Lockdown life, particularly those dark, snowy days of January 2021, was a challenge for everyone – but Olivia Ritchie from Kingennie felt unlike she ever had before.
The 24-year-old physiotherapist’s colleagues noticed she wasn’t her usual bubbly self and Olivia admits she had lost all motivation and felt ‘caged’.
Now three months on, she’s set to take on a physical challenge she could only have imagined before. And she has transformed her mental health in the process.
Olivia explains: “I work for Angus Physiotherapy so, in the first lockdown, initially we weren’t allowed to work. Once we were allowed and PPE was in place, clinic was quiet, so my boss Ruth held the fort.
“I had worked, when I was a student, at Redwood Care Home in Broughty Ferry so I asked if they would employ me again as a care assistant. I started back there full-time. It was challenging.”
Olivia found the first lockdown in March 2020 manageable because the weather was fine and she was able to cycle to work. It became much more difficult when subsequent lockdowns hit.
“After Christmas I felt like a caged animal,” she says. “I was really struggling in January and February.
“The weather was so bad I couldn’t get out on my bike or for a walk. I was doing 12 hours in the care home and so it was dark when I was going to work and dark when I was coming home.
“Because I was working long shifts and not able to get outdoors or exercise, I began to feel so low. I am usually an active person but I hadn’t realised how therapeutic cycling to work had been in the summer.”
“Flipping my mindset”
Being a physiotherapist she is very aware of the benefits of physical exercise and getting out into the fresh air.
“I was giving myself a hard time thinking ‘just get up and go for a walk’. Then when I went I didn’t feel better.
“I was stuck in a rut. I constantly felt there was a big grey cloud over me. Even the care home noticed and said they didn’t think I was myself.
“I knew I had to do something to get out of it. I thought I needed a challenge. Sometimes just forcing yourself to do the thing is what becomes the motivator.”
The turning point for her health and wellbeing came when she began reflecting on her achievements and focussing on what she could be doing rather than what she couldn’t.
“A lot of it was about flipping my mindset. I wrote a list of things I had achieved and that gave me the will to think about what else I could do.”
She borrowed a road bike from her step-dad John, a former professional cyclist.
“I realised that being flexible about which activity to do motivates me,” says Olivia.
Iron Man challenge
Next came the purchase of a wetsuit. “I tried open-water swimming in the Tay and a couple of lochs. Now I’ve bought a paddle board it gives me another activity to try. So the more I’ve added the more motivated I’ve become.
“I knew I couldn’t manage an Iron Man type challenge in a day but I decided to train to do it in a week. And I start on Monday!”
Since those initial steps back out into the world for a cycle and swim, Olivia has built up her training – often beginning before dawn. This week she will cycle 180km, run 42km and swim 4k to challenge herself.
“I cycle all around Angus – depending which way the wind is I take many different routes. I love to run along the cycle path from Monifieth to Dundee or anywhere near the beach. That is my happy place.”
Olivia continues: “My next goal is to start doing Sup-Pilates which is Pilates on a paddle-board. My old boss does Sup-yoga so I thought, because I have now got a Pilates teaching qualification, people may want to try it in the summer with me.
“Now I’m back in my normal headspace I’m excited and motivated to do things.”
Advice for others who are struggling
Olivia says: “We each need to learn ‘never be comfortable being comfortable’. If you are then you’re never going to push yourself.
“When you’re feeling low the only thing you can do to kick-start yourself is to force yourself to get up and do something difficult. Once you get past that initial ‘this is awful’ it will become easier, you will feel better and you will do it again.
“Help is always available if you need help, advice or to talk to someone about mental health.”
Olivia’s Iron Man challenge to herself this week will certainly not be comfortable. But getting her love of life back, she says, is worth it.