WRITTEN BY AMY DOWNES
They say everything happens for a reason, that sometimes the hardest times happen because they are taking us on an unplanned, unexpected path in life – something Sophie Mei Lan and Amy Downes (Co-Founders of Sparkle Up North) can certainly attest to.
Holistic Healer Abi Fenton has been on one of those journeys: after 11 years in teaching, her own mental health problems lead to a surprise career change and now she wants to share her experience to help other people.
‘I taught mainly in a special needs school, helping children with multiple learning difficulties, and I really loved it. But as you’ll hear from a lot of teachers, the stress on the paperwork side became too much.’
Abi was invited by her managers to attend a leadership training course, learning skills that would prove to be worthwhile at a later date, but when she returned to her ‘day job’, her mental health had clearly shifted.
‘Something just hit me and I couldn’t leave my house, I couldn’t even go to the garden to put the washing out. I was breathless and I was dizzy. I just felt so low that I couldn’t do anything.’
‘One day in school, I was literally holding on to the handrail because I felt so ill, looking back I can see that was all down to my anxiety.’
Symptoms of anxiety were missed
Frustratingly, this wasn’t picked up straight away by her doctor. After various blood tests came back clear, she was told it was chronic fatigue syndrome and just advised to rest – something that isn’t so easy for an ambitious working mum who was a teacher.
It was at this point that Abi seems to have taken control of her own fate, for it was her that suggested to her doctor that it might, in fact, be anxiety and she was prescribed beta-blockers for this. She also began a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which began her on a journey of self-discovery that was to change the course of her career and, of course, her mental health recovery.
‘I found that really useful, just to help me understand what anxiety was. That also lead to me having counselling a bit later on, which really helped me find the root cause to my problems of anxiety and health anxiety.’
Meanwhile, she made a huge decision for her career: ‘I was finding there was no way I could manage my health while continuing in teaching. So I decided to leave that profession and it’s the best decision I’ve probably made for my mental health.’
Beginning to understand her condition a little bit more, she decided, understandably, that she didn’t want to continue with the beta blockers because it was impacted her health anxiety, she knew that something more in depth was needed to help her.
Alternative therapies for mental health
‘I’d been gifted a little treatment from a complimentary therapist, so I just decided to contact her and see if she could help me.’
Abi started having reflexology treatments, followed by reiki and hypnotherapy and immediately felt the benefit from them. But her interest and belief in them didn’t stop there, she saw an opportunity to help other women who were struggling, like her. It was actually her therapist that suggested she begin her own business in alternative therapies:
‘I was always asking her questions about the treatments, wanting to know more, and she said to me, ‘maybe you should have a look into doing these things yourself!’
Abi started training in reflexology and qualified in February 2018, which is when she went ahead with setting her business up, and went on to add all the other treatments that she had received herself.
‘I wanted to train because I’ve seen the amazing benefits that it’s brought to me in my life and I want to share how other people can benefit from it too.’
‘I want people to know there are other things out there, because so many people just go to their GP and get medication. I just think people aren’t aware of all these amazing other therapies to help them manage their anxiety.’
A long-term journey to recovery
She is keen to highlight that mental health is a long journey, a journey she takes her clients on to reach a better place in their life.
‘Mental health is a long term thing that you need to commit yourself to. It’s not something that you can just take a magic pill and solve everything. You don’t go to the gym and think you’re going to lose all this weight and be fit and healthy just from one session at the gym, do you?’
With the troubling times that we have all been through over the past year, Abi is conscious that this support is needed now more than ever before. The ONS (Office of National Statistics) recently revealed that one in five adults have experienced depressive symptoms in last quarter, compared to one in ten before the pandemic outbreak.
Stephen Buckley from Mental Health charity Mind said “We cannot underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health – whether that’s bereavement, the devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, or the impact of the latest economic recession which may have affected our jobs and livelihoods.
Abi told us, ‘This past year has just made me realise I really do want to help as many people as I can with their mental health. I think it’s key to me, as well as through my work, to speak out about mental health and that’s why I feel more confident and comfortable sharing my story.’
‘If you’re struggling and all those thoughts and feelings are escalating, it can easily get out of control and start affecting things in your life. That’s when you know may need some support… to rein yourself back and teach you all the tools and techniques.’
‘Everyone has these struggles: I’m not perfect, I do have those bad days where I might be in tears and feeling rubbish, but it’s how you turn it around and I think it’s talking about it as well.’
‘I was in that sort of by the place that I needed that support and I saw the benefits of having all these treatments. I don’t think I’d be where I am now without the having those treatments.’
For Mental Health Awareness month, Abi is running lots of events to support Leeds Mind which we’d love to share with you:
- She is running 75 miles to raise money (‘I can’t believe I’m doing that!’), you can support her here.
- She is donating 10% of all her treatments
- And she’s taking part in a challenge called Carry the Burden, where participants will carry an item with them for 24 hours to raise awareness that mental health is invisible and that we often carry these burdens without people noticing or knowing about it
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Abi for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck with her fundraising this month. You can join her Facebook group or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.