Trigger warning: This content contains reference to sexual abuse and may be disturbing to some readers
There are times I feel somewhat invincible, like some kind of superhero. I know I don’t stand alone in this thought. We all have it in one way or another. For me, the feeling of success comes with my running. The moment I lace up my runners and walk out the door I feel a sense of freedom. This freedom has saved me many times in my life and with restrictions on freedom due to COVID19, I am clutching onto every moment I get outdoors. I know for most of us around the world we are all holding onto the simple act of getting out into nature and breathing in fresh air. We are all riding a wave of emotions, stresses and that feeling of loneliness from the world and lives we once knew.
Last week was the toughest for me mentally. I find this is the best time to sit and write about where I have come from in life, why I run and the inner strength running gives me. It not only helps inspire others, encouraging people that read my story, it also helps me work through this crippling anxiety I have been feeling in my chest.
I started running when I was in my late teens. I was sexually assaulted as a child by my father from the age of seven through until fifteen years. I still remember the first time. The one time I woke from a nightmare and my father took away my childhood innocence. He would come and get me after this first time as I lay asleep with my sister next to me and my brother in the other room. The abuse got to the point where I would just go to him. I did all I could to avoid him, climbing down the tree from our balcony and running away to play with my friends that lived close by. He once came to find me and slapped me in the face with the torch. I stopped running away then.
The first time I discovered running was the first time I realised that what he was doing to me was wrong, however I didn’t know how to escape him or become stronger than him. I was really afraid.
He threatened to kill me if I told anyone about the abuse. It happened every second weekend whilst I was in his care.
I started running in the mornings and the afternoons. I even used my lunch breaks at school to run around the lake. It was a 7km loop. I ran anywhere from 14 to 21 kilometres a day. I was only a teenager.
Running gave me an incredible amount of strength inside. I didn’t know it at the time, however the running was building resilience, courage and the strength I needed to be free, to share my story and to finally spread my wings and live the life I deserved to live.
I am free today. I carry a new name and live in a different town to where I was abused. I still run (ultra-distances now) and have used the running as the core support in my mental health.
I find sticking to a routine and a schedule helps me. I like boundaries and knowing what to expect to an extent. I feel this helps the anxiety stay where it needs to stay. It rears its ugly head when I am wearing too many hats and trying to juggle more than I am capable of. It is the unknown that I have no control over that sometimes can press on the chest and cause me to feel like I am not coping the best I can.
Anxiety only appeared in my life when I lost my mum over 13 years ago. I didn’t realise it at the time; however, my mum was my rock and number one person. She really helped me get through the court case against my father, start a fresh life and taught me how to love myself, quirks and all. My mum would probably be telling me that I am crazy for signing up to a 100km race, but she would have also been the first one there at every checkpoint and passing me the celebratory beer at the finishing line.
We had a mother and daughter relationship that was like two best friends. I spoke to her all the time, sometimes a few times a day. She would answer with, ‘what could possibly have changed in your life in the past hour, that you need to call me again?!’ Sometimes it would be, ‘what do you want now!’ That loss was huge.
I like to think the anxiety is her way of saying to me that I need to slow down and it is ok to feel overwhelmed, scared and lonely. Time to take that breath and remember to believe in myself.
This week, I am approaching me differently.
I have taken the steps to fix those areas that I felt overwhelmed, I have taken the monkey off my back with running, spending time to talk to those that I love and taking time for me too. Sometimes we forget that we are as important as our children. Without us, they don’t have the stability and reassurance they need in this time we are all sharing with COVID19.
Mental health is something close to my heart, the way people deal with it personally, the tools we all use to breathe and take a moment. I am going to be more present this week, present in the moment. With each stride I run, I will be in the connection from one foot connecting with the ground to the next. The repetition will be soothing as I run on the trails, connecting with each breath and nature around me. I will continue to fuel my body with good and healthy food and remember to get the sleep my body needs.
I am no expert when it comes to mental health, however I have come out the other end of deep depression using running, natural herbs, a great doctor and a sports nutritionist supporting my every move.
I think it could be time for me to grab some more herbs, give my mind and body the reassurance that it is being supported behind the scenes too.
It is ok to say you are not doing ok. Be Brave.
Hayley Blease is an ultra-marathon runner, a mother of two children, striving to make a difference by using her own two feet on the trails. She discovered her strength, motivation and sheer determination with running to escape her abusive childhood. Initially pounding the pavement, and then switching to trails in 2017, Hayley has never looked back on pushing herself further and faster on the trails around Australia. Having a personal love for creative marketing and being a wordsmith, she believes ‘simplicity is confidence.’
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