This Mental Health Awareness Week, we're hearing stories about Body Image - how we think and feel about our bodies to break down the stigma around the related mental health issues. 

My name is Louise and since a very young age I have struggled with coping with my mental health and finding ways to hide and pretend that I was a positive and happy person on the outside because I felt ashamed. This shame grew even more when I was given a diagnosis of PTSD with OCD compulsions and dissociation 7 years ago.

I had given birth to two beautiful baby girls on separate occasions who sadly passed away not long after they were born, this triggered multiple breakdowns, flashbacks, constant nightmares, intense rage, overwhelming guilt and self blame. I struggled on for years hiding it away, going through the motions with doctors, counsellors and psychiatrists using my coping mechanism of pretending I was fine and I was accepting it all and moving on with life, in reality the days of being able to cope were becoming fewer and fewer. I couldn’t keep a job, I lost friends, pushed people away and had the most overwhelming hatred for the world.

It took 7 years of trying to hide and cope before I crashed completely and it felt like my brain just gave up, I couldn’t stop crying, constant bad thoughts, moments of blackouts and memory loss. I decided that I had enough and that I had to look for new ways to help myself. I sought out professional help from my GP and mental health team who reaffirmed Complex PTSD and the other diagnoses, they provided what support was available.

"I very scarily signed up for a beginner’s adult ballet class and that night after that lesson began a whole new path of learning to reconnect, make both mind and body stronger, meditate through the movement."

I was ready for more, I decided to research and found lots of books and articles that talked about the mind/body connection that is affected when a person suffers traumatic experiences and rebuilding these connections can help with recovery. This involved taking part in any exercise where you needed to use the mind to concentrate on how the body is moving, dance was one suggestion. I very scarily signed up for a beginner’s adult ballet class and that night after that lesson began a whole new path of learning to reconnect, make both mind and body stronger, meditate through the movement. I now do a whole variety of dance classes and my coordination is slowly improving – it wasn’t until I started that I realised how disconnected my body was, it’s a long journey and I’m exploring lots of alternative therapies, EDMR and with all the amazing support I have I know there is starting to be hope again.

Dance has saved my life, I had never attended any form of dance class before but its giving me a release that I have been missing for so long. I also realised after so long that I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about, I stopped hiding how I felt and what had happened and by starting to share my story, people were surprised that anyone could develop PTSD. These responses are driving me to want to raise more awareness, to smash down the stigma and to help other people realise that they don’t have to be ashamed, I might even be able to convince a few to try a tap dance class with me! This is no means the end of my journey, its just the start of a more clearer one.

Mental Health Awareness week takes place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019 and is led by the Mental Health Foundation.

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