My name is Kai and I am 19 years of age. I am an identical twin, which is something that I love. Despite feeling quite old, I feel that a lot has already happened in my life. When I was asked to write this blog for youth mental health day, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my own story about the importance of staying strong both physically and mentally.
When I was 2 and half I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. My twin brother had also been diagnosed with the same illness a year before. Going through treatment with my brother was tough, it was hard, not only for me to see how my brother was during treatment but also for my Mom and Dad. I can’t imagine the trauma that they went through in their lives, during our many years of treatment. I still have vivid memories of me and Ethan on ward 15 at the Birmingham Children's Hospital, making cookies and also whizzing around in little cars thinking we were in formula 1. I remember dreading the operations when I used to have to be put to sleep, my Mom and dad called them ‘magic sleeps’. I would wake up feeling better and would always smile as there would always be a pack of jaffa cakes waiting for me to eat.
I don’t really remember feeling ill at all, I just remember the way of living in the hospital. I suppose my Mom and Dad did a fantastic job of hiding the pain that my body was going through by trying to give us the best life possible on ward 15. I know I missed a lot of opportunities; Christmas days & some birthdays. All I remember is the good times from the hospital, some opportunities that we got were like living a dream, being able to visit places like Lapland and Disneyland with other cancer patients and also to meet the players from Birmingham City Football Club which was like a dream come true as the big blue nose that I am.
My brother and I were treated for about 4 years. During those times I started nursery and school and whilst I wasn't able to attend all of the time, I really enjoyed not being at the hospital and being able to do lots of things for the first time. As I got older, I would have to go for regular check ups but these became less frequent as the years went on.
I have always been passionate about keeping fit and being active, it has always been a big part of my life. From as young as 5 I used to play football and was always part of a school sports team. During my teenage years I became involved in boxing. I was hugely dedicated and every spare moment I had, I would be in training at the gym, sparring or running. Due to the commitment that boxing needed, I missed out on a lot of ‘normal teenage things’ such as events, parties and going out with friends. I felt happy to make the sacrifice as my dream was to become a champion. In 2019, I achieved my goal and became West Midlands National Champion - it was one of the proudest moments of my life. My plan was then to compete in more matches and keep winning titles.
Then covid happened. Being limited to do certain things and not to do the things I loved such as training began to take its toll on me in a negative way. One of the biggest things to change for me was the fact that I couldn't do my intense physical training. As like many others, I struggled with not being in control of anything in my life. I didn't take my exams at school, I couldn't have a prom which meant I didn't get to say ‘goodbye’ to any of my friends. Every day was a battle for me. I wasn't in a good place and my mental health was at rock bottom.
Being a boxer meant that I always had to be conscious about my weight and intake of foods and different types. Not being able to go to the gym and train meant that I didn't have to be so focused on food. Before long I started to ‘manage’ my eating behaviours. I would find myself going out for runs which became longer and longer and I noticed that I was eating less and less food. In my mind I thought that if I watched what I ate, then when I was allowed to return to the gym I would be at the correct weight to participate in a fight straight away.
It was only when my mom started to notice that I was losing quite a lot of weight that I became aware that something wasn't right. I was participating in really unhelpful behaviours like tasting foods but not swallowing them, in my mind I was still ‘treating’ myself but this way I wouldn't put on any unnecessary weight. I would hide foods in places where I thought others wouldn't look. My meals consisted of ‘clean foods’ like freshly cooked vegetables. I was seriously unhappy but didn't feel strong enough or able enough to do anything about it. My parents were hugely concerned and in the end I had to go to hospital to be checked over. My weight was dangerously low and given my medical history I was putting myself at huge risk. This is when I was referred to Counselling.
I recognised that I needed to change and work at becoming well again. I started reading books to educate myself on how the brain worked, why I was doing certain things and why things made me feel a certain way. I also realised that I had everything good around me, my family, my friends, and my health. Starting to talk about how I felt and reaching out to ask for help and support was honestly one of the best things I did. I started to realise that there was more to life than what I was doing.
Over the last two years, I have definitely had to push myself out of my comfort zone. I had a lot of catching up to do. I re-engaged with my friendships and started to keep fit again. I dipped in and out of boxing and it is the best therapy that I could ask for in terms of keeping me mentally in a good place. I’ve always been very passionate about wanting to give back to charities. When I was at school, I used to organise fundraising events to help raise money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital. This year I was lucky enough to be chosen to run the London Marathon for the Children with Cancer Charity. I felt really honoured and it was such a great feeling to be part of something so special and to cross the finish line in one piece!
One of my favourite quotes is; ‘It’s about focusing on the fight, not the fright.’
My physical and mental health journey has been hard but I keep fighting and pushing through. I try to live everyday with no regret, stay positive and love the people closest to me because that’s the greatest gift that anyone can give. I know that for me to stay strong I need to reach out, whether that be to friends or family or professionals. My mental health is just as important as my physical health and I know that I have to support both to be the best version of me.