Participants’ stories

Case study: David

David D’Arcy-Ewing is 67 and has been coming to Mind Fit for a year. Here, in his own words, is his story of “A Year of Mind Fit".

“Having a huge dad and a tiny mother could have gone one of two ways; Sod’s Law prevailing, I inherited dad’s charm and mum’s slight frame, maxing out at 5’7” and nine stone.

“In my late 60s, I still considered myself fortunate, enjoying better health than many friends who had been more athletic when young. Being smaller gives one a certain outlook – I have always been able to avoid or diffuse confrontation.

“A year ago this changed, when a verbal disagreement turned nasty and I was manhandled into a corner and screamed at. I wasn’t hit, but I am embarrassed to admit that I was upset and made a poor show of defending myself. I decided that I would become fitter and more assertive.

“My first thought was karate, but I recalled a conversation many years ago with a friend who agreed to a friendly bout of sparring at a boxing club. It didn’t go terribly well. ‘I had spent years practising techniques including breaking blocks of wood and piles of tiles,’ he explained, ‘but tiles don’t dance around the ring, don’t bob and weave, and certainly don’t hit back. I wasn’t used to being hit, and my moves went to pieces.’ I smiled years later at a remark from Mike Tyson – ‘Everybody got a plan – till they get a smack in the mouth.’

“None of my friends knew any boxers, but had some helpful advice. ‘It’s considered good etiquette to mop up your own blood,’ and ‘Don’t worry about getting your face damaged – you’ll be on your backside so often you’ll get a cauliflower a*se.’ On visiting a friend’s office, they invited me to perform a few press-ups. I lowered my chest to the floor, but to gales of laughter, I was unable to raise myself back up. ‘Even my granny could do at least one!’ I heard someone say.

“So it was that I nervously called at Pat Benson’s club, where I was made perfectly welcome, and told about the twice-weekly Mind Fit sessions. There was bag and pad work, with fitness circuits, suitable for all abilities. The classes were even free, being funded by Comic Relief. What was not to like?

“A year later, I find myself much fitter and stronger – I am over a stone heavier, and a good deal more confident. A feature of the club is the camaraderie of my classmates – handshakes are exchanged on greeting and departure and genuine friendships have ensued. Similarly, the instructors are inspirational and encouraging – I would never have persevered at any other activity.

“So, to anyone wondering, I say, ‘Do it!’ Walk into Pat Benson Boxing Academy – the physical and mental benefits will be endlessly rewarding."

Case study: “Eddie"

I was introduced to Mind Fit at Pat Benson Boxing Academy on June 2017when I came to rehab/treatment in Birmingham.  Going to a gym was the last thing that I wanted to do especially a boxing give perception due to violence I’d witnessed and my dad had come from a boxing background.

Initially I came under sufferance and just did the treadmill or the exercise bike.  However, I became more open minded and eventually at the suggestion of a friend I started the Mind Fit boxing training sessions as its good cardio.  To my surprise I loved it and got on well with the lads.  Once I left rehab/treatment I started going more and started to do voluntary work helping out at the boxing shows which I really enjoyed.  I also went to college and qualified as a tutor.

From my own transformation and personal experience I cannot recommend Mind Fit strongly enough.  I feel better physically and emotionally and now work full time, though the downside of this is that I can’t get to Mind Fit sessions but I continue to exercise regularly. I have continue to volunteer at Pat Benson Academy and I deliver Health & well Being presentations as well as helping out at the club boxing shows.

Case study: “Mark"

In 2015 Mark (not his real name) found himself in a very difficult situation. The carpentry business he had just started was failing due to his severe back pain, which was causing cash flow problems, and his landlord was failing to pay his mortgage. Very soon, he was made homeless.

Mark ended up in a hostel and, whilst he was grateful and glad to have some kind of shelter rather than being on the street, it was still a very distressing time. He found the hostel to be a very noisy place, where he had difficulty sleeping and had to face racial abuse from another tenant who was clearly suffering from mental health issues himself. The rules of the hostel meant Mark was unable to work, but in order to receive benefits he still had to do regular job searches.

The combination of all of these things had a devastating effect on Mark’s mental health.

Although his biggest concern was lack of sleep, it wasn’t until he went to see his doctor about his insomnia that his symptoms were identified as being connected to depression. He was prescribed medication and referred for counselling. However, the medication did not agree with him. He suffered side effects he describes as “unbearable", and started self-medicating with cannabis. It helped, but was a huge financial burden, and he was not happy with the other health implications. 

Shortly after this, Mark came across a leaflet for homeless organisation Crisis, highlighting access to courses he was interested in and a mental health group, which he started attending. “This helped," Mark says, “but at this particular time there seemed to be so much tragedy going on, not only in my own life but also that of my wider family. My cousin’s elderly auntie was murdered in her home. My daughter and my grandson were going through a bad time at the hands of her partner. I could see myself responding in a way that would have been detrimental to my life, as my mental health spiralled and all my thoughts had extremely dark outcomes." 

Through Crisis, Mark heard about free entry to Pat Benson’s Boxing Academy, with sessions that were focused on mental health and wellbeing.  

As a long-time boxing fan, this caught Mark’s attention straight away, and the suggestion that it could help with his mental state made it something he had to try.

He says, “I can honestly say that from that first Mind Fit session I was hooked, and over time I found countless benefits from my regular attendance and association with the club. Not only did it give me an opportunity to rid myself of a great deal of negative thoughts and aggression, it gave me a positive focus; got me back in a keep fit frame of mind."

Mark’s comfort eating was gradually replaced by a healthy balanced diet. His weight started coming down to where he wanted it to be for the first time in a long time. He stopped using cannabis and started exercising regularly, outside of the two weekly Mind Fit sessions. His sleeping patterns improved dramatically. He started making friends and enjoying the social aspects of the club.

Three years later, Mark has become a volunteer coaching assistant at the club, and gone on to achieve a Level 1 England ABA Assistant Boxing Coach qualification. He’s very proud of the achievement and aims to one day turn his hobby into a career. He says, “I have a lot to thank both Crisis and Pat Benson’s Boxing Academy for."

Case study: Teyron Jayne Evans

I arrived in Birmingham this year at a crossroads in my life. I have worked in custodial environments for over ten years in different capacities.  Due to a collapse, acute insomnia then a subsequent deterioration in mental health I took the opportunity to start afresh in a new location.

I used to feel constantly exhausted, my energy levels low with difficulty concentrating commonplace.  I was initially treated with anti-depressants I experienced many negative side effects which I found disappointing because I thought this would be a quick fix for my issues.

I came across a Mind Fit leaflet at Northcroft hospital.  As a gay female close to 50 years of age overweight, out of shape and out of sorts I may have seemed an unlikely candidate to take up boxing.  I have now been attending Mind Fit for 8 weeks and have found the Pat Benson Boxing Academy to be professional in its approach to the sport where all training a safe and unjudgmental, multi-cultural diverse space.  All the men at the club are accommodating and helpful and as a female I have been made to feel welcome

As a group we are all at different levels and abilities, yet we all train hard.  I have fun and am rewarded for my efforts as I am losing weight.  I feel re-energised and uplifted after every session.  I am a ‘work in progress.’  I continue to suffer with insomnia though not acute and I am able to do far more during the day as a result of boxing.  I find bag work very cathartic.  I know that this is the best therapy for me personally.  Each week I am getting fitter, stronger and more positive regarding my future possibilities.  Mind Fit is now a future part of my path towards wellbeing and recovery.  Thank you Pat Benson and the funding that made Mind Fit possible.  You are helping change lives for the better.  You are definitely changing mine.

Case study: “S"

S problematic drug use began when aged 13 years, he started to inhale gas, this quickly escalated and by the time he was 15 he was using cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.  S left school without qualifications and worked in factories and as a labourer. By the time he was in his 20’s S was using crack and heroin on a regular basis.  He became anxious, insecure and paranoid that people were looking at him and wanted to rob him.   S’s drug abuse had a massively destructive impact on his family, his relationships and his physical and mental health and led to a diagnosis of psychosis.

S was conscious that this was not the way he wanted to live his life and he made many efforts to get himself off drugs.  This proved very difficult as he was continually targeted by drug dealers.  S realised that he needed to leave Birmingham to get off drugs and make a fresh start in his life, and after a 6-month wait he was accepted into a rehabilitation unit in Wirral. After being drug free for 8 weeks S started to drink alcohol, he was involved in an altercation and was thrown off the programme.

Then in August 2017, aged 30 years, S first attended Mind Fit with Changes UK, who utilize Mind Fit as part of their recovery programme for people with drug/alcohol addictions.  S reports that he had never done boxing before, but he loves it and that the programme helps him massively.  Exercise is now part of S daily regime.  S feels that Mind Fit has helped him to integrate back into society by meeting people from a range of different backgrounds; this has given him the confidence to trust other people and overcome his anxiety and paranoia.  Following successful completion of some short college courses S successfully completed an Access to Higher Education course and has gained one of only twenty places at Bath University to study for a degree in Psychology specialising in Addiction Counselling.  S says that he wants to do this so he can help others because he has been inspired to do so by the people that have helped him.  He says “I am thankful for where I am and look forward to waking up every day”.

Case study: “A"

A new chapter in my life began when I moved into a homeless hostel…it’s not something that’s ever been on my bucket list but I’d won the treble- homeless, jobless and skint.

My room in the hostel (the place I now called home) had been ‘prepared’ for a new resident (me), but everything you looked at and everything you touched needed cleaning. We often say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression (eek). The best I could muster at the time was to subscribe to the view that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I spent most of the day cleaning the room and everything in it- who was the first person to say cleanliness is next to godliness?

By the end of week one the new air fresheners had overpowered the aroma of no hope. At this point I didn’t know how I was going to turn my fortunes around, what I did know was that bowing to peer pressure and blaming someone else for the situation I now found myself in just wasn’t going to happen. Staying in bed until lunch time, locking yourself away in isolation and having no interest in anything other than all day TV and booze are all ‘par for the course’ in this environment.

Week two began with a visit to PBBA on a fact finding mission. A member of the hostel staff had put together an information sheet describing how you can start your own health and wellbeing journey. Another appointment in the same week was to register with a new G.P. my expanding waist line told the true story of my lack of physical exercise and poor diet. The week ended with a collective good laugh, we had a room inspection at the hostel…nothing to worry about there, I’d spent a full day cleaning and a couple of hours a week keeping my room ‘up to scratch’. Some of the other guys were issued with improvement notices – that means get it ‘sorted’ or it’s ‘curtains’.

The first Mind Fit training session was as hard as I had expected, so was the next one, and the one after that and so on (too much good living on my part, exercise and healthy eating were a fair way down my ‘must do’ list). A few weeks in and you start to notice feeling a bit lighter on your feet (the more unfit you are when you start the more noticeable the transformation is). I reached a point where I’d started to spring out of bed much earlier in the morning than I’d got used to. Some things are more noticeable to other people, like the weight loss and looking a lot healthier, some of the other benefits you only notice yourself, things like having more energy and you wake up in the morning feeling like you’ve had a great night’s sleep. My new G.P. thinks it’s great for developing a healthy mind and body. He wasn’t wrong when he said your body will start craving for the nutrients you get from fruit and vegetables, so a change in diet fits hand in glove with regular training.

I’ve had a fabulous amount of help in the months gone by from a number of homeless charities, lots of training courses that get you out and about and in doing so, helps address the isolation you can get from staring at the same four walls day after day. I’ve learnt some valuable skills such as bathroom and kitchen wall and floor tiling, plastering and some woodwork skills that included making garden furniture for the gardening project at the hostel and making internal door frames and hanging new doors….all great stuff if you ever need a make-over when you get your own bachelor pad!

Moving on….is quite difficult, you often here about the shortage of social housing, but you don’t really understand the full extent of the problem until you are ‘in the system’. Single adult males are at the bottom of the pile on a housing needs register so you need an ‘ace up your sleeve’ to have the best chance of getting an offer you consider to be right for you. It may sound a bit too rich for some…you are homeless, so any offer of housing and you’re gonna be grateful…right? Not quite! It’s possible to jump out the frying pan and into the fire, and in doing so you enter the all too familiar merry-go-round of homelessness-short-term housing-homelessness (eek, eek).

Months later the phone rang, a housing association offered to put me on their waiting list if I passed a personal needs assessment. Some housing associations don’t have the support services in place that a homeless hostel has with regards to support workers and sign posting for personal needs, so the assessment is designed to help them determine if you can live independently. All went well and I had a laugh with the staff when they asked if we have room inspections in the hostel. Two months later I was invited to a viewing (whoop, whoop), the ‘bachelor pad’ I was offered is a great place in a good location so turning it down was never going to be the right decision despite it being difficult whilst you are struggling on benefits to furnish your own pad.

So that’s one hurdle crossed (housing), I’m now working on the jobless and skint hurdles. The ‘ace card’ in all of this has been PBBA and the Mind Fit sessions. If I had £1.00 for every time someone has said you need to reinvent yourself, I’d be on a plane to the Bahamas, it’s one of those situations where the ‘saying’ and the ‘doing’ are very much different and often very difficult. I believe you need some firm foundations on which to build, otherwise, everything subsides and then collapses and you find yourself back in the same boat.

Good show to all the staff at PBBA, you guys are worth a million (each). Many thanks to the sponsors who make all this possible, it’s often difficult to understand the situation other people are in without being in the same boat. I hope you never have to experience it and I hope you understand how much we appreciate your help.

Did I mention my G.P.(I know I have but I’ll say it again) he thinks it’s great….the regular exercise and better diet have lowered my chances of a heart attack or a stroke (that’s a medical fact), and I feel mentally and physically in better shape. I hope everyone connected to this program has a fabulous New Year….you deserve it.