If someone had told Jenni Chambers that she would take up running later in life, she probably would have fallen about laughing.
A series of major life changes about 10 years ago, including moving to a remote area, a relationship breakdown and then taking sole charge of her brood of four small children, initially led Jenni to become isolated, exhausted and desperate.
“I was at home with three toddlers and scared to take them anywhere. I was not coping very well with myself, let alone the kids. It was terrifying. I looked at myself, wondered what was going on and tried to fix the problem. But I couldn’t. I came to the conclusion I was depressed.”
Medication helped for a little while, but a side effect of weight gain caused its own problem for Jenni.
“Being fat made me more depressed than ever, and then I became depressed because I was depressed.”
Stepping outside to break the cycle
Determined to lift her mood, Jenni started using natural remedies, then joined a gym.
“I wanted to feel better about myself. I didn’t see too much difference physically, but I noticed the exercise helped keep the black dog at bay.”
One of the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing is Be Active. Exercising has been proven to help make you feel good, both physically and mentally.
As she got fitter, Jenni found herself wanting to run, and spent a lot of time on the treadmill.
When her gym membership expired, she was drawn to a “Wild Woman” fitness group, which trained by running through bush trails.
A breath of fresh air
Over time she felt the urge to run solo and, after training with her group, would hit her local bush trails alone.
“I enjoyed the exercise more in the environment, rather than running around the streets or being in the gym,” she says.
Listening to the sound of her footsteps and breathing, undistracted by music from headphones, and truly being in the moment, weaved a healing magic for Jenni.
“There’s such a clarity to being out there in the bush, you couldn’t get purer air to breathe and mentally, well, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
Feeling great by exercising in nature inspired Jenni to enter a marathon. “I thought, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to run a full marathon – 42 km.”
Being active in nature is now an important tool Jenni can use to manage her depression, along with counselling, natural therapies and a good support network of family and friends.
“I found that exercise was the key and running in the bush will be forever my go-to. I’ll always be drawn to it.”
Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) will be celebrated throughout Aotearoa on 10-16 October. The theme is Naturally Happy: connect with nature for good mental health and wellbeing.www.mhaw.nz