Louise Johnstone: Transforming Your Mental Health

“ I take much more risks now, than I ever did as a kid and that comes from a lot of reflecting and a lot of years trying to improve and reflect.”

My name is Louise Johnstone and I am a Dundee based personal trainer and endurance athlete. I have spent my career aiming to improve the mental and physical health of women. This ranges from supporting individual progress, to advocating for national policy reform. 

While playing sports was something that I always enjoyed, I experienced mental health challenges from a young age. My parents splitting up had a big impact on me and my confusion around the split really compounded these feelings. In addition to this, my sister had her own struggles going through school and often I would be called out of class to help with this. This operated alongside mental health issues within my family at home and overall it began to take its toll on me.  

At the age of 15, I went to the doctor about a separate concern and ended up breaking down. This led to a subsequent diagnosis of depression and began the journey of receiving support. This was something that went against my natural instincts, given that I had always been an independent child and would avoid seeking help. However, I believe that it is important that individuals have to be willing to accept some form of help. Understandably, this may not occur at the first opportunity and it is far from an easy step to make.

Following this diagnosis, I began to receive support from school in the form of a guidance teacher. Despite this additional support, my mental health remained a challenge. Often I would curl up into a ball and simply cry. This really represented a dark place for me and I spent so much time hating who I was. Instead, I would try to make myself as small as possible, in an attempt to maintain self-preservation. Put another way, it was like suffering the worst ever stomach pain, while also knowing that there was no way to remove it. 

At this time I also felt quite isolated and unaware that many other people were feeling this way. I decided to confide in someone that I trusted. However, when they passed this information on, against my consent, this only convinced me more that confiding in others was wrong. Even when my Mum found out, her reaction was not completely as I intended. It is almost like as a child, you should not have worries and anxieties. It felt like my worries were being de-legitimised. Admittedly, this was likely impacted by societal views and a failure to appreciate the prevalence and severity of mental health issues. I also experienced an episode of de-legitimation when coming to terms with my sexuality. Interestingly, it was only when reading a book in English that I came to fully appreciate that I was homosexual. Again though, after confiding in someone that I trusted, they told me not to be silly. Once more, this made it harder to process my emotions but also reinforced the notion that dealing with issues personally was the best route. 

Undoubtedly, these times were difficult and this made reflection extremely challenging. However, when I look back now, I can see how much progress I have made and this brings me great pride.

Following school, I took a year out and did some nannying before heading to university in Glamorgan. I felt safe in the university and everyone was extremely accepting as to who I was. Ultimately, however, my mental health struggles did not evaporate. Again, I received support from the on-site medical team, who were truly wonderful. Some techniques, like meditation, were somewhat lost on me. However, these were professionals and they cared and that meant so much to me. Unfortunately, financial issues meant that I could not finish my degree and following university I experienced a spell of unhealthy relationships.

I then went into employment and despite failing mental health, consistently progressed to management. Despite this, I never felt that the work truly motivated me. I wanted to wake up in the morning and know that I was making a difference to someone else. I began to drop a lot of my strategies and slip back into more negative ways. For me, I like to revert back to the analogy of a broken bone. This is visible and others become aware of physical injuries. The same cannot be said of depression and often you can go about your normal life without sharing this, despite mental health issues representing equal, if not greater, severity. Often mental health struggles cause people to increasingly put up barriers. In turn, this makes it harder for them to break down and often the true reality of the situation is not revealed. 

Following this, I began coaching sports development with children. Despite there being a social stigma around the prestige of this job, this was something that I really enjoyed. Do not get me wrong, kids do take a lot out of you, but you get a lot back at the same time. Doing something that I enjoyed made me happier and helped me to progress towards greater self-acceptance.

Moving forward, I want to do all I can to ensure that no child has to feel the way that I did growing up. I regret spending so much of my life not accepting who I was and I want to reach out to prevent that happening to others. For me, even if one person hears this message and gets support, then that is enough. 

There is lots more to come. To be perfectly honest, I feel like I am only scraping the surface. Previously, I have run 100 miles over 4 days and completed runs through the Sahara Desert. My next challenge involves running 3,455 miles over 100 days as part of the Run North Sea 2021 challenge. I am running to raise awareness for mental health and to fundraise for the Scottish Association for Mental Health. I want to continue making a difference and to show that true strength is being able to show your vulnerabilities. 

Resources:

Louise Johnstone

Run North Sea 2021

SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) 

Young Minds