Running has helped me through the toughest years of my life

By Shelia Mitchell 

I am a 66 year old grandmother and a member of the Her Spirit community who will be running in the Yorkshire 10 Mile as part of the Yorkshire Marathon Festival on October 15th. If someone had told me five years ago that I would be getting ready to run in my first ever run, let alone a ten mile run, and would be preparing for the London 2024 Marathon in memory of our daughter, Holly, I would not have believed them, on either count.

Holly died in November 2021, aged just 34 years. She had everything to live for with a bright future ahead in her dream career as a lawyer and the love of her family and friends but Holly struggled with her mental health and turned to alcohol to help her cope with life and so she became addicted to alcohol. What was once a glass here or a glass there, became the driving force of Holly’s life, dictating everything she did or did not do.

Holly had always loved sport from an early age, but she particularly loved swimming and had been captain of Sheffield University Water Polo Team. When she moved to Nottingham, she joined the Nottingham Triathlon Club which is where she met Mel and Holly, who became good friends.

Holly never did anything in half measures so before she became ill, she was a fitness fanatic and trained for triathlons, completing The Coniston Chill Swim, Tough Mudder, and mini triathlons and The Robin Hood Half Marathon to name a few. She particularly enjoyed open water swimming around Nottingham, in the sea and the River Swale. She found running round the parks in Nottingham or around Swaledale, helped her cope with her mental illness.

Holly was also a very social person with many friends and loved parties, particularly if fancy dress, live music, music festivals such as Glastonbury, and seeing musical theatre; I miss our theatre trips.
We first realised that all was not well in 2018 when she mentioned having ‘dark thoughts’ and having to take time off work, but by September, we noticed her alcohol consumption was getting out of control. After a series of crises and A&E visits, she accepted that she needed to go into ‘rehab,’ so Holly spent Christmas 2018 in ‘rehab’. We were all optimistic that we had got Holly back even though she left a week early, how naive we were!

Within two weeks, she was back in A&E and had to be re-admitted to ‘rehab.’ During 2019, she was in and out of rehab and every time she came out, we were all hopeful that this time she would stay sober but within a week or so, her addiction took control until there was another crisis. We could see that her addiction was becoming deeper, but we were helpless and, as anyone who has faced addiction knows, we could not do anything to stop it or control it, it had to be Holly who had to accept that she needed help to take back control. You may be wondering why she did not just stop, but an alcoholic must not just stop as it could result in seizures or even death; alcohol must be reduced slowly if not under medical supervision.

When Holly was in a ‘good place,’ she used swimming and running to help her mental health; we knew when she was not well when she did not run or do a workout but used alcohol to help blot out her mental state. This would then lead to another crisis and another intervention. In early 2020, Holly came to live with us in North Yorkshire. During 2020 and early 2021, with the help of our GP, the addiction services and community mental health support, Holly had periods when she was sober and would enjoy swimming and running but these were frequently followed by crises which would result in medical intervention and stays in hospital.

It was during the last lockdown in January 2021, that Holly encouraged me to ‘get fit’ and do the ‘Couch to 5K’. I completed the program and continued running as often as possible. We were all optimistic about Holly’s future when she returned to work as a lawyer working from home, even though she relapsed several times and had to ‘drink down.’

Following professional advice, in August 2021 Holly moved to Manchester to be close to her offices and friends. Initially Holly was excited about her future, but her addiction once again took control and Holly died in November 2021.

Running has helped me through the toughest years of my life; I am alone with Peggy dog and my thoughts, and I also feel close to Holly. I run three times a week, usually first thing and on ‘rest’ days I do the Strength for Runners on the Her Spirit App and have recently joined the local gym.

I have always enjoyed sport through school, university and before the family but I had never done ‘running’ until the Couch to 5K. Last April as I sat and watched the London Marathon, I realised I could use my running to raise money and tell Holly’s story which would help other people and their families suffering from mental health problems and addiction. Virtually the same day, I signed up to run the Yorkshire 10 Mile for Alcohol Change, a charity which works to reduce the serious harm caused by alcohol and make a positive difference to the millions of people affected by it, and I entered the ballot to run in the 2024 London Marathon, determined to achieve something positive from the awful sad loss of Holly. I chose both Alcohol Change and The Samaritans because of the link to Holly and I am now part of #TeamSamaritans in the 2024 TCS London Marathon.

I hope by running for Alcohol Change and The Samaritans, Holly’s story will help others experiencing what we went through to know that they are not alone, and the money raised will go towards supporting people and the services which help them; the money I raise could fund the training for the person who answers a lifesaving call.

As Holly told me once while out walking the dogs, ‘keep running even when I’m no longer around.’ I will be running both events in Holly’s memory, and I hope she would have been proud. Holly will be with me every step of the way.

Mel and Holly have helped me and will be there for the Yorkshire 10 Mile. I have found the Running programmes on the Her Spirit App invaluable particularly the Strength for Runners and Running a Half Marathon. I may live in ‘the sticks’ but I do not feel alone as Her Spirit is there for me.

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