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Until my mid-thirties, my experience of mental health issues was constrained to a single episode of work related stress which led to a few weeks off work. In hindsight I probably should have seen that as a warning sign but I continued with the same behaviours until a sequence of stressful life events plus a physical illness conspired to take me from a confident and active person to someone afraid of the simplest task – even being at the supermarket or in a pub would trigger a panic attack.

The panic attacks fed the anxiety, the anxiety fed the depression and I circled downward into a very dark place. I don’t think I’d cried since I was a kid, suddenly I was crying every day. Although luckily I had the support of my family and friends throughout at one point, it wasn’t enough and I was in the care of the community Crisis team. It was a dark and painful time for me and those around me.

As well as medication, for both anxiety and depression, I started a number of self-help strategies. I’d always enjoyed exercise before my illness and I used it for my recovery and, still today, to maintain my mental health. Running was my main tool in the early days when going to the gym was too big a step. One of my mantras at this time was “run, bath, relax”.  The run to effectively burn off  the anxiety and the unhelpful chemicals it produces, the bath to start the process of relaxing and then 30 minutes of either a relaxation CD, or later on, a meditation exercise – also an enormously powerful tool.

It took time but eventually I learned to relax again. By following the run, bath, relax pattern daily my body remembered how to relax and, over a few months, I began to regain enough confidence to visit the gym, go on holiday and ultimately go back to work

Today, eight years later, I’m medication free and have been for five years, I’m back to my old self (minus the negative behaviours) and my new behaviours (read calmness) have made me much more effective in my job. I don’t run any more, a back injury a couple of years ago ended that, but I’ve bought a mountain bike instead and I really enjoy the thrill and the exercise I get from that. I also still go the gym and have recently started playing tennis with my thirteen year old son (who, incidentally, is better than me!). As well as keeping my mental health in balance, exercise also gives me the energy to deal with the demands of work and family life, plus helps me manage a hereditary problem with high blood pressure.

“Exercise wasn’t the one thing that ‘fixed’ me – a number of things did that including meditation, diet and a focus on life outside of work  – but if I had to list the top ten strategies for dealing with a mental health problem, exercise would be very near, or even at, the top.”

Find out more about Get Set to Go by calling James on 01384 442938 or by visiting www.dudleymind.org.uk

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Hi, I am a young (nearly 30!) woman and have struggled with my mental health condition for over 15 years now. When I am at my most unwell I suffer with hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, self-harm, depressive episodes and suicide attempts. Because of this I have spent a lot of time in Acute Psychiatric Hospitals and sometimes in more secure settings to keep me safe. For 10 years I was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia, a diagnosis which, more recently, has been changed to Personality Disorder with Psychosis. But to be honest I don’t care what it’s called I would just like some help!!!

One way I know I can help myself is through sports and physical activity. I have always been a very active person and always loved sports. In terms of my mental health I find sports very beneficial – different sports in different ways. Team sports I am involved in, such as my football, have great social benefits as it has introduced me to many new people. It also gives me a structure and routine where we have regular practice sessions and matches. I also enjoy swimming, walking, running and cycling going as regularly as I am able. I find these activities very relaxing as well as having great physical benefits. They keep me fit and are a great way to cope with stress. I also enjoy more adventurous activities such as bouldering, kayaking and mountain climbing. These activities are a great way to build up my confidence as the sense of achievement in overcoming some of my fears can be immense.

I am currently in hospital and planning to get back involved in my sporting activities as soon as possible! My confidence has taken a big knock and knowing that I CAN achieve my goals in sports is a way to start rebuilding that confidence. It gives me a focus, an aim, a purpose. Also, because my job involves helping adults with learning difficulties to access the gym, I find that it helps my mental health to be working in an area I really enjoy.

I’m not sure what first inspired me to become involved in sports. It has just always been a big part of my life. My dad was in the army and when I was a child he used to take me and my brother on walking holidays, and to climb mountains. I have always been encouraged to develop my sporting abilities but I think I have a driving force inside me that makes me want to try new things, improve my fitness, push myself to the limit. Oh, and I have a competitive streak!!!

Find out more about Get Set to Go by calling James on 01384 442938 or by visiting www.dudleymind.org

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