Interview with Zoe Puckering

“No one is too tough to talk,” said Zoe Puckering, opening up about her successful battle with depression. “Just because you are a woman, doesn’t mean that you will naturally disclose to people how you feel. That’s just not true.”

Zoe is 29 now and grew up in West Yorkshire, in an environment where no one talked about their feelings; she says, “It just wasn’t tough to say that you were having a hard time”. The mental health advocate knew that she was gay from an early age and was having an internal battle with the guilt of it all. “There was a massive stigma with being gay; there were no role models around me, and I didn’t know anyone who was. I would sneakily watch The L Word when my family went out, because I felt that hiding it was the best thing I could do because I felt ashamed.”  Zoe goes on to reflect on how different it appears to be now, only nine years later, with role models and LGBT+ characters appearing in more TV programmes and the media, making all the difference. “It just wasn’t like that back then in rural Yorkshire,” she added.

Zoe believes that the pressure of holding back this knowledge about herself and not coming out to her parents until she was at University and had a girlfriend, was a key factor behind her mental health issues that were building for years. She was argumentative, tired, couldn’t sleep, felt defensive and continually low. She said that she didn’t have a “good day” for several years, leading to a critical point where she attempted to take her own life – which, thankfully, didn’t work. It was at this point that an overwhelming feeling of guilt swept over her -what would her family and friends have done if she had? They would have been devastated. She knew she had to get back up and get some help. Zoe went to see her GP and told him a few details, but still not being fully honest ,as she was still feeling defensive about the true extent of her feelings. He gave her some tablets, which she didn’t take, but the conversation was enough to get her started on the road to recovery. She had a feeling inside that she wanted to kick this herself.

At the time, Zoe focused on her rugby training, improved her diet, shifted some weight and booked herself on a course to become a personal trainer. She knew almost instinctively that there was a link between physical health and mental health and that, even if that wasn’t the complete solution, it helped. “If I feel physically fit, I must feel mentally fit,” she thought. “Sport and training is a massive distraction and the endorphins give you a lift.”

Zoe left Uni and went to Canada for a while playing rugby but, on her return, she was looking for something more. She didn’t want to pursue law, which she had studied; she became a personal trainer for a while before moving into headhunting and then employee benefits and wellbeing and mental health at work, which is where she found her calling. She moved to London with her new career and was trying to find a sports club, but had no luck finding the right “fit” with a rugby club. She then saw an advert on Facebook for a “white collar” boxing match in aid of the charity Refuge. She signed up. After a couple of fights, she found herself addicted and joined Rathbone Boxing Club, where she was given an amazing opportunity. Zoe appeared on a video about mental health inspired by Tyson Fury called “Off the Canvas” . Zoe admires Tyson as a fighter; “His movement as a heavyweight is incredible and it was so inspiring to see him get back up on his feet in the first Wilder fight. He has been an inspiration, discussing bipolar and depression openly, I honestly think he got back up because he’d already been through worse”.

Zoe says “I like fighting, because it’s mental and physical. It takes mental strength to stand toe to toe with someone who’s trying to hurt you”. Zoe is a light heavyweight amateur boxer waiting for her next fight. I asked Zoe, “What’s it like to get hit?”. She replied calmly, “I guess I can face into it, because I feel I have already gotten through worse. I also have a tolerance for broken bones and injuries from playing rugby. I don’t flinch. Besides, I don’t get punched in the face that often!”. She is now happy and living and working in London, doing a job she loves, but wants to say to anyone who is reading this who is feeling low and doesn’t know what to do, “It takes more courage to talk than stay silent. Don’t tell yourself you are being strong because you are not talking – that’s not true. Talk and hold your head up. Ask for help”.

Samantha Grierson

You can see Zoe in this video: CLICK HERE