THE BLOG

How Helping Others Helps My Wellbeing

03/04/2017 12:56 BST | Updated 03/04/2017 12:56 BST

I believe when we give kindness to others we can heal (or improve) our own mental illness.

After my much-hyped 1.5km run, I hit rock bottom emotionally and psychologically and became severely suicidal.

Yes me, you know that super woman who spectacularly beat locked in syndrome (LIS).

I'm the woman who recovered, with the help of amazing family/friends and who is huge locked in syndrome activist and campaigner.

However in reality, I had nothing left after my run to strive for. My realisation that I was never going to be the same 'normal' Kate, wife, mum, friend or daughter. I had accepted my new 'Keyser Sose' draggy leg. But I couldn't deal with my out-of-control mood swings, chronic fatigue and rock-bottom self-worth.

Not to mention my messed up emotions which often, and embarrassingly, did the exact opposite of what I wanted. For example, laughing loudly at funerals.

My dodgy speech, my social isolation, my urinary incontinence and my PTSD which had been temporarily suppressed by my obsessed-running-again-focus.

Yes, depression, low self-worth, anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, being misunderstood by 'normal folk', who fortunately not suffered a life altering event, consumed and saddened me. I was lonely and very different.

My negative emotions of feeling totally abandoned and completely isolated by almost everyone, made me so low. I felt like an impostor/burden by my immediate/extended family.

My emotional freefall partly drove me to write my second book 'Gonna Fly Now!'

In fact, I was mainly writing it in a desperate attempt to self-manage my distressing emotional issues and the inadvertent loss of my story rights to dramatise Running Free - my future pension?

I was flailing, angry and in public self-destruct mode.

Looking back, I was actually in the middle of a huge nervous breakdown. Sorry for subjecting you to that, but now, I'm proud of my honesty.

At the time, and at my most desperate/suicidal, I remember having a huge altercation with my GP. He insensitively (and pretty aggressively) asserted as I entered his consultation room:

'Mrs Allatt, depression is hardly a life and death reason for a same-day appointment... I mean you are not exactly having a suspected heart attack... your appointment could have waited. Please be more considerate to people with potential life threatening illnesses next time.'

I had been about to drive my car - with no children in it - into the next nearest wall in The Peak District. However, I wasn't having a suspected heart attack, so I should have waited two weeks for a more appropriate appointment slot? Really? So you missed the teaching module on understanding and treating mental illness at medical school? Knob.

Well, I was not now only severely depressed but also very angry with the ignorant thirty-something GP. He clearly had absolutely no idea of the impact of my dreadful life experiences on maintaining my well being.

In January 2012, I started to feel better because that anti-depressant script meant I was really beginning to 'fix' my problem. I guess some sort of a placebo effect? I knew in reality that my drug solution would take weeks to get in my system and thus begin to start to re-balance my screwed-up serotonin levels. But something incredible also happened in January 2012. I 'met' Christine Waddell on Skype.

She had been a LIS survivor for the last 17 years. Christine was my age and hadn't moved, eaten or drank and was discharged by her neurologist 16 years earlier. (She used eye gaze and Facebook to communicate). She sat in a wheelchair with a headrest. That was her life.

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Image: Kate Allatt.

I connected with her as part of my voluntary patient advocacy work and daily peer mentoring work with my then registered global charity - Fighting Strokes. I found that she had more voluntary movement in her mouth than I ever did.

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Image: Kate Allatt.

I offered to help her improve that movement and she agreed. Having somewhat of a LIS profile I completely exploited it to convince a private neuro-physiotherapy company in County Durham to take a punt on helping Christine to offer her free physiotherapy. Well, even I was gobsmacked when they agreed to take on Christine as a guinea pig.

Within three months, Christine had lost the headrest she'd had for years. This action 'kick started' her asleep nerves in her torso and neck. Within 12 months she was able to sit and reach unaided on a plinth and stand in a standing frame. Her therapy was increased to twice a week and included aqua therapy too.

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Image: Kate Allatt.

But I was gob smacked to receive this picture on Facebook in November 2015!

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Image: Kate Allatt.

Christine was only eating a huge piece of chocolate cake after 19 years of being nil-by-mouth! She's since had her PEG removed and is now on three meals a day!

I salute you Christine, you always be my wickedly funny heroine. Her belief, effort, dedication, support, results and hope to others, continues to be utterly astonishing.

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Image: Kate Allatt.

Yes, the buzz I still get from trying to help these desperate families, who 'get me' and me them, has always been totally and utterly addictive because I feel better when I give.

My altruistic work lifts me in a way nothing else will ever do, not even my mothers pride at my kids accomplishments. For me, visiting recently diagnosed LIS patients and their families in ICU is easier than going out socially. I'm comfortable there, it's where I get my self-worth and purpose and I'm happy/privileged to try to help. When everything is crumbling around me and it does, my passion and need to give to others, gives me the strength to cope. Truthfully, when I have to put my work on hold to deal with a family crisis, l suffer a huge negative mood shift in my well being.

So here's my advice.

Don't just think about doing a random act of kindness for a friend, family or stranger... just do it and keep doing it!

They will benefit tremendously, but your wellbeing will improve far, far more. So even if you just sit and talk to a stranger in Costa or help someone elderly with their bags at Tesco or volunteer once a week at a local charity, these will help to keep you mentally well.

These things do help you remain sane.

Could giving really be the cure to manage our nation's mental illness?