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FROM PANIC ATTACKS, AGORAPHOBIA AND ANXIETY TO RUNNING FOR MIND IN LONDON

In this post, I’m going to share a concise version of my mental health story to illustrate how it is possible to achieve things which you can’t even imagine when you’re going through the excruciating lows of your mental health conditions.

Let’s first rewind 10 years to 29th May 2007. I’m 15 years old and, although I… Continue readingIn this post, I’m going to share a concise version of my mental health story to illustrate how it is possible to achieve things which you can’t even imagine when you’re going through the excruciating lows of your mental health conditions.

Let’s first rewind 10 years to 29th May 2007. I’m 15 years old and, although I don’t know it yet, mental health conditions including panic attacks, agoraphobia, anxiety and depression are going to have a massive impact on my life.

At that time, I had no real concept of mental health other than the stigmatised version which is prevalent in society. So when I began having panic attacks I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

Panic attacks made me feel detached from myself and reality. They made me feel like I was going completely mad; like I was inevitably going to be put in to a mental health facility and locked away forever.

So, at that time, with my lack of understanding and these scary thoughts in mind, it is no wonder that I developed agoraphobia because of my panic attacks.

The thought of having a panic attack terrified me. The thought of having a panic attack in a public place absolutely terrified me. Therefore, my strategy for coping was to try and stay at home for as much time as I could. That way, if I had another panic, lost control and went mad at least I’d be on my own and nobody would judge me.

I avoided family events, making plans with friends and even situations as simple to others as going for a short walk with my family.

It wasn’t just that I avoided these things though, I have cried uncontrollably and begged my family not to make me go out with them before because of how scared I was.

Even though I was able to overcome my panic attacks and agoraphobia over 5 years ago now, I have experienced several recurring bouts of severe anxiety and depression since then.

The most recent of these bouts was between Autumn 2015 and Spring 2016. My anxiety completely overtook me and caused me to endlessly obsess over thoughts and questions which have no answer. It was exhausting and debilitating.

During this period, like each of the several times I’ve experienced severe anxiety, I became depressed due to my conditions I withdrew myself from the world. If not always physically, then certainly mentally.

In my mind, the way in which I withdraw myself during times in which I’m going through anxiety and depression is different from the agoraphobia which I used to experience.

I find that it is not a fear in the same way as my agoraphobia was but ultimately it has the same consequence. I become isolated and just going out to do daily tasks like go to work or go shopping are suddenly mountains to climb.

Even if I’m able to achieve something in this state. It will have been a constant struggle and I will not have been able to enjoy it.

It is difficult to explain such complex conditions and emotions in a blog post and ultimately I don’t think I can ever get across the amount of fear, hurt and helplessness that I’ve experienced because of my mental health.

Hopefully though I’ve got across just how isolated I’ve been at several points during the last decade and how consigned I was to the fact that I’d always be like that.

This should put into sharp focus for you how unbelievably massive and farfetched it would’ve seemed for me, even 18 months ago, to go to central London, take part in an event with around 15,000 people and actually enjoy the entire experience!

On top of that, in order to even start my fundraising I had to actually tell people about my conditions and be open about my mental health!

I would never ever have felt able to do any of that a few years ago. I would have been far too scared of what people would think of me to speak out.

Regardless of that, I wouldn’t have been able to go to an event like the Vitality London 10k without having to constantly reassure myself in my head that I would be okay; if I was even able to go at all.

Yet, here I am in a position where over the last year or so I finally can do what I want to do.

I now want to tell everyone about my mental health conditions to eliminate stigma and help others.

I now enjoy and revel in doing things and living life fully because after years and years of trying I have learnt to manage my conditions positively and I very rarely experience anxious thoughts anymore.

I feel motivated and passionate, I want to achieve things in my life and I want to make a difference to others because I know how tough mental health can be.

Fundraising, blogging, YouTube, volunteering and campaigning all give me a platform to try and make that difference.

Bizarrely, and unbelievably to the 15 year old me, I’m happy that mental health is still a big part of my life because it is in such a positive way now!

As I’ve said before, I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m invincible to mental health conditions now. I still take anti-depressants and I know there is a chance that my mental health could become worse again in the future.

However, I know that I am so well equipped to manage my mental health now that I would overcome the tough times again. Besides, I know now that it is nothing to be ashamed of to not be okay and that acceptance that I, like everyone else, am human and vulnerable to it means I feel at peace with it all.

Whatever happens to me over the rest of my lifetime will happen. However, I know now from personal experience that it is possible to go from extreme lows to massive highs and achieve things which I never thought I could.

That inspires me and I hope it inspires you too.

Rob

Website: https://robtalksblog.wordpress.com/

My experience with Mind

When I first came to Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, I had lost all my confidence and found it hard to talk to people. I was suffering with severe depression and had been under the care of my local crisis intervention team at Roseberry park. I was introduced to the connect recovery college and took part in a few of the… Continue readingWhen I first came to Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, I had lost all my confidence and found it hard to talk to people. I was suffering with severe depression and had been under the care of my local crisis intervention team at Roseberry park. I was introduced to the connect recovery college and took part in a few of the courses. This really helped and soon I found my confidence starting to return. Meeting other people on the courses who also had their own personnel experiences with mental health issues and realising I wasn’t alone was a massive help to me.

After around two years my confidence had returned and I enrolled with the open university and started to study for my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and I also decided that I wanted to give something back to Mind, and the only thing I could give was my time, so I became a volunteer.

Helping other people and listening to others talk about their own experiences, also helped me in my own recovery. Getting out of the house more often and going to different places to co-facilitate on connect recovery courses has been great for my own wellbeing.

Now, after 4 years as both a service user and a volunteer, the time has come for me to move on. My confidence is back and I now feel like I have the tools to be able to manage when things start to go bad. I am now about to start a new job for the first time in 4 years and I am also waiting to start my third year at university, two things I could not have imagined when I first walked through the doors of Mind. I cannot thank the staff, volunteers and others I have met along the way enough. The service at Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind is second to none and I would not hesitate to point someone in the direction of Mind if they need that help.

Keep up the excellent work and my many, many thanks,

Why I decided to volunteer

For those of you who may not be aware, June 1st-7th is National Volunteers' Week in the UK.

This is an event set up specifically with the aim of celebrating the achievements of those who volunteer, raising the profiles of the organisations who need volunteers, and encouraging those who have never volunteered before to… Continue readingFor those of you who may not be aware, June 1st-7th is National Volunteers' Week in the UK.

This is an event set up specifically with the aim of celebrating the achievements of those who volunteer, raising the profiles of the organisations who need volunteers, and encouraging those who have never volunteered before to give it a try.

Volunteering is something I had always wanted to do, but with school, college, and then university taking up so much time- not to mention my anxiety disorder making new experiences incredibly frightening for me- I always avoided the chance to get involved.

However, after finishing my Master's degree I found I had a lot of free time. After admitting that my anxiety made it difficult for me to try new things, Mind was suggested. Being somebody who suffers from mental illness, I'd obviously heard of it, and I knew of its reputation as a great place for support. So, I bit the bullet, researched opportunities, and soon enquired about joining their anti-stigma group.

As the title suggests, this is a group with my local Mind branch that meets regularly to discuss and implement ways of reducing the stigma around mental health. This includes encouraging more people to open up, reaching out to employers, and getting involved with local and nationwide events relating to mental illness.

I was terrified before attending my first meeting. Would I have to speak? What if I embarrassed myself by saying something stupid? How would I manage in a room full of people I'd never met before? Thankfully there was nothing to worry about. Not only was everybody welcoming, but there was no pressure to talk if you were too nervous to do so. It was a great experience, and one of the few things I do that I actually look forward to, instead of dread for days beforehand.

So, now I'm a volunteer, here is why I love volunteering, and some tips so you can get involved too!

1. Look into organisations that relate to things you care about. Obviously every charity works towards a worthwhile cause, but I find that I'm much more invested when what I'm working on relates to my own experiences. This means I can generate ideas based on things I've actually gone through myself, and I can connect with the other volunteers much easier because we all understand what it's like to suffer from mental illness. I've already met some great people, all inspiring in their own ways, who suffer from similar things, and so are easier to talk to about certain topics.

2. Volunteering is a great way to build up your own confidence and self-esteem. There are so many chances to get involved, and you can do as much or as little as you want. When I first got involved I promised myself that I would force myself out of my comfort zone, and say yes to things I would normally shy away from. Just a couple of weeks ago I sat with the group while being filmed by Tyne Tees News, and a few days ago I sat (on my own!) in front of a camera and talked about why I enjoy volunteering so much.

3. Opportunities like those in the above point are great to put on your CV and applications! It shows that you care about causes and issues, and that you can get involved with things of your own volition, and not just because of the paycheck at the end of the month. It can boost your career, and give you some fantastic skills depending on the opportunities available. There are often chances to gain extra qualifications and certifications, which can also enhance your CV and really make you stand out from the crowd.

4. You meet fantastic people. If you volunteer for something that relates to your own experience, you'll soon have validation of your feelings, because you'll be surrounded by those who have gone through the same thing.

5. There is no pressure. Obviously it's wonderful if you can be available for everything, but this isn't always possible. There is complete understanding that sometimes things come up, and that's okay!

6. You can make a difference. Stigma is still a really significant issue in the conversations around mental health, and to know that we're helping to break down those walls, and correct any misconceptions that people have about speaking out, is a fantastic feeling. No matter which charity or organisation you choose, you will always be making a difference to somebody!

So if you have some spare time now that summer is finally getting underway, take some time to research the groups and organisations in your local area. They're always looking for more volunteers, and you'll have a fantastic time while gaining invaluable experience.

Give it a try!

Website: https://thenorthernwriter.com/

Running For My Life

Mental Health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only 3 years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children.… Continue readingMental Health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only 3 years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children. Alongside this, my Mam has suffered from a very severe level of depression for much of my life. She has only really started to come out the other side over the last 10 years, although as anyone who knows about mental ill health or who suffers themselves, it is always a burden you will carry.

My own experiences started officially after the birth of my daughter when I was 19 years old. To be fair, they probably started a lot earlier but there was no space in my head to entertain the thought and mental health was simply not discussed when I was young. My best friend didn't even know how bad my home life was. It was like you became a leper if you came from a broken home as it was, you just didn't add to these issues by admitting your parents were clearly ill. Being a victim of bullying for being poor was enough, I could not have added my family life situation to the mix.

After an initial bout of severe depression which saw me signed off and put on medication about 10 year ago, after the death of my Nana, I have been able to pretty much self manage since. Or so I thought. Back in March 2017 I realised I had hit complete rock bottom. It was a rainy day and I was coming back from taking my daughter to her Dads. The roads were slippy and I skidded on some surface water. I took my hands off the wheel, hoping I would crash. If it wasn't for me spotting a photo of my son in the corner of my windscreen and snapping to my senses, well you know what the result would have been. And I just simply did not care. That photo saved my life! First thing Monday morning I called my Doctor and I have been off work, put on medication again which I fully intend to stick to and I am seeing a counsellor.

I truly believe that if it wasn't for me losing over 2 stone in weight and discovering a true love for running and fitness in general my story could be currently very different. Running keeps me even. If I am upset, angry, frustrated or so low I cant think straight, I lace up my bright pink Nikes, stick in my ear phones, put my music on loud, and I run. I never plan a route. I never plan a particular distance. I just go, wherever my feet take me. My mind becomes deliciously blank, The white noise in my head disappears. I am free. I am not a Mam, a wife, a sufferer of depression, I am Claire. That feeling that comes when you finish is just so hard to describe. You feel alive. The sweat, your heart beating out your chest, your lungs on fire, it is just amazing. Add to this, smashing a Personal Best, well for that moment, any moments of suffering feel a million memories away!

After a year of exercising and becoming the fittest I have ever been in my life, I decided I wanted to make it count. I wanted to give back. I started by completing Run Every Day January (clue is in the name) and raised over £300 for national Mind. It gave me such a sense of achievement and purpose, that I was donating for a cause so close to my heart and raising awareness, both of the charity itself and of mental health. It is such a taboo subject, still to this day, although situations are improving. I want to be part of the driving force that makes talking about your mental issues as common as talking about the flu! From this I decided I wanted to do more, but for my local Mind - Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. Charity really does begin at home. Teesside is my adopted home, it is where I have had some of my toughest times in adult life but where I have learnt a lot and where I have met some of the most important people. With this in mind (no pun intended) I decided to sign up for my first professional race - Bamburgh 10km, in June 2017. I am so excited but nervous. I have also decided to train for the London Marathon in the hope I get a place in 2018. Fundraising again for the lovely team at Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. As part of this training I will be completing the Bamburgh Half Marathon in October. A massive feat for someone that this time last year could only run for 20 minutes!

My next steps - to complete these running challenges and raise as much money as possible in support and awareness of mental health. To add many more to my belt over the years. To continue with my mental health and fitness blog (redballoons2017.wordpress.com) and to continue to grow, learn and become part of the amazing volunteering team at Mind. I will also be a qualified Personal Trainer come July.

With all the above in place I know my recovery is imminent. I will never be completely cured, but knowing I can give back to those suffering and in their won dark place will mean I have turned my demons into angels. It will make my own dark days have more of a rose coloured tint to them.

Website: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/CLAIRE-COULTHARD2?utm_id=121

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