Katie Thistleton’s Story


CBBC presenter Katie Thistleton  for Open Shutters by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography
Katie Thistleton

I’m a journalist and presenter: I present a show called Life Hacks on BBC Radio 1 which is all about young people’s issues, and I also present for CBBC. I do CBBC HQ, which is the modern day version of the broom cupboard! I’ve worked in various jobs at the BBC and also used to work for an NHS mental health trust – Pennine Care – in the office. I’m an advocate for mental health awareness and work with charities such as PLACE2BE and YoungMinds regularly, I’ve also written a book called ‘Dear Katie’ for 10-16 year olds. It’s an agony aunt style book with problem letters from real young people and advice from myself, a doctor and a child psychotherapist.


I have always been very anxious but for a long time didn’t really know how to put into words how I felt, and I certainly wasn’t aware that it was something you could treat as an illness, rather than a personality flaw. A few years ago my anxiety and hectic lifestyle led to me having a bit of a breakdown where I had to accept I was feeling quite depressed. Medication and counselling both hugely helped me and I still struggle now – particularly when I’m overworked and not looking after myself properly. But now I can spot the signs and prioritise self care.

I honestly think I displayed symptoms of anxiety as a really young child – I used to feel like I was struggling to breathe, and my parents would wonder if it was allergies. It was only when aged 19 I was experiencing the same feelings that a doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder and I realised I’d had bouts of it all my life. Even as a baby my mum said I always had clammy hands which is an anxiety symptom I’ve carried through life!

Feeling depressed made me appreciate all the little things in life once I got better, and made me focus on the only things that matter to me – the things that make me feel good. Before that I was always trying to be someone else, always trying to find a purpose. I realised after being depressed that I already had a purpose and an identity, and I didn’t have to try so hard to get one. I also think people are more likely to ask me for help now I’ve spoken out, which I’m glad about. I want my nieces and nephews and friends and family to be able to talk to me about anything. I think speaking out about mental illness is so freeing – you feel like you don’t have to try so hard to pretend everything is OK once you do.

My advice? Write a list of all the things that really matter to you, and make you feel good, the big and the small, and take the pressure off yourself. Do less of what you don’t want to do and more of what you do. Don’t be afraid to try counselling or anti depressants – neither are anything to be ashamed of and might change your life.

I chose to have my photo taken with my anti-depressants because they really were life changing for me. When I was depressed I felt I was underground, in the dark and unable to motivate myself to do any of the things I needed to do to feel better. The anti-depressants, even though they made me feel worse for the first few days or so, picked me up and put me on level ground, so I could begin to do things I needed to do to make my life easier – exercise, say no to things I didn’t want to do, read books, see friends and family. They took away the negative fog so I no longer thought I was the most worthless person in the world. I’m happy to be taking them, and will forever if I need to, and I can.




Paul Burgess’ Story


Fabulous Oldham drag queen tells his Open Shutters story in the video below.

This is the longest video, but stick with it, his story is worth hearing. It also contains our favourite line of the entire project. The video does contain one swear word, but it is integral to the story, so we hope you’ll forgive Paul (and us).


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.


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.

Kamla Uppiah’s Story

Kamla Uppiah photographed for Open Shutters by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography

Mental Health vlogger, Kam, tells Open Shutters her story of living with Bipolar Disorder in the video below:



You can find Kam’s website, Ask Me I’m Bipolar, at https://www.askmeimbipolar.com

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: https://www.facebook.com/Bridge-The-Gap-175147776473509/


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.

Jason Tyler’s Story

Jason Tyler of SAS:Who Dares Wins for Open Shutters by Liisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography

Jason Tyler served 25 years in the armed forces. After his final tour of duty and leaving the forces he realised he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jason explains what happened next in the 15th of our series of Open Shutters videos. Since seeking treatment, Jason has become an ambassador for Manchester-based charity Veterans’ Garage. He was an interrogator in the recent series of Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins and spends a lot of his time supporting mental health organisations.

The video below is possibly our most powerful yet and may be triggering to some.


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.