As part of my blog I (MM) believe it’s important to share common and similar experiences. Through the wide reach of the running community on Instagram, I’ve been able to connect with Jessica (JM) a fellow marathon runner and mental health advocate, and I was really inspired by her journey and what she is achieving.
MM: You’ve experienced mental health challenges since your teens. You’ve been quoted as saying that running has saved your life, can you explain why you got into running?
JM: Well truth be told, I’ve always been sporty from a very young age. I used to play football and was accepted into Arsenal’s ladies youth team at the age of 12 but due to injury was unable to continue so I turned my focus to athletics during my adolescent years. I was a competing national athlete up until I was 18 when my studies took precedent. For a few years I did nothing especially after my sexual assault when I was 19. I only really got back into sports a year ago  when my ex-boyfriend introduced me to marathon running. He was a marathon runner and encouraged me to run with him during his training runs and this is where my spirit for running was ignited again, although I was never a long distance runner – in my track days, I was a sprinter.
From then, my love for running continued and I found solace in exploring my surroundings on foot. I lost a lot of confidence in myself from the assault, which I never really regained up until I started running and meeting new people through the communities I joined. I never saw running as running away from my problems but it definitely serves as the best therapy. If it weren’t for running and the people who have supported me in the community, I probably wouldn’t still be here today.
MM: What is your why behind your blog?
JM: I created my blog as a platform to encourage others to speak openly about their mental illnesses. I believe that when it comes to talking about mental health problems, it should be a two-way street. If people don’t speak openly about their mental health problems then the people who don’t have mental health problems will never understand. If we create a culture where no one is ashamed to talk about it then we eradicate the stigma altogether.
When I spoke openly about my depression, sexual assault and suicide attempts, it lifted a massive weight off my shoulder and I felt like I could stop living a lie. It is very exhausting for someone with a mental health problem to keep all his or her feelings bottled up; it’s good to talk and even better when you don’t feel like you’re being judged.
I’ve had some amazing individuals write about their own experiences for the blog, which have had amazing feedback, and to this day I keep in touch with them and we help each other. It creates a network of people to help each other but also you gain lifelong friends. It’s really important to know that you’re not alone in this world. There are other people going through similar situations and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
MM: Being apart of a supportive community is so important. Why is Run Dem Crew so important to you?
JM: The one thing I absolutely love about Run Dem Crew is the fact that it’s not just about running. RDC is a family of talented, inspiring and fascinating individuals who share a love for both running and creativity. Each and every single member of the crew has a story to tell and a skill to share. When I first joined Run Dem Crew, I was shy and a bit socially awkward but desperate to find myself in this big city I call home. Being part of the crew allowed me to make new friends, learn about myself and explore the city.
Our Crew captain, Charlie Dark, has always been so supportive and encouraging to each and every single member of the crew and that’s what is so inspiring. It is so important to have people around you who are positive and empower each other; it brings a sense of community. The Crew was the main reason why I decided to speak openly about my mental health, they were incredibly supportive and finally I had found a support system in my life. I couldn’t thank every single one of them enough. I’ve only got love for them.
MM: You were Mind’s representative for a recent event at Kensington Palace hosted by The Royal Foundation for the Heads Together Campaign. You met Royalty and famous sportspeople, what lessons did they share with you about how they dealt with mental health challenges they had faced?
JM: It was incredible being in the presence of Royalty and famous sportspeople, especially Dame Kelly Holmes who has always been a massive inspiration for me from a young age. It was humbling to hear her speak openly about her depression and self-harming when she became injured after her 2004 Olympic victory. She described it as the hardest period of her life having to pick herself up from her lowest point to get back on track again and it was inspiring to see her supporting the Heads Together campaign.
MM: From completing your 4 marathons, to raise awareness for the mental health charity Mind, during the challenging moments, what lessons did you learn about yourself?
JM: The journey has been a really interesting one. I started the journey from a depressive episode and that’s when I decided I really needed to make a change for myself. The training, in particular, kept me very grounded, which is something I struggle with as a result of my anxiety and depression. I have learnt that no matter how serious the situation or how low my mood is, each day is a gift and that I will always have a second, third and fourth chance at something. So I’ve really learnt not to be so hard on myself and the biggest lesson learnt was to, and excuse my French, not give a FUCK. I think anxiety is caused by a whirlwind of racing thoughts so I used yoga and meditation to manage this and to essentially stop caring about things that really shouldn’t matter.
Running has taught me about my own strength, resilience, and ability to dedicate time to achieve goals I never thought I could achieve. It’s been a fantastic journey, especially being faced with the mental challenges during a marathon (or any run for that matter), these challenges have been overcome during the run and allowed me to implement that experience within my every day life.
MM: If you’re struggling during training or in a marathon, what tips do you use to pick yourself up? And are they similar to when you have experienced depression, and are in the low moments?
JM: It sounds crazy but I talk to myself. In a way, it is a form of meditation but whenever I’m hitting a low point on a long run or marathon, either because my legs are hurting or my stomach is cramping or because I’m too hot, I give myself a PEP talk. It usually goes by a little something like this:
“Jess, you can do this. No, really, you can. You have trained so hard to be here and you cannot quit now. You won’t quit. This pain is just information, that is all it is. You will finish. Do the unimaginable”.
With my depression, I have struggled badly with keeping my mind stable so running has really helped with that because it’s taught me to train my brain to become stronger. So because these PEP talks have been so effective on my runs, I have started to apply that method when I recognise my triggers and by that time, my mind is ready to manage the low mood.
MM: From your experience with depression what has it taught you about the concepts of fear and certainty?
JM: Depression is a funny old thing because it essentially clouds your judgement and it feels like you’re constantly having a war in your mind.
I am absolutely petrified of social situations, and most people who know me might probably attest to that because I am loud, bubbly and confident but I’m actually quite the opposite.
I have a fear of abandonment, which is stemmed from when my biological parents gave me up, and I went into care. I have a fear of having no food, which is a cause from my biological parents not having food around the house as a young child. I have a fear of knives because I have some horrible memories from when I was a child being exposed to violence. I never thought these things would affect my adulthood but it does and it shows up in different ways.
In a way, depression has helped me recognise my fears and to also let go of those fears. It has taught me to think about methods in which I can avoid those situations ever happening again, at least to me or my own family.
MM: With a broken bone, there is a recovery period before it heals. Mental health is fluid, so what would you say to people who think it can be fixed in the same way?
JM: If someone said to me “Oh, you’ll be fine in 6 weeks” I would honestly advise people to educate themselves on mental health illnesses. It is not a difficult task; you simply need to Google it and take 30 minutes out of your day to read a summary. I still cannot believe that in this day and age, people still do not understand it or don’t want to understand it. In the UK, 1 in 4 will suffer with a mental health problem, so why has it been one of the least talked about?
It’s like people think that because they can’t see that something is wrong with you, that you must be okay. It’s only human nature to look for a physical problem rather than an internal one because a physical problem is easier to understand because you can see it with your own eyes. For a mental problem, its incredibly difficult so of course you can imagine what it is like actually being that individual with a mental illness, terrified of how people will perceive you. It’s almost like you are invisible.
Thankfully mental health has been the forefront of national news this year, which is an extremely positive thing because it’s encouraging conversation surrounding it, therefore lessening the taboo.
MM: In your experience, how important is the link between physical health and mental health?
It is incredibly important and I only began to really realise this at the beginning of this year. Before I started running, I found solace in alcohol, cigarettes and drugs as that was my only outlet other than writing in my journal. However, I recognised a huge improvement in both my physical and mental wellbeing once I started running. I never used to appreciate the link but now I credit running for saving my life.
It sounds cliché when you hear people say ‘my body is a temple’ but I can now vouch for that. Since I’ve started running, I have found structure, focus and motivation in my new schedule which subsequently has kept my mind level headed. Of course I get my bad days, along with everyone else, but thankfully, there are wonderful chemicals called ‘Endorphins’ that give you an insatiable high incomparable to Class A drugs. I have never looked back and I have never felt healthier and happier with my life.
MM: What are you currently training for?
I’m actually slightly injured due to a FREAK accident so I have been unable to race Stockholm Half Marathon and Amsterdam Marathon but I have Comrades Marathon (56 miles) and Tokyo Marathon on the cards for next year, along with a few half marathons to keep my fitness up. Although I have spent most of my injury period training and supporting other new runners which has been equally, if not more, rewarding than training for my own. It is always so humbling to watch someone’s first steps and see their progression and love grow for running. That’s what it’s all about right? Community.