“I won’t ever let my diagnoses define me, it’s just part of me and I’ll run until I can’t anymore”: Woman with spinal condition in mental health charity fundraiser
Danielle, a 27-year-old Animal Keeper from Beverley in East Yorkshire, will be running the Royal Parks Half Marathon despite being diagnosed with double curvature of the spine, a reversed curve in her neck and Lumbar Scoliosis.
Danielle will be raising money for mental health charity, Mind, following mental health problems which culminated in a suicide attempt in 2016.
Growing up, Danielle endured excruciating back pain for years and could see that her neck was different to other people’s. However, she was only diagnosed with double curvature of the spine in 2016 and in the same year was also diagnosed with Lumbar Scoliosis and a reversed curve in her neck.
Danielle explains: “It wasn’t until I went to a chiropractor that I finally got the X-rays and from there I was able to take these to a doctor. Before this, I had been written off. I think predominantly because I was so young, people may have not believed me when I expressed how much pain I was in.”
Danielle’s spinal conditions affect every part of her body, with the pain varying day-to-day: “I’m always in pain, just some days are more bearable. Sometimes the pain can be so agonising that by the end of the day, I’m simply too exhausted to even eat. The hardest part for me is breathing; living with a reversed curve means my spine curves inwards, making even the simplest task of breathing very difficult.”
On the surface, Danielle seemed incredibly happy growing up - she would go out every weekend with her friends, get dressed-up and would wear a “fake smile all night”. Although internally she was deeply suffering and would self-harm throughout her teenage years.
“As far as everyone knew, I was happy, but inside I was struggling. I never told anyone how I felt as I was worried people would think I wanted attention or wouldn’t take me seriously.”
In June 2016, a culmination of the mental pain, combined with her physical back pain, in addition to her younger brother being diagnosed with severe autism, led Danielle to attempt suicide by overdosing.
She explains, “I didn’t want to die, but I honestly felt like I had no other option. I am lucky and thankful every day that I survived my suicide attempt.”
Her experience has inspired her to raise money for Mind: “After my suicide attempt, I tried really hard to get the care I needed and reached out to Mind. This initially started over email before I gained more confidence to attend group talks at my local Mind.”
She continues, “Without Mind I don’t believe I would be here today. It’s charities like Mind that have helped reduce the stigma around mental health and can provide support to those who are struggling.”
Danielle has been free of self-harm for over three years: “I am very lucky to have a supportive family, they encourage me to be the best version of myself. My mum is truly fantastic, helping me through my mental health recovery and through my spinal diagnoses. My partner Stuart is also amazing and looks after me without ever complaining.”
Despite doctors frequently telling Danielle how surprised they are that she is able to run with the curves in her spine, running has played a large role in her recovery.
“I first joined an amazing running club, Fitmums and Friends, when I was about 18. Before this, I couldn’t even run a mile, I didn’t have correct shoes or even own a sports bra! But every week I still went and gave it my all, eventually building my confidence and mileage up thanks to the support of club coordinator Duncan and the rest of the team.”
Now an avid runner, Danielle has participated in 17 half marathons and uses running as a great tool to help clear her mind. She’ll be raising money for Mind by participating in the Royal Parks Half Marathon on 10th October 2021.
Training has been going well for Danielle, she states, “I’m pleased with my training so far. I’m currently aiming for a minimum of four runs a week, ideally five, but I need to be sensible and always give my body a rest with my condition.”
“I’m so glad we were able to continue with outdoor exercise throughout the lockdown. It gave me an excuse to get out the house for fresh air. It gives me the chance to clear my mind and I always feel so much better after a run.”
Danielle has weekly physio for her back, shoulders and neck, as her muscles are overworked from the condition. Even with the continuous pain she explains: “I won’t ever let my diagnoses’ define me, it’s just part of me and I’ll run until I can’t anymore.”
To donate to Danielle’s cause, go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dannii-runs