In May 2017, 17 years since my last major depression episode, I posted a photo on Instagram that I had taken from underneath the surface in the Blue Hole, Dahab looking up at the freedivers on the surface. It reminded me of the disconnect that I used to feel from the world when I was suffering with my mental illness and I suddenly felt compelled to talk about my experience of depression and path to recovery.
Around the same time I was raising funds so I could afford to go and compete as a member of Team GB at the AIDA Individual Depth World Championships in Roatan, Honduras that summer.
I did a crowdfunding campaign and amongst the rewards available to purchase was a talk, by me, about freediving, my mental health journey and run a breath workshop at the generous donator’s place of work or school.
I hadn’t really thought this through properly. I thought I had put a fairly hefty price tag on the reward and so would be unlikely to have to worry about actually having to do it.
I had also never done any public speaking and while I do have the odd dramatic tendency, I’d only just started talking about my past experiences of mental illness amongst people close to me and in private; not on a stage, under a spotlight!
The reward was purchased along with me reaching my fund-raising target. I was thrilled and excited to be shortly heading off to Roatan so I brushed off the first flutterings of nerves about the talk which was due to take place a week after my return from the World Championships, some 12 weeks later.
Fast forward – World Championships went very well for me and I loved the conditions for diving in Roatan. I am very much looking forward to going back there sometime soon I hope. There is also a fabulous beach bar called Sundowners, that does excellent Frozen Margaritas.
Back in the UK with a week before the talk and panic began to set in. I did lots of preparation, running through my talk numerous times, recording it so I could then review and amend before doing the next recording. I had the content and I had the visual presentation all ready, but mentally I was freaking out.
The venue was a town hall, think big room with lots of space and nowhere to hide.
Sick to my stomach and shaking like a leaf, I took to the front of the room at the allotted time and started my talk. The audience wasn’t enormous but thankfully they were compassionate and forgiving of my nerves and the mistakes.
Half way through the talk, I heard the voice in my head say quietly but clearly “this is what you are meant to do.”
At 43, I saw the light and finally realised what I’m supposed and want to be doing with my life; sharing my experiences of mental illness, my path to recovery and on to achieving my childhood dreams through my passion for freediving, showing what is possible.
As well as speaking about it, as you can probably tell I’ve started writing about it too.
This blog will be a selection of probably seemingly disconnected thoughts and realisations which I have worked to clarify for myself. Some posts might make you smile and some may be harder to read, it has certainly been an emotional catharsis so far.
But if talking and writing about my experiences gives hope or encouragement to even one person, then the shaking like a leaf, feeling sick to my stomach and the nerves of wondering if I have just written a pile of old drivel, will have been worth it.