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From panic attacks to powerlifts

Friday, 04 March 2016 Katy West

Katy West, a World Powerlifting Championship silver medallist who has experienced panic attacks, anxiety and depression, blogs on how exercise helped.

In September 2015, I travelled on my own to Las Vegas to compete in the GPC World Powerlifting Championships. That alone is a huge achievement but for me, it was all the more remarkable given that two years ago, a 4 mile bus journey could result in a panic attack.

"I was pretty sceptical and the thought of going to a gym on my own terrified me."

In hindsight, I'd say I've lived with anxiety and depression since I was around 20 but it wasn't until I was 27 that I sought medical help from my GP and received a diagnosis. Until this point, I was dealing with extremely low moods, self loathing and panic attacks on a daily basis. I had suicidal thoughts and incredibly low self esteem. Getting out of bed was such a struggle that I would phone in sick to work then stay in bed all day and I had no interest in socialising. I would regularly make plans, knowing full well I wasn't going to go and then I'd cancel at the last minute.

Eventually the panic attacks and negative thoughts worsened and I became very worried so I went to my GP. Initially I was prescribed medication but on a follow up appointment, he gave me an exercise referral to a local gym.

"I have seen myself go from a withdrawn, anxious person to someone who is confident and happy."

I was pretty sceptical and the thought of going to a gym on my own terrified me but I started going to various exercise classes with a friend. The difference it made to my mental health was incredible. My mood was much better, I had more energy. Eventually I came off my medication.

Since then exercise has been an important part of my life. The impact it has had on my mental health has been vital and I have seen myself go from a withdrawn, anxious person to someone who is confident and happy. Of course, I still have low days or periods of anxiety but the difference is that I can go for a training session and come out after feeling so much better.

Having moved from Birmingham back to North Wales in 2010, I began weight training with a personal trainer. It was something I enjoyed immensely and again, the impact on my anxiety and depression was so positive.

"I cope better than ever and exercise is a fundamental part of that."

In January 2014, I began training with Lou, my coach. Changing gyms and having a new coach was unsettling for me and I went through quite a low time. My anxiety was high and I experienced a lot of negative thoughts. Lou made me feel so comfortable though and I was able to explain how I was feeling. After we had been training for about six months, I felt strong enough, both mentally and physically, to decide to enter a powerlifting competition as I'd been told about a women only event, Nodumbelles, held in Manchester.

If you had told me...that six months later, I'd be donning a lycra singlet and lifting weights in front of a room full of people, I'd never ever have believed you!

That competition was a real turning point for me. Realising that I could do something like that was incredibly empowering and I became so much more confident. The anxious, shy side of me started to shrink.

Since then I have entered more competitions and qualified to represent Great Britain in both the GPC European and World Powerlifting Championships, winning bronze and silver medals respectively. When I look back to 2007 and see how far I have come, I feel amazed. I have had occasional relapses but I know now to see my doctor immediately and on a day to day basis, I cope better than ever and exercise is a fundamental part of that.

> If you found Katy's story inspiring and would like to get involved in a sport or activity near you, see our Get Set to Go program.


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