Claire Eastham’s Story

Claire Eastham


Author and mental health blogger Claire Eastham tells her own Open Shutters story in the 12th video in the series. You can read Claire’s blog, We’re All Mad Here, by clicking here.

Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign hereand help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.


Sadie Thackaberry

Sadie Thackaberry

I am Sadie, happily married mother of three human children and three animal children, and have just turned 34 years old. I have a varied work history from retail to modelling, and accounts, to what I do now; lecturing in the Animal sector. So anything from conservation to behaviour to biology, if animals are involved so am I! This is a very recent career change as I graduated from university in 2016 with my 1st class honours and then went on to study to gain my postgraduate certificate in post-compulsory education last year. This year sees me studying for a Masters in research in Evolutionary biology and another postgraduate teaching certificate for Higher education. Life is ‘fast paced’, but that is how I like it.

My mental health challenges; I am the proud owner of anxiety and depression. A weird expression, granted, but I have had these issues more than half of my life now, so alike my nose and my toes, they are a part of who I am. However, unlike my nose or toes, they are not as helpful on times, or constant in their appearance. That is the other weird thing to deal with, the “but you are always so happy and confident, you cannot have anxiety or depression”. How we all wish it was as simple as that. The truth is, is that no matter your profession, social standing or your personality, mental illness does not discriminate. Then comes the awkward justification of being depressed, and then not being able to explain why. See the thing is, is that it is not feeling sad and down, that in itself is on times a blessing, as at least you feel something. It is the void and numbness, the detachment and frustration, and fatigue of life in general with on times no real apparent reason. The other kicker is having anxiety attacks, this always makes life a little more interesting, wondering how you will deal with the day ahead, steaming through it like a pro and then having one in places where you feel most comfortable, like the bath!

It may seem as I am making light of these challenges, but I am not. In addition to going through this myself I have also seen loved ones torn apart, and it is much harder to fix a broken mind than a broken body. When going through bad episodes people normally tell you that what does not kill you will make you stronger. I don’t agree with this. I am still fighting my fight as I have got better at dealing with it but not stronger because of it, which does make it feel like a never ending chess game! It wasn’t until an equivalent of a reset button was pressed, that things changed in a big way for me. Nothing to do with the black dog or its anxious partner in crime, this one was just the body and not the mind, as when my last child was born we both near on lost our lives. That experience didn’t really impact my mental health challenges, but what it did do was make me grab life to chase my passions. As a happy consequence, studying biology allowed me the insight to make sense to what is physically going on within my head and body. It doesn’t cure it at all, but understanding that my emotions are guided by sensitive triggers and hormones makes me feel less broken and just super reactive (I am just a geek that wants a cape!). Last year, and those to come, see new challenges as I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and am going blind in one eye. I would be lying to say that it did not wobble me, and the anxiety certainly did have a field day for a while, but neither my mind nor my body will break my spirit. My mental health challenges have given me perspective, and I have dreams to chase, which I do most days, yet other days I snuggle dogs and hide from all known responsibilities, got to love the those hormone imbalances!

Feeling everything so deeply on times, but then numb to the world other days is difficult, and on times you are at war with yourself. I have tried many things to battle with my mind including medication and counselling, and neither worked for me (that is not to say they don’t work for others, as they do!). My most successful strategy is keeping busy. When my mind is focussed upon my passions, be it my children, my studies, my work or my creative oddities, then I can deal with anything. Everyone is different in methods that will aid them, but one thing that should be unified is dropping the stigma that this makes you ‘weak’. It doesn’t. It makes you raw and beautiful, as you see things differently. There is nothing quite like seeing the dark and not knowing your way out, to then lying in the sun again, that kinda s**t really makes you feel lucky. My advice; remember like clouds in the sky-all things pass eventually, that happiness and sadness in addition to numbness are just a mush of chemicals whirling around your body, and that help is never too far away. Speak up, even if you cannot answer their questions, just not being alone in this is sometimes enough to get by until you can bask in the sun again.

My item is a wooden sign saying “happily ever after”. Words are powerful tools for me, and I have many little quotes dotted around the house, this one is one of my favourites. It reminds me that no matter what I am going through, or what I have been through, that I can have control of my life and I write the story. I have not always felt like this, as a lot of the time depression can make you feel powerless. It has taken 17 years for me to start to believe in myself, but I am proud of me, mental illness and all! I am living my happily ever after, sometimes the plot has a twist, but every good story does.


Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign hereand help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.

Natasha Devon’s Story

Natasha Devon

Mental health campaigner former Government mental health tzar, Natasha Devon MBE, tell her Open Shutters story in the video below and introduces her childhood teddy bear, Isiah.


Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign here and help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.

Darren Whiston’s Story

Darren Whiston

In one of our most moving and powerful videos yet, Darren Whiston explains how putting on his trainers saved his life. Watch him tell his story in the video below.


Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign hereand help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.



Andy Greenway’s Story

Andy Greenway of Andy's Man Club, Oldham. A portrait by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography for the Open Shutters Project
Andy Greenway

Andy Greenway, Oldham Facilitator for Andy’s Man Club, tells his own Open Shutters story in the video below. Andy’s Man Club has branches all over the country where men gather every Monday evening to share problems and spread the message that it’s OK to talk. You can find out more about Andy’s Man Club at

Jasmin’s Story

Jasmin Boylan, Open Shutters portrait by Lisa Maruie Gee of Studio G Photography


I apologise in advance for the length of this blog. Putting this into words has taken me much longer than I anticipated, and I didn’t realise how raw it would feel. However, I also feel it’s important to share my story, as there are thousands of people out there who struggle silently on a daily basis, and if my story can help just one person, I’ll be happy. I haven’t mentioned any specific diagnosis, because I feel that labels ultimately aren’t the important message here, but the strength and experience gained from my weakest times is what keeps me going on a daily basis.

My struggle with poor mental health started at a very young age. For as long as I’ve had a conscious mind, I’ve struggled. I always felt – and sometimes still do feel – somewhat fraudulent because I’ve never been able to pinpoint a specific reason ‘why’. Even though I know my brain has a chemical imbalance, the science behind it backs me up, I used to feel like I didn’t have a right to ‘complain’ or ‘burden’ anyone with my troubling and debilitating thoughts – so I suffered in silence, for the best part of 20 years. It took a complete breakdown for me to initially seek help. Finally reaching out and getting support was the best decision I ever made. I only wish I’d done it years ago.

I didn’t have a tough upbringing, I have amazing parents, family and friends around me. I enjoyed school and always had large groups of good friends. I was a very sensitive child though, and had empathy from a very young age. Looking back, I do feel my ability to ‘put myself in someone else’s shoes’ impacted me mentally more than I could possibly comprehend at the time. I have memories from as young as 5 of people criticising my weight and the way I looked (and I feel it’s important to note here that at 5 years old I certainly wasn’t overweight). Harsh words hurt and cut into me throughout my childhood and teenage years. They’d replay in my mind over and over again, and I hated who I saw in the mirror. I believed all of these things, and started to feel inferior to everyone. The voice inside my head started to reinforce these negative traits, and I slowly started destroying myself mentally, over-thinking and over-analysing every aspect of myself, my life and my relationships. I regularly felt that I didn’t deserve good things or good people around me, and that I only burdened them. I felt that I’d never be enough, or amount to much of anything. I’d never let on to people how I felt though, and I’d be the first to criticise myself or joke at my own expense, as I thought it’d be better for me to get it out the way first, before someone else had the chance to hurt me. I became avoidant of absolutely everything. Very depressed, irritable, anxious and consumed by self loathing.  I always pushed myself to do things and achieve things though, as I was – and still am – very determined that I won’t be beaten by it. I had issues with food, which I now recognise was emotionally linked, and in my late teens I started questioning my sexuality, which took years for me to accept and come to terms with.

Despite my struggles, I’ve always had my own coping mechanisms. I’m very compassionate, emotional and caring, ensuring I always go above and beyond to help anyone in need of it, both in my personal and professional life. I think I felt so strongly about wanting to make a positive difference for two reasons. One being, I would have a purpose, and I could prove to the cruel voice in my head that I WAS worth something and I DID have a reason to carry on by helping others improve their quality of life. The other was because I genuinely cared, and would never wish my struggles on anyone else, and if I could do anything at all to help someone, I would feel like I’d achieved something good. I would however, help others to my own detriment without realising, and this coupled with a long chain of ‘bad’ events, at the age of 23, I had a complete breakdown. I didn’t see a point to anything. I lost all sense of self worth, enjoyment, and none of my coping mechanisms worked. This time though, I couldn’t hide it any more from the people I loved. I’m so grateful for this and the support I received, because without them I truly believe I wouldn’t be here today.

This leads me nicely onto my ‘object’ for this project. My favourite mug. What this mug represents means so much to me. One of my favourite quotes is:

“Sometimes, coffee with your best friend is all the therapy you need”

Now, in my case, I did receive several courses of different therapies, but all paled in comparison to the support I received from my best friend. She helped me through my worst times while experiencing her own, listened to me without judgement and supported me through some of my darkest days. We’d regularly drink coffee and talk through absolutely everything. I can’t thank her enough for everything she did for me (and all of my supportive friends and family, for that matter). I don’t think there are enough words to adequately express the gratitude I feel to have such amazing people around me. My coffee cup represents the warmth and comfort these people brought to me at my worst times, and the strength they gave me to find myself again.

Since finding myself again, I’ve also grown so much as a person, both personally and professionally. I now know how important ‘me time’ is, and how unselfish it is to say ‘no’ sometimes. I feel very blessed to have a job that I’m passionate about. I currently work supporting staff all over Greater Manchester who support some of the most vulnerable members of our society with ill mental health (alongside multiple and complex barriers). I feel lucky to be able to bring my lived and previous work experience into the role to give a real insight into mental health struggles, to help reduce stigma around ill mental health, train staff on complex conditions and promote good mental health and wellbeing practices within the workplace. My job now enables me to reach out and help thousands of people across Greater Manchester, by helping the staff who work with them on a one to one basis. I know that without my struggles, I wouldn’t be who I am today or be in the job I’m in. I love my job, and that I have the chance to help so many people. Above all else though, I’m starting to accept and love myself. I try to see a positive in myself every day, and although the cruel thoughts don’t leave me, and days are up and down, I’m getting there – slowly but surely.

If I had one piece of advice for someone struggling with ill mental health right now, it would be – Talk to someone you trust. Open up, it’ll be so worthwhile. I know the prospect seems terrifying now, but positive change often starts with uncertain and challenging times. Please remember – you matter. You’re important, even if you don’t always feel it. You deserve help, and deserve to feel better. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and confiding in someone you trust can be the first step in getting the right support too.

Oliver’s story


I am a Civil Servant working for DWP and my current role is as a mental health community partner across Greater Manchester. In the past my jobs have included Probation Officer, Community Firefighter, Trading Standards Officer and volunteering as a police Special Constable.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2011 at the age of 31 and had previously had short periods in my life where I believed I was depressed or anxious, and at certain dark times in my life, believed I might be a psychopath!

However my diagnosis made me realise that the mental health was actually secondary and that my ability to understand others emotions and motivations was affected by Asperger’s and I wasn’t a “psycho” at all; I was normal and I could learn to develop coping mechanisms.

Throughout my life I have experienced periods of self-doubt and even to this day I can find myself having to deal with high levels of anxiety which impact me socially and make me feel lost and out of touch with the world.

I would say since I was 25 as that was when I’d started to notice that I wasn’t progressing in my life the way I thought I would. Things I believed would happen just didn’t and I became very uptight and unpredictable in my behaviour.

Since being diagnosed with Asperger’s I have learnt to accept how my brain works and embrace the unique way in which “Aspies” view the world. I like to think that most people are running Windows and those on the autism spectrum are Apple Macs, we all carry out the same functions in life but our processing systems are different.

My mental health has brought me an insight into how challenging the world is in the 21st century and enabled me to do the job I am doing now helping vulnerable people reliant on the benefits system while their mental health is at its worse. Using my lived experience I am able to work towards positive change in accepting mental health issues are normal and we should all feel able to talk openly about our problems, however big or small.

If I had one piece of advice, it would be talk to someone! Don’t bottle it up and try and deal with everything yourself. We aren’t designed to do that. We are social animals and modern society can be very polarising making us feel lonely and isolated. Try going to a local park and trying some mindfulness exercises. Concentrate on the present and take everything in you see, hear and feel. I wish you the best of luck on your journey towards mental wellbeing.
My chosen object is a framed wedding photo as I recently got married in November 2017. This means a lot to me as 7 years ago I couldn’t see myself in a long term relationship, never mind being a husband, father and a homeowner.

Jack’s Story

Jack Nolan's portrait. The Open Shutters Project by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography, Oldham.
Jack Nolan

Jack Nolan, a published author in his early twenties, tells his story to the Open Shutters project in the video below.

If you, or anyone you know, would like to take part in the Open Shutters Project, please email The project will be exhibited at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10, 2018. A book will be published to coincide with the exhibition.