“Hello! I hope you are all keeping safe and well. Let me introduce myself, my name is Claire and I am a Mental Health First Aid England Instructor, founder of The Mind Map project and The Anxious Exercise Club and, programme lead for the Tricky to Talk programme at Nottingham Forest Community Trust.
I also live with a long-term anxiety condition which I manage day-to-day. Back in 2015, I had a relapse in my long term anxiety condition, which made leaving my home very difficult. Some days, it took all my strength to walk to the car to be able to go to work, and that did not leave me very productive for the rest of the day! I knew that activity and exercise were good for me and that it would ease the symptoms of my mental ill-health. But the anxious voice in my head was a lot louder when telling me that the outside was scary and there was no point in even trying.
Towards the end of 2015, I became more and more unwell, with long-term pain, muscle stiffness and overwhelming fatigue. I was referred to the hospital and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I was given guidance on how to manage my condition and one of the overwhelming pieces of advice was to do more activity. I knew I had to listen to the doctors, but I also still had the anxious voice.
So I made a compromise. I walked to the post box and back. It was about 500 yards and I started doing it once a day. Then I walked to the church just next to the postbox and then onto the bench. Every week, I added a small chunk onto my walk and it didn’t feel unmanageable, even the anxious voice quietened down. I began a circuit each evening, I simply did three or four rounds of the circuit.
This simple activity allowed me to rebuild my life. It wasn’t instant, there wasn’t a miracle cure. I still live with a long term anxiety condition that I manage each day. But I do experience the benefits of what activity can bring to my life and how it helps me to manage my anxiety.
The reason I am talking about this today is that I am finding myself in a very similar situation as we live in the current lockdown situation. I’ve found exercising very difficult due to fear and anxiety. So I wanted to take some time to talk about getting active whilst living with a mental health condition and whilst living in lockdown.
Today, I went for a small walk.
It took some bargaining with the anxious voice, but I felt able to get up a little earlier and take a few steps outside. It wasn’t about distance or the number of steps I completed, it was about breathing and feeling the sunshine. It was about letting my whole body know that whilst these are extremely frightening times, these few small steps can benefit our mental wellbeing and help us to get through this time.
There is lots of information out there currently about how we can get active in our homes, which is fantastic. But it can also be overwhelming, so I hope this post, and future ones, will let you know you are not alone.”
Jayne, a regular at Southglade Leisure Centre, recently completed a thirty-length swim in aid of the Stroke Association – a feat that few healthy individuals could complete. Yet, Jayne recently suffered a life-changing stroke, leaving her with limited mobility and a long road to recovery. Enter the Swim for Health sessions, where Jenna (one of our swimming instructors) worked closely with Jayne to help in her rehabilitation – working to regain her strength as well as independence.
I arrived at Southglade on November 11th 2019 to interview Jayne. The atmosphere in the Leisure Centre was beautiful – friends and family had gathered together in support. They cheered and clapped as Jayne tackled length after length, and by the final lap, there were definitely a few watery eyes.
After the swim there were posters and banners carefully hung on the walls, and there were biscuits and coffee cups placed upon tables. People were smiling and laughing – excitedly chattering about how well Jayne had done. You could almost smell the sheer adoration and pride in the air. Sally, one of Jayne’s physiotherapists, smiled as she told me, “Swimming has been a game-changer for Jayne. After her stroke she initially found walking very difficult. She even found sitting up very difficult – she was having to be hoisted – so what she’s achieved is incredible. She lacks confidence in walking on dry land, but in the water, she says she feels free. Swimming has had huge benefits for her confidence, generally. And she’s able to get fit and exercise in water in a way that she can’t on land.”
You could tell that Jayne’s swimming instructor, Jenna, was extremely fond of her too. They would poke fun at each other and make jokes in a way that reminded me of a mother-daughter relationship. When I spoke to Jenna, she couldn’t sing Jayne’s praises enough:
“When we first met her, she couldn’t hold herself in the water – she needed three people to support her body and to keep her steady so that her face wasn’t going under. But she’s made an amazing improvement – she is fantastic. She’s done thirty-one lengths today! She did about three in her first session. It’s great. It’s great to see people grow and change and get help in recovering. Jayne’s part of the family now.”
Jenna then went on to say the same as Sally – that swimming has been paramount for Jayne and that it makes her feel free. She started laughing and also told me that Jayne enjoys a natter in the sauna with fellow Southglade-goers after her sessions.
Jayne’s husband Clive was around for moral support, too. You could clearly see his adoration for her and it was clear that Jayne’s rehabilitation journey had been a team effort between her, Clive and the lovely staff at Southglade.
When interviewing Jayne herself, it was heart-warming to see her talk about the centre with such joy. Read her interview below:
How long have you been coming to Southglade Leisure Centre?
About 8 months!
How has going to the Swim for Health sessions helped with your stroke rehabilitation journey?
It’s helped me to exercise and it’s helped my muscles, mobility and confidence. It’s been good!
And how have the staff been? How have they helped you?
Gooood! There are really nice staff.
What’s the best thing about them?
Jenna! She’s funny. I’m always laughing.
When you first started swimming, were you nervous?
Yes. There were people I didn’t know!
What’s the best bit about Southglade?
Swimming! No… the sauna!
What would you say to anyone else who has had a major health problem? What would be your encouraging words?
Swimming! Try it! Have a goal and do it! It helps – my pain’s gone and my heavy body is gone. It makes me feel fabulous and free.
What made you do the sponsored swim today?
I wanted to help people raise money to help the people who helped me.
When you saw everyone here today, how did you feel?
Now that you’ve finished the swim, how do you feel?
Good… amazing! It was hard work though! I did thirty-one lengths and the maximum amount I’ve done before is sixteen.