SOME­ONE’S IN YOUR COR­NER

Women's Health (UK) - - A PROBLEM SHARED - ROISÍN DERVISH-O’KANE as told to pho­tog­ra­phy IAN HAR­RI­SON

For WH’S first-ever Strong Mind pro­file se­ries last year, women spoke openly about their most in­tense mo­ments of poor men­tal health: how it hit, how they man­age and what they’ve learned. Your re­sponse made it clear that th­ese sto­ries needed to be told. But even the most re­silient of peo­ple don’t build them­selves up from break­ing point sin­gle-hand­edly. We all need backup. And yet, could you recog­nise a cri­sis on the face of a friend or ver­balise your own need for help? There isn’t a so­cial script for sup­port­ing some­one through a dif­fi­cult time. So, over the page, 11 women open up about their men­tal health jour­ney along­side the per­son whose em­pa­thy, in­ter­ven­tion or lis­ten­ing ear changed the course of their men­tal well­be­ing – and in­deed their life – for­ever. At WH, we will never sug­ar­coat men­tal health, so you might find some of th­ese ac­counts (which cover do­mes­tic abuse and self-harm) hard to read. The sto­ries are all dif­fer­ent, but they share a com­mon mes­sage: seek­ing help, ac­cept­ing it and – if you’re in the po­si­tion to do so – of­fer­ing it can change lives. In some in­stances, even save them. This is what sup­port re­ally looks like.

Asha Iqbal grew up in a strict Pak­istani Mus­lim house­hold in West York­shire. When the pres­sure from her par­ents to con­form be­came too much, she be­gan to self-harm, un­til an in­ter­ven­tion by her new friend Rabia Rizwan changed ev­ery­thing

Asha: I never set out to hurt my­self. But the older I got, the more I be­came aware that the life my par­ents wished for me didn’t line up with the one I wanted. Hear­ing my fa­ther dis­cuss my mar­riage as be­ing ‘next’ while on a trip to Pak­istan, aged 17, my anx­i­ety grew. I needed an out­let. At first, I’d scratch at my scalp un­til it bled, then I started tak­ing to my arms with ra­zor blades. Do­ing some­thing my par­ents dis­ap­proved of – like read­ing me­dia stud­ies at the lo­cal uni­ver­sity – made their com­ments more fre­quent. As the end of my first year grew closer, I be­came ter­ri­fied of be­ing taken to Pak­istan to meet po­ten­tial hus­bands, and the self-harm es­ca­lated. I kept my arms cov­ered to hide my cuts from fam­ily and friends – in­clud­ing Rabia, the bol­shy girl I’d grown par­tic­u­larly close to.

Rabia: ‘Mate, you’re not okay.’ Some­times, you need to find a way to let your friend know that you know. This was mine. When I’d first met Asha months ear­lier, she was a bub­bly life-and-soul type. We bonded in­stantly. So, when just a few months later she started ig­nor­ing my texts and phone calls, I knew some­thing was wrong. She agreed to meet at a mu­tual friend’s house. She was just so… quiet. I de­cided to go with the di­rect ap­proach. ‘Look, I know there’s some­thing both­er­ing you. You don’t have to tell me, but if you want some­one to lis­ten, I’m here.’ She sat there awk­wardly, fid­dling with her sleeve. Then I saw the marks on her arms. Through tears, she told me how they’d come to be there.

Asha: It was the first time I’d shown my scars to any­one. I half ex­pected her to shout at me. In­stead, she lis­tened, then told me calmly

– but force­fully – that some­thing had to change. It was the first time she was there for me in a sig­nif­i­cant way, but it turned out to be the first of many. Over our decade of friend­ship, it’s Rabia I’ve turned to when things at home have be­come dif­fi­cult. Ear­lier this year, the sit­u­a­tion be­came so un­ten­able that I no longer felt safe. Leav­ing my par­ents’ home for good was hard; but one call to my best friend and she ar­ranged ev­ery­thing for me. When I met Rabia, I knew quickly that she was some­one who would come to be im­por­tant to me. Just how im­por­tant, I could never have fore­seen. Asha de­liv­ers men­tal health train­ing at gen­er­a­tionre­form.org

When Rose Cartwright wrote an ar­ti­cle about liv­ing with in­tru­sive thoughts, she gave voice to an ex­pe­ri­ence so ter­ri­fy­ing that it re­mains a closely guarded se­cret for the ma­jor­ity of OCD suf­fer­ers. Three thou­sand miles away in New York, Aaron Har­vey read her words on his lap­top, and the penny dropped

Rose: In 2013, I pitched a piece to The Guardian about my ex­pe­ri­ence of OCD – specif­i­cally, the in­tru­sive thoughts

I’d been liv­ing with since the age of 15. I wrote about the graphic im­ages and repet­i­tive doubts that would ap­pear in my mind, telling me I was a pae­dophile; how this evolved in my late teens, when I’d ob­ses­sively imag­ine peo­ple naked, and com­pul­sively ques­tion why; how my brain would con­vince me hav­ing the thought was as good as do­ing the act. It was a source of shame – but since I knew oth­ers were strug­gling in se­cret, I wanted to air it in pub­lic. Aaron: Rose’s ar­ti­cle saved my life. Liv­ing in­side my mind felt like walk­ing through a night­mare, through the eyes of a vil­lain. She put my feel­ings into words. I’d spent 20 years hid­ing th­ese thoughts, con­vinced I was al­most a psy­chopath. I’d self­med­i­cate with al­co­hol be­fore de­liv­er­ing an

8am pitch to the CEO of a For­tune 100 com­pany, then I’d shut my­self away in my of­fice and break down in tears. I came across the ar­ti­cle on a night when the thoughts threat­ened to over­whelm me. Rose ar­tic­u­lated my feel­ings so ac­cu­rately that I de­cided to read her ac­count ver­ba­tim to my par­ents, by way of ex­plain­ing my own ex­pe­ri­ence. When I saw Rose was crowd­fund­ing to turn the ar­ti­cle into a book, I had to sup­port. But it took an­other 18 months of get­ting my­self well be­fore I sum­moned the courage to email her. Rose: Sud­denly, that gen­er­ous do­na­tion left by a stranger on my crowd­fund­ing page made sense! Read­ing that email was so sur­real; it was ex­tra­or­di­nary to find out that my words could have had such an im­pact. By the time we met in per­son, in Lon­don, I was on the other side of ex­po­sure ther­apy and us­ing mind­ful­ness tech­niques to try to keep my thoughts in check. It was a bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence for both of us – ours is an in­tense con­nec­tion to have when you’re strangers. Aaron told me he’d founded the In­tru­sive Thoughts Foun­da­tion and in­vited me to join its board. I left feel­ing grate­ful to have helped some­one – and that, along­side Aaron, I could now help more. Aaron: That ex­change felt like be­ing seen. Now I speak about in­tru­sive thoughts in the me­dia and at in­dus­try sum­mits, and do­ing so has be­come my main ther­a­peu­tic source. That’s all down to Rose. She started this con­ver­sa­tion, but through the foun­da­tion and our new, broader men­tal health ini­tia­tive, we’re con­tin­u­ing it to­gether. The TV adap­ta­tion of Rose’s me­moir Pure airs on Chan­nel 4 this year Visit Aaron and Rose’s new plat­form cel­e­brat­ing men­tal health change-mak­ers, made­ofmil­lions.com

Clare Down­ing thought leav­ing Lon­don would ease her panic at­tacks. It didn’t. Des­per­ate for a so­lu­tion, she took part in an Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity study and met An­drea Rei­necke, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor who would open her mind and change her life

Clare: ‘On a scale of one to 10, how bad do you think get­ting into this cup­board will make you feel?’ When Dr Rei­necke posed this ques­tion, ev­ery fi­bre of my body wanted to bolt out the door. It was 2014, and the anx­i­ety that led me to quit my job in Lon­don and move to Wilt­shire five years ear­lier had only be­come worse. My panic at­tacks were so in­tense that I couldn’t work. It was out of sheer des­per­a­tion that I signed up to take part in a study look­ing at the ef­fec­tive­ness of a rapid, sin­gle-ses­sion treat­ment for anx­i­ety dis­or­ders.

An­drea: My tech­nique is a brief for­mat of clas­si­cal cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy. Ev­i­dence shows that anx­i­ety in­creases in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, then nat­u­rally re­cedes. So, when some­one with an anx­i­ety dis­or­der avoids a cer­tain ac­tiv­ity in the hope of pre­vent­ing a panic at­tack, they’re plac­ing harm­ful lim­its on their lives un­nec­es­sar­ily. Clare’s at­tacks are rooted in panic dis­or­der with ago­ra­pho­bia. To try to deal with it, she would avoid us­ing the Lon­don Un­der­ground or fly­ing long-haul. To test my the­ory, I needed to get Clare into a sit­u­a­tion where she would feel cer­tain that she was about to run out of air – hence the cup­board.

Clare: I had ex­pected ques­tions about my child­hood, like in pre­vi­ous ther­apy ses­sions, but with An­drea, we dis­cussed the sci­ence be­hind anx­i­ety and which parts of my brain re­spond when I feel threat­ened. I’ve al­ways feared vo­cal­is­ing my emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of anx­i­ety in case it was seen as hys­ter­i­cal. On an in­tel­lec­tual level, I know that I won’t run out of oxy­gen and die on the North­ern Line, but that’s what my mind and body be­lieve. An­drea didn’t raise her eye­brows or cut me off when I ex­plained this. She lis­tened.

An­drea: Un­der­stand­ing the changes that take place in the brain dur­ing men­tal ill­ness is im­por­tant. Know­ing there’s some­thing func­tion­ally dif­fer­ent that makes you feel this way – and that it can be al­tered – is em­pow­er­ing.

Clare: Four years on, I still have An­drea’s voice in my head as I achieve things I never thought pos­si­ble, like trav­el­ling on the Tube for a night at the the­atre with my hus­band, or catch­ing an 11-hour flight to Ja­pan. I’m telling my­self that if I climbed in­side a cup­board when it felt im­pos­si­ble, then

I can do this, too. An­drea is an am­bas­sador for MQ Men­tal Health; mq­men­tal­health.org

Charli Howard was ruled by OCD and an eat­ing dis­or­der for more than a decade be­fore writ­ing a damn­ing Face­book post against the modelling in­dus­try she worked in. It went vi­ral, and a mother-of-three from Bris­tol reached out

Charli: In Oc­to­ber 2015, I wrote a Face­book post; not a sta­tus up­date, but a 400-word ‘fuck you’ to the in­dus­try that I felt had le­git­imised the eat­ing dis­or­der I’d bat­tled for years. I wrote about how modelling had left me feel­ing ashamed and up­set on a daily ba­sis; that drop­ping down to

7st 7lb wasn’t enough, nor was putting in up­wards of five hours a week at the gym. Among the hun­dreds of mes­sages I re­ceived in the days and weeks that fol­lowed was an email from a woman called Jane, CEO of a char­ity called Anorexia & Bulimia Care. Was I do­ing okay? Did I want to talk? The an­swers were no, and yes.

Jane: My first thought when I read Charli’s Face­book post was,

‘Wow. This girl is go­ing to change things.’ My sec­ond was, ‘She needs some sup­port.’ As CEO of an eat­ing dis­or­der char­ity, it’s my job to care. But that’s not the only rea­son I went to meet with Charli that day.

Charli: In a cafe on a cold De­cem­ber af­ter­noon,

Jane told me that she’d wit­nessed first-hand the havoc this con­di­tion can wreak, as two of her three daugh­ters had spent long pe­ri­ods in hospi­tal for anorexia. She told me how it robbed them of their per­son­al­i­ties and left them fight­ing for their lives on in-pa­tient wards. She also told me they were both now well-re­cov­ered.

Jane: The agony of watch­ing my daugh­ters go through this was ex­ac­er­bated by the lack of un­der­stand­ing around the ill­ness. Even when it nearly killed them, some med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als treated it like the man­i­fes­ta­tion of some ex­treme teenage girl van­ity. Arm­ing my­self with knowl­edge em­pow­ered me at a time when I felt help­less; I wanted to equip Charli with that knowl­edge, too – and tell her that re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble. Charli: Jane gave me some books she’d writ­ten about re­cov­ery. Read­ing her can­did take on the thing I’d been grap­pling with for years was so re­fresh­ing that I burst into tears. I’ve since signed with an agency that sup­ports me modelling at my size, and CBT is help­ing me make sense of what I’ve been through. Jane was the first per­son to ask me out­right if I had a prob­lem. Say­ing it out loud was trans­for­ma­tive for me. Charli is an am­bas­sador for Anorexia & Bulimia Care; anorex­i­ab­u­lim­i­acare.org.uk

In 2016, CBBC pre­sen­ter Katie Thistle­ton moved out of a dark pe­riod of de­pres­sion, but she was still strug­gling to make sense of the ex­pe­ri­ence. When she heard Matt Haig on the ra­dio talk­ing about his me­moir, Rea­sons To Stay Alive,

she bought a copy, and it changed her per­spec­tive en­tirely

Katie: For months, I didn’t want to live. The only rea­son I didn’t con­sider end­ing my own life was be­cause I re­mem­bered how hard my cousin’s sui­cide three years pre­vi­ously had been on my fam­ily. As the de­pres­sion sub­sided, thanks in part to med­i­ca­tion, I con­vinced my­self that the way to leave it be­hind for good was to find my ‘pur­pose’ – what­ever that might be. But nei­ther pi­ano nor ten­nis lessons made me feel joy­ful or grounded. When I heard Matt speak about de­pres­sion with a clar­ity and per­cep­tive­ness I’d never heard be­fore, I de­cided to pick up a copy of his book. It hit home, like an un­flinch­ing talk­ing-to that I hadn’t known I’d needed. Near the end, he shares two lists. The first, the things that make him feel bet­ter; the sec­ond, things that make him feel worse. It was a con­cept so bril­liant in its sim­plic­ity that I de­cided to make my own. Some of our ‘worse’ things are the same: drink­ing too much al­co­hol; com­par­ing our­selves to oth­ers on­line; not get­ting enough fam­ily time. The items on my ‘bet­ter’ list were sim­i­larly un­re­mark­able: lis­ten­ing to Bey­oncé, jump­ing into a hot shower be­fore putting on my PJS and watch­ing TV with my boyfriend. It’s al­most em­bar­rass­ing how some­thing so ob­vi­ous could change my life.

I met Matt when he came to read one of his chil­dren’s books on my CBBC show. He was a stranger, but he felt fa­mil­iar be­cause his words had cut through my con­fu­sion when I needed it the most. Matt: In the months af­ter my book was pub­lished, I wished I’d never writ­ten it. I’m not a doc­tor or a Sa­mar­i­tan, so I strug­gled with the la­bel ‘men­tal health am­bas­sador’. But, al­most three years on, I’ve been able to process it all and ap­pre­ci­ate just how much it has helped peo­ple. I’m not sur­prised the lists at the end res­onated with Katie; the worst thing about be­ing men­tally un­well is the pow­er­less­ness. Work­ing out what to do more or less of is a sim­ple step to re­claim­ing some of that lost power. The com­mu­nity that’s sprung up around the book heart­ens me, too – and I was happy to en­dorse Katie’s own book (which speaks di­rectly to the men­tal health strug­gles of pre-teen girls). If I be­came ill for the first time right now, I don’t think I’d feel as alone. Dear Katie: Real Ad­vice On Real Prob­lems With Ex­pert Tips by Katie Thistle­ton (£7.99, Orion) Notes On A Ner­vous Planet by Matt Haig (£12.99, Canon­gate)

En­ter­ing the pub­lic eye via Made In Chelsea, it’s no sur­prise that anx­i­ety punc­tu­ated

Binky Fel­stead’s early twen­ties. Mov­ing for­ward re­quired an un­likely ally – and em­brac­ing the pow­er­ful im­pact of the body on the mind

Binky: I first saw a ther­a­pist when my par­ents di­vorced, and

I’ve been in and out of coun­selling since. My mum’s open­ness about her de­pres­sive episodes taught me that I had no cause to be ashamed. By the time I got to­gether with Josh [‘JP’ Pat­ter­son, 28] in 2014,

I’d ex­pe­ri­enced anx­i­ety at­tacks that would trap my breath and trig­ger a rolling broad­cast of worst-case sce­nar­ios in my mind. I signed up for per­sonal train­ing ses­sions with Ty­rone be­cause I wanted help to over­haul my body, but I hadn’t an­tic­i­pated what a dif­fer­ence he’d make to my mind.

Ty­rone: When I met

Binky, I ex­plained that hav­ing struc­ture around train­ing and nu­tri­tion would lay the foun­da­tions for change in other ar­eas of her life, too. Our re­la­tion­ship de­vel­oped over the next few months; she be­gan to see her body change and her con­fi­dence grew. I’ll know straight away if Binky’s stressed, en­er­getic or anx­ious – as a trainer,

I can spot the phys­i­cal signs. I’ll gauge how hard to push her ac­cord­ingly and then, at the end of the ses­sion, we’ll chat over cof­fee. Her mind, like mine, can be so scat­tered and worn out from over­think­ing, but train­ing helps cre­ate some nec­es­sary space.

Binky: Ty was right; once I’d got my fit­ness and nu­tri­tion into a rou­tine, I started treat­ing all ar­eas of my life with a lit­tle more care. I wanted to be able to smash my

9am work­out – so, no, I prob­a­bly didn’t need that ex­tra glass of wine. But it’s more than that. Train­ers be­come like coun­sel­lors; Ty has def­i­nitely crossed into that role when I’ve opened up to him. He’s seen ev­ery pos­si­ble side of me – anger, joy, fear – when you’re train­ing that hard, any­thing can hap­pen. We’ve be­come so close that he was one of the first few peo­ple I told when I found out I was preg­nant. Josh and I had bro­ken up and I was in a state of ut­ter con­fu­sion. Know­ing I had him on hand to help keep my body and mind strong bol­stered my faith in my­self. Now that I do all the child­care for my one-year-old daugh­ter, In­dia, along­side work, our ses­sions are even more im­por­tant. I’ll never put my­self first again, ex­cept in those 90 min­utes of train­ing. I’d cer­tainly seek sup­port from a ther­a­pist if things dipped again, but right now, I’m in a good place. Anx­ious mo­ments no longer run my life – I do. Dis­cover Binky’s child­friendly fit­ness re­treats the­mum­mytribe.co.uk

Ear­lier this year, WH colum­nist and for­mer cover star Alice Live­ing an­nounced that she was once in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship that left her feel­ing anx­ious and worth­less. Here, she and her mother Sarah, who helped put her back to­gether, share their story

Alice: I was 16 when

I met Charles* at a party and we were a cou­ple within a fort­night. When he trawled through my texts, I saw this as proof that he cared for me, which was all my in­se­cure self wanted. I clung to that feel­ing when he’d pick a fight, then make me sleep on his bed­room floor as pun­ish­ment, and each time he was phys­i­cally ag­gres­sive to­wards me. The heart­felt apolo­gies and pleas for for­give­ness fur­ther clouded my judge­ment. How­ever ter­ri­fied I was about what he was ca­pa­ble of, the fear of peo­ple know­ing I was a vic­tim was worse. Fi­nally, I broke up with him. The irate texts and con­stant calls even­tu­ally stopped, so I was caught off guard when he jumped me one af­ter­noon out­side school and phys­i­cally as­saulted me.

Sarah: ‘You need to come to the school. Alice has been at­tacked,’ said the voice on the phone. I was heart­bro­ken that this had hap­pened and dev­as­tated that I hadn’t seen it com­ing. All I wanted was to re­build my daugh­ter, but in that mo­ment, I felt pow­er­less.

Alice: My night­mare had come true: ev­ery­one knew I was a vic­tim.

For weeks, I had nightly panic at­tacks. My mum would climb into bed and sleep be­side me and I re­mem­ber feel­ing safe, sup­ported and re­lieved that this was no longer my bur­den to shoul­der alone.

Sarah: On hear­ing Alice’s choked-up tears, I’d rush into her room. I’d just hold her, lis­ten to her, soothe her – grate­ful that now she’d let me help her.

Alice: The shame per­sisted, punc­tu­ated by vivid flash­backs over the com­ing months. Through it all, my mum pro­vided un­con­di­tional sup­port. While my in­stinct was to with­draw and not make any de­ci­sions by my­self, she em­pow­ered me to choose my next steps.

She re­in­forced that I was worth some­thing, that my body and mind de­served care and at­ten­tion. Since I started blog­ging, she’s been cheer­ing me on. My mum’s sup­port was the foun­da­tion upon which I was able to build my­self back up – and thrive. Alice is an am­bas­sador for Women’s Aid; wom­en­said.org.uk

Cred­it­ing an ex for their

pos­i­tive im­pact on your men­tal health? It’s not com­mon. Yomi Ade­goke isn’t sure she’d have got through the worst year of her life with­out her for­mer part­ner, Sam Batista Mor­ris

Yomi: In 2014, I wit­nessed a fam­ily mem­ber go through se­ri­ous, de­bil­i­tat­ing trauma. I won’t go into specifics – it’s still too painful – but what I’m happy to share is how I moved through the de­pres­sion trig­gered by this episode, which I couldn’t have done with­out my ex, Sam.

We’d bro­ken up the night be­fore I got the news, but I couldn’t not call him.

Sam: I’d seen Yomi up­set be­fore, but never like this. I didn’t know where ‘we’ were, but I was cer­tain that I wanted to be there for her. I didn’t of­ten know what to say in big fam­ily sit­u­a­tions, let alone this one, so I didn’t say much when I ar­rived. I just re­minded ev­ery­one to eat.

Yomi: Sam didn’t shy away from my dis­tress. Nor did he at­tempt to pla­cate me with empty as­sur­ances. He was a solid pres­ence, de­ter­mined that I wouldn’t lose my way. Amid the chaos and pain, I was of­fered my first proper jour­nal­ism job at ITN. I wanted to pre­tend it wasn’t there – this was no time for ca­reers, goals and dreams

– but Sam wouldn’t let me. Ap­pear­ing as if I was func­tion­ing dur­ing my first few months at that job took ev­ery­thing I had.

Sam: Yomi wore this air of deep sad­ness and all I wanted was to tell her that ev­ery­thing would be okay – but I couldn’t. What I did know was that ever since I met Yomi at the Uni­ver­sity of War­wick, I’d been in awe of her drive. I knew she would do great things. She knew that I be­lieved in her, even when she didn’t.

Yomi: Sam could see the light at the end of what felt like in­ter­minable dark­ness. It was a whole year later – af­ter I’d re­cov­ered with the help of time and coun­selling – that I dis­cov­ered we didn’t want the same things. So, am­i­ca­bly, we broke up for good. We’ve both moved on, but the sup­port he showed me and my fam­ily dur­ing that time means we’ve built a bond of friend­ship that isn’t go­ing any­where. Slay in Your Lane by Yomi Ade­goke and El­iz­a­beth Uviebi­nené (£9.99, Fourth Es­tate)

In Fe­bru­ary 2017,

Roisín Dervish-o’kane ex­pe­ri­enced a de­pres­sive episode she couldn’t force her­self to work through and her GP signed her off for six weeks. When her new man­ager, Nikki Os­man, started months later, she dreaded dis­cussing her on­go­ing men­tal health is­sues. But she did, and it changed her work­ing life for the bet­ter

Roisín: Once Nikki joined our team, I was dread­ing The Con­ver­sa­tion. I didn’t want to tell a stranger that in­tense anx­i­ety had cul­mi­nated in a de­pres­sive episode so de­bil­i­tat­ing I had to be signed off work; that de­spite man­ag­ing my con­di­tion with med­i­ca­tion and (when funds al­lowed) psy­chother­apy, some days I’m still not okay; that no mat­ter how badly I want to come into work ev­ery day and crush it, I can’t guar­an­tee that I will al­ways be able to.

Nikki: Af­ter ask­ing me for a quiet word in a meet­ing room, Roisín told me can­didly about what she’d been through. I was re­lieved that she trusted me with this in­for­ma­tion, but I felt un­equipped to sup­port her in the way she needed. I went away, read as much as I could and sought out some train­ing, but there isn’t a play­book for how to sup­port some­one.

Roisín: That first con­ver­sa­tion is so im­por­tant be­cause, when the worst doesn’t hap­pen, it gives you con­fi­dence to open up again. Nine months af­ter we started work­ing to­gether, I had my first panic at­tack in ages, in the toi­lets at work. Ad­mit­ting to hav­ing an at­tack, mo­ments af­ter you’ve had it, to your line man­ager, is hard. But be­cause Nikki ac­cepts and en­cour­ages that di­a­logue, I could do it.

Her re­sponse was kind, prac­ti­cal and quite force­ful, ac­tu­ally. She told me to leave it at the door, go home and en­joy my week­end. And I did.

Nikki: But that di­a­logue has come from Roisín, too. She’s good at telling me when she’s not feel­ing great, and not be­cause she has a cold, but be­cause she doesn’t feel men­tally well. We all present a cer­tain ver­sion of our­selves at work, and talk­ing about your men­tal health is like ad­mit­ting to be­ing hu­man in an en­vi­ron­ment where you some­times feel like you have to be su­per­hu­man. But what Roisín is do­ing is treat­ing her men­tal health the same way she treats her phys­i­cal health. I think that should be the goal for all of us.

In De­cem­ber 2016, Michelle Mor­gan, co­founder and for­mer CEO of creative agency Liv­ity, burned out. Fac­ing a slew of phys­i­cal and men­tal health chal­lenges, her world shrank. But with sim­ple shows of sup­port from hus­band Remi Rough, she pulled through and learnt an im­por­tant les­son

Michelle: ‘Can I take my wife for a cof­fee?’ Remi asked me softly, be­fore help­ing me into my clothes and guid­ing me, hunched and frag­ile, to a cafe near our South Lon­don home. It was an act of kind­ness at a time when I needed it most. As an artist, his work flex­i­bil­ity meant he’d al­ways shoul­dered the child­care for our 12-year-old daugh­ter, Lily, and I’d been the main bread­win­ner. That was un­til I broke down at the bot­tom of our stair­case in 2016; a vi­o­lent burnout that had been months, maybe years, in the mak­ing. Later that day, my GP signed me off from my job as CEO of the agency I’d co-founded 15 years pre­vi­ously. I’d be­come used to work­ing long hours in a high­pres­sure en­vi­ron­ment, but try­ing to se­cure in­vest­ment in the wake of the Brexit vote upped the stress, which was com­pounded by a painful fi­broid in my womb. A month later, my GP di­ag­nosed de­pres­sion. The woman who lay in bed all day was one I didn’t recog­nise. I thought I should be out there earn­ing money, and I judged my­self harshly.

Remi: I never once thought, ‘This is my wife at break­ing point.’ I just knew in­stinc­tively that I needed to keep things mov­ing. Michelle was so un­well that I didn’t want her to fo­cus on any­thing ex­cept get­ting bet­ter. I’d see to sim­ple things, like keep­ing on top of doc­tor’s ap­point­ments and mak­ing sure she left the house – even if only to walk and chat shit. Any­thing to make things feel nor­mal.

Michelle: Some­thing I don’t think Remi re­alised at the time was how he’d cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment in which it was okay for me to be bro­ken. When fran­tic anx­i­ety over my fu­ture ca­reer took hold, he didn’t try to pla­cate me with ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ments; when de­pres­sion left me mono­syl­labic, he didn’t try to con­vince me that ev­ery­thing was okay. He just... let me be. It al­lowed me to ac­cept that I needed to go eas­ier on my­self.

Remi: Go­ing through this has changed our dy­namic as a cou­ple. Even when she was at her low­est, Michelle couldn’t help but worry about money and judge her­self for not be­ing out there earn­ing it. But when I took care of ev­ery­thing for that pe­riod, it showed her that she didn’t need to do it all, all the time. I was proud of Michelle when she was a CEO, but I’m just as proud of her for her re­cov­ery. Michelle is founder of Pjoys – py­ja­mas that help make men­tal health an ev­ery­day topic; pjoys.co.uk

A de­pres­sive episode in 2014 dark­ened Denise Cross­ley’s life be­yond recog­ni­tion. Her daugh­ter, Han­nah Beecham, far away in Lon­don, wanted to help – but didn’t know how

Han­nah: ‘How do you fancy walk­ing a marathon?’ I didn’t know what I ex­pected from Mum when I posed that ques­tion in Novem­ber 2014, but I was des­per­ate. If there was such a thing as rock bot­tom, she’d hit it, and liv­ing so far away I didn’t know how I could help her. So when I read about the Moon­walk, a 26.2 mile route through the streets of Lon­don by night, or­gan­ised by a breast cancer char­ity, I signed us both up.

Now I just had to get her to agree to do it. Denise: I took Han­nah’s call from my bed, where I’d spent the ma­jor­ity of the past five months. Signed off from my job as a teacher’s as­sis­tant, I couldn’t tell you the time or the date; I rarely left my room, let alone the house. I searched for an ex­cuse, any ex­cuse, not to do it. The cost? ‘All taken care of,’ she said, brightly. ‘Right,’ I replied. Then, re­mem­ber­ing a young col­league who re­cently lost her bat­tle with breast cancer, ‘I guess we’re do­ing it then.’ Han­nah: The fol­low­ing week­end, Mum sent me a photo of her­self decked out in leg­gings and walk­ing boots. She’d left the house and in­ter­acted with a sales­per­son. I was ab­so­lutely stunned. Denise: With that date in the di­ary, I had a pur­pose. The big one – walk­ing 26 miles – and the smaller one of get­ting out of bed, putting on my wellies and clock­ing up some miles. Out there, in the fields, I wasn’t ‘woman with prob­lems’, I was just an­other dog walker. Han­nah: Mum sud­denly be­came hard to reach. When­ever I called, she was out walk­ing. As the day of the race got closer, she was ex­cited. That she made it to the start­ing line in Lon­don was vic­tory enough – months ear­lier, she could barely bring her­self to take a shower. Just the marathon to con­tend with now.

Denise: It was bit­terly cold and my legs hurt in places I didn’t know they could hurt. As we hob­bled over Chelsea Bridge and into the fi­nal mile, tears leaked from my eyes. It was only af­ter we crossed the fin­ish­ing line and stum­bled into a taxi that it hit me that I’d re­ally done it. I’ll for­ever be grate­ful to my daugh­ter for know­ing what I needed when I didn’t, and couldn’t. And since she founded RED Jan­uary – an on­line com­mu­nity of peo­ple com­mit­ting to ex­er­cise ev­ery day in Jan­uary for their men­tal health – that mes­sage is reach­ing mil­lions more. Reg­is­tra­tion for RED Jan­uary 2019 is open red­to­gether.co.uk

32, writer 37, creative di­rec­tor ROSE CARTWRIGHT AARON HAR­VEY

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