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How exercise became my best antidepressant....

by Kelly Carpenter

I grew up with a wonderful family: my mum, dad and brother. Despite this happy family life, my father, Sean, suffered dreadful bouts of depression. I was aged 10 when my dad was admitted to an RAF psychiatric hospital for treatment. Sadly, a few months later, he made the decision to take his own life.

The grief of losing someone I loved unconditionally, and so suddenly, was something I thought that I would never come to terms with.

I was aged 21 when I first started to suffer signs of depression. I was in a good place in my life but an overbearing feeling of paranoia, no self worth, over eating and sleeping, prompted me to visit my GP. I was placed on medication to stabilise my depression, and this helped.

In my mid twenties I landed my dream job: working as an Emergency Medical Technician for my local ambulance service. This profession exposes you to the most poorly and vulnerable people in their hour of need. You can sometimes be placed in situations that no other person would see in their lifetime.

At the age of 30, I suffered a mental breakdown. My depression had returned with a vengeance. I struggled to leave my home and I was at my lowest ebb. After another trip to the GP, we were both in agreement that medication was not enough. I was referred to a psychotherapist for treatment. I cannot describe the feeling of utter relief of someone who truly understood my thought processes, but more importantly helped me to embrace my mental health as a part of who I am. I still use the techniques I learnt then, when I am having a bad day now. And I do have bad days - we ALL do!

In my mid mid thirties I gave birth to my second daughter. Whilst my two little girls, under the age of 3, were my greatest achievement, these were also the most exhausting and challenging times I had experienced. I knew that I was in danger of spiralling and something had to change....

A local physical trainer I knew, had been running bootcamp sessions for some time. I made the decision to go along and give it a try. The sessions are only five minutes from home and surrounded by the most beautiful countryside, boasting the most spectacular sunsets, with the most wonderful and supportive people. Initially, the thought of going filled me with dread. After my first session, it made me realise how unfit I was and what the effects of carrying a little human can do to your body. However, I persevered and realised that no matter how muddy, sweaty and exhausted I was after each session, there was no medication in the world that could beat the feeling I got after a great workout.

The longer I attended the bootcamp sessions, the more addictive I found them. My husband was a total gem and supported me by bathing the children whilst I could go and get my fix of exercise! As the months went on, more people started to notice my body shape changing and my dress size dropping, which really boosted my confidence. When I returned to work after a year of maternity leave, people were shocked at my shape change!

Finding the time for regular exercise whilst working full time shift work and having two children is challenging. However, my bootcamp sessions are as important as any GP appointment or medication. To finally find exercise, which gives me the most wonderful and natural boost, is something I will forever be grateful for. For the weeks when I am unable to make bootcamp, because of work commitments, I attend PT sessions. These have been bought as a present for me by my mum, as she understands the importance of them to me.

The beauty of hindsight really is a wonderful thing. I wish I knew in my early twenties, the power of exercise for the mind, like I do now. In my profession, I see daily, the affects of mental health of patients and their families. Education is an important and powerful thing. I truly believe that to have access to early intervention methods for the younger generation, would have an impact on the lives of millions of people and their families.

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