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Give yourself a chance - Jenny's story

Photo by Rob Gale

If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be sat here sharing my story I wouldn’t have believed you. Sat on the sofa, in the family living room, I remember vividly my mum discussing my care with my nurse making her daily visit to check my vital stats. It had taken me an exhausting one and a half hours to eat a meal, a process I knew would have to be repeated just a few hours later.

I was lucky, my parents took time off work to become my full-time carers, something at the time I was mad about. Being shadowed every minute of the day, bed bound with absolutely no moment to myself, I was living in a reality where going through the motions was about as much as I could achieve. Every day was exhausting, traumatising and more challenging than I even thought possible.

The three times weekly visits to CAMHS, the family therapy, the group therapy - my weeks were consumed with CBT. I didn’t attend school, never saw my friends and I actively avoided every social setting I could. I couldn’t see a way out from my whole consuming mind and I had no purpose.

Fast forward to today, and my life looks very different. I spend my days clocking up miles as a professional athlete. I have purpose and my mind is less consumed with my anorexic thoughts and more with how I can make my Olympic dream a reality. I still speak to a psychologist, I still rely on my close family for support, and I still have thoughts that creep back in.

But one thing has stayed consistent for the last 10 years. That running has saved my life.

I don’t ever mean to sound dramatic saying this, but without the passion, drive and determination that running and racing has brought me, I wouldn’t be sat here healthy and at peace with where I am. It filled the void of worthlessness and gave me back some purpose.

I realise as a young teen, I was externally fortunate to have a fantastic support system around me that provided me with a chance to use running as a form of therapy. It doesn’t always get the best reputation when combined with an eating disorder but from my point of view, without the chance and trust to use it for good, the trajectory of my life would have been so different. It gave me a reason to recover. It gave me an understanding of why I needed to recover. It gave me a positive outlook on life and a meaningful objective to work towards.

I know it is not straightforward, but the positive influence exercise or even fresh air can have on someone’s mental health can be transformative. I know from my experience, even though I had significant relapses, it was something that gave me that separation and gave me a goal that was kind of attainable that didn't involve thinking about losing weight. Rather I was able frame my recovery as part of my training, and for me I think that was far more important than writing down my thoughts and my feelings. That’s where my passion for the sport grew, where the drive and motivation came from and now still exists, because I remember how challenging it was and how hard I worked to get myself back on a start line.

I have now represented my country over 12 times, have been to two commonwealth games and I’ve run times that are amongst the best the UK has ever seen. I have overcome adversity, challenge and distress. I have learnt so much about myself, and have realised that sweating the small stuff doesn’t matter and that everyone goes through hard times.

I haven’t let my eating disorder define my future. I have struggled, I still do sometimes but I have given myself a chance, I have believed I could overcome and I have challenged myself in ways I never believed I could.

This is my story, and I am proud of it. I want to share it to show that your present doesn’t define your future and your future can be brighter than you could ever imagine.

Jenny Nesbitt is a Professional Athlete who has represented her country 12 times, running some of the fastest times ever in the UK. She recently shared her full story with the RunAlive Podcast – the podcast that the relationship between running, coaching and personal growth. She speaks with amazing openness and vulnerability about her journey, listen to her full story here.