Somewhat unexpectedly, the sixth of my forty challenges was completed today, with the publication of The Canarian Weekly, the Canary Island’s only English newspaper. On page 37, was the above article and photo all about my 40Fifty challenge along with some of my own personal experiences of mental health issues.
It wasn’t easy to write—it’s not supposed to be—but in the week of the announcement that our department will be closing at the end of the year as part of ongoing NHS cuts, I was determined to stay positive, speak openly, and hopefully prove that for all that whilst there are some fairly light-hearted tasks in my challenge, the message… the cause… it’s really important to me. If reading the article prompts even one of you to visit my Just Giving page and support the work of the charity Mind, then baring my proverbial soul (as opposed to my literal chest—that comes later) will have been worthwhile.
I am indebted to Maggie Lennard for helping to get a whole page devoted to some old bloke from Middlesbrough. I’ve known Maggie for something like thirty years—she’s actually my elder daughter’s godmother—but we lost touch and hadn’t seen each other for more than quarter of a century—until last August, when we belatedly met up in Tenerife, where Maggie and her husband Ian now live.
Anyway, rather than ramble on, I’m going to simply add the trans-cription of the article, in case the scan is difficult to read. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, any encouragement or support would be brilliant.
The first question I get asked about the 40Fifty Challenge I’ve set myself for the year in which I reach my fiftieth birthday is “Why are there forty challenges and not fifty?”
The official answer is that I wanted to recognise how much my life has changed since I turned forty—the real reason is I ran out of ideas! That said, I have compiled a list of pretty random tasks, some on the face of it relatively easy, others less so, but which I hope will be interesting and diverse enough to create some interest, and ultimately help me to raise some money for the mental health charity Mind.
So whilst I will hopefully bowl at a county cricketer, visit a television studio, sell a picture that I’ve drawn (I can’t draw), have a photograph taken with a London 2012 medallist, have a bird of prey fly onto my hand, attempt the hottest curry on an Indian restaurant menu, shave my head, track down a class-mate from my first school, play goal shooter in a netball team, bid at an auction and hold a snake (a real one I hasten to add) et al, I do not wish to lose sight of the charitable cause.
A number of years ago I was diagnosed with a form of depression: unseen, but so horribly debilitating. I’d outwardly cope with life’s ups and downs because... well because isn’t that what everybody does? And I’d try so hard to hide the occasional irrational thoughts, but there comes a point when it just gets too much.
This is basically what happened back in 2011 and resulted in two incredibly difficult, yet significant moments. The first was to sit down in front of the team I managed at work and explain I was suffering from depression. I was “encouraged” not to do it because it was so personal, but I just had to—and given their response to hearing me speak so openly, I’m so glad I did. The second was to post a blog about my experiences, written in the
aftermath of the tragic suicide of Gary Speed. I didn’t want sympathy, just to tell my story. The reaction from family and friends was so positive, and I know I am incredibly lucky to be married to Elaine, whose love and support during the occasional dark times has been wonderful beyond words.
In the scheme of things, I’m nobody important, but in a sense that’s just the point. Sufferers from mental illness in whatever form can come from any background, any walk of life: even the strongest aren’t immune. But standing up and asking for help is not a sign of weakness—in actual fact acceptance is the first, the hardest and the bravest step on the road that will hopefully lead towards recovery.
I might not make much of a difference, but one thing’s for sure if I do nothing, then I’ll make absolutely no difference at all. So over the weeks and months that follow, I’ll be doing my best to add more challenges to those I’ve already completed, which currently comprise receiving a tweet from Spice Girl (Mel C), an appearance on a radio show, visiting my first home and finding someone born on exactly the same day as me—even though I look at least ten years older, which was a blow...
And last but not least a game of 501 against an international darts player. Actually it was several games against England’s Glen Durrant, who recently lost out to eventual runner-up Alan Norris in the BDO World Championship. I may have lost every game, but threw pretty well, had a great time—and Glen has arranged for me to play him in front of 400 people at a charity exhibition in August. I’ve already decided on my entrance music: “I Missed Again” by Phil Collins!
So whether my adventures require some sporting ability or athletic effort, a camera, a paintbrush, an eagle, a roll (or two) of toilet paper or a large slithery reptile, you are more than welcome to follow my progress by visiting my website www.richard.kirby.org or, if you feel like going one step further, www.justgiving.com/40Fifty. I’m incredibly grateful for any support.