Sherrie Rhodes

Photo of Sherri with Willow staffMy  life changed in the Summer of 2005 whilst on holiday in Turkey with my husband and three young children aged 5, 3 and 6 months. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I began to have panic attacks, felt unable to cope and couldn't leave the hotel room, leaving my husband to cope with our young family. This was to be the start of a nightmare journey as my anxiety and depression spiralled.  I was diagnosed with acute postnatal depression and for 6 months, wouldn't get up, wash or dress. The Health Visitor helped me cope with the children and I was referred to a Community Psychiatric Nurse for advice and support.

Fortunately, I had a supportive sister and husband who offered the emotional and practical support, I desperately needed, not only to cope with raising a family, but also with my unhappiness and depression.  

The situation was affecting the family unit - I was unable to look after or interact with my children.

Unfortunately, postnatal depression is not always recognised as a debilitating condition and I was often told "Pull yourself together!" or "You've just got to get on with it!" which only added to my misery.

The turning point was in January 2006, when my Community Psychiatric Nurse encouraged and helped me access a support group, facilitated through  a community project, which was housed in Willow, North Hull Women's Centre.  The group size was small, friendly and in a women only environment and the activities were therapeutic and unpressured.  Lennon, my one year old son, attended Willow's crèche whilst I attended and this initially, was the main reason for joining. It enabled him to interact with other children in a stimulating environment, as I had been unable to play with him, making me feel guilty and inadequate - even though it was out of my control.  

This was to become a life changing step for me!  It was the focal point in my life and I began to look forward to these weekly sessions, an incentive to leave the house! This continued for several months, my confidence growing and the feelings of isolation easing slightly.  Although I knew I had a long way to go, I felt perhaps, there was a light at the end of the tunnel!  

In September 2006, I felt ready to take the next step, despite feelings of self doubt and experiencing severe panic attacks.  I attended a 5 week Aromatherapy course, organised by Willow, at my children's primary school, within my local community but more importantly within my comfort zone! This gave me the confidence and motivation to progress "over the road" to a community hall to attend another of Willow's outreach courses - Crafts.  I also attended a course with ArtLink in December 2006, which involved making Christmas cards with children in our local primary school.  I was terrified but successfully completed the project, even helping out another project at a school outside my comfort zone - a big step forward! This gave me the confidence to travel the short distance to Willow in January 2007, where my learning journey continued!  The "open door policy", friendly small groups and great childcare facilities made this possible.  I began attending a range of courses in Soft Skills - both accredited and non-accredited,  I began to enjoy life again!  Whilst I was still experiencing panic attacks and often struggling to cope with my anxieties, I began socialising again and the children had their Mum back!

Since these dark days, I have gone from strength to strength - I have accessed a range of training and learning provision, including NOCN's, NVQ's & UFA's in a range of areas - IT, Supporting Children's Learning and Crafts to name just a few.  Whilst the journey has not always been easy, my determination to overcome postnatal depression, my love for my family and commitment to learning has inspired and motivated me to overcome many barriers.

In January 2009, I saw an advertisement in The Hull Daily Mail, asking for volunteers on the Doula project - a voluntary organisation which provides support to vulnerable and isolated women during late pregnancy, childbirth and the first 6 weeks after birth; immediately I knew this was what I wanted to do!  I researched on the Website, believed I could make a difference and attended the Open Evening.

Despite being very nervous, I attended an interview and was honest about my personal battles, which was still featuring in my life, although to a much lesser degree.  I was delighted when I was successful and undertook an intensive training programme in the Spring of 2009. I am now trained, supporting Mums and finding the experience rewarding!  I believe that by offering support, they may have less chance of going through the nightmare that I did.

Learning has made such a difference to me and my family, and I am proud to be supporting some of the city's most vulnerable women as a result of this. My journey continues - my goal is to study midwifery and I feel confident I can achieve this.

After attending a Regional Award Ceremony in Leeds, Sherrie went on to represent Yorkshire and Humberside as Outstanding Learner of the Year in a prestigious ceremony at Westminster, London in May!  Jacquie Newman and myself - Sylvia Kilvington (Centre Co-Managers) attended with Sherrie and her husband Sean.  Prior to that, Sherrie was awarded the 'Overcoming Barriers Award' at HLC's Celebration of Learning event.
Sherrie has now enrolled on NVQ CACHE (Childcare) Level 2 course and is volunteering in Willow's Creche to further develop her skills and gain experience to help her achieve her goal of becoming a midwife.  She has also joined Willow's Management Committee as she wants to put something back into the Centre and help make a difference to women in the community.  She is also planning to enrol on the Access course into Midwifery. 

Silvia Kilvington, Willow Co-ordinator said "Sherrie was the first woman to join our Big Lottery, Reaching Communities outreach programme aimed at supporting our most hard to reach learners. She is an inspirational person, who has turned what was a very dark time in her life into a positive by helping some of the most vulnerable women in the city as a result of her experiences.  She is a testimony to the valuable work undertaken in the heart of the community by voluntary organisations like ourselves.  As we approach the last few months of our Lottery funding in this era of financial uncertainty, we are determined to secure funding  to carry on making  a difference to women like Sherrie and her family."


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