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How Running Has Helped Me Through My Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

By: Kari deLongpré

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety in 2016. At the time I had a 5-year-old and 2.5-year-old daughter. Looking back, I now know that I had suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety after my first daughter was born in 2011, but my experience was so different from the pamphlets that I saw in the OBGYN office that I didn’t recognize it at first. I was not necessarily sad or crying all the time, I was not curled up in a ball unable to function.  The opposite of that was actually true! I did a great job of functioning, was able to put on a brave and happy face to those around me, I genuinely loved my babies, but I was very irritable and more angry than normal. I was more afraid than I had ever felt before and was constantly looking for an exit plan in public places. While I was able to keep those feelings buried deep inside me for a long time, one can only function on adrenaline and fear for so long.

Kari Running

 

In the summer of 2016, I had my first of many panic attacks. The start of my mental health journey truly began with a panic attack so severe my husband brought me to the ER; I thought I was having a heart attack. Once at the ER, I had a full blood panel workup as well as an EKG.  Everything came back normal, and I was officially diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. I left the ER that night with a benzodiazepine pill in my purse to settle my mind and body and orders to follow up with my primary care doctor. After many low, dark and downright scary weeks of panic attacks, doctor’s appointments, therapy appointments and a cocktail of prescription antidepressant medications, I finally was starting to settle into what my new normal was going to look like. 

The medication prescribed by my medical team honestly saved my life, but I knew I could not rely on medication alone. I had to be able to fire up my own serotonin, I needed to get back to running and the great outdoors. You see, I had been running for years before the thief that is a postpartum mood disorder stole it away from me. I was too afraid and too physically weak to lace up my shoes and get out the door for a run…I once had what I now know was a panic attack during a run and I just could not shake that experience. BUT, it was time. I was settled into my new normal, I trusted the advice of my medical team and it was time to hit the road.

It was truly baby steps as I warrior’ed forward at a snail’s pace. I kept to my neighborhood and the roads that were the most familiar to me; I would be just a quick drive away if I needed someone to pick me up from the side of the road. Eventually my foot striking the ground felt good again, the rhythmic turnover of my feet brought me that peace that I longed for. Shorter more familiar runs turned into longer runs, and then even longer runs, and finally running a half-marathon 5 months after my diagnosis, in the freezing cold of winter, in Millinocket, Maine with a benzodiazepine pill in my pocket just in case the panic started to creep in. And you know what? The panic did not creep in, that pill in my pocket was not needed. I was able to trust my body, trust the grounding that I felt every time my foot struck the pavement. I felt the warrior in me returning and this time I was NOT going to let her leave me again.

Kari giving the peace sign

 

My postpartum depression and anxiety journey did not end after the Millinocket Half-Marathon race in 2016, rather it has been a race I have been running ever since. There have been peaks and there have been valleys on this race. I have been on antidepressant medication since 2016, only going off briefly when I was pregnant in 2017 with my third child. I have used running and hiking as a tool for coping with my mental illness (along with my antidepressant medications). I feel the most free, brave and the strongest when I am outside pushing my body on a run or connecting with nature on a hike. I can honestly say that the peace I find from the run or a hike is something that keeps me going each day.

I am currently living in Yokosuka, Japan with my husband who is an active-duty Naval Officer and my three amazing daughters. I immensely enjoy exploring my host nation on foot, whether that be on the road or on the trails. I am also a passionate mental health awareness advocate and try to use my voice to help end the stigma of mental health through my role as a core member of Still I Run: Runner’s for Mental Health Awareness. The Still I Run Community is a wonderful place for people to share their experiences with mental illness, to connect with others in a safe and judgement free environment, to raise awareness about mental health and to help people who have a hardship get started on their running for mental health journey through the Starting Line Scholarship.

Kari and her family

 

These past two years I have been so honored to have my Balega Ambassador Activation Idea come to fruition by providing Balega socks to Still I Run’s Starting Line Scholarship recipients, the combination of the Impi “warrior” and the mental health running “warrior” is just a natural fit. 

Today, life is pretty darn good for me, but I want to end by saying: if you or someone you know is dealing with postpartum depression and/or anxiety, it is okay to not be okay. It is incredibly brave to ask for help, it shows strength to reach out and most importantly, you are not alone in this journey. You do not have to walk this journey alone, there are resources and communities and people that want to help you, to encourage you, to hold space for you when that is needed. 

You mama are enough. You are worthy. You are loved. Keep inching ahead, forward is a pace.  

Kari deLongpré is a 2021 Balega Impi ambassador. She has been a Balega ambassador since 2020. You can follow Kari on Instagram at @coach.kari