MY MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY

Ride instructor Emily shares her story for Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s true what they say – hindsight is a wonderful thing! Looking back through my life it’s only now that I can appreciate that for the majority of it I have struggled with my mental health. Over the years this has manifested itself in a variety of ways including depression, anxiety and eating issues.

I was ‘formally’ diagnosed with depression and anxiety during my second year of university when, after a very traumatic break-up with my boyfriend, I kept going back to the doctor complaining about how physically unwell I felt. They ran so many investigative tests but everything physical came back normal. It was only when my doctor (fortunately) started asking questions about my emotional state that I was recommended 10 sessions of therapy and put on medication. Little did I know that this would be the start of a very long, painful – but extremely valuable – journey with my mental health.

In 2015, six months after starting a new role in digital banking, I had to take four weeks off work. I’d reached the point where I just couldn’t cope. The medication I was on was only doing so much – it was keeping me on a level but it wasn’t helping me move forward. Frustrated and confused, I was advised to try a longer course of therapy. Clearly there was more to unpack, understand and discover about myself than I had managed in those 10 sessions way back when. Two years on, I’m still seeing my therapist weekly! No one said there would be a quick fix – and they were right.

It was at a similar time that I really started to make the connection between my physical health and my mental wellbeing. For as long as I can remember I’ve had quite a toxic relationship with my body. I didn’t like the way it looked. I didn’t like the way it felt. I was lethargic, often getting sick and had continual IBS symptoms. I’d lost a lot of weight after my break-up and began to use exercise as a way to punish my body. I felt genuine loathing towards what I would see in the mirror; it just didn’t feel connected to what I carried with me inside.

This is where Psycle comes in, and it has played the biggest role in my journey. I found somewhere that I could just be. Whatever had happened in my day, whatever I was feeling didn’t matter when I got on that bike. For those 45 minutes I felt connected to my body, to music, to movement. For so long I had used exercise as a way to punish myself and I was suddenly allowing myself to fall in love with it again. I knew I wanted to be able to create the space that had been created for me for others. So when the chance to audition to be an instructor came about I just thought – why not? I didn’t get through the group ride that first time. But instead of letting the old perfectionist in me fear failure and give up completely, I dusted myself off, got back in the studio and worked even harder on my fitness and technique.

I soon realised that if I wanted to grow stronger on the bike I couldn’t deprive myself of food anymore. It wasn’t enough to live off of sugar and tea to get through the day. I needed to give my body the fuel. Something switched in my attitude and my relationship with food changed significantly. Yes of course I still have the doubts, and like most people there are moments when I feel insecure. But teaching has given me something bigger than myself to live for and I need to be strong for that.

So what have I taken away with me from my experiences so far?

1 It can happen to anyone

Mental health does not discriminate. It is not choosey. It does not care what you are doing, where you are or who you are. It can impact any single one of us. For such a long time I never felt ‘worthy’ of being depressed. I never felt like anything ‘bad enough’ had happened to me to warrant me feeling this way. I felt like a fraud. Because of this I ignored what my mind and my body were trying to tell me; I put it in a little box at the back of my mind and carried on pushing through. The result – denial, burn-out and an even lower low.

Nobody has the right to tell you how you feel. The experiences that happen to you happen to you and you only. There is no checklist or neat box that you have to fit into to suffer with mental health – it doesn’t work like that! Which moves us nicely on to my second point…

2 It’s messy

I like my life organised. It’s either a or b; yes or no; right or wrong. Grey area? Not in my world. The amount of time I would spend going round and round in circles desperately trying to anticipate the outcome of something, or understand why someone had behaved in a certain way, doesn’t even bear thinking about.

I soon had to accept I couldn’t control everything. Life is complicated, it’s confusing and the road to recovery is definitely not linear. As soon as I started trying things outside of my comfort zone I realised that truly living happens in the in-between bits. It’s not always about racing to the finish.

3 It is genuinely okay not to be okay

‘Nobody wants to be friends with someone who is sad all the time’. This one sentence. This one, insignificant, throwaway sentence somehow managed to lodge itself inside my brain and stay there unknowingly for about 15 years. And so guess what? I created this version of myself that was always happy, always energetic and always always up for a laugh. I never wanted to burden anyone or bring the mood down. I love making people feel good. I love creating connections and bringing people together. But what I forgot about was what made me feel good. What did I want? Who was there to help me when I needed it?

I am learning to accept that in order to truly love myself and let myself be seen by others I have to embrace all the different parts of me. This includes the down days, the struggles, as well as the bright light and energy.

So where does this story end? I don’t think it does! I’m constantly growing, I’m constantly learning and I’m excited for what’s to come. Life will bring with it what it will, I’m better prepared to deal with it now and instead of fearing the unknown I’m trying to embrace it. Plus it helps that I now have an entire, sweaty, kind and powerful family behind me all the way! For that, I am eternally grateful.

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