It was exactly a year ago when I came back from a 3-hour bike ride to tell my family to their surprise that I was going to the doctors because I had finally accepted that I was ill. I was signed off within 5 mins of a phone call and my journey from the bottom of the dark valley I’d fallen into had begun. It’s been a long way back.
On the first morning of not working, I wrote down how I felt. Phrases like “permanently on edge”, “feel detached from everything” and “overwhelmed” were there. At the start of the second day I had a panic attack because I did not know how I was going to fill the next hour of being awake, never mind the whole day. In the end I went for a long bike ride down to the Sussex coast for an ice cream. At least I had a temporary sense of purpose. I was no longer working – and I had so much to do, things I thought that only I could do – and my family were going about their day.
Temporarily I felt better, but on the third day I filled in a Personal Health Questionnaire and scored 22/27 and a General Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire and scored 20/21 so there was a lot to do. In the early stages I started taking medication and began psychotherapy to level out and start to feel better. I was signed off work for a month and then returned to work – I was the CEO of the British Athletes Commission (BAC) at the time, where I offered advice support and guidance to lots of high performance Olympic and Paralympic athletes on matters ranging from deselection to safeguarding, harassment and discrimination. My excellent psychotherapist – Beverly Nolan of www.bncounselling.co.uk – told me I had suffered 5 years of vicarious trauma. I was burnt out and trying to pour from an empty jug when there was nothing left.
I knew my time was done, I could not put my family through more pain and I needed to get properly well and do something new. So, I left the BAC at the end of July, which was another difficult time because I was passionate about what I did, and I felt I had let the entire 1500 membership down. I was, though, humbled by the many kind words that people said to me when word got out; Olympians, Paralympians, senior sports administrators people who I admired and who I looked up to, recognising what I had done. My self-esteem was on the floor, so I didn’t recognise the person they were talking about, but it helped.
My recovery strategy, that has turned into my relapse prevention strategy, has involved a combination of low level meds, ongoing but irregular psychotherapy, my family and some very close friends plus the arrival of my new best friend, Fred (below)
The “weather forecast” in my head a year ago was dark clouds and persistent fog – for the foreseeable future. Today it’s sunny with intermittent patchy cloud.
As part of my strategy, I have set up a company DOCIAsport (www.dociasport.co.uk) and one of my drivers for the business is to improve mental health across sport – coaches, officials and administrators, as well as athletes. I do this by sharing my own story (“A dogs’ tale”) to individuals and groups with the intention of either preventing them from falling into the dark valley I did or to make them realise they too need to reach out – and can – it need not be so lonely. As a MHFA England qualified mental health first aider I now feel more able to offer that support and guidance.
In my recovery I was introduced to (a) Moodbeam, ( www.moodbeam.co.uk ) a tool that allows you to log your moods on the go. It’s a wearable device and has been a great help to me, as have its founders’ friendship and support. I am delighted to be a Moodbeam Ambassador and am excited about the future ahead.
The jug is no longer empty, but at least half full. I’m just about to take Fred for a walk to tell him about this blog. Everyone needs a Fred.
Take and give care.