Sam - mental health awareness week

Good morning all, and welcome to day 2 of mental health week. This is Sam and I wanted to share with you a little more of my mental health story since going through the worst of it!

I’ve mentioned a number of times previously how I had a new lease of life after ditching alcohol almost 10 years ago. My dad had a major stroke not long after my “rock bottom” and it confirmed to me just how lucky I was (and still am) to be alive. I had suffered depression, feeling suicidal as a teen when I had been hanging around with some “friends” that controlled everything about my life. I had a terrible relationship with food, often binging until I was sick and from the age of 15 I started using alcohol as a way of escaping. After a year of counselling and even more secret drinking I finally gave up the booze and started to really embrace life.

This led me to creating my list of things to achieve before I turned 30. One of these things was to do something outside of work that pushed me out of my comfort zone a little. At first I thought that this was to join an amateur dramatics society… but after one murder mystery event, I decided it was too much too soon!

After spending 10 months visiting my dad in various hospitals and finally in his nursing home I had the urge to do something that helped people… This was years before becoming a personal trainer - I had a 9-5 job working for an environmental consultancy in which my work didn’t directly have an effect on peoples lives. As a teen, years previously I had visited a Manchester branch of the Samaritans where my “friends” at the time dumped me while they went to the cinema because they were fed up of me being depressed all the time. I remember rolling my eyes at charities like the Samaritans at the time, and despite calling them a in a drunken haze a couple times following my visit, I didn’t really think much about what they stood for and what they did.

Flash forward 10 years and I was filling out an application form to become a listening volunteer in the Swindon & District Samaritans!

As an organisation they are there to listen to people with feelings of distress and despair but are also well set up to care for their co-volunteers. Some of the calls, emails and texts we received could so easily stay with us and so we also needed to offload at the end of a shift! Having come from a place where I had been battling with my own mental health issues I found that supporting people with a variety of problems, firstly, helped my put my own into perspective, but also helped me realise how much I want to be involved in improving the wellbeing of others.

When professional help is not immediately available what do we have? Volunteers in a charity… Colleagues… Friends… Family.

The number one lesson I took away from being a volunteer at the Samaritans is that talking about how we are feeling - even if it’s to a complete stranger – can really help sort out that knotted ball of string in our heads… pulling on one strand of that string can help unravel the ball (of emotion!) opening up the mind more and more.

Being a good Samaritan taught me to be good at active listening. Allowing another person to have the space to open up is so important. Being empathetic when talking to someone who is suffering with their mental health... if they feel like they are in a hole, get in that hole with them - one person’s reality may be difficult for us to imagine if we are looking down - even I find it hard sometimes to step into the shoes of someone that’s maybe suffering addiction or having suicidal thoughts and I've been there!

During my teens I kept many diaries… most of which I haven’t and cannot re-read as it is just too painful to see what I was going through back then (and also have you ever read a teenage diary… it’s exhausting!!) I just know that at the time I felt like I COULDN’T talk to anybody and writing down my every thought and movement helped me for that moment. Now I write with no intention of reading back what I’ve written. I am fortunate enough to know that I can talk to many of my friends when I am feeling low, but writing keeps my thoughts in check!

The point is… that even if some of us are going through/have been through/are supporting somebody going through serious mental health issues – It is so important to know that talking helps. Writing things down helps. Mindfulness helps!

We are so honoured and touched to receive so many of your stories… we’ve had so many that we will summarise some of them over the next couple of days because hopefully… as you will see – everybody is different, but we are all striving for a similar thing – to look out for each other and do the best that we can while we can.

Thank you guys.