August 30, 2023

Phoebe’s Story: Running Through Depression

Inspiring mum of two, Phoebe Hurliman, opens up about her battle with pre-natal depression and how running got her through the hardest time in her life. Thank you Phoebe for being so raw and vulnerable. We have no doubt that your story will inspire others to take their first step to prioritise their mental health. 

Trigger warning: this article discusses self-halming thoughts. 

I started my running journey 4 years ago at 28 years old. I had never been the athletic one, never ran in school, and definitely was not into sports. I was a mother to our 2-year-old daughter, juggling working, mum life, and was on a journey to feel healthy again. I drove to the gym that day, jumped on the treadmill and ran my heart out. The feeling of achievement and runner’s high had me hooked. Little did I know a few weeks later I was pregnant but running was here to stay.

Running was what got me through the hardest period of my life. The days were dark, the storm was intense, unforgiving, and ruthless. Some storms would feel like they were collapsing on top of me, not giving me any air to breathe and others simmered there gloomy, with no light to be seen but the flashes of lighting in the distance, close enough to make you jump but not sure if you’d get hit.

These storms were what we know as prenatal depression. When you’re a new mum they always warn you of post-baby blues aka post-natal depression. Every nurse warns you this period may come and to be aware, take note, and call someone if you are experiencing these symptoms. However, no one warned me about prenatal. No one warned me that this depression could hit you whilst you’re growing your baby, yet to even touch or meet them. It hit me like a ton of bricks and hit me hard.

I knew it was depression from the beginning, as anxiety and depression had been present for most of my life. Depression more when I was an adolescent but those days and thoughts you never forget, no matter how much time goes past.

Every day I was terrified, I was trapped inside this mind that wouldn’t let me out, I was begging the thoughts to stop but no one was coming to save me. All whilst trying to be the best mum I could for our daughter and keep her from seeing the pain I was in. The hardest thing about depression is the only one who can change your mind is you, there is no one that can come turn the switch off or give you a break, it’s all down to you. I guess that’s where a lot of grit comes from for me. I know how to push through the darkest of times now. I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is beautiful.

I counted down the seconds and minutes until I could get my daughter to sleep and go for a run. As soon as I would get out onto the road or on the treadmill, I would feel instant relief. My brain would simmer in silence, it would switch back to the brain I knew, I was me again. No monsters trying to take over, just me and my happy thoughts. I could focus on my kms and achieving that next PB, all whilst watching my favourite humans: Courtney Dauwalter run UTMB, Sally McRae and Lucy Bartholomew crush it in WSER all thanks to Billy Yang’s YouTube channel. All these women helped me, pushed me towards my dreams, and for those few hours, running whilst watching them gave me hope that I can get through this and one day I will be out there running in those mountains and races too.

Though it didn’t last long, soon it was time to shut my eyes, sometimes the tears would roll down as I was petrified of going to sleep because I knew what was coming when I woke. I pushed through, and the days didn’t get better they got worse, but I never stopped running. Running saved me. Some days I would get into the car and my mind would tell me, it is time to drive into the wall or off into the highway barrier. Those seconds felt like minutes but being able to come back and think about running and that if I can just make it through until tonight, running will save me and it will be ok. And so that’s what I did, day after day, month after month until 4 months of suffering pre-natal depression had finally come to an end, and I had won that battle. I did it alone, no one knew the suffering I was dealing with, not even my husband until I had won.

“Running was the one thing that saved my life and from that moment I knew, this wasn't just a new hobby, running will forever be a part of my life.”

I had my son and once I got the all-clear from the GP at 6 weeks, I started training for my first marathon. I had just gotten through the hardest time in my life, and I knew I could run anything I put my mind to, so a marathon it was. I trained hard and consistently. Early mornings, late nights, running off 3-4 hours of sleep with our newborn and daughter in the middle of covid lockdowns. 8 months postpartum I successfully ran the Melbourne Marathon (virtual covid style) in 4:42 minutes around my local trail, finishing with my family and friends by my side.

From that point on my crazy wild dreams of being an ultrarunner during those dark days and diving into the YouTube hole of ultramarathons didn’t seem that crazy anymore, I knew it was possible. I signed up for my first 50km and 3 months later completed it at the Warburton Trail Festival. The greatest experience and the best first ultra I could imagine. I signed up for another 50km and a few 100km that year but unfortunately, covid lockdown hit again and all races were cancelled, so I ran my own 50km ultras around the block… twice.

Since then, I made the move to Perth and have completed 7 ultras covering distances from 50km to 130km. I have completed the full Cape to Cape track and was able to experience Hut2Hut and Ultra Trail Australia this year. I have now completed races and trails that were tougher than I could have ever imagined. Pushing me to new limits, deep into the pain cave, facing my fears and constantly questioning my motives but each one has made me stronger than ever. Each one has shown me how much more potential we have in ourselves and that maybe these big crazy dreams can be conquered.

My depression hasn’t come back but I struggle with my anxiety and recently diagnosed ADHD daily. Running helps me through my everyday life. It gives my brain the clarity to think, be productive and be the best mum I can be. Running isn’t a hobby; it is a necessity for my mental health. Running saved me when I thought no one was coming to save me. It changed my life, and I am so damn grateful for the amazing adventures and opportunities it has taken me on.

I know I am not alone with mental health struggles; we are all in this together and the more we talk about our experiences, the more we learn, understand, and can help others too. Being apart of the running community is like having a second family and I am forever grateful for everyone who has helped me along the way. I plan to dedicate my future career coaching other people to achieve their running dreams and give back to this community that is like no other.

Phoebe and her daughter, Matilda.

Phoebe originally shared her blog on the Fractel Community Hub.