Today we get to hear from Jeni Rees-Jenkins.
More than a few folk have recommended I talk to Jeni and I thought I should listen. Despite knowing this amazing human a little through the running crew in Scotland – I think we met at the Jedburgh Ultra back in 2015 – I didn’t know much of her backstory.
My first impression in Jedburgh? A woman fuelled by enthusiasm for the outdoors and a sweet fascination in other people and our lives and running exploits. I remember Jeni’s intrigue about the West Highland Way and other races as she hadn’t been running ultras for long. An impression that doesn’t somehow chime with the unhelpful stereotype of a person who struggles with depression, or any mental health condition for that matter. Yet another reminder for me not to judge anyone on face value.
From a tiny village in the north of Scotland, Kintore, Jeni grew up outdoors, playing in forests and dens until dark every day. At school, she struggled hard for years, finding inactive classroom learning challenging and falling behind in tests and exams. Like many young people, she developed the signs of depression and anxiety in her youth and began self-harming – but at that time mental health issues in children were barely recognised.
At university, things reached a critical head and Jeni fell deeper into cycles of depression, anxiety, insomnia and anger. She finally accessed the help and therapy she needed.
Despite suffering with bouts of depression on and off throughout the years, she has been through somewhat of a transformation in lifestyle and making headway with her mental wellbeing. Becoming a teacher, taking up running, running a LOT, talking truthfully, mindfulness and experiencing a third world country are all part of her story. She has two wonderful children and a husband, managing to balance family life with other commitments as an ambassador for Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), leader for the Guides and Duke of Edinburgh leader, as well as her teaching work. If that’s not enough, Jeni ran over 5,000km in 2016 to raise £5K for MND Scotland – enduring a year of constant training, racing and adventures in the hills.
I can’t think of anyone better to be a coach and support for young people, especially girls – Jeni speaks from direct experience of struggling and not fitting in, and is a shining example of how anyone can get through this to find what is right for them. In fact, the difficulties in her past have helped her to prove to others that intense challenge can be a positive, fuelling a transition into a purposeful life. That's not to say that everything is 'fixed' and there is no struggle in Jeni's life though, as you'll hear.
We get into the grit of what depression has been like for Jeni, her younger years growing up in a rural community, breaking down and seeking help at university, discovering running and the role of teaching in her life. We could have continued for hours and we definitely need to plan a second instalment to cover more good stuff.
Enjoy it, and if you do show us some Friday love by sharing online! Happy weekend folks.