‘You don’t look sick’ – it’s a phrase that people with invisible illnesses and disabilities hear all the time because people can’t see their condition.
It’s also the name of our weekly series. Every week, we speak to someone with a hidden condition about the symptoms they live with, the support they have and the judgement they face when they are out and about because they look healthy.
Robyn Moore, 43, from Hampshire, has post-traumatic stress disorder – an anxiety disorder caused by experiencing very difficult events.
Those with the condition often experience nightmares, flashbacks and physical symptoms like pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling.
Robyn was diagnosed with the condition in 2016 but it was triggered by a sexual assault some years before.
She suffered from flashbacks, started to withdraw from life and struggled to cope with her symptoms.
Because her condition is a mental illness, she says people don’t always understand how much of an impact it has – and that made it harder to get help.
‘I’ve been told that I am an attention seeker and have been asked several times “why is she always crying and withdrawn?”‘she says.
‘It made me feel very uncomfortable and I felt like I had to keep everything to myself and bottle up my emotions.
‘Just because there are scars that are not visibly seen, does not mean that they are not there.
‘Stigma stopped me from finding help for many, many years but therapy, talking, tenderness and playing tennis changed all of that.’
The immigration officer was diagnosed in 2016 as friends and family were worried about her mental health and supported her with getting help.
She had symptoms for many years, following the traumatic assault, but was too ashamed to talk about them and by keeping them bottled up, she found that they got worse.
She says: ‘Ultimately, I was too ashamed to talk about my symptoms or what had happened to me, and by not doing so I began to experience flashbacks, became withdrawn, alone and just wanted to give up.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you may develop after being involved in, or witnessing, traumatic events.
The condition was first recognised in war veterans and has been known by a variety of names, such as ‘shell shock’.
But it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers – a wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.
Reliving aspects of what happened
Alertness or feeling on edge
Avoiding feelings or memories
Difficult beliefs or feelings
‘For a long time I didn’t want to deal it and I became very isolated. When I started to experience flashbacks, I became very down.
‘Sadly my condition became worse and during 2016, I became very unwell and was unable to work for some time.
‘I had battled so hard with my own mind for so many years, that in the end it could not cope.
‘I realised then that having someone help you doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means you are not alone anymore.’
With the support of family and friends, she started seeing a psychologist every week, who has been working with her ever since.
She says talking through her feelings has been an incredible help but Robyn has also rediscovered a love for tennis – something that she says has saved her.
She says: ‘I have worked very hard to keep going and find ways to cope. For me, tennis saved my life.
‘In 2016 I started watching a summer of tennis, and my passion for the sport returned.
‘As a young girl, I was fairly good – I was school champion – but I had not stepped on a court for years.
‘I was inspired by strong female players like Jo Konta. I purchased a ball machine (and called him Roger!) and I spent hours on court just hitting ball after ball.
‘I began to play matches, had coaching and really enjoyed learning and laughing whilst playing the sport.
‘Tennis helped steer me away from the constant battle in my head and more importantly, I realised that I did not feel so alone anymore.
‘At this point, I knew that so much more could be done to help people very much like myself.’
After developing her love for sport, Robyn set up the Breakpoint challenge in partnership with Bright Ideas for Tennis – a charity that supports people to get out and play tennis.
The idea of Breakpoint 2019 is that Robyn will hit 200,000 tennis shots in 30 days across 46 venues. She has played for eight to 10 hours per day for 30 consecutive days.
She’s counting the shots on the Swing app on Apple Watch, with the final shots being struck on the prestigious courts of the All England Community ground in Wimbledon today with Pat Cash.
Robyn has already raised almost £30,000 of her £100,000 target.
She says: ‘The challenge is designed to help raise awareness of mental illness, and to support a charity that would assist people to gain access to free tennis sessions, thus helping them overcome their own personal challenges.
‘Sadly there is still too much stigma attached to a mental health condition – particularly in adults – both young and old. I know…..because it has happened to me.
‘I am immensely proud of what I am trying to achieve. It is unique, terrifying, exciting. But this is not only a personal journey for me, but one that I know can help many.
‘I am extremely grateful to Bright Ideas for Tennis for believing in me and seeing that now is the time to help improve the quality of life for anyone with a mental health illness, disability or impairment.
‘In my case it is tennis and a fuzzy yellow ball that helped save my life, but it does not need to stop there. All it takes is one smile, one laugh, one hand on your shoulder and one thumbs up.’
Robyn hopes that on her journey around the UK, she can raise awareness of PTSD and other invisible illnesses and get people talking about them.
She says: ‘I am hoping that by sharing my story and raising awareness with the Bright Ideas for Tennis charity that I am able to encourage others to not feel so alone and seek the support and help they need.
‘I have met some wonderful people in my journey and I appreciate how difficult it can be, but getting outside, being active and through something like tennis you can feel less isolated which helped me and I know can help others.’
How to get involved with You Don’t Look Sick
You Don’t Look Sick is Metro.co.uk’s weekly series that discusses invisible illness and disabilities.
If you have an invisible illness or disability and fancy taking part, please email [email protected]
You’ll need to be happy to share pictures that show how your condition affects you, and have some time to have some pictures taken.
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