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Dame Kelly Holmes takes part in BFBS Forces Fit campaign

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Having had a secret relationship with other female soldiers during her 10 years in the Army, Holmes feared being court-martialled and potentially put in prison due to laws on sexuality and serving in the British military at the time. This was part of the reason why the athlete felt like she couldn’t tell anyone apart from her family and close friends the truth, as well as the “stigma of homosexuality” that existed when she was growing up in Kent. Holmes shared: “It’s humiliating, it’s degrading – it feels disrespectful when you’re serving your country and you’re doing a good job. You feel violated, treated like you’re some massive villain. I didn’t want to lose my job, I loved it. But I felt the law was wrong.”

Even after the forces’ ban on homosexuals was abolished in 2000, her new found level of fame following the 2004 Olympic games in Athens meant that Holmes still felt she could not publicly come out.

It was the devastating loss of her mother, Pam Norman, back in 2017 that marked a turning point for the star. After Norman battled myeloma, a type of blood cancer, green tea drink recipes Holmes initially struggled but, over time, realised that she needed to use her strength to live without her mother.

She said: “On the day she died I couldn’t cope and I remember self-harming. It was the last time I did that, because I thought, ‘This is not going to bring her back’. I knew I needed to use this as my strength to realise that she’s not living, but I was still here to live by not hurting myself and by being myself. But I didn’t know how to.”

Still muted about her sexuality, another turning point was back in December 2020, shortly after COVID-19 forced the world into a lockdown. Holmes continued to say: “I’ve lived my private life openly – everyone close to me knows I am gay.

“When I was lying on the sofa feeling awful I realised that if something happened to me, they’re the ones who would be saying, ‘It’s such a shame Kelly couldn’t stand there and be herself’. I don’t want that to be said at my funeral.

“I was on the brink. I thought I was going to do something bad. I had to hold myself in my bed because all I could envision was going downstairs and getting a knife.

“I realised, ‘I can’t do this, because I haven’t self-harmed since my mum died’. So I got up and emailed this counsellor for the first time ever – because I had to do something.

“I chatted with her and it didn’t work for me because she questioned if I’m ashamed of being gay, which I hated. I’m not ashamed, I know who I am. It was just killing me not being able to say anything, not knowing how to say it.”

With the help of a psychologist Holmes was diagnosed with professional burnout back in April 2021 and proceeded to take 10 months off of her charity, public and TV work in order to look after her mental health. The star also sought the help of a hormone specialist.

“My psychologist explained the build-up of traumas and holding this big need to shout, ‘This is who I am!’ had stopped me functioning,” she expressed.

“I couldn’t function, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t be.”

Charity Mental Health UK explains that burnout is a state of “physical and emotional exhaustion” that can occur when an individual experiences long-term stress in their job or everyday life.

Burnout can be difficult to notice, but the most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world
  • Having a cynical/negative outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

What makes burnout dangerous to an individual’s health is that over time, it can worsen. If individuals ignore symptoms it can cause further harm to both their physical and mental health with the possibility of them losing the ability and energy to effectively meet the demands of their job.

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A post shared by Dame Kelly ️‍ (@damekellyholmes)

Since the start of the Covid pandemic, the charity has conducted polling of working adults in the UK. The most recent results from March 2021 saw 85 percent of UK adults correctly identified symptoms of burnout, while 68 percent mistakenly identified symptoms of anxiety.

Due to the prevalence of burnout, the condition has been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “occupational phenomenon” with 46 percent of UK workers feeling “more prone to extreme levels of stress” in 2021 compared to pre-Covid times.

Scientific research has demonstrated that burnout in a professional sense encompasses three main symptoms:

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Depersonalisation
  3. Reduced personal accomplishment.

Overall, the symptoms of burnout resemble those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can also include more severe symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares associated with work, insomnia, chronic irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, avoidance of patients or work events, hypervigilance, and angry outbursts.

For Holmes, finally being able to speak openly about her sexuality and subsequent mental health struggles has made her optimistic about the future, whilst adding that her mother would have been really happy and proud of her.

The athlete also has multiple tattoos, linked with her mental health. Last year she had the word “life” inked on her wrist. “It’s a reminder that I chose to live,” she explains.

“The semi-colon instead of the ‘I’ is the symbol of mental health. In the bad times it’s good to think about what I went through to be here. I wish this point I’ve got to psychologically and emotionally could have come 10 years ago.

“I wish I was 30 and coming into this world because it is fun for people now – there’s hope and opportunity. I’m not that age but I’m still living. And now it’s time for me to shine.”

For confidential mental health support contact Samaritans on 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: [email protected] for a reply within 24 hours. Alternatively, text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text “YM” if you’re under 19.

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