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APP fundraiser story: How cycling boosts my mental wellbeing

Our Partner Peer Support Co-ordinator,  Simon O’Mara, has been incredibly busy raising awareness of postpartum psychosis and raising lots of money for APP by cycling 851 virtual miles.

Here he talks about why cycling is so good for his mental health.

When I get on my mountain bike, riding through narrow tracks at speed, tree branches within an inch of each handlebar, I can’t afford to think of anything else. It’s impossible, in fact. Mountain biking for me, requires technical focus, care and attention, and to let my mind wander elsewhere would be dangerous.

It’s the same with motorcycling, another passion of mine. It’s so good for the soul because when you’re out on the road, you can’t focus on anything else. You need to be acutely aware of the conditions of the road, the weather, other traffic – and of course every move you’re making; it’s critical to keep you safe.

But this need for focus is also why it’s so good for my mental health. The escapism and mindfulness that cycling affords me is invaluable. The fact that it’s good for my physical fitness is merely a by-product for me because, first and foremost, I enjoy it – and that’s why it has such a positive impact on my life and my health – both mentally and physically.

Fifteen years ago, after the birth of our son, my wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (PP) – a severe and debilitating postnatal mental illness. It was a frightening time for the whole family not least because, at the time, we had no real understanding as to what PP was.

It all started in the first couple of weeks after my wife gave birth, I had noticed subtle changes in her mood, but, as a first-time father, I didn’t really know what was ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ after birth. A few weeks later and these changes took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, things became very scary, very quickly.

Over the next few days, she woke in the early hours ‘ghost like’, her mood had plummeted, she was anxious, confused, pacing around the house, having delusions and hallucinations, ultimately it all ended in a 999 call.  I found myself in complete turmoil and throughout our journey with PP, had times where I went through every emotion possible - from being terrified, to feeling isolated, worried about the future and even feeling guilt-ridden for decisions I’d had to take; with little sleep, the pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital.

Postpartum psychosis as a father or partner, feels very much like a journey with a number of possible stages, from the initial crisis, potential admission to hospital, returning home and recovery - all of which bring different feelings and concerns to the fore. Just holding it together, having to keep strong for your wife or family members can sometimes see you not considering or letting on how worried you are, which in turn can lead to fathers suffering with their own mental ill-health.

It goes without saying that, whilst in the midst of the illness, mountain biking wasn’t really an option. I did give it a go while my wife was in hospital, but I couldn’t concentrate and was too acutely aware of everything that was going on at that time, so I wasn’t able to give cycling all my attention and I wasn’t able to get the enjoyment and mental health benefits from it.

When my wife came home, as her partner, I still had real worries about whether she might relapse and how we would cope if she did. I wondered if things might be drastically different for us and how life might be in the future. So it wasn’t until she was firmly into her recovery journey that I was able to stop and think about how I was coping, how I was feeling. It was during this period of my wife’s recovery that mountain biking became a significant part of my own recovery from the stress and trauma that PP had on our family.

But it isn’t even just the time that I’m on my bike when I notice a change in how I’m feeling. Even when I’m putting the bike back on the car, ready to head home, I feel refreshed, ready to deal with anything that life throws at me. It not only gives me those moments of mindfulness, it re-sets everything and helps build longer-term resilience.

This is why I was so keen to combine my learnings from our family’s experience with my love of cycling to raise awareness and funds, and to campaign for specialist services for postpartum psychosis. Since October, I’ve been cycling a virtual route of 851 miles to demonstrate the gaps in service provision around the UK and the miles many families have to travel to access this care.

 

I’m cycling on behalf of APP. If you’d like to sponsor me, visit my JustGiving page for more information.

Cyclist to travel 850 virtual miles raising awareness of support needed for partners during postpartum psychosis

APPs Partner Peer Support Coordinator, Simon O’Mara, is embarking on a mammoth 852 mile journey to raise awareness of postpartum psychosis, its impact on partners and the need for more Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) in the UK.

Simon came up with the idea of a virtual tour of the UK’s MBUs to highlight their importance in caring for women who develop postpartum psychosis and their families. He hopes to raise awareness among women, partners and families of where the UK’s MBUs are and, importantly, the need for units in areas of the UK currently without them.

Simon, whose wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis 15 years ago, said: “When my wife was diagnosed it was a frightening time – not least because we had no prior knowledge of postpartum psychosis. But in many ways I feel that we were incredibly lucky in that we were able to access care in an MBU less than a 40 minute drive away – in my work with APP, I realise that many other families aren’t so lucky.”

Postpartum psychosis is a debilitating postnatal mental illness that can occur out of the blue in the days following childbirth. New mums with postpartum psychosis may develop high or low mood, or fluctuate between them, alongside delusions, hallucinations or severe confusion. Many of these mothers have had no previous mental health diagnosis prior to onset – although women with bipolar disorder are at higher risk. It affects around 1,400 women and their families every year in the UK and is always considered a medical emergency. However, it is treatable and women go on to make a full recovery with the right support.

Simon added: “APP has been campaigning for more MBUs for many years now, and cycling the distances between these services felt like a really good way to show just how these gaps in provision can affect families.”

Simon had planned to follow the route on the road, however, due to the pandemic, he invested in a smart trainer so he could complete virtual cycle rides using his own bike and smart technology. He will now follow the route virtually using the smart trainer, linking in with the MBUs along the way for online chats with MBU staff about partner support, and talking to other partners who have been affected by PP.

Dr Jess Heron, Chief Executive, APP, said: “Families across the four UK nations are often faced with difficult decisions about receiving specialist MBU care many miles from home or being admitted to a general psychiatric ward. As women can expect hospital treatment to last 8 to 12 weeks, and full recovery to take many, many months, this distance can be an enormous pressure on new families. Families in Northern Ireland, North Wales and the North of Scotland do not yet have access to an MBU in their region.

“While we know that experiencing a severe mental illness at this time can be devastating for women, our research shows that partners also describe the experience as the most traumatic of their lives. Many men describe long-term impacts on their own mental health. NHS England has made a commitment as part of the Long Term Plan to inform, signpost and support partners. We hope other regions of the UK will follow suit. MBUs play a vital role in supporting partners and entire family units at this time and have expertise that general psychiatric units do not have.

“We have been working with partners for a long time at APP to support them with information and signposting about postpartum psychosis and getting help, but we are delighted that we now have a dedicated peer support team who can provide email, telephone, forum and video call support for dads and partners. We work closely with all UK MBUs to ensure that all who need it have access to peer support when postpartum psychosis impacts their family.

”We are so grateful for Simon’s commitment to raise awareness of the support needs of partners and we will be cheering him on from the ‘virtual’ sidelines!”

APP delivers award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, manages an online national peer support forum and facilitates impactful research into postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about Simon’s story, and to sponsor his cycle ride, please visit his JustGiving Page

If you are a partner and use Swift, Simon would love some support and virtual chats as he completes his journey. You'll also be able to follow him on Strava.

You can see  daily updates below; 

Day 1: Simon completed 41 miles, which is the equivalent from West of Scotland MBU (Glasgow) to St. John’s, Livingtston.

Day 2: 45.2 miles ridden, total mileage over the weekend now at 85.2 miles. 

Day 3: Simon is working in the week, so cycling in the evening. 24 miles done this evening.

Day 4: Simon cycled 26 miles in the evening, is 96 miles into stage 2, with a total of 136 miles completed to date.

Day 5: 26.5 miles completed with a 1,098ft climb.

Day 6; Sees Simon finish stage 2, a total of 179 miles into the journey and Beadnell MBU.

Day 7: Simon has now completed a total of 209 miles, and has a virtual meet with Beadnell MBU in the morning.

Day 8: Simon had a great virtual meet with Beadnell MBU this morning, having reached Morpeth last night. They talked about the support they not only provide for the mums but also the partners and families. A small unit and noticeable the large mileage between MBUs around this area, some partners/families having long journeys to visit their wife and baby. That's stage 2 complete. Simon is now 179 miles into the journey and about to start stage 3 a 121 mile stretch.

Day 9: Simon cycled a short stint today, just to keep the legs turning -10 miles. Stage 3 and Simon has completed 85 miles; only 35 miles to go till the end of this stage.

Day 10: A 24 mile ride, sees Simon only 12 miles from the end of stage 3 and shortly getting to Parkside Lodge MBU. 

Day 11: Another short cycle of 12 miles, keeping an average speed of around 22mph and sees stage 3 complete. Meeting with Parkside Lodge MBU today.

Day 12: Another quick 16 miles sneaked in. Meeting with MBU at Ribblemere meet on Sunday. Received a message of support from the MBU Bristol

Day 13: 342 miles in to the journey, around 40% of the cycle done. Another 26 mile ride competed tonight and 1038ft climbed, leaves just 24 miles to the end of stage 4 and the meet up on Sunday afternoon.

Day 14: Stage 4 complete and an extra mile started on stage 5. Just about to go and have a small ride for today

Day 15: Another small 16 miles ridden, well into stage 5 and today should see Simon finish that stage. Simon met up with Karen and Andrew at Ribblemere MBU, it was really good to meet and hear the support they provide.

Day 16: Stage 5 complete and onto Stage 6. The next meeting is with Adele at Andersen ward, Wythenshawe MBU  on Tuesday, which represents the end of stage 5.

Day 17: Simon was able to get another 16 miles (climb of 912ft) done and get the total miles cycled up to 415m, just another 11 miles to go before he reaches half way. So he is on stage 6 heading towards the Beeches.

Day 18: Simon was able to get another 16 miles (climb of 912ft) done and get the total miles cycled up to 415m, just another 11 miles to go before he reach half way. He is on Stage 6 heading towards the Beeches.

Day 19: Simon completed a 23 mile ride, taking him over the half way mark and around 2 thirds of the way into Stage 6.

Day 20: Another meeting held and this time with the Andersen ward, Wythenshawe MBU

Day 21: Inbetween chattting to MBUs, and tired legs… Simon completed a 12 mile ride, which sees the end of stage 6 and the start of stage 7 towards Greenhaven.

Day 22: After a few days rest over half term, Simon got my legs back in to it with a quick 12 miles

Day 23: Another 12 miles completed this lunchtime; it sees stage 7 complete and onto stage 8, a longer stage of 60 miles . It’s great to see the status map filling up with green…

Day 24: Thursday night and Simon managed to sneak in a 45 minute ride, covering another 15 miles. This finally takes him over the 500 mile marker; total at 505m.

Day 25: A late lunch today and time in the saddle for 18 miles, 540 miles in total and over half way in stage 8. Simon  also met with Shelley from The Beeches this morning and had another great chat covering what APP offer on the partners side but also the grandparents cafés groups, Health Unlocked, the training side of APP, and the peer support.

Day 26: Simon is nearing the end of stage 8, with only 6 miles before he starts Stage 9. Simon also did an Instagram live with DadMatters whilst cycling!

Day 27:  Another 21 miles done today, which sees stage 8 complete and me Simon has got 15 miles into stage 9. It’s only 34 miles this one, so Simon is almost half way through already, heading towards the Barberry.

Day 28: Simon is now over two thirds of the way through, hitting a total mileage of 578. Another quick 15 miles last night sneaked in after work. Simon is pretty close to just 3 full stages to go, though the next one to Melbury Lodge is 133 miles! Onwards and upwards, looks like a 1000 ft climb is coming his way!

Day 29: A 910 ft climb and 19 miles, taking Simon to a total of 597 miles, the end of stage 9 and 15 miles into the larger stage 10. Simon also took part in an interview on BBC Radio Surrey -  tune in to 3.46 minutes  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09zf6j6

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 30: Simon managed to put in a 12 mile ride in amongst everything else, a busy day but it still means he is a few more peddles forward and 27 miles into stage 10. It’s fairly flat on this section and only small inclines. There’s a couple of 500 foot climbs later on in this stage but that’s pretty standard climbs on a lot of his sessions anyway.

Day 31: Simon has been on the saddle for 31 days so far! Today's session although small, only 14 miles, was a tough one, as Simon was later than normal getting on the bike and decided he needed to try and do a faster average speed. That short stint takes the total miles to 623 and 41 miles into stage 10.

Day 32: Friday morning and Simon had a virtual meet with the MBU at Birmingham and was joined by Hannah Bissett APPs National Coordinator (NHS Contracts & Regional Projects), and Natalie Thompson APPs Peer Support Facilitator, Birmingham and Solihull. Another hectic weekend but Simon managed a 25 mile ride on Sunday, so has now been 32 days in the saddle. He is around half way through stage 10 (66 miles) and a total mileage so far of 648.

Day 33: This is the second longest stage but Simon now has 192 miles to go until the overall finish. He has ridden a total of 660 miles, with a small 12 mile ride Monday night, leaving him with 52 miles left to ride in stage 10.

Day 34: Simon completed a 21 mile cycle tonight, bringing the total up to 681 miles and for stage 10 only 34 miles to do, before a meet up with Melbury Lodge MBU.

Day 35: Simon got on his bike first thing before work this morning  and did 12 miles. He had a catch up with the Brockington MBU on Thursday. It was lovely to talk to the staff, hear about the MBU, and chat about APPs partner support project. Simon found a little more time later in the day, jumped back on the bike wanting to finish stage 10 and rode 23 miles, making a total of 35 miles on day 35. This now means he is 1 mile into the start of stage 11; only a 136 miles left until the finish.

Day 36: The end of the cycle is getting ever closer. Simon is now 20 miles into stage 11, which leaves him a total of 117 miles left to complete the challenge.

Day 37: Simon completed a 24 mile ride this morning. Stage 11 completed and onto stage 12 the LAST stage! With now only 93 miles to the finish; so far he has ridden 759 miles over 37 days.

Day 38: Simon completed a 29 mile ride today, climbing a total of 755 feet, which leaves him just 64 miles until the finish line.

Day 39: Simon managed a small 10 miles tonight, leaves just 54 miles left to do.

Day 40: Simon managed to get a 35 mile ride done tonight; which leaves him only 19 miles left to ride tomorrow (Friday) , having ridden a total so far of 833 miles.  A poignant day for Simon today, meeting the staff at Melbury Lodge which is his nearest MBU. Simon is now close to his fundraising target and thanks go out to all those who’ve sponsored him.

Day 41: Simon has now finished stage 12, the last stage in his 852 mile cycle!

Simon says "It’s been great meeting the staff at the MBUs and hearing about what they’ve been doing especially with covid restrictions but there’s also been tough at times, dragging myself up the stairs when it would’ve been far nicer having a meal and then sitting on the sofa! I’ve also had moments where I was taken back through our own journey and also considered how much awareness and change APP have been a part of. Also had a few brilliant times in the virtual world of Zwift, when you just find yourself in a group of riders from around the world, in a pack all keeping up with each other, it just pulls you along and helps with motivation. Thanks to all those who have supported me."

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Jocelyn runs a colourful 5k for APP

Congratulations to Jocelyn who completed the Manchester Color Run on Saturday raising more than £250 for APP, despite it hailing during the event!

Jocelyn did her research and sought out the "funniest 5k" she could find. The Color Run encourages its runners to wear face paint, glitter and the most colourful accessories you can find. A white t-shirt or vest is essential though as participants are showered in colour at every kilometre! 

There are Color Runs coming up in Glasgow, Birmingham, London and Brighton between now and September so who else is up for running the funniest, happiest and most colourful 5k for APP? 

Visit thecolorrun.co.uk for more information and to enter the fun run.