Fitness and Mental Health
Here’s how improvements to my mental health and fitness have combined to help me to become a better version of myself. Twenty-three years ago I started my first proper job after leaving school. I was full of excitement and eagerness for my future as I had found something that I had a real passion for. All was well for 9 months: I attended lots of workshops, learned heaps, and had lots of fun in the process but then one fateful day in February my life suddenly changed completely. I SUFFERED AN ACCIDENT THAT WOULD FOREVER CHANGE THE COURSE OF MY LIFE. I was 16 when I sustained a spinal injury at C5/6. At that moment at the time of the accident, all I could think was, “I cannot move my legs,” “Oh God oh God what else has gone?” I spent 2 weeks in a Bristol hospital having surgery and lots of tests to determine the extent of the injuries. (Though I’m not sure falling asleep in an MRI scanner was part of the deal). Following this, my long road to recovery began….. Moving forward to a specialist spinal unit for rehabilitation, the only way to describe it is that it is a self-contained community outside the ‘normal’ remit of the NHS. Don’t get me wrong they did wonders for my rehab in the 12months that I was there but on the ‘low days’ the professionals sadly just couldn’t understand the devastating impact such an injury was having on my ‘whole being.’ It felt like I was hitting my head against the wall trying to get my feelings and frustrations out. Where do you turn to in these circumstances? Who is actually there to help? At first, it was fellow patients. We were all in the same boat fighting our own battles and each and every one of us had a ‘variable’ on the same theme of questions, fears, anxieties, and what would life be like on the outside. What does the future hold for us? It felt good to have a sounding board and reassuring for some of us putting fears to rest. If I knew then what I know now I would tell my younger self it “DOES’ get better. Through the highs and lows of that year, I found talking to the other patients helped heaps. Discussing things that are concerning you helps to relieve the pressure. Sometimes there was ‘stuff’ (little doubts) in your mind that just eat away at you. When the time came to being discharged home to rebuild my life, it all changed again. Living in my parent’s dining room whilst awaiting adaptations to be completed, not being able to move about, I eventually retreated in on myself and just found it easier to stay in bed. This lead to me getting depressed. Not having any freedom, no one to talk to who understood my distress. Instagram and Facebook and ‘the internet freeway’ had yet to be invented. Admittedly after a few months of being at home and living in my annex, eating some good home-cooked food (instead of hospital stodge), things started to look up a little, like they were getting better but inside I was still screaming. I wasn’t adapting to my new life looking up from my wheelchair. Living in Devon the transport system wasn’t geared up for wheelchairs, living on a hill didn’t help either. I was most definitely stuck! Finally getting an adapted car gave me some freedom to explore the world beyond the walls of my home. Having carers helped bring a bit of ‘sparkle ‘back into my new world, but something was missing…a career… a purpose to move forward. For the first 4 years of being at home, there were lots of ups and downs, there was one dark moment where I did try to overdose as I couldn’t carry on any longer. I was fed up with not having any freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, just being able to go out when I wanted. I missed the job that I loved so very much and all of the people that I worked with. It wasn’t long after this event that one of my carers dragged me (well wheeled me) to a local gym. It was then that I met Colin, an ex-Royal Marine who told it as it was and definitely didn’t take any hostages. With his guidance and committed time, he managed to build me up and demonstrated that lots of things were possible. He took an inward person and made him see that life can get better. Having that one person who is not involved in your day-to-day life to talk to, even if it’s just random stuff helped immensely, plus I was getting fit! After using the gym for a year, I felt more comfortable with ‘my lot.’ Life was starting to look better, I had enrolled in a few courses to try to find a place where I fitted and could do well. I’ve done electrical engineering, garden design, nutrition, CAD work got myself some letters after my name but to this day there is always that little voice that pops up from time to time. The main constant in my life has been the gym. It helped me relieve myself of so much stress. I had a little community where most people treated me like a normal person. I felt completely at ease; the anxieties passed away. Having the focus to complete ‘the reps’ and move on to what was next… FITNESS HAS BEEN SUCH A GOOD THING FOR ME THAT HAS HELPED ME TO STAY FOCUSED It is surprising how many people ‘suffer in silence in the fitness world but use it as a way to focus. If you see someone new or looking a little flustered a simple ‘hello’ goes a long way. As the years have passed I’ve had many ups and downs with health, relationships, and feeling comfortable in my own skin. I finally felt comfortable approaching a counselor some 10 years post my accident to address a few anxieties. One suggestion that was offered was to write things down and then set it alight to assist with unburdening myself. (I’m not saying it helps for everyone but it did for me). As I hit my mid-30s I fancied a new challenge, so I have started doing CrossFit which for me is a whole new way to train and focus. The one thing I noticed on entering the crossfire box was instantly feeling like I was part of the family, the enthusiasm to help each other reach the end of the WOD is quite remarkable and very humbling. The whole ‘buzz’ in the box and the people you meet that are all united in the betterment of themselves. The joking around and the acceptance regardless of your abilities is overwhelming to me. I’m a complete newbie but I’m always made to feel very welcome by all (including the box dog ‘Muzzy’). Is there a link between CrossFit and happiness? If you fancy giving it a go here are many great CrossFit boxes in the UK! Dip your toe in. The one thing that has helped me most of all was finding my soulmate. She has stood by my side for the last 12 years as my rock. Her continued compassion and love have helped me to become v a better version myself. As I’ll wrap this up, I’ll say that fitness and gyms have helped me so much in the last 21 years post my accident. The environment, the people, and the friends that you make all contribute to me being a happier me. So many of my anxieties have dissipated and my life feels fulfilled. If you have a problem, I urge you talk about it. There are so many avenues out there to help you. Don’t suffer in silence.