This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and according to the UK Mental Health Foundation, this year’s focus is on stress:
“Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this. By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.”
One of the biggest issues surrounding mental health is overcoming the stigma attached to it. By generating and fostering open conversation, we promote understanding and help to reduce the stigma as well as promote awareness. Sharing our experiences is an essential first step towards lasting change.
Being Mentally Connected
I cannot recall knowing anyone in my life that has not experienced struggles with their mental health at some point. People I want to trust in my life are those that are open with their struggles. By sharing my mental health experiences and where they have brought me, I demonstrate my commitment to creating an open forum for conversation, acceptance and understanding.
“Daring Greatly” for Mental Health Awareness Week – My Story
For as long as I can remember I have experienced anxiety, particularly as a teenager. I drank a lot and worried about things I had no control over. I sought help from doctors who prescribed me beta-blockers. I felt lost with no clear direction or purpose in life.
In my early 20’s, I had a boyfriend who gave me a sense of purpose. He coped with his struggles through running, I learned the same from him. I loved running; it gave me direction and goals to work towards. He was also violent and controlling and as a result I learned how to be disciplined.
Upon realising that he was not the person he liked to perceive himself as, I ended the relationship. It took a lot to get this far and the realisation was quite terrifying to me, more so than the violence itself. He had conditioned me to accept his bad behaviour, which also made me feel alive. Life was not boring with him.
I was left with post traumatic stress disorder. For many years after the relationship ended I had to get out of the house as soon as I woke. I didn’t feel safe at home though I lived on my own. I would go for a run or swim and was very productive with my day. I loved the headspace running gave me; routine was the biggest comfort I had, I was disciplined with training and I won a marathon.
Running was the nearest thing I felt to being acknowledged and recognised, yet I still felt unfulfilled. Running became a coping strategy and I soon exhausted it. It became an addiction and a strategy to isolate myself from people. I started getting fractures from running… lots of them. The pain they caused was so immense that, at times, I could not walk. It was terrifying not being able to run and I was jealous of others that could.
The Journey to Healing
I was investigated by every department of the hospital with no resolution. I went for counselling so I could run again. Through counselling I learned to acknowledge my emotions and over two years I grew enough for a lifetime. I discovered what I was running from and accepted that running was not worth the trauma it caused me so I began to associate with other activities that were nourishing to my body such as weight training and I grew to love cycling, rather than seeing it as an alternative to running.
At this time, I was being investigated for cancer and knew the right thing to do was to manage my stress, take ownership of my emotions and be mindful of what my body was communicating to me. I put my efforts into listening to stress signals in my body and acting compassionately towards myself. The abnormal blood cells began to return to normal. I did not continue with stressful hospital visits and I gave up my stressful job as a teacher. I pursued a career as a personal trainer and never looked back. Only now I see this may have been considered very controversial or unconventional to modern society, but it felt right for my wellbeing.
Whilst this was happening my father’s mental health deteriorated. I saw a lot of the distress and anxiety in him that I felt as a teenager. Ultimately, he ended his life traumatically through suicide. It was actually a very relieving time for me after his death. I respected his choice, I felt relaxed that his suffering was over and justified in being open with my emotions. I made a commitment to myself to be open. I continually explore who I can trust and be open with and I work to create a non-judgmental environment for people to be open with me too.
I still have a little frustration that I can’t run without fear of a fracture, but I’m grateful for the strength I have acquired and I’m happy to share my experience and the health benefits of running with others. I now challenge myself through cycling, which shows no signs of being harmful to my body. I am always trying to get stronger with weights to build resilience. My journey has brought me to a grounded place of peace and safety in Mallorca where I am physically and mentally connecting with people who have patience and compassion for themselves every day.
Moral of the Story
I encourage everyone to be open and honest about their struggles for it’s only with increased awareness that we can be present in supporting each other in our journeys.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” –Brené Brown
Starting now with Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s journey together…
Written by Elspeth Storrar
About the author
Elspeth Storrar or ‘Coach Elspeth’, Personal Trainer and keen cyclist, relocated to Mallorca from London six months ago after falling in love with the island and what it has to offer those with a passion for fitness and cycling. She is committed to helping her clients achieve their goals through strength training and nutrition.
To find out more about Elspeth visit www.coachelspeth.com or follow her journey on Instagram @coachelspeth