An American mom of one who lives with her Irish husband in London (they just moved there from Singapore!), Kirsten Poile replaced antidepressants with running and racing—and has never felt stronger both mentally and physically.
I run for my physical and mental health. I run to set a good example for my son. And I run to get some time to myself and to clear my head.
I have a history of depression and anxiety—a long history involving years of therapy (both group and individual), medication, and even a short hospitalization. Medication and therapy worked really well for me, but when my husband and I were planning our family, I didn’t want to be on medication while pregnant. After 10 years of being on psycho-pharmaceuticals, this was a bit daunting. So I gradually came off the medication with the support of therapy (sometimes twice weekly) and we became pregnant. And then we moved to Singapore.
Moving to the other side of the world is hard. Moving when 30 weeks pregnant is very hard. Moving with an anxiety and depressive disorder, leaving behind your 15-year profession to become a stay-at-home mom in a different culture is my recipe for disaster.
After giving birth to my son, I went through a pretty difficult period. It’s hard to tease out how much of it was the normal post-baby craziness and how much of it was my own internal craziness. So I tried going to therapy. We even tried couples therapy. I toyed with going back on antidepressants, but I figured I had come this far that medication would feel like going backwards. And then I started running.
My weight has always been an issue and I have exercised on and off for years. I’ve never really been able to maintain it (my weight or the exercise). I think this is because the focus has always been on trying to get thin. Now, my focus is staying sane and that makes a huge difference.
Being in a foreign country away from family without any help and with a husband working long hours and completing his MBA, I didn’t have much time for the gym. So I went for walks. And gradually as I got stronger, my legs felt like running, so it became a morning routine my son and I would do: run a couple miles and then let him out of the jogging stroller to run around himself.
I didn’t realize how much of an impact running had on my mental health until I had to take a break from it after minor surgery. I felt sluggish, grouchy and negative all the time. It took a few weeks to turn that around, but once I was running regularly again, I could see the difference. Maintaining my mental health without medication is a huge motivator. Training for races forces me to keep up with that consistency on my most negative days.
Since starting to run in Singapore, I have run one 5K, two 10Ks, a 12K, and three half-marathons. I have lost more than 50 pounds and my mental health has greatly improved. My last half-marathon was my first race when I truly felt like a runner. My pace is pretty slow, especially in this Singapore humidity, but I am strong. When everyone else started slowing down at the halfway point, I kept going. I took seven minutes off my personal best and completed the race with negative splits. It was the first time I really felt worthy of the label “runner.”