Rachael Hunter Dunn & Paul Coker; Diabetes, Depression & How Sport Can Help

Today I’m here in Brighton and I’m really excited to be here with Rachel Hunter Dunn. Rachel is an open water swimmer and she now lives here in Brighton and I first met Rachel about three years ago at Adam’s sports weekend. I know that Rachel used to live in London and she had a stressful life and I think she was gonna share with us something about her story and what made her decide to change from living in London to living in Brighton and getting involved in open water swimming.

Okay. So, yeah. So, like you said, I was living in London for a number of years actually and got to a point where it was just very stressful and I think the main thing was that I wasn't following my dream and following my heart. So, I ended up staying there for way longer than I should've done. Just found living in London very stressful, but also the management of my diabetes went a little bit awry and having lived with diabetes for sort of 20 years or so, it's very difficult at times. I think we all know that it can be very very hard, but also you can turn it around and make a positive out of it and live a pretty normal life. So, we're actually the lucky ones. You know? So, but there was a point when I was in London where I didn't feel so lucky and went into a depression really.
So, not really knowing what to do about it, I went to the doctor, got some antidepressants. And they helped me out of a very sort of dark place, but I found that living with diabetes and the daily grind of it got on top of me, as well as sort of having a stressful working life up there. So, I decided that I sort of needed to change everything. So, went through a period of depression, which was really tough, but in my mind I knew kind of where I wanted to be. I just couldn't quite get there. So, with a little help and a little bit of a push, I changed my life, left London, moved to Brighton, and I wanted to be by the sea. I wanted to sort of embrace open water swimming and just be down here. I mean look. It's amazing. So, I see this every day and I never take it for granted. It's amazing to be down here in the open.
I basically started cold water swimming. So, I moved down here a couple of years ago at the end of Summer, got straight into cold water swimming. Whenever I felt quite depressed or low I would take myself down to the beach, get in the sea, and dunk my head under, even if when it gets really cold, it's down to five or six degrees, but those are the best times. Everyone thinks I'm crazy, but I probably am.

I’m reflecting on that because my parents live in Spain and they have an open swimming pool, which is not heated. And I’ll go out there in August and I’ll put my big toe in the water and say “It’s too cold for me.”

Yeah. Well, I always think it's crazy not seeing more people in the see. I mean, there's a lot of people that swim down here, but there's a lot of people that don't. So, it's kind of a little bit of a mission of mine to get more people in the water, but mainly for the fact that its really helped me mentally to sort of refocus and whenever anythings a bit fuzzy, I just take myself down to the sea and go for a swim. And you know you get your head down and the cold water just is invigorating. It makes you feel alive and that really helped me out of my depression. Yeah. 18 months ago, took myself off the pills and just created a new life for myself down here and became a swim coach and help people overcome their fear of the water and help them learn to swim.
Yeah, just sort of being in this open air lifestyle is really good and, as a result, my diabetes management is a whole lot better and having a waterproof insulin pump has been just amazing for me because I can just be in the pool for a couple of hours or get in the sea. Yeah. It's really good.

That’s quite a severe form of self-therapy – you put yourself through there. I’m just interested because, as you’ve rightly said, diabetes and depression are intrinsically linked and many people with diabetes go through a period of depression and my experience and people I know that the amount of psychological support for us is very limited. So just a question. Did you get any psychological support or were you just given pharmaceutical remedy?

I sought out psychological support. So, I did get a bit. Yeah, but it runs out. And how do you sustain feeling good and, fr me, it's getting in the sea without question and just being out in the open air in the open water. It's amazing and I'm trying to get more people to do it.

And actually that’s really important because you mentioned before that you’re a swim coach and you just want to get more people to get in the water and do an open swim. So, tell us a little bit about your mission to do that. I think you’ve got a business that’s doing exactly that.

Yeah. I'm teaching people to swim from sort of three years upwards. I've got a lot of children swimmers and a lot more adults now as well who want to improve their stroke. A lot of people come to me that are frightened. They've got a fear that they can't do something and I think having diabetes as well, for me, has made me realise that it is possible to do these things and you shouldn't be afraid and there's many times when I felt afraid and haven't done things and actually just thought that through because I think ``I can do this. I've got diabetes and it's possible.`` And so, I find it really interesting when people are frightened of the sea. If I can get them swimming and doing something that they never thought that they would do, if they can overcome that then they can then go into their life as well and use that in their life, whatever their doing, and have that confidence.
It's just an amazing thing to be able to do to teach someone or to give them that newfound confidence and then they can ... It's not just bout swimming. It's about just going forward and doing other things as well and being able to do it.

That’s a really powerful story there. I think it highlights a number of things. One is that there isn’t enough support from a mental health aspect for those of us that have got diabetes. It’s very much overlooked in the healthcare community and you get diagnosed and if you’re lucky you’ll get a leaflet about mental support aspects of it might be.

The other element of it is how most of us living with diabetes find self-coping strategies, yours being to move to Brighton and do open water swimming and mine to climb stupidly high mountains and run a crazy number of half marathons.

I think that if I can encourage more people to do sport who have diabetes, then I think that they will start to see the benefits and it might help them in their own emotional journey with diabetes.

I hope you found that interview useful. There were lots of very important tips in there, especially about mental health and diabetes and the challenges that we face. If you are experiencing mental health problems with diabetes, I would recommend that you make an appointment to see your doctor and your diabetes team. There is support available and there are special services out there. If you’re interested in any form of sport with diabetes, then subscribe below at 1bloodydrop.com and you can see the interviews that we’re putting you where we are filming many athletes who have performing in different types of sports who have diabetes and they’re sharing their stories about how they manage diabetes through a whole variety of sports from football to swimming to mountain climbing to running. You name it, we’re out there on the mission to find them. Thank you and we’ll see you on the next video.