Elaine with her daughter Abbie

I would encourage anyone to take part in Support in Mind Scotland's 100 streets challenge, it has been such a positive experience for me.

I am sure the experience will be different for everyone but please give it a go as I think you’ll be surprised at just how much you benefit from it. I would like to tell you a bit about my journey, why I took part in the challenge, and the difference it’s made to my life.

I was diagnosed with bipolar roughly 10 years ago and although I’ve never really tried to keep it a secret, I have never openly spoken about it or been forthcoming with any information. I felt very nervous about anybody knowing, and if I’m totally honest, I probably felt embarrassed and a bit ashamed. People can be judgmental and for a long time I think any negativity would have broken me. I had experienced discrimination after my daughter was born and as much as I believed deep down that I was trying to be the best mummy that I could, there was always that little voice in the back of my head saying, “you’re not good enough, what will other people think”.

My mental health has improved over the last couple of years and although I still have many symptoms on a day-to-day basis, I can certainly manage better than I have done previously.  I have a background working in mental health and with my own mental health beginning to improve, I was very keen to try and help others again. I wanted to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health and to do this I felt that it would be beneficial for me to open up about my own experiences in the hope that people could relate. And the 100 Streets Challenge gave me the confidence to do this. After I’d set up my fundraising page, I typed a Facebook post explaining why I wanted to take part, giving details of my own struggles and how it’s affected me. Although it took me a long time to actually hit that ‘post’ button (and when I did, I was shaking, sweating, my heart was racing and I felt extremely sick like I was on the verge of a panic attack), people were overwhelmingly kind. I began to feel like the illness that was weighing me down, could actually be the thing that would lift me up.

In the run up to finding the 100 Streets Challenge I had begun talking to my 6-year-old daughter about the importance of mental health and my illness. I would love for my children to grow up in a world without the stigma that surrounds it and not be afraid to talk about it. This was when I decided that I needed to do something, I needed something to concentrate on, something that would make a difference. I had come across Support in Mind Scotland when I was studying at university, and thought they were an excellent charity doing a lot of amazing work, helping a lot of people. I hadn’t heard of the 100 Streets Challenge before but while searching about World Mental Health Day it suddenly jumped out at me. It seemed like an ideal thing to take part in, supporting a wonderful charity while raising awareness of mental health and also improving my own mental health through exercise.

My amazing daughter heard me talking about it and very quickly asked if she could take part too, and so our journey began. Children have the power to amaze me every second of every minute of every day; their innocence is beautiful. Abbie took the whole thing in her stride, fundraising came naturally to her, she told everyone and anyone who would listen about the challenge and was very happy that the money we raised was going to a charity to help lots of different people. I spoke to her about mental health and mental health disorders in the weeks running up to the challenge and honestly, unlike many adults, I could have been talking to her about any physical illness from a broken arm to tonsillitis. I could see her little brain ticking, soaking up all the information like a sponge, and I began to think, ‘if we are going to stamp out the stigma that surrounds mental health - should we not start at the very beginning?’ If young children are taught more about it, from the outset, would it then become as ordinary to them as the common cold or flu?

The twins cheered Elaine and Abbie on throughout the day

The 100 Streets Challenge gave me the opportunity to promote World Mental Health Day within my community and I got the chance to do a little bit of extra fundraising at my 4-year-old twin sons’ nursery. During the week that World Mental Health Day occurred I visited the nursery each day and led lots of fun activities including many games and stories that focussed on emotions and feelings. The children had lots of fun and I hope they will remember some of the ideas that we explored. Through doing this, and through the chats that Abbie and I got the chance to have on our walks, I realised that I’d like to learn more about mental health and children and hopefully I’ll get the chance to get involved, helping in the future.

Elaine and Abbie's route

I live, and have done for most of my life, in a lovely town called Haddington in East Lothian, and I thought ‘what a perfect place to complete the challenge’. While I, or rather my husband, was planning and mapping my route, which took a while but was well worth it, I realised that I’d have to cover pretty much the whole of Haddington. What a wonderful experience this was - I thought I knew Haddington very well, but I came across parts that I’d never seen. In the lead up to the day I tried to walk quite a lot, this not only improved my fitness levels but also had a positive impact on my mood. My mum joined me on these walks as I get very anxious while trying to follow a route and worry about getting lost, a symptom of having bipolar, but I am so happy that I managed to do it. Walking definitely increased my self-esteem and my anxiety levels reduced the more I walked.

Thanks to Abbie I also had to run a bit, she is very persuasive when she’s running ahead and doesn’t want to stop, but is far fitter than me! In my younger years running was my sport of choice but as I got older and had problems with my mental health this slowly declined to nothing. The challenge gave me the motivation, that was lacking previously, to get back into it and showed me its benefits to my mental health. I hope to continue with this, even if the winter days and nights are not so appealing.

I never thought that the 100 Streets Challenge would have such an impact on me. Sure, I knew that the exercise would be good, and I’d be helping a wonderful charity, but it gave me so much more. It taught me a lot about myself, what I could achieve and gave me an idea of what I’d like to do in the future. And I got to spend quality time with my daughter and talk to her about the importance of mental health. Her attitude amazed me, and I began to realise that my fears of not being good enough aren’t necessarily true, mental health disorders don’t make you any less of a parent, it is difficult at times and possibly more of a challenge, but many parents go through this - it’s hard work raising children, regardless. My family are the most important thing in my life and this experience has definitely brought us closer together.

So many benefits from one incredible challenge. Thank you, Support in Mind Scotland.

 

- Registration for 100 Streets 2019 is now open. Just visit www.100streetschallenge.com/registration/

For support for bipolar disorder or another mental illness, visit our support page here: www.supportinmindscotland.org.uk/Pages/Category/our-services-and-groups

You can also visit www.bipolarscotland.org.uk for specialised support across Scotland