Samantha Smith’s Story

Hi, I’m Samantha, I’m a 31 year old mum of 2. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been the ‘girl with a plan’.

I learned from a young age that my happiness would be best served in a career which fed my soul and helped others. My education led me to training in Health and Social Care, where I stumbled upon a Psychology module and discovered my calling.

I had a strong desire to understand human behaviour. As I progressed onto a Psychology degree, I knew I’d found my opportunity to integrate this curiosity into a career helping others.

My strong maternal instinct meant that the other half of my ‘plan’ was to meet the love of my life, have two children together and live happily as a little family of four. Life had other plans. Aged 19, I fell in love and at 21 we were blessed with the first of two beautiful children.

The pregnancies were close together and I became physically unwell during both of them. My liver poisoned both myself and the babies, my kidneys stopped functioning and my pelvis fractured without any trauma. Doctors told me that my pain and illnesses were caused by a sensitivity to the extra hormones and my health would improve after the births. Both children were born prematurely with emergency deliveries.

One day in a lecture I suddenly lost sight in my right eye. Not wanting to make a fuss, I quietly left the theatre and caught a train back home. I went straight to an optician who immediately noticed that my retina had started to detach and the blood was blocking my vision. Months of tests found no cause and I was eventually discharged in the hope that it would heal and clear.

Pain, hospital tests and sleepless nights had made university difficult. My lecturers would tell me to put my studies on hold or risk failing; but I was determined to make the previous two years study worthwhile. I returned to my final year at uni  on crutches with my 2 week old baby strapped to me. I felt out of place and the gap between myself and my peer group grew as their conversations about parties and socials felt a world away from my life of juggling breast pads, feeds and nappy changes around hospital appointments. I could have easily walked away and thrown myself into the world of parenting and baby groups, but my determination paid off and I oozed with pride as I graduated with an upper class honours degree.

As the children grew, my health declined and I began to feel more isolated; my self esteem plummeted and my relationship with the children’s father broke down. Age 23, I found myself a single mother of two children under 2. My plan had failed.

I decided to see a therapist, which helped me rebuild my self esteem and come to terms with a new life plan. Determined to continue life as a young, independent mum, I began my second degree, a Masters in Psychological Therapies.

A year later, I proudly graduated again with an MSc, but my physical health continued to deteriorate. Waking up each morning and putting my feet on the floor became a lucky dip; some days I could walk fine and others I would ache, consumed with nerve pain and restlessness. Tests returned no answers, so I would hide my pain and lethargy, questioning whether it really existed.

I was eventually mis-diagnosed with fibromyalgia, hypermobility, ME and an autoimmune condition.

I used meditation and psychological therapies to manage the pain, but I’d become overwhelmed with desperation for answers. Why did life seem much harder for me? Maybe I was weaker than everyone else…. The negative thoughts would taunt me, and I would read self development books and medical studies in an effort to understand what was happening and stay focussed.

By the age of 27, I had graduated in 3 degrees; I had co-authored a best selling self help book and I owned a private therapy & health clinic in Manchester City centre. My experiences and pain had helped me to connect with my clients and support them through their own struggles and growth.

Over the next 3 years, I would help thousands of people with various psychological difficulties through my clinic and work as a writer. The power of therapy and self development filled me with enthusiasm, and as I watched my clients thrive, I realised that if it wasn’t for my own heartache and pain, then I wouldn’t have the honour of being trusted to support so many wonderful clients through their own struggles.

I loved my work and life with the children, but my physical health was continuing to decline, despite my efforts to manage it. I began to lose consciousness daily, I struggled to eat and I would wake up vomiting and passing blood most days. My joints would sporadically dislocate whilst sitting in session with a client, my heart was struggling, and the pain in my head and neck became excruciating.

I had seen hundreds of specialists, travelled around the country for answers, and yet no-one could figure out the cause. Maybe it was in my head? Maybe I was lazy and weak? Life was scheduled around naps and medication. I grew ashamed of my tiredness and pain because there seemed to be no cause…so I hid it from friends and family and pretended to be busy with work. A mixture of deep sadness and pain left me spending more time in bed.

Early 2017, I was really struggling to hold my life together. Socialising wasn’t an option if I wanted energy to keep my career and meet my children’s needs. I became a master of disguise; throwing my energies into helping my clients and being a present mummy. I felt like a fraud as I helped clients achieve their life goals and went home, crawling to bed in pain and tears as life went on around me.

Anxiously avoiding doctors’ rejection, I sought answers for myself. March 2017, I collapsed on a client in session, and I knew enough was enough. Desperately trying to hold onto my income and identity, I sought out answers online. I discovered a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and I begged a specialist to send me for testing.

She explained it was rare and unlikely, whilst reluctantly writing a referral, she became one of 7 doctors who discharged me from their care claiming that I was imagining the illness.

Finally, after 10 years of misdiagnosis, I was diagnosed with a rare and incurable condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS-Type 1). EDS is genetic and causes faulty connective tissue, wreaking havoc on the whole body. I’d had it my whole life, but at the age of 30 it was finally given its name, and I sobbed with relief as the professor explained the lack of understanding throughout our care system.

I felt sane and validated again…But, then he noticed another issue…. ‘You seem to have neurological damage,’ he said ‘I need you to have specialist MRI imaging of your neck and brain urgently, but it won’t be available on the NHS’.

1 month later, as NHS imaging results returned with ‘no abnormalities detected,’ my specialist private scans showed that the weight of my skull was too much for my faulty tissues to hold, and my spine was collapsing, crushing my brain stem and spinal cord. I was on the verge of internal decapitation.

I would need lifesaving neurosurgeries-surgery urgently, not available in the UK. It would cost in excess of $200,000.

Faced with what felt like an impossible situation and now too sick to play with my children I felt absolute despair.

Unable to leave the house or sit upright without extreme agony, I became wheelchair dependent and desperate. I lost my business, but I had a choice …. I could seek out the joy in the small things, or I could waste precious time drowning in depression. I flipped between depression and joy seeking as I tried to find a way forward.

A week later, I still hadn’t told anyone. I bumped into a group of mums at school and burst out crying over a coffee as I explained the situation. Less than 24 hours later they had planned the first fundraiser. A stranger was willing to bungee jump off a bridge for my life. I felt renewed faith. I found the courage to share my story online… I couldn’t have been further from my comfort zone as I switched from the helper to the needy. I asked for support and people came forward in the masses.

The media, the community and eventually people worldwide came together to support me as I shared my story online. These people became ‘my army,’ and together within just 8 weeks, my people raised the funds and sent me to Washington DC for the neurosurgeries.

This was just the beginning of my journey as the surgeries, recovery and psychological battle were harder than I could have ever imagined. After the neurosurgeries, there was a cruel twist as we learned that my condition causes pain relief to be metabolised within minutes, leaving me writhing in pain and unable to be induced into a medical coma.

There were times that I was too afraid to sleep for fear of dying; and times when I wanted to die for fear of living a life in so much pain. At my lowest ebb, I was placed on 24 hour suicide watch over 5 days in August 2017.

I finally realised that I had a choice….I could see this experience as a gift or a curse.

And in time I could see the gift…  a rather large one, all wrapped up in various colours and curious shapes. This gift was doing incredible things for me; it showed me which loved ones are here to stay; the ones who will never leave and always support me. It helped me to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. It recalibrated what is most important in my life. It gave me a new sense of trust and understanding of my body. It would make me deeply aware of my inner strength and give me a sense of community. I would no longer wake frustrated as head pounded whilst the children bickered loudly at 6am; instead I could feel gratitude for their health and ability to argue and make noise. I would be challenged, inspired, humbled and motivated. Life would take on a new meaning… and I’ll have a lifetime supply of good medication.

Yes, there was a price… a hefty price to pay, but this gift is one which can’t be returned, swapped or given away and I would rather live a life seeking out positive meaning and counting my gains, than fearing a curse, over which I would have no control.

Perception became everything.

I held on, and over the following days, weeks and months I set new challenges to focus on, and with each success came a sense of achievement; I learned to walk again after each surgery, and I became independent for a few months until March this year, 2018, when we learned that the surgeries weren’t aggressive enough and we are now on a time limit to raise in excess of $100,000 again to completely stabilise my spine in order to avoid organ failure, paralysis and eventual death.


Life keeps throwing curveballs and there are times when I panic, feel overwhelmed and exhausted with the constant battle and pain… but I was given a gift, and an opportunity to use my experiences and pain to help others. I am petitioning for EDS healthcare in the UK and championing care and support for people affected by EDS. On the days when I feel I can’t take anymore, I think of all of the people who came together when I asked for help. People who gave their love, time and energies to keep me alive today and to give my babies their mummy back. We couldn’t have predicted that I would be in the 5% of people who requires more aggressive surgeries, but we can learn from our past experiences.

Reaching out to loved ones and strangers can make you feel vulnerable; but what price is vulnerability with the opportunity to experience how truly loving, and understanding people can be?

I was given a rare, incurable, painful and life altering genetic condition; and at the same time, I gained  a deep gratitude for life and incredible friends who exceed any expectations I could have ever had before.

My advice to anyone suffering with mental health issues?

  • Don’t compare your journey to others. It’s YOUR journey, and you are entitled to the feelings that accompany it.
  • Reach out to others, and if they’re not the right person then keep reaching out; people can and will help- no matter how impossible the situation feels.
  • And finally, it’s all about perspective; challenge yourself to find the joys- no matter how small… hold onto them one day at a time.


I have chosen to share my bangle with friendship quotes on it. Myself and a group of close friends all have the same one. When either of us are struggling, we wear our bangle and remember to reach out to one another. No matter how big or small the issue; its comforting to remember that none of us are in this alone.

-Samantha Smith


Ian Field’s Story

Open Shutters portrait of Ian Field, by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography

Apprentice cycle mechanic Ian Field tells his own Open Shutters story in the video below:

Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We are fundraising to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please contact us if you can help in any way. We’ve got some lovely rewards available for individual and corporate sponsors.

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.

Lisa Barnes’ Story

Lisa Barnes of Bridge the Gap photographed for the Open Shutters Project

My name is Lisa Barnes and I’m a manager for a large company. I would say that I’m your average person, married 2x children. I would say that over my 46 yrs I have struggled with depression at points in my life but nothing on the scale that I did back in May 2017.

On the 31st of May 2017 it started off like any other day, I was feeling a bit down but that happens to most of us. As the day went on I found that the noise around me was really loud and I felt overwhelmed by it. People wanted to ask me questions and I was struggling to concentrate. I remember taking a few tablets to try and escape it all. They didn’t work, things just felt like they were piling up so I took some more. The next thing I really remember is waking up in hospital. I was asked some question about if i was going to try and kill myself again then I was discharged.

The next 10 days were a struggle of ups and downs, feeling of guilt and wanting to hide away.

On the 10th of June everything came to a head and I found myself on top of a bridge ready to jump.

I feel im one of the lucky ones as a police negotiator managed to talk me down. Everything was felt dark and i just wanted all the pain i was feeling to stop.

I believe now that everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t have gone through all of that last year, I wouldn’t  be doing what I do now.

A year on and in a far better place I can see the gap within mental health and it’s massive. Mental health is under funded and it’s just getting worse with the pressures of everyday life. I came up with the idea of hanging message/quotes of love and support from our bridges in the hope that it would make anybody in the same place as me pause and hopefully change their mind about suicide. I decorated one bridge near my home and the response was overwhelming. I then spoke to my husband and we made a Facebook page “Bridge the Gap”.

It has been running since 10th June 2018 and we have already saved 5 lives that we know of. We get the community involved when we decorate the bridges which is amazing and I’ve met friends for life through what we do now.

If I could give one piece of advice to anybody that is struggling with feeling of suicide it would be “suicide doesn’t take the pain away, it just passes it to someone else”. Get talking about how you feel it’s not easy but after a while it does get better. The object I choose to use on my photo is this sign. It says everything that people are afraid to say!

Love Lisa xx


You can find details of Lisa’s project, Bridge The Gap, here:


Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We are fundraising to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please contact us if you can help in any way. We’ve got some lovely rewards available for individual and corporate sponsors.

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.

Danielle Nield’s Story


Danielle Nield


Hello, I am Danielle (Ellie to my friends and family); I am a volunteer wellbeing practitioner at the local branch of the mental health charity, Mind.

Before reading on please be aware that there may be triggers for people – this is not my intention and if you do feel triggered please seek the relevant support.

My mental health challenges are severe chronic depression and mild anxiety – my constant companions in life since the age of 13. As a teenager I was told that I was just going through the “normal” (this is in quotations as I don’t think normal can be defined as it is relative) hormonal changes. I felt alone and a constant question I asked myself was “what is wrong with me?” Without knowing what was happening and the dark (my term for depressive episodes) enveloping me more and more frequently I began self-harming and having suicidal thoughts. I can recall being called an ‘emo’ in college because I looked sad a lot and wore long gloves (they were hiding my recent self-harm) and I listened to rock music.

My mum would notice me spending a lot of time by myself, looking at the TV but not watching it and eventually just struggling to get out of bed, neglecting personal hygiene and having bouts of anger because I felt like my head would explode from the constant oppressive darkness. From waking in a morning to going to sleep at night there my darkness would be. My mum tried to help but I didn’t want it then and so I suffered in silence. I never told my friends or family because I thought it would depress them or burden them. Bad relationships only seemed to fuel my darkness and my self-esteem was soon destroyed and I lost a sense of self, believing I was unworthy of love and people would be better off without me.  Losing the matriarch of the family, my second mum, my beloved grandma sent me further into despair and I realised I could not cope anymore – I needed help.

My mum is the strongest woman I know, I sat next to her on the sofa and she made a cup of tea and turning to me simply asked “Ellie, what are you thinking about love?” I broke down in tears and looking her in the eye, said “I want to die; I want to be with grandma”. She could see that I meant it and instantly she wrapped her arms around me and said “listen to me, you will be ok”. On reflection, I cannot imagine how much that hurt her but her strength was phenomenal and she has been very poignant in my recovery and even supported me through my relapse a couple of years ago.

The next day we returned to the GP and I began medication and received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for my anxiety. After 10 years of carrying my mental health issues in a backpack, weighing me down I started to feel like the clutter and darkness in my head was lifting and I could breathe. Since then, five years have passed – I did relapse two years ago because I came off medication too soon but I returned to my GP and I am back on my medication.  When the few dark bouts call I can often find a practical solution to my difficulties but no longer do I self-harm – I meditate, I call a friend or more often than not – I go to my mum.

The positives of experiencing mental health issues are that I am a much stronger, more resilient person for it. I have learnt that I am loved, I deserve love from others but ultimately I also deserve love from myself! I have a strong support network of friends and family and a truly wonderful man who stands by my side and is proud of me.

The biggest positive I have is that I can accept people for who they are and I can truly empathise with those who are struggling – volunteering means I can use these skills to be the person people can talk to and feel listened to. I am also a Time to Change Champion and as part of this I help to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. I am also on the Buddhist path and have been for the past year – it brings me so much peace with myself and really helps me develop kindness towards others and myself (something I have always struggled with, as I am my own worst critic).

The piece of advice I would give to someone struggling with mental health issues is: please talk to someone. I know that seems easier said than done but you will feel a weight lift when you talk and your courage can motivate others to talk and get the support they need and deserve. Talk to someone you trust – friends, family or even a professional but do talk. You are so much stronger than your mental health would have you believe and you can get through this! If you are someone who knows or suspects someone is struggling with mental health issues, just simply being there and offering your support without judgement can make all the difference. Be kind to the person as they are already suffering enough. Mental health issues can be difficult to understand or explain if you have never experienced it, but try to be patient with the person; be a shoulder, an ear, just be there with them, in their corner.

My object is a picture of my mum, my rock, my best friend. Thank you for your continued support and love.

“Stars cannot shine without darkness”

Jenny Eastwood’s Story

Jenny Eastwood

Relax Kids coach Jenny Eastwood tells her own Open Shutters story in the 13th video of the series. Watch 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.


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.