Full disclosure, it has been over a month (September 2020) since myself and Emma had the chat below. The whirlwind of an pandemic, still apparent around the world came to a small, personal conclusion during this time. I landed myself a full-time, contracted job, following my career as a Historic Building Conservation Specialist (rolls of the tongue…). My time on the bike has been limited, not only by the influx of full-time work and part-time Degree studying but also by my recovery management. It has been a long road back following the injury that I sustained on my ride from Yorkshire to London.
All of which I will go into in the forthcoming posts.
Now, however, I would like to share this chat with Emma Wallace. I found Emma through mutual friends whilst on Instagram and was instantly taken and inspired by her words and attitude. I soon got in touch and asked to talk about her story. The result of which is below.
Unfortunately, the below now comes with a heavier burden following the devastating news and loss of Emma’s partner Rachel. As I didn’t know Rachel personally, I won’t share anything further, only that I echo the thoughts and prayers and hope the below chat will now also emphasise the need to be open with all those around us. Finally, I can only commend Emma once again for all of this and thank her for sharing this story and pushing me to publish this post following recent events.
Emma, you’re an inspiration.
Hello Emma, before we start, I just wanted to say a big thank you for taking the time to chat and agreeing to share your story with my readers and me. I have been following your Instagram account (@emmawallacecoach) for a couple of months now and have found your posts to be very honest, revealing and inspiring. The subjects you speak about are challenging, at the very least. I hope that in sharing your story, it will encourage more people to do the same in the future. Please introduce yourself, what is your background? What you do now?
Hey Samuel, thank you for involving me in this conversation and hello to your readers, thank you for sharing your time with these words.
So I’ve always been equally passionate about the arts and sport/sports science. Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I initially went down the ‘arty’ route, graduating with a degree in Graphic Design and Interactive Media. However, after a year or so working in the industry, I was hit by my first significant bout of depression. Fitness (predominantly gym workouts and yoga) became very therapeutic for me. As a result, I retrained to be a Personal Trainer to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Health and fitness is an area that never ceases to amaze me.
I love learning about the human body and recently graduated from BSc Sports Science and Human Performance. I pride myself on very personalised coaching, incorporating my knowledge of mental and physical health into programming rather than ‘cookie-cutter’, ‘one size fits all’ online programming that seems to be on the rise!
This passion for helping others and interest in anatomy and physiology has also lead me to enrol into a voluntary position. Alongside my coaching business, I am training to be a Community First Responder for the Ambulance Service. A CFR is a trained but unpaid member of the ambulance team that is sent to 999 emergencies to provide sometimes lifesaving first aid to a patient in the crucial minutes before a paramedic arrives.
A big part of your online presence and the part which I find so honest is how open you are to share your story and your battles with mental health issues. At the time of writing this post we have just passed the 10th September, for those who may not know, this is Suicide Prevention Day. In one of your latest posts, you talk about this time and your time in Australia. Can you share this story?
When you read my answer to the previous question, it sounds like everything was all sunshine and rainbows after a bout of depression, but that’s not the case. As well as many personal and career highlights, I have struggled with turbulent hypomanic episodes and severe lows.
In 2017, I rather spontaneously decided to go backpacking in Thailand and Australia. I set off with this golden image of how everything would work out just fine despite not having much of a plan. I had a one-way ticket, and a few tourist stops booked and a backpack that weighed about the same as me! That’s not the full story of that period; without going into detail, the following words fill in the gaps when contemplating my behaviour: overly energetic, impulsive, full of grandiosity and carefree to the point of reckless. This was one of several undiagnosed hypomanic bipolar episodes. It was hectic.
I don’t regret the adventure over to the other side of the world at all; I have some fantastic memories; I lived a life full of wanderlust. But after highs, there are often lows. Mine kicked in once I settled in Perth (Western Australia), a beautiful coastal city. I was working as a PT in an awesome gym (shout out to @roar_fitness247 ) and I should have been the epitome of happiness, I was ‘living the dream’. However, my mood was fluctuating so much, and I couldn’t work out why; I had to see a GP. They gave me the questionable diagnosis of PMS and prescribed the contraceptive pill as a way of balancing my moods. This triggered a terrible, terrible, drop in mood.
On top of that my relationship with a girl I met over there was becoming strained due to impending visa deadlines on my part. I was so low in mood and stressed by my visa worries that I excused abusive behaviour from my partner. The relationship became so toxic that my health rapidly deteriorated and I experienced my first dysphoric mania bipolar episode (still undiagnosed at the time). Within that period, I began acting on thoughts to take my own life. The pain in my head was too much; it even manifested itself physically. One night, during an overwhelming moment, I drove myself to the river that ran through the city with the thought of drowning myself. I knew I was a poor swimmer and found comfort in the fact I would float away into the darkness and not return.
Passers-by snapped me out of my state of mind. But later that night I returned to the city with the view to jumping in front of a land train (HUGE truck for non-Aussie readers), selfish some might say, but to me, I’d no longer be a burden to the world, it was selfless. Luckily, I was taken to the hospital at this point which is when my formal diagnosis and path to recovery began.
What made you want to share your Mental Health issues so openly? Has sharing these stories helped in any way?
Mental health is widely discussed now in terms of mild depression and anxiety, which is great, it keeps us in touch with our feelings, and downward spirals can be stopped early. However, I think it is still very much a taboo subject when it comes to more ‘uncomfortable’ subjects: psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric medication, more uncommon or severe mental health conditions, suicidal behaviour, self-harm…
I knew nothing about the mental health system before my diagnosis, and I didn’t know what it meant to be ‘bipolar’. The only representation I had seen of both was through horror films and TV shows… hardly accurate and hardly a way of combating stigma. I think by sharing my story, it is a way of normalising my condition for others and me. Yes, I have an invisible illness, but I am not a ‘psycho’, I can lead an everyday life (whatever normal is these days!), and I am proud to say I am continuing to learn about my conditions and evolve as a person. I wish to help others on their journey.
Utilising social media as a platform to discuss mental health encourages discussion, the breakdown of stigma and offers a place of support.
Alongside sharing your stories about mental health, you have a significant focus on your physical health, whether that be in the gym or out on the trails running with your dog Cookie. How do you think these two correspond? Has the physical work aided your focus and recovery in any way?
They go hand in hand for sure. The body and mind are so intrinsically linked I not sure one could go very far with good health in one but not the other, a breakdown of some sort would occur.
Personally lifting heavy weights provides a sense of accomplishment for me, which is a great way of improving self-efficacy. Over the years, sports such as boxing, football and CrossFit have opened doors socially. And my most recent physical endeavour, trail running, has ignited an inherent love for the outdoors. I’ve found this sport in particular boosts my mood and fulfils my needs. It seems to tick the ‘wanderlust’ box without creating the overwhelming desire to impulsively and recklessly go backpacking on a one-way ticket and turn my life upside down!
Do you have any advice for people who may find themselves in similar situations which are not currently adapting a fitness-focused and a healthy lifestyle?
Two invaluable tips:
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has a journey. Whether that be your running times/distance on Strava or the amount you can lift in the weights room. It is near impossible to stop comparing, but if you can let go just a little bit, and focus on number 1 (you!), you will feel more empowered. Do it for you, not for them.
- Discipline. I can’t stress enough how important routine and structure is. When I got out of the hospital, it felt like I had nothing. I had no job, no friends, no visa, no prospects for the future. If you can relate, be disciplined and pen in some manageable daily tasks as an appointment with yourself. Whether that be a morning walk/run, 5 mins of stretching, two sessions at the gym this week. Slowly but surely, sticking to this will bring you a sense of accomplishment and with that some purpose.
You’ll begin to feel more optimistic, and doors will open.
Moving forward, what are your hopes and dreams? What keeps you motivated? What scares you?
Huge questions!! What scares me? I guess relapse. With my conditions (bipolar and EUPD), fluctuations and flare-ups are inevitable. It is unrealistic to think everything will remain perfect and steady, and I’ve had a couple of episodes since the one previously discussed. However, full-blown relapse scares me. Going back to that dark place that I thought I couldn’t escape. However, I have to remind myself, I did, and I can again. I’ve also got a lot more support this time around and a ‘mental health tool-kit’ of therapies and medication to help pull me through should I face a trigger.
What keeps me motivated? Setting myself challenges. Whether that be intellectually or a physical endeavour, this year I completed a degree, next year I am signed up to my first marathon! I’d also say that helping others and seeing others achieve keeps me motivated, but that happens so intrinsically as part of my nature that I forget to mention it!
Hopes and dreams, stability.
I dream of a realistic level of stability where I can have a family and feel my mental health is well managed. I’m getting there. It is no longer day by day management, and it’s more week by week/month to month. That’s progress, and I’m happy with that considering my diagnosis wasn’t that long ago.
I’m also hopeful that mental health becomes nourished and an integral part of education for future generations. The more we discuss it, the more likely it is that it’ll happen.
Do you want to share anything else?
I’d just like to point out that it is important to recognise that everyone has mental health; it is a continuum that goes from poor to good, illness to wellness, just like physical health does. So just because you aren’t in a bad place right now doesn’t mean you should neglect your emotional needs. Prevention is the best form of treatment in my eyes. Look after yourself. Lastly, if you are someone that cares about someone with a mental health condition/illness, please be patient. Mental health recovery isn’t linear, and there will be ups and downs. Even if they aren’t expressing their gratitude right now, know that they really, really are or will be appreciative of your support.