It was just a couple of months into the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, and Claire* found herself waking up much earlier than her career as a racehorse trainer normally commanded. This wasn’t her usual alarm call; it was a crippling anxiety and worry that was causing her to lose sleep.
Claire recalls: “I wasn’t able to switch off. All my rational and forward-thinking ideas had suddenly become unavailable to me – and it didn’t stop when I did eventually manage to fall asleep, these thoughts turned into dreams, and I started to believe that all my plans weren’t going to be able to happen because of Covid.”
Claire couldn’t put her finger on exactly what might have triggered the anxiety and worry for her. Though she accepts it is likely to have been brought on by several factors.
“It was tough financially. When racing was suspended there was no point in keeping the horses in training, we just had to turn them out in March. It is usually one of the more productive months for us and it turned into our worst. I wasn’t receiving the training fees that I’d usually expect at that time of the year, but I still had bills to pay and staff to keep on – that was a huge worry for me.
“The building anxiety I was feeling brought on the lack of sleep, which made things ten times worse. I am usually a very positive person, so this was something I was not used to feeling – not feeling like I had the energy to come up with solutions to get through this.
“I really needed someone to talk to. Usually being a racehorse trainer means that you are always talking to people, whether at the races or the sales, or entertaining owners who are visiting the yard. There are so many conversations to be had every day that you don’t usually have the time to worry, and if you do it is much easier to discuss it with the people around you.
“It was strange for me during lockdown suddenly having nobody to talk to or people to see. I suppose it was the same situation for the rest of the population, I just had the added financial pressure of trying to keep my business running and my staff paid.”
It was at this moment that Claire made the decision to contact Racing’s Support Line, and she was put in contact with her local Welfare Officer.
“Racing Welfare have always been so helpful to all of my staff, whether they’ve had complex issues or just needed someone to talk to that day. I knew they had always been there when they had needed them, so it was Racing Welfare that I decided to call first.
“After a couple of conversations with my local Welfare Officer, it was suggested that I speak to a specialist sports psychologist. I had been disappointed by counsellors in the past, and felt I really needed someone who understood racing and its unique challenges.
“Racing Welfare completely understood this and set up half a dozen or so specialist counselling sessions for me via Zoom. We had some interesting, stimulating conversations – something I had been lacking in the months prior. They say a change is as good as a rest, and there was no change during Covid – we were like prisoners!
“I like everything to have a solution and an answer, and the sessions introduced a new way of thinking for me. It helped me to find other, more rational, ways of looking at things and gave me an understanding of how the brain works and how to break down issues and challenges that might come my way.
“Things got a lot easier to deal with for the remainder of the pandemic, and I am sure the sessions armed me with the tools I needed to get through that particularly tough period.”
Claire managed to get through the remainder of the pandemic, though she noticed that there were still times, periodically, where she still did just not feel as she should.
“Post Covid I just felt like there were days every month where my head was going mad. Mentally I knew I was in a better place, and the financial pressures of the previous year had eased, but I still couldn’t work out what was causing me to feel so anxious every three or four weeks.
“For those few days every month I felt like I couldn’t sleep, like I was bound in a straight jacket losing my mind! I’d go back to normal for three weeks then I’d be thrown back into that living hell again!
“I went to the GP and explained that I just couldn’t live like this – I felt like I had 5million insects crawling around in my head, making me an exhausted zombie and needing to write those few days off every month. But I knew most of the time I felt like myself – I knew I was not depressed and I had not been diagnosed with any mental illness.
“The GP suspected perimenopause and prescribed three months Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It was like the press of a button – within a few days of starting the medication I felt like my life was my own again. I was back to my normal, happy and hardworking self!”
Claire’s experience spans approximately 18 months from mid-2020 until the end of 2021.
“There was just over a year between me finishing my specialist counselling sessions and finding out about the perimenopause. I have no doubt that the sessions helped me get through that tough period, and to recognise what it truly felt like to feel ‘well’ again. I cannot be certain what brought on the perimenopausal symptoms, but there is some evidence to suggest that symptoms can be brought on by accidents or stressful incidents – so perhaps the Lockdown had led to that, who knows?
“Thank you to Racing Welfare for helping me to get through a particularly tough period in my career – it’s good to talk!”
(*Name changed to retain anonymity)