Karmen, April 17, 2019

"I was ok. This was normal. I wasn't letting my family down by not coping."

My mental health problems started on 7 August 2012 at 5.30pm. I got a call from my sister telling me my Dad had gone into cardiac arrest and to get home quickly. By the time I’d got to my flat to drive up to the Midlands I’d had another call to say the paramedics had certified my Dad as dead.

The man who had always been there, always a friend, a power of strength, the person who gave me life, my values and loved me warts and all. My world had been taken from me and I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye.

I stayed with my nephew that night. I remember he asked if I had a towel with me. Of course, I hadn’t thought of anything sensible but I’d remembered my running kit and parkrun barcode! The next day, after dealing with all sorts of things, my nephew asked me if I fancied a run. Lord knows what we looked like both powering down the streets of Birmingham running our pain out.

Without Dad, I was looking after my Mum and sister (who had lived with my parents since her marriage break-up). I never thought about the effect it was having on me, looking after them, not having the time to grieve myself: going from the being the baby of the family to being the force behind it.

Three and a half months later, my Gran died. The woman who always gave me bear hugs, bought my favourite cake when I was coming round, always a smile and a big hearty laugh – gone.

I’ve been a runner for 30 years. I’d always loved racing but I told my running coach there was no point any more as I’d always raced, and won, to gain my Dad’s respect. Now he was gone what was the point?  I have a great coach who is also a good friend. Over 6 months, he coaxed me back into training and then I started racing again – and winning. He said he thought my Dad will always be watching me and will always be proud.

And my mates just kept TELLING me I was OK because I am a strong woman. I think that’s part of my downfall; I’m the strong silent type like a lot of men. However, when you’re low you can’t be bothered to correct them, so it’s self-perpetuating.

In November 2015, I tried to take my life. Afterwards, I believed two guardian angels were keeping me alive - and I realised that if they were keeping me alive, I had to make my life something I wanted to live.

I contacted my doctors and they got me the support I needed within 2 weeks. Best call I've ever made.

Initially, I had cognitive behavioural therapy, but I felt a fraud as everyone was long-term depressed and I just had been triggered by an issue at that point in time. So I was given 1:1 counselling. I didn’t say much to my counsellor at the first session (that strong northern trait kicking in) but from the little I said she replied, “of course you’re not coping; when you lost your Dad you lost your whole family”. That was the best thing anyone had said in years. All I remember thinking is, “Thank F for that; I’m not going mad” and feeling a tremendous weight lift from me. I was OK; this was normal. I wasn’t letting my family down by not coping.

Over 8 weeks I was able to get to a place where I am now OK staying alive. I’ll always miss my Dad but I do now have a better relationship with my Mum and sister again. Maybe I’ve changed and that’s helped them too.

Running and cycling makes me feel like that 7-year-old kid again; the wind on my face and not a care in the world. Nothing and no-one can hurt me when I’m running. Whatever has happened in the day pales into insignificance as the plodding along, like the ticking of a clock, washes it all away. Doesn’t matter how fast or slow I’m going, that constant momentum just gives me my zen time.

I qualified for Team GB for age and gender duathlon, so in April 2017 I went to Spain to race for GB with ‘PARDOE’ on my tri-suit and on a bike my Dad bought me before he died. How proud would he have been of that?

Last July, I broke the female record for a 6 hour ultra-marathon. Whilst running I had my MP3 player on shuffle and all songs from my Dad's era played. I knew he was with me then so we ran it together. And, we crossed the finish line to 'Guitar Tango' by The Shadows; my Dad's favourite band, a song he had on vinyl and he used to win Ballroom & Latin American dance competitions (Tango).

Having struggled I do understand mental health a lot more. I definitely was a strong woman - but I can see how even the strongest of people can crumble at times and need support. 

I never tell anyone they are OK. I ask how they are. And if they tell me they are OK, but quite clearly aren't, I ask again and say "Are you really ok because you don't look ok to me". I pick up the phone when I know mates have lost parents. Or send them a text saying I am there if they need me.

I think my own experience has helped me be a better person, better mate and better employee; it's the reason why I am London Lead for Wellbeing in a building that houses 4500 staff. I get it, I will talk about it, I don't see that I did anything wrong. If 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health - I am normal.

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