Kate Appleby

Overcoming Isolation: My Journey from Darkness to Adventure

July 11, 2024

Trigger Warning: This story discusses experiences of mental health struggles, mention of suicide, sexual abuse and chronic illness.

“I believed I was a burden to those around me, and that by removing myself from the equation, I was being considerate. I wasn’t thinking about the impact it would have on others; I just wanted the pain to stop.”

Christmas at university was a stark reminder of my isolation. While others looked forward to family gatherings, I was acutely aware of the void in my life. No family Christmas, no support system—just an overwhelming loneliness. It felt like I had fought so hard to get to this point, only to face another set of insurmountable challenges.

After a failed suicide attempt, I realised I needed to change my mindset. Therapy helped, but my love for adventure and the outdoors truly became my outlet. Despite my chronic illnesses, I found ways to push my boundaries and achieve my goals. Now, I proudly identify as an adaptive adventurer and traveller. Living with lupus and other incurable illnesses, alongside my mental health struggles, means I constantly adapt to pursue my passions.

Starting from a disadvantaged background, I always wanted to prove that even without family support or financial stability, you can achieve your dreams. I aim to be open about my struggles to help others understand that it’s okay to not be okay and to seek help when needed.

Reflecting on my life, I want to be remembered not just for what I’ve done or where I’ve travelled, but for the impact I’ve made and the hope I’ve inspired in others. It’s about leaving a legacy of resilience, determination, and kindness, showing that even in the face of immense challenges, it’s possible to thrive, not just survive.

During my early university days, I felt incredibly alone. Social interactions and alcohol were daunting, and my family’s indifference deepened my isolation. It was like being Harry Potter without his friends—no haven, no support. My father’s suicide attempts during my teenage years left me feeling utterly abandoned. His struggles and the anger I felt taught me about empathy versus sympathy and the importance of understanding different viewpoints.

Experiencing poverty, lack of home ownership, and food scarcity, I knew I wanted a different life. After my suicide attempt, I decided to make life worth living. I excelled in my studies, achieving a first in my science degree despite my lack of formal education until I was 16. I set ambitious goals: owning a home, building a successful business, and travelling. Balancing these ambitions with managing my health and coping with grief, including the loss of my father, has been challenging.

Balancing work with lupus requires creativity and resilience. Contrary to misconceptions, I hold a full-time job as a management consultant while running my own business. Managing digital projects, often in government and scientific sectors, I love my work and the impact it allows me to have. Adapting to my health needs, I’ve learned to work through infusions and hospital stays, always striving to deliver quality results.

My career journey has been somewhat unexpected. After studying ecology and biology, I became an ecologist and then transitioned into health-related project management roles. The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to advance my career significantly, leading to a senior role in the Department of Health’s test and trace efforts. This experience fueled my passion for merging private-sector innovation with public-sector needs. Starting my consultancy allowed me to continue this work, taking on diverse projects and making a tangible difference.

Despite my achievements, I face trolling and misconceptions about my career and online presence. Many assume I don’t have a real job or that I rely solely on social media for income, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sharing my story online aims to provide hope and representation for others facing similar challenges. Vulnerability is key, though it exposes me to harsh criticism. A particularly difficult period involved discovering a dedicated thread about me on a notorious gossip site, which almost pushed me back into a dark mental space.

Ultimately, my goal is to use my experiences and platform to inspire others, advocate for inclusivity, and make a positive impact. Whether through my charity work with Adaptive Ventures, supporting people in accessing outdoor experiences, or being transparent about my journey, I strive to create a space where people can see that life, despite its difficulties, can still be fulfilling and meaningful.

When I first started sharing my story online, I found myself constantly worrying about how people perceived my posts. A friend eventually gave me tough love, telling me to either get off the internet or accept that people would judge me. This advice helped me reach a place of acceptance. I realized that by putting anything out in the public eye, I was inviting opinions, both positive and negative.

This understanding became even more profound during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting that suffering is a global issue. My struggles with lupus, mental health challenges, and family discord are all interconnected. After a period of extreme stress, my mental and physical health deteriorated. Despite these challenges, I’ve managed to create a peaceful situation for myself. I have my own home, supportive friends, and a business I care about.

The outdoors has always been my sanctuary. Growing up in a rural setting, I would escape to nature whenever things got tough. My father shared this love for the outdoors, and my happiest childhood memories are tied to being outside. During periods of sexual abuse and later, when I attempted to take my own life, nature was my refuge. The outdoors provided me with peace and a connection to something larger than myself.

Living in the Lake District now, I make it a point to spend time outside every day. The outdoors is the difference between surviving and thriving for me. I don’t need a specific location; just seeing the sky and breathing fresh air can calm me down. It’s a space where I feel free from judgment and can fully be myself.

Friendships have also been a crucial part of my journey. While I don’t have childhood friends, the relationships I’ve built since my late teens are incredibly important to me. These friends are my chosen family, supporting me through thick and thin. They understand the depth of my struggles and are there for me in ways that are profoundly grounding.

I appreciate the power of one person’s support. Small gestures can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Through my online presence, I’ve connected with people who have found solace and encouragement in my story. This connection makes the occasional trolling worthwhile, knowing that I’ve helped someone see that life is worth living.

In conclusion, I am continuously evolving, learning from my mistakes, and striving to be authentically myself. Despite the challenges, I’ve found peace in the outdoors, strength in my friendships, and a purpose in sharing my story to inspire others. Reflecting on my life, I want to be remembered not just for what I’ve done or where I’ve travelled, but for the impact I’ve made and the hope I’ve inspired in others.

This blog was written by John Matthews on behalf of Tales to Inspire.

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