Nine years ago, 32-year-old Whangārei woman Arna-Lise Harris could never have imagined she would be running in the Kerikeri half-marathon tomorrow.
She'd just given birth to her eldest child Lily and struggled to bond with her – often feeling angry and resentful.
At the time, she had no idea that these were signs of depression, and the beginning of a nine year journey with an illness that caused her so much anxiety that she was regularly in a state of panic.
She's running in tomorrow's event to raise awareness about post-natal depression and Mothers' Helpers, a charitable trust that provides support to mothers at risk of or suffering from post-natal depression.
"Anxiety made me irritable, irrational and took away my confidence in life and areas I once thrived in. I couldn't sleep - in the quiet of the night my heart would race and my mind would work overtime on the cares of the day. I couldn't silence my thoughts. I went from being an outgoing extrovert to an introvert, wanting to hide and stay home," Arna-Lise said of her post-natal depression.
Finally, after several years, along with the birth of two more babies, Arna-Lise went to the doctor, saying "I don't know what is wrong with me, but whatever it is, it is ruining my life."
The doctor identified post-natal depression and Arna-Lise was given five free counselling sessions but it wasn't enough, and two years later, Arna-Lise's thoughts became dark and suicidal.
"[I wondered if] life was some lacklustre existence and then we die? Would I ever feel happy again?"
Going back to the doctor and being prescribed medication was a turning point for Arna-Lise, but by this time she was 104kg.
"Everything was so hard ... I felt so broken, I wanted food to be my friend ... Being overweight affected my self-esteem hugely - which affected my head space. I really wanted to live a life free from depression and anxiety, but also, if possible, to do so without having to be on medication for the rest of my life."
Arna-Lise set herself a goal weight of 70kg. Initially, her exercise goal was just to move her body/walk 3-5 times per week: "I needed to regain my physical strength [and] I kept injuring myself because of my size and having very weak muscles."
Eventually, Arna-Lise felt like she wanted to run. Initially, she could only run 50 to 100 metres but eventually it became 5km without stopping.
"I had a group of fit friends who were training to do the Kerikeri half marathon, and they applied a bit of friendly pressure - daring me that if I could run 5km I could definitely do the half marathon - so I just decided to have a go!"
Tomorrow's event marks a significant milestone for Arna-Lise and triumph over her battle with depression, but this is not the only reason for her entering the half-marathon.
"Looking back on that angry mum, spending long nights at home dealing with premmie babies, I thought I was a monster and I wasn't cut out to have children. I now realise that I was experiencing PTSD, severe depression and anxiety and I didn't know."
She is using the race to raise awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety and fundraise for Mothers Helpers. To support Arna-Lise in her fundraising efforts go to her Givealittle page.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• The Word
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.