Monday 28 November 2016

Tackling the Broadgate Tower Stair Climb

Katherine writes about why she chose to take on the Broadgate Tower stair climb and fundraise to support Student Minds' work.
 -  Katherine Hockley

Mental health is still a uniquely scary thing. When it’s not a physical affliction, when it’s an invisible illness, there’s always the worry that it won’t be taken seriously or that there is no definitive cure.

My legs hurt.

Preparing for this 877 step stair climb has certainly been a test of will. I leave for work at 8am and get home at 7pm, so it’s been pretty tricky fitting in the ol’ fitness training regime.

But I’ve certainly tried. My boyfriend looked on in dismay as I did 100 squats a day in his room, and cursed me for forcing him to do Shaun T’s notoriously gruelling Insanity workout every couple of days.

In fact, my legs really hurt. Who knew I had muscles in my inner thighs? Certainly not me. But I understand that the pain I’m currently feeling is nothing to that I used to feel when suffering from depression at university.

I was actually first diagnosed with depression at 17, but it came raging back at 19 during my first year within Higher Education. I’d moved away from home and have always suffered with chronic shyness, so I was understandably nervous about the social aspect of university. But I assumed it’d be fine, and I packed off happily to Sheffield for the next three years of my life. In reality, it was a major shock to the system and I did not deal with the tumultuous change very well.  

Without getting into too many details, I was drinking heavily and self-harming. At one point I got gastritis, which basically means I drank so much booze that my stomach lining became severely inflamed. If I had even a sip of alcohol I would be doubled up in pain, and it lasted a very long time. So not only was I depressed, I had to stop drinking, which was my one and only crutch in my battle against social anxiety and unhappiness. Midway through the first academic year, I was barely leaving my room and didn’t attend any lectures. This in turn meant I wasn’t making any friends on my course, which made me even more miserable. When I did attend the odd class, I sat alone and left immediately after, feeling deflated and angry with myself for being so different.  

Slipping through the cracks at university is painfully easy to do, especially if you’re quiet and have a very small support network. However, I was lucky enough to have an incredibly responsive and helpful mental health service provided by my university, and this is probably the only reason I didn’t drop out and end up in an even more dire situation.

So when Student Minds presented to us in our All Staff Meeting, I couldn’t help but choke up and quickly force myself to brush away a few tears. These kinds of charities and this type of work is so sorely needed that I made a note on the organisation and vowed to send an email signing up to the Stair Climb.

Being me, I immediately forgot and it wasn’t until a few weeks later that it struck me to send that email. Once I had, I spread the word on Facebook and the donations came rolling in.

Mental health is such an important issue that it demands everyone’s attention. Climbing up and training for an 877 stair climb is a holiday compared to going through the vast upheaval that university life can bring. Charities like this can fill the gap where student services are lacking, and I’m always glad to see these kinds of causes thriving. Mental health is still a uniquely scary thing. When it’s not a physical affliction, when it’s an invisible illness, there’s always the worry that it won’t be taken seriously or that there is no definitive cure.

By undertaking this challenge, by discussing my past and by writing this blog I hope that people understand that mental illness can affect anybody and everybody, regardless of age. It must not be taken lightly, and mental health is an uphill battle that doesn’t always have a finish line. I still struggle with anxiety, recently relapsing and being put back on anti-anxiety medication.  

But because it is such a difficult thing to tackle it needs extra care and attention. The happy-go-lucky, lazy stereotype that is often conjured up when we think of students needs to be re-addressed, by care professionals as well as their peers. Knowing that you’re going to be taken seriously is crucial in young people coming forward and getting the help they need, and organisations like Student Minds will make this a lot easier for those suffering now and in the future.

So instead of raising a glass to Student Minds, I raise a foot. And the other. 877 times, in quick succession…

Christ, my legs ache even writing about it.  Wish me luck.

We did it!!! 

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