This week was quite a week. It was one which I will not forget in a long time. For many reasons, it’s events were challenging, unpredicted and fairly extraordinary. (This does not, unfortunately, mean that I managed to run up Glastonbury Tor after scaling Everest and walking backwards up the Half Dome. Training was actually not particularly extraordinary. It was steady and productive, but I wouldn’t describe it as extraordinary. But more of training later.)
The challenging week began last Friday. Once again my loved ones and I were thrown into a situation where one of our own was descending into a progressively critical mental state. I want to maintain privacy around this situation, so all I will say about it is that it highlighted once again the absolute necessity of improving mental health services, funding more extensive research into mental illness and providing greater support to carers of those suffering with debilitating mental health problems. Alongside the precious memory of my brother, this current situation is firmly in my mind when training and will absolutely be part of my motivation and determination when completing the trek. For various reasons, it highlights that there is still such a long way to go in terms of bringing the treatment, understanding and knowledge of mental illnesses in line with physical illnesses.
When applying for the Mind 3000s I had ticked the box saying I would be willing to talk to local or national media about my experiences of mental illness and why I am doing the challenge. I had spoken at some length to a lady from the Mind media team about my ‘story’ and had said I would be willing to be involved in promotion of the event. In the midst of the worry, uncertainty and sadness of the situation which was unfolding on Friday, I received a phone call from that lady from the media team saying that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was presenting a special one off radio programme on the subject of mental health as reviewing and improving mental health services is a major part of his election campaign. He wanted to speak to someone who has experienced mental illness and, in particular, been affected by suicide. She asked if I would be prepared to speak to him live on air as part of the show, which was on the following Monday, 3 days away. I was struck by a mix of emotions – terror about the prospect of being interviewed live, desire to run away and hide under my bed, worry about what people would think if I spoke about what has happened in my family. I have mentioned before in my blogs that the fear of stigma is very strong when deciding to be honest about suicide and mental illness. The desire to pretend it isn’t part of my life is appealing, especially when meeting new people and making new friends. I don’t want my brother’s suicide to define me, and in so many ways I feel it does – for now anyway. I would much prefer to ignore it and never admit it to anyone. Screaming at me from the back of my mind, however, were memories of my brother, and thoughts of my loved one who at that very moment was suffering and struggling, and who has been appallingly let down by services for many months. Facing it head on and being honest about it is the only way that we will ever change the stigma, taboo and embarrassment which is intrinsic in mental illness, and start to reduce it. So, decision made… and speaking to Nick Clegg it was.
The interview went well and I was fairly pleased with the points I made, although it went very quickly, I said ‘ummmm’ a lot and I didn’t have time to plug the trek, which was frustrating. The really amazing thing for me about it was that I received such incredible support from friends and acquaintances. For someone who had been worried about being treated with suspicion, scorn and stigma as a result of the interview, I was left feeling overwhelmingly validated, understood and cared for. The link I posted on Facebook was shared 20 times. I received 7 emails from people who have had experiences of mental illness. I had 4 conversations in the playground either with people who were just interested or who wanted to share difficulties they or a loved one had experienced. I learnt of 2 people I had no idea have lost loved ones to suicide. For me, this is a major part of doing the trek. Of course it’s to raise money. But equally important is raising the topic. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to become known as The Girl Who Goes On About Depression All The Time. I don’t want to be an evangelistic bore about mental illness. It would just be great if it wasn’t a swear word that makes people feel uncomfortable when it’s mentioned. Such a small thing, but such a huge amount of work is needed to achieve it.
I feel I need to move on now and talk about the blood, sweat and blisters I have gone through this week to earn my sponsorship (now at over £1700 – I’m aiming for £2000). My Mum and Dad came to stay for a few days which was lovely. My Mum is still giving me A Treat A Week while I am training. I have had a mix of lovely things over the weeks – plenty of chocolate, muscle relaxing bubble bath, a pen because writing is important to me. This week Mum bought me a head massager, which is AMAZING, and some foot cream for my feet which are being trashed at the moment. She also have me some money for a bottle of wine for after training. Completely spot on. As good as an overnight spa break.
Anyway, head massagers and bubble bath aren’t really evidence of my blood, sweat and blisters. Dad and I got out for 2 walks which was great, one pre-new walking boots, and one post-new walking boots. I’m quite shocked at the difference comfortable boots make. I thought that agonising blisters were an unavoidable part of walking, but I can barely feel that I’m wearing the new ones. They feel like a reliable, trusted friend already. A good workman should never blame his tools, but I’m putting a lot of faith in them. If I don’t complete the trek, it’s DEFINITELY my boots’ fault.
We climbed up and down the Tor twice which, to my surprise, I found quite easy. This is good training when I can’t get out for a long walk cos I can get up and down in 3 times in an hour and its good steep incline and descent training. This time, unlike the time I went up with my daughter on my back, I remembered that regardless of the weather on the ground, it is always windy at the top. I took my woolly hat, and I needed it. We also did a walk from my village across the fields – about a 6 mile round trip. We caught up on family news and Dad displayed his uncanny talent for mimicking animal noises. He does a very convincing cow and some quality bird calls, but my favourite is his sheep. I am fast becoming very fond of sheep while doing this training. There is something very amusing about a flock of sheep – the way they look at you as though they have never seen a human before, the way they collectively scuttle away as soon as you approach, but best of all are the conversations you can have with them. If you do a convincing enough “baaaaa” – which my dad really can do – they baaaaa back at you. I can’t work out if they are trying to scare you off, trying to make friends, or genuinely just think that you too are a sheep and are just chatting back. They are either very intelligent and shrewd, or really quite stupid. Either way, sheep are ace.
I have been a bit concerned about finding time to do some proper stamina training as it’s all very well doing short but intense trips up the Tor and 3-4 hour walks around slightly inclined terrain but the reality of the trek is that I will be walking for approximately 30 miles over 20 hours, through the night, up and down mountains. Sometimes I get completely terrified and think I can’t possibly do it and it’s a ridiculous idea. However Dad and I have planned some walks which should help, in the next month or so we’re going to do The Malverns. Next weekend I am also going to stay at my parent’s in the Cotswolds and Dad and I are going to tackle Cleeve Hill starting in the early evening, approximately a 12 mile round trip with some good stretches of gradient. It will give me an idea of some of the aspects I’ll be facing on the trek.
For the rest of the week I will be meandering around the Somerset countryside, iPod playing, new walking boots on, making friends with sheep.
Until next week,