Running for my life

By Claire Coulthard

Mental health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only three years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children. Alongside this, my Mam has suffered from a very severe level of depression for much of my life. She has only really started to come out the other side over the last 10 years, although as anyone who knows about mental ill health or who suffers themselves, it is always a burden you will carry.

My own experiences started officially after the birth of my daughter when I was 19 years old. To be fair, they probably started a lot earlier but there was no space in my head to entertain the thought and mental health was simply not discussed when I was young. My best friend didn’t even know how bad my home life was. It was like you became a leper if you came from a broken home as it was, you just didn’t add to these issues by admitting your parents were clearly ill. Being a victim of bullying for being poor was enough, I could not have added my family life situation to the mix.

After an initial bout of severe depression which saw me signed off and put on medication about 10 years ago, after the death of my Nana, I have been able to pretty much self-manage since. Or so I thought. Back in March 2017 I realised I had hit complete rock bottom. It was a rainy day and I was coming back from taking my daughter to her dad’s. The roads were slippery and I skidded on some surface water. I took my hands off the wheel, hoping I would crash. If it wasn’t for me spotting a photo of my son in the corner of my windscreen and snapping to my senses, well, you know what the result would have been. And I just simply did not care. That photo saved my life! First thing Monday morning I called my doctor and I have been off work, put on medication again, which I fully intend to stick to and I am seeing a counsellor.

I truly believe that if it wasn’t for me losing over two stone in weight and discovering a true love for running and fitness in general my story could currently be very different. Running keeps me even. If I am upset, angry, frustrated or so low I can’t think straight, I lace up my bright pink Nikes, stick in my earphones, put my music on loud, and I run. I never plan a route. I never plan a particular distance. I just go, wherever my feet take me. My mind becomes deliciously blank. The white noise in my head disappears. I am free. I am not a mum, a wife, a sufferer of depression. I am Claire. That feeling that comes when you finish is just so hard to describe. You feel alive. The sweat, your heart beating out your chest, your lungs on fire, it is just amazing. Add to this, smashing a personal best, well, for that moment, any moments of suffering feel a million memories away!

After a year of exercising and becoming the fittest I have ever been in my life, I decided I wanted to make it count. I wanted to give back. I started by completing Run Every Day January (clue is in the name) and raised over £300 for the national charity Mind. It gave me such a sense of achievement and purpose – that I was donating for a cause so close to my heart and raising awareness, both of the charity itself and of mental health. It is such a taboo subject, still to this day, although situations are improving. I want to be part of the driving force that makes talking about your mental issues as common as talking about the flu!

From this I decided I wanted to do more, but for my local branch of Mind – Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. Charity really does begin at home. Teesside is my adopted home. It is where I have had some of my toughest times in adult life but where I have learnt a lot and where I have met some of the most important people. With this in mind (no pun intended), I decided to sign up for my first professional race – Bamburgh 10km, in June 2017. I am so excited but nervous. I have also decided to train for the London Marathon in the hope I get a place in 2018. Fundraising again for the lovely team at Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. As part of this training I will be completing the Bamburgh Half Marathon in October. A massive feat for someone that this time last year could only run for 20 minutes!

My next steps are to complete these running challenges and raise as much money as possible in support and awareness of mental health. To add many more to my belt over the years. To continue with my mental health and fitness blog (redballoons2017.wordpress.com) and to continue to grow, learn and become part of the amazing volunteering team at Mind. I will also be a qualified personal trainer come July.
With all the above in place I know my recovery is imminent. I will never be completely cured, but knowing I can give back to those suffering and in their own dark place will mean I have turned my demons into angels. It will make my own dark days have more of a rose-coloured tint to them.

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