Strong Women is a weekly series that champions diversity in the world of fitness and sport.
Women come in all shapes and sizes and every single one of them can be fit and strong, regardless of how they look.
This series shines a spotlight on women of all ages, sizes, ethnicities and abilities – who are proving that there is no one way to be fit, strong and love your body.
We are deep into a fantastic summer of women’s sport, so now is the ideal time to embrace being active – and our Strong Women are the perfect inspiration.
Mel Bridger is a 42-year-old personal trainer – she teaches women and encourages them to focus on their mental health after dealing with her own battle against depression.
Tell us about your relationship with fitness
Fitness has been a real lifeline for me, I know that may sound cliched but it’s true.
I worked in HR for a long time prior to having my daughter, I danced professionally alongside my day job and I taught Zumba.
When I had my daughter in 2011, I knew I didn’t want to go back to work so I turned my side hustle into my day job.
My whole outlook on life changed when I became a full-time fitness professional, I started to understand how important it was to take care of myself and that I had a responsibility to raise my children to be the best that they could be, inside and out.
How has depression affected your life?
I was first diagnosed with depression in 2007, I didn’t do anything about it at first because it was such a taboo subject.
I also come from a Irish and Jamaican family where the older generation didn’t believe in such things. You were just told to ‘pull yourself together’ and that there are people out there far worse off than you, so I felt that I needed to try and deal with it myself.
I didn’t tell anyone apart from my partner and a couple of close friends.
When I finally agreed to get medical help, I had already hit an all-time low, my day job was extremely stressful and I felt completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t see a way out and it was affecting all areas of my life.
Fitness has always helped, it’s a head-clearer, stress-buster and it helps to be around my students and know that I’m helping them to feel better about themselves.
If I’m having a bad day, the fact that I’m teaching a class later on can feel like it’s all too much, but I know once I’m there, I feel so much better.
How did becoming a mother affect your mental health?
I had a difficult labour with my daughter and ended up having an emergency C-section. This was such a traumatic experience for me and it really knocked my confidence.
I couldn’t breastfeed either so I ended up feeling like a complete failure. This affected the first few days with my daughter, we should have been bonding but I was too scared to even hold her.
It wasn’t until I had my son and I ended up back on medication, that I realised I had been suffering from postnatal depression with my daughter and didn’t get the support I needed because I refused to ask for help.
Why do new mothers need support with their mental health?
Becoming a parent is hard!
Your hormonal state is affected so much, you’ve been growing a child for the last nine months and then all of a sudden, your baby is here and no one has prepared you for the sheer range of emotions that you go through.
Fear, love, more gear, bewilderment, did I mention fear?
I feel as a woman, you are expected to instinctively cope with the responsibility that comes with having a child, forget the fact that you’ve just given birth (regardless of how), here’s your baby, off you go.
The hardest part for me was definitely feeling like I had failed because I didn’t give birth naturally and I couldn’t breastfeed. Man, there are some judgmental people out there.
It took years for me to accept that I am no less a mother because of those things, I did what I could to feed my baby and take care of her and she’s a gorgeous, well-rounded eight year old with a fierce business mind.
I also have an incredibly funny five year old son (who I had via an elective C-section) who is also well rounded and they are both fit and healthy.
I also have an amazing husband by the way, I have to put that out there.
How did you get through the difficult periods?
No two days are the same, but then I’m an ‘entrepreneur’ so my job is very varied.
I no longer take medication and I can identify my triggers so I know how to deal with them.
I used to have anxiety attacks and they can be very debilitating, I haven’t had one in a long time but if I do, I know how to deal with it.
I changed my mindset from trying to stop the lows and the attacks and decided to just accept them when I feel them coming on, meditation helps a lot.
I also have two wonderful children and no matter how low I get, they will always be the light at the end of my tunnel.
What do you hope to achieve with your work as a trainer?
I work with a lot of women who suffer with various mental health conditions and through fitness I help them to find a way to channel that frustration or just tune out from all of the worry and anxiety for an hour.
I have started working with families (I run a Family Fitness session every week) and I have worked with children who are autistic, introverted, being bullied etc.
I give them a safe environment to get fit in, they make friends, learn that everyone is equal and they are incredibly accepting of each other.
I also talk about mental health and the benefits you can gain from fitness, I want to continue that work and encourage other fitness professionals to include mental and emotional health in their fitness programmes.
Fitness is about so much more than just the physical aspect that people should be working towards.
I am Team GB
Toyota has teamed up with Team GB to re-launch the hugely successful participation campaign ‘I am Team GB’.
Inspired by the achievements of Team GB athletes and the amazing efforts of local community heroes, Team GB has created ‘The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day’, which will take place on the 24thAugust.
Over the weekend, there will be hundreds of free and fun activities across the country, put on by an army of volunteers; the ‘I am Team GB Games Makers’.
To Join the Team and be part of The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day sign up at: www.IAmTeamGB.com
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