There’s been lots of optimism in recent weeks, and rightly so. The vaccination programme is going great guns, shops are open, some pubs are open, with more to follow any minute, the sunshine must surely be imminent… but this week it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. And has there ever been a year when mental health has been as important a focus for our society? We’ve all been through a heck of a lot, personally, as a society, as businesses. We’ve all done amazingly to get through it so far, and should take a minute to be kind to ourselves.
There’s a lot of work still to do, at wider levels, but also work on ourselves. This blog post is going to shine a light on one of our Directors, Luke, who has opened up about his personal mental health struggles. It’s not a cry for help, or pity, it’s simply having a conversation. The comments on this blog are open if you want to share your story, but please remember the impact words can have, and be kind. It’s good to talk, as the late great Bob Hoskins used to say…
I’ve always struggled with my physical health, being diagnosed with an aggressive form of arthritis at just 19. As my joints and mobility decreased, so my pain and medication list increased. I became a regular at Chapel Allerton Hospital, regularly needing procedures to drain fluid from my joints, inject steroids and as time went on, low-level Chemotherapy and proper surgeries. It’s something I’ve lived with now for longer than I’ve not. I’ve had to adjust my expectations on fitness and sport (to nil) and come to terms with the fact I could never kneel, or run, or even bend down easily. I became very adept at walking with crutches during flare-ups. For the most part, I simply cracked on. But over the years it certainly affected my mental health as well as my joints.
I’m now the proud owner of a brand new, Titanium knee. On the face of it, I have so so many other reasons to be happy and content. I live in a beautiful place. I’m not hungry. I have a beautiful wife and three amazing kids. I run an incredible business in an incredible industry. I’ve worked hard to achieve these things, and like everyone have sacrificed along the way. But it seems I’ve gone a little too far, and my balance has gone. My cup has overflowed (or drained depending on your preferred analogy). The combination of pain, pressure and mental neglect, then with COVID and having to Shield for a year thrown in, became too much earlier this year. I ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance and into the care of the mental health crisis team.
I want to get better. Like many, the various lockdowns have given a chance for some sort of reset. To re-align priorities. I need to look after myself, to work on myself. So I decided that from the beginning of March, with 100 or so days until I turned 40, I would attempt to hit re-set. I have a long history of things dropping by the wayside, with the easy excuse of my busy life. So I knew that I had to set myself a challenge that my “drive system” could get stuck into. I also knew I had to put it out there, as you can never truly succeed in a journey in isolation.
I’m attempting to cycle and walk over 1000miles in these 100 days, raising money for Mind charity in the process, as they were so integral to helping me after I came out of the hospital. I immediately regretted not choosing km instead of miles, but then there was an unexpected level of support on my Justgiving page, which motivated me to just get on and get out there. There’s not a lot of wiggle room for missing any days, so I can’t be a fair-weather type. Plus, I’ve always seen bikes as a mode of transport, functional not fun. This time last year I couldn’t even bend my new knee enough to ride. Two years ago I couldn’t walk without crutches. As for Lycra… ha, good one! I’d not ridden a bike in well over 10 years, let alone up hill or down Dale.
Luke is on day 72 of the 100 now, and has completed a whopping 730 miles! His fundraising page is at £900+, and we would encourage you, if you can spare anything at all, to help motivate and push him through those remaining 270 miles over the next month by donating to Mind via his JustGiving page
With every mile, I’ve found my fitness getting better, enabling me to go further and quicker each time. I’ve seen what Bolton Abbey looks like before work, I’ve joined friends on commutes into Leeds. I’ve lost a bit of lockdown weight, and I even played in a football game for the first time in 20 years the other day. It’s been hard to get myself up sometimes, to go out in the rain. But I’ve not once regretted a ride or a walk. I can see the difference it’s making already. In fact the wetter the day or the further or more uphill the ride, the greater the sense of achievement. I know that this can’t be it, it has to be the start. I won’t be “fixed” after 100 days, it needs to be a daily commitment to looking after myself.
So many people don’t talk about their feelings, or feel isolated and like no-one else will understand. Overcoming these stigmas is so important, and a powerful tool to help improve health. For too long, mental health and physical health have been separated, both in approaches and in terms of importance. There is just health. Your mind is just as important part of your body as your knee. Thoughts and actions and feelings are chemical reactions, an each of our body’s chemical make-up is different.
So let’s do this together. We’re not only Powered By Beer, we’re Powered By People. There are people behind every pint after all.
Even if you’re not able to donate money, kindness is free – share a smile, a word, a text. When it’s safe to do so, don’t underestimate the power of a government-mandated hug from the 17th of May. When you see friends and loved ones again after so long, maybe once you’ve finished catching up on each other’s DIY projects and views on masks, have a listen to how they’ve been feeling. It’s good to talk, but it’s even better to listen. Thank you for listening.
Do you need urgent help?
If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse, or you’re worried about someone you know – help is available.
You’re not alone; talk to someone you trust. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.