There are so many different aspects of my life to share with you, and when I was considering what to delve into this month I decided to focus on mental health which seemed pretty apt as last week was ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. I had a busy week speaking at both face to face events and virtual events, sharing the journey I have been on.
This year, I published my second book ‘The Bigger Picture’. I decided to name it this for a number of reasons, but one was because of the mental struggles that often no one sees. Behind smiles there is often a story.
Paralysis has a huge affect on you physically but consequently, this can have a massive impact on your mental health. It is hard not to slip into a dark place when it feels like you have lost so much.
To give you an idea of what it was like for me following the accident that left me paralysed from the chest down- here is an extract from my autobiography:
Chapter 1 – Shattered Pieces
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life went as we planned we set goals, we have dreams and then we achieve them. Sometimes the unimaginable happens and your whole world is turned upside down.
Slowly and reluctantly, I opened my eyes hoping I had just had the worst nightmare, then my heart would sink, every single morning, as I saw the hefty black wheelchair parked next to my bed. This was real. This was my new life.
I hated everything about this journey I was on. I had absolutely nothing to look forward to, in fact anything and everything I longed to do was impossible.
I was now disabled, and I felt it from head to toe.
I suppose I could get up, after all it is 10:00 am. Not many weeks ago, I was up early every day to look after my horses. Things were different now though; the later I slither along my slide board into the wheelchair, the shorter the day I have to endure, and the sooner I am fast asleep dreaming of my old life the better. The good times just keep trawling through my head, which is tormenting me.
Besides, what did I have to get up for? To sit in the chair, do some rehab (but I was now eight months post injury so any recovery was unlikely). I have no goals and quite honestly I am questioning if life is even worth living. If I had bashed that tree a little harder, I would not be suffering like this.
I force myself to get up and have breakfast. I don’t really deserve to eat, after all I hardly move. I am scared of being fat as well as paralysed. Is that what is going to happen to me? I am at least a stone heavier already. How will I manage to get out of bed if I have to lift even more weight? It is a struggle now.
My boyfriend is visiting later. Perhaps he will cheer me up. Don’t be stupid, that won’t happen as deep down I know where he wants to be and it certainly isn’t with me. No one will want to be stuck with me. Why would they? I am unable to do anything. Actually, that isn’t true. I can piss my pants – sometimes a few times a day. On occasions, my bowel lets me down too. That revolts me. A baby has more control over its body than me.
My legs have burning sensations. I feel like I am plugged into the mains the tingling, the throbbing and stabbing pains drive me mad, yet I wouldn’t feel them even if they were chopped off. Quite honestly, I felt tempted to hack them off and throw them in the bin. They are useless – totally rubbish.
Maybe, just maybe, I would feel better if I treated myself to some new clothes. Nothing fits me anymore, and I struggle to find clothes that suit this strange body shape. My stomach sticks out like a mountain and my legs look fragile and weak.
So to summarise; I looked embarrassingly awful, I felt totally lost and I was drowning in these negative thoughts which are all consuming.
My four-year relationship was about to end. My career as a chiropractor for which I spent four years training to qualify, has come to an abrupt halt, and since the age of two, I’d loved riding and no longer can. I’d even reached the highest level in the sport just eight months prior to my accident. These future goals were beyond exciting. Now I will not have the chance to chase them. The smallest of mistakes has stopped everything. All the doors around me were locked firmly closed. I couldn’t see a single door to push open.
I am trying my very best to hide this agony but I am suffering more on the inside than the outside. I simply can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Where the hell do you go from here?
One thing I have learnt is that you have to be at your very strongest when you feel your weakest.
My phone beeps. It is a text message from a close friend. I have a lot of friends but only a handful I want to see when I feel this low. He is inviting me out for lunch. Ninety percent of me doesn’t want to go, but the ten percent that is willing to, wins the battle, so I reply, once again covering up how I am really feeling “Yes, I would absolutely love to”.
These small moments were more significant than any of the big challenges I have taken on since. Decisions like these led me on the right path to overcome the mental effects of having to deal with such a life change.
Before my accident I had clear directions in life, then it was like the 5000 piece jigsaw shattered. Piece by piece, it had to be put back together. Whether it was just leaving the house to have lunch with a friend or making myself get out of bed when I had no reason to get up, these tiny tasks were undoubtedly the toughest I have ever faced. Of course, I did not realise at the time, and I never felt slightly proud for making myself do such menial things. With hindsight, I should have been.
Never underestimate the small goals you accomplish because every journey begins with that first step in the right direction.
We need to learn when we must be kind and gentle on ourselves and when we should kick ourselves up the bum, and just force ourselves to leave the house and do those small things, like going out for lunch with a friend etc. If I had carried on dwelling on all I had lost, then I would not have got away from those hideously dark days. I found sport, exercise and the outdoors were all instrumental in my recovery to gaining a healthy mind.
Finding the pieces to slot in the jigsaw wasn’t always easy. It was a case of being willing to try new things rather than finding excuses why I couldn’t do something.
As I found happiness again, and had developed numerous goals and dreams, to the extent I wouldn’t go back to my life before my accident if I was given the choice, I was faced with another difficulty.
My husband, Dan, was diagnosed with severe OCD. Our marriage was hanging on by a thread; it was incredibly heart-breaking and lonely being in the house together. Away from the home, whilst doing various fundraising challenges, we were the dream team. Dan was calming, encouraging and supportive- there was no one I would rather have with me. How could things be so different behind closed doors?
Dan didn’t share the anxiety he was feeling and shut me out, quite literally, frequently spending three hours a night locked in the bathroom or doing repetitive jobs around the house. I didn’t know what to do, until he hit rock bottom and there was no choice other than persuading Dan to see the doctor.
Thankfully, Dan was willing to get help, and we could begin to work on getting through this with the expertise of psychiatrists and psychologists.
We had mental health battles for totally different reasons, but both had to start with the willingness and desire to get better and improve our situation- reaching out to people when needed. If you do nothing about it then you are less likely to take those little steps forward to making a better and happier life. It is often the hardest thing to do because you need to be at your strongest when you actually feel at your weakest.
When a family goes through the pain of a loved one suffering with a physical illness/injury, it has an impact on everyone – mental health is the same. It is horrendous when you are the one battling but also incredibly tough when a someone you love is struggling. I’d say it is very unlikely not to affect your mental health and well-being too. Either way- look after yourself, look after those close to you.
We can all help each other through tough times – it is teamwork at it’s best.
To purchase The Bigger Picture please visit Claire’s website: claireschallenge.co.uk