As some (hopefully many) of you will know, I am devoting 2014 to raising awareness of mental health, and fundraising for the charity Mind, by undertaking a series of forty challenges. It’s not strictly a bucket list, although some of the tasks have certainly been ambitions fulfilled. Others were always going to prove very difficult personal challenges, whether that be mentally or physically (or both), and if I’d known just how scared I’d be on a rollercoaster then trust me it would have been rapidly replaced with something far more pleasant.
I’ve now completed 28 of the 40 tasks... which is good, but there’s still some way to go, and I will readily admit that I’ve struggled with some of the physical activities. To be told seven years ago to give up sports that I loved and had played since childhood because of a degenerative hip condition was a hard pill to swallow – likewise each of the numerous painkillers I’ve subsequently taken...
I was never the fittest, nor the fastest, but I tried to be the best I could be, whether that be on the cricket field, the badminton court, or simply when I was out running/jogging/plodding (delete as appropriate), and it was a real blow to lose all that in the time it took the consultant to deliver one sentence.
What makes it worse is that in my head I’m still that teenager who could and would spend hours enjoying playing or simply trying my hand at all the sports that were on offer – except gymnastics... God I hated gymnastics. But the fact is that my body now betrays me and it’s often a struggle walking down a flight of stairs, so more intense exercise is absolutely guaranteed to hurt.
But in many ways, that’s the point. If all the challenges were “easy”, then why do them? Running two miles might be the simplest thing in the world to some, but when it’s painful to run at all, then two miles seems a bloody long way; and it only makes it worse when you can still remember what it was like to train for, and complete, several half marathons, the last of which was only nine years ago.
Such is the passage of time I guess – but I’m not complaining. In fact, if anyone was to offer me a pain-free body at fifty, in return for never having played cricket etc, then I’d refuse on the spot because my life was made so much better because of the people I met and the experiences I enjoyed.
I just want(ed) to try and make a difference, however small, by setting myself these goals. I realise there are plenty of genuinely special people out there doing truly amazing things to support deserving causes right around the globe: I’m not special at all, but I’m still proud of what I’ve managed to achieve – and equally proud of not giving up.
That said, I couldn’t have done any of this without Elaine’s love and unfailing support, and the fantastic help I’ve had from so many wonderful people (from inspiring Olympians and international sportsmen and women, via Boris the Golden Eagle, to a Doctor Who companion and a school friend I hadn’t seen for over thirty years). I really can’t thank them enough – and the same goes for everyone who has donated...
I had an e-mail from Mind last week. Here is a short extract: “It sounds like it’s been an incredible experience so far, and your total is fantastic, it will make a real difference, as will all the brilliant exposure that you will be bringing Mind with your activities, we’re truly grateful. It’s incredible you’ve kept going through an uncertain time too, so thank you again.”
The “uncertain time” relates to the closure of our department in January. I have been lucky enough to secure ongoing employment, but it certainly has been – and is – a difficult time for a lot of people, but the charity challenge has undoubtedly given me some focus (and energy too), and it was a real boost to receive that message.
Underpinning everything is the issue of mental health. Through my blog, I have shared some of my experiences of anxiety and past depression, and my innermost thoughts and feelings: not because I want anybody’s sympathy; because I absolutely don’t. Yes I have difficult moments... difficult days... but I’m pretty strong most of the time, and I honestly believe that being open about the often debilitating effects of an unseen illness is a positive thing to do.
I realise that talking about such personal issues in a public forum is not for everybody, but even though there are times when I don’t like the person I am; I’m not ashamed. I just want to be the best husband, father, son, friend etc that I can to those I love and care for. I don’t get it right all the time (looking back, that’s definitely an understatement), but that doesn’t mean I have to stop trying. Equally I will endeavour to complete all my challenges (including dieting to lose a stone in weight, recording a song, and playing goal shooter in a netball team), to prove something to myself, and to know that I tried to make even the smallest difference - because I remember just how it feels to have someone make that difference to me.
All being well the next blog will be come under the general heading of “light-hearted”, but if you’ve read this from start to finish (and stayed awake throughout)... then thank you.