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Miles For Mind - Mental Health & Running by Sarah Priest

Growing up, from the age of about 4 up until I was a about 23, I was bullied on and off, mainly due to my weight, sometimes due to my hair (I have crazy curly hair!), for being short, well lets face it, bullies don't need a reason do they?

This left me very unconfident, insecure, and painfully shy. I am not someone who has ever had tons of friends, and I always found it hard to make friends because of being so shy, but also being scared, that they would pick on me. 

In 2004, after just 3 months at a new job, I woke up with excruciating pain in my right hand (and I am right handed) I assumed I had slept funnily, and it would wear off.

Gradually as the day went on, the pain got worse, to the point I couldn't open my fingers by the end of the day, and my hand was in a tight fist. I went to bed that night having taken many pain medication, and hoped to wake up the next day feeling lots better.

The next day, the pain was worse, but had also moved up into my arm. My mum took me to A&E, who told me it was tendonitis, and I was put into a splint, and was told to rest, and was signed off work for 10 days (not ideal when a new job!).

This went on and on for about 9 months, I kept being signed off (because they didn’t know what was wrong with me), and kept being given various diagnosis. After many tests (blood tests, Xrays, bone density scans, MRI, to name just a few) and numerous pain killers, muscle relaxants and antispasmodic medication, and about 14 different doctors and specialist, 3 of which my parents paid privately for, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2007.

I was by this point working only part time due to the constant pain and fatigue I was suffering. This  for obvious reasons also knocked my confidence again, and left me having panic attacks, and not wanting to leave the house. 

I lost a lot of friends due to this illness, but also as I couldn't or didn't feel I could talk to anyone about what I was going through, instead I just became very secluded, and low. 

I was put on anti-anxiety / depression medication, which made me feel worse at first.

I was having physio, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, anything I thought may help me with the pain, and exhaustion. 

I was referred by the hospital to a 'Pain Management Course' this was run under the NHS, by a physiotherapist and pain psychologist. This was a 10-week course, 1 session a week, we learnt about mindfulness, pacing ourselves, coping Techniques for dealing with the pain, but also with the loss of our lives as we had previously had.

I was almost completely a hermit by this point, only really leaving the house for work or to see family, I have thankfully had an amazingly supportive family, but I had lost a LOT of friends, as this condition is invisible, and so VERY hard for people to understand and comprehend. I myself had started to think I was going mad at first.

the whole 'Invisible illness' thing also makes you feel like you are going a little bit mental, as you cannot see or even explain the pain.

On the pain management course, they on the 1st day, asked us to list, what we would like to get out of the course, I put down I would like to be able to return to work full time.

I was 27 at this point, and did not want to spend the rest of my life like this. Each day was a struggle, even to get out of bed in the mornings, or making a cup of tea, used to exhaust me. 

When I was not at work, I was resting or sleeping, and yet still being exhausted! 

The people running the course told me I was being unrealistic, and that I should put something about being happy I was not in a wheel chair, as that happened to a lot of people with this condition (the pain was in my whole body now, not just the one arm).

This scared me! Me 27 and in a wheel chair.

NO! 

 I would NOT accept that! I could not accept that.

So I made a choice that day, I chose, to start slowly making changes, I was eating quiet badly (mainly due to comfort eating) I wasn't exercising, as was so exhausted, and in so much pain.

I started to swim and do Yoga at home from a DVD. Not often, but swim about once or twice a week, and yoga I tried to do twice a week. I did this for a few years, and gradually things did improve and I was able to return to full time work (I built this back up slowly) at the end of 2007.

I then got a dog, in 2012, this hugely impacted my health, as then if I didn't want to walk or leave the house as I was to tired, I still had to, as you to walk the dog.

I gradually started to lose weight, and feel better, developed a love for being outside, and exploring the countryside. 

Then 3 years ago, my friend (who is a teacher) asked me if I would like to do a colour run (where they throw paint at you) with her, she was doing a 10k!! 10k?? What?? 

I had NEVER EVER ran before this! She was very into fitness, and health, and said she would train me, so we gradually started by running between tree's, so the first tree I would run to, the next one I would walk, and so on, gradually building up each session. I managed the 10k, with some walking, but mostly Jogging (or as we called it Jalking = Talking and Jogging). 

She had introduced me to Parkrun by this point (my local was Chichester) which I loved, everyone was so supportive, and motivational. 

I became totally hooked! I since then have done many 10k's, I am a regular at my park run, and I have recently qualified as a running coach, and am in the process of setting up my own running club. 

For me, Running is a great escapism, if I am not running with friends, I put my headphones in, and just go, it is almost like a meditation, it clears my mind, I find my shoulders relaxing, my mood improving, if I had a headache that goes, it has been such a valuable gift that has been given to me, and now cannot imagine my life without it.

If like me, or like how I was, fixing to meet a friend or group for a run does give you that accountability which when I started out really helped me, but also more than that, it seems when running with someone you open up and chat, yes often just about food, but more often about life, and what's going on with you, or them, running as they say is cheaper than therapy ;-) 

The point of me telling you all this, is not for sympathy, (as I now am 99.9% better, to the extreme I forget I have anything wrong with me) is to prove a point, you should NEVER give up! 

You never need to do what is best for you, obviously before taking up any exercise seek medical advice if you have health conditions. 

You need to challenge yourself, push yourself to be the best you can be, the healthiest you can be, exercise gives you such amazing endorphin's, and you can make some amazing friends through classes and clubs, I have, I have met some amazing and truly inspiring people.

Fit, Active and Healthy People are generally Happier people, my whole outlook on life has changed so dramatically since my life has changed, and I couldn't be happier. 

Go, Enjoy and Have Adventures and make memories.

Sarah

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Thanks to Sarah for sharing her story. Follow her on twitter @Sarahs_Sunny_Life.

As part of #MilesForMind we want to raise money for Mind and also awareness of mental health issues.

It's OK to have a mental health issue, it's OK to talk about mental health, and it's OK to ask for help.

We firmly believe that running can contribute to a healthy body, and healthy mind and we hope sharing people's stories of mental health and running will inspire others to lace up for better mental health.

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