital.
Jack was given a dextrose drip and placed in an incubator. Again, left alone I struggled to breastfeed him and the next day we discovered that the dextrose had been pumping into his skin rather than his vein, so we had a third degree burn to deal with as well. It was hell. 
After seven long days and nights of mental, physical and emotional trauma, I collapsed with a severe panic attack, the first of a series of problems with my mental health that I have been dealing with ever since. 
After 22 months of severe depression, anxiety and manic episodes, I conceded that I wasn’t going to get better without medical intervention, and was prescribed antidepressants. Four years later, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is a big label to bear. This February, I suffered the worse relapse of panic attacks and mental crisis I have experienced since Jack’s birth.
When TMR launched in Cardiff some weeks later, I was there, alone and afraid I would look obviously out of place in amongst sporty running women. Instead I found a really warm welcome, encouragement, support and brilliant friendship.
I am now a Run Angel and, at the age of 51, in a body that is not one to behold, I don my runners every Sunday and Wednesday to join encourage and support other Mums of all ages, shapes and sizes, to show them they can do it too.