As another year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on the past twelve months and without taking certain banned words and phrases out of parentheses [viz. journey, rollercoaster of emotion, etc.], it would be reasonable to suggest that 2016 has been “eventful”.
There have been a number of difficult moments that remain at the forefront of the mind, despite my best efforts to rid them from my thoughts. A significant “blip” (it’s a technical term) in the summer had a greater effect on me than I allowed all but those closest to me to see; but led to me inviting my workmates to a talk about the reality of living with a form of depression.
Me and dysthymia have been companions for four decades, but much as talking about daily struggles and revealing even a little of the person behind the 9 to 5 (strictly speaking it’s 8:30-4:30) mask is still emotionally draining, the fact that a couple of colleagues felt able to open up about their own situation was moving and genuinely humbling.
2016 has been another—the third to be precise—year of my “challenges” to raise mental health awareness. From “Dry January”, to a second 12-hour solo darts marathon, working in a soup kitchen, meeting a couple of Middlesbrough footballers, owning a racehorse for a day and completing the equivalent of an English Channel crossing on an indoor rowing machine, I have tried (very much in my own way) to show that it is fine to talk about mental health conditions; and it’s equally fine for ask for help.
Fine doesn’t mean “easy”—but to use a sporting analogy, even the bravest fighters need someone in their corner. There’s no shame in mental illness… none at all; and I am determined to keep trying my best to highlight these unseen, yet so often devastating conditions and the positive change that help and support can bring.
My list of challenges for 2017 is not quite complete yet (suggestions always welcome), but preparations are underway, and hopefully some of the tasks and events will gain enough interest to maintain the profile of the underlying theme.
On a personal level, the possibility of meeting Bryony Page, Olympic trampoline silver medallist in Rio, is something I’m really excited about. Bryony was responsible for one of my two most magical sporting moments of the year; the other coming courtesy of the Team GB women’s hockey squad. Two stunning performances under the most intense pressure, followed by the most wonderful and unforgettable release of emotion. Elite sport doesn’t get any better in my opinion.
In other respects, 2016 has been a sad and disturbing year. I know little about politics; but even those that purport to have some knowledge cannot rationalise the implications of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, let alone Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency. He comes across as a dangerous loose cannon, and I worry about the world that my children and future generations are going inhabit and inherit—even more so given the conflict and threat that already exists.
The sadness comes from the seemingly unprecedented number of high-profile names that have left us over the past twelve months. Most of us will have been affected by the news of yet another passing at some point; for me it was the loss of “the Greatest” Muhammad Ali—as an athlete and a human being we will probably never see his like again…
I suppose that if this year has taught us anything, it is to take nothing for granted. I am therefore both thankful and blessed that 2016 will end… just as it began, with the most special person I know; my wife Elaine. I am looking forward to sharing 2017 (and beyond) with her, and will keep doing everything possible to make her life as happy and fulfilled as I can—and I’ll be doing all the cooking as well!
I’m lucky to have my amazing parents, a wonderful family, and some great friends; and I will end my last blog of this year by thanking you for all your love (where appropriate!) and support and wishing you everything you would wish for yourself in 2017.