I had a sudden worry this week. It came quite unexpectedly, it was something I hadn’t thought of before. It wasn’t my creaky knee, or whether I would manage the trek. It wasn’t the pain I’m going to be in afterwards, or the 300 mile drive to and from The Lakes. It wasn’t trekking in the dark or what I’ll do when I inevitably need the loo half way up a mountain.
It was simply – what will I do when this is over?
In the last 3 months, what initially began as a half-hearted, almost flippant application to be part of Mind 3000s – because I never thought I would be chosen – has developed into a project, a task, and something of an obsession. I started with a nervous grimace on my face, not actually believing that I could or would be able to do it, and feeling daunted, not excited. When I took the phone call saying that my application had been successful and asking if I would be part of the trek, I almost felt a sinking feeling as I accepted. It seemed like such a huge effort – raising sponsorship, committing to hours of training, not to mention the small issue of a 30 mile mountain walk. What the hell had I agreed – nay, ASKED – to be involved in? And how could I wriggle out of it?
How I have surprised myself…
The fundraising aspect of the event, which is a significant challenge amongst the physical task, is something which may have actually restored my faith in human nature. I have found it humbling and affecting to see my sponsorship amount climbing steadily in the last 4 months. I hadn’t expected it, in fact I had felt sceptical about whether people would sponsor me. The negativity in me would tell me that everyone would think I was banging on like a broken record and I would end up feeling that asking for sponsorship was becoming an embarrassing albatross around my neck. I was wrong. The support from family, friends and strangers has been overwhelming and, after the feeling of isolation which I have felt so markedly since my brother’s death, it has been a huge step in feeling that life is warming up once again. The affect this has had is priceless. I don’t want to be dramatic, but this single aspect of doing the trek may actually, quietly and tentatively, change what has become my fairly cynical view of the world. I don’t want to speak too soon and I want to retain my right to feel cynical and morose if I want to, but I think I may be seeing the world in a slightly more flowery way. Don’t tell anyone though, I don’t want to get a reputation.
Of course, all that wonderful sponsorship money goes towards the charity which is close to my heart and the subject which – for the moment – is an unwanted but central part of my life. The process of being involved with the trek is challenging me to get involved and get honest about the subject of suicide and mental illness and – for want of a less American phrase – to take ownership of it. I have had chances to discuss my experiences of mental illness in local and national forums and this has been an amazing opportunity and has allowed me to face some scary issues with the brilliant support of the people at Mind. It has been nothing short of an honour to be raising money alongside raising the discussion, and the Mind 3000s is the platform which has allowed me that.
I don’t really want that to stop.
Despite never having physically met any of the other participants, we have a Facebook page and have ‘met’ each other in the cyberspace sense. Everyone participating has their own personal and varied reasons for taking part, but the commonality is an affinity for and an understanding of mental illness, from differing perspectives. The group is already forming into a team and the support which it offers is very touching. I feel I have made bonds with people who – for whatever reason – understand and accept. Particularly during weeks like this one, where mental illness is in the media and irresponsible journalists have made sweeping, ignorant and archaic statements, the existence of a group like this one is precious. We have all gone through and shared moments of triumph when we have reached targets for sponsorship totals, achieved breakthrough training sessions or organised fabulous fundraising events. Likewise, there have been moments of honesty about fears, thoughts disclosed of withdrawing from the event, vulnerability. The support from this group of strangers in the struggles, set-backs and the satisfactions of training has been, and will be, integral to the experience.
I don’t really want that to stop.
I seem to have settled into a pattern of training and I am – dare I say it – enjoying it. I feel fitter and I am enjoying that feeling. It’s an annoying cliché that you only hear annoyingly fit, bouncy people using (so please bear with me), but I have more energy. It defies logic… how can I have more energy than before, when I am currently walking an extra 15 miles a week and exercising 5 out of 7 days as opposed to, urm, 0 out of 7 days. I enjoy the challenge of working out how I can fit my training in each week and have to push myself to do things that I find uncomfortable in order to keep the momentum going, like getting up at 6am instead of having a lie in. Please don’t think I have turned into a horrible, smug pillock. Believe me, I am in as much disbelief and shock as you and part of me is scoffing at myself and tutting, “just lie on the sofa and eat some chocolate”. I suppose, however, like I referred to in my blog last week, I am learning to allow myself to feel proud of what I am doing. I am suddenly relishing the challenge, instead of feeling terrified by it. I have felt myself making progress and slowly but surely, climbing those mountains feels achievable.
I don’t really want that to stop.
I keep imagining the moment when the walk is complete and the sense of accomplishment makes the blisters, muscle ache and tiredness worthwhile. And then, what? What when the walk is complete? Strangely, I now think about life beyond the trek and feel a similar sinking feeling to the one I initially had on accepting my place. The trek is a strong focus and it is enveloping much of my brain at the moment from sponsorship, training, provoking discussion. It wasn’t until I stopped this week and suddenly thought about when the trek is over that I realised exactly how strong a focus it is.
The reality is that life after the trek will be just the same, but hopefully a little enhanced. I hope that I keep up the habit of training (maybe perhaps not quite so rigorously), that I allow myself the time to exercise, and don’t let the sofa swallow me permanently again. I hope I retain some of the friendships and bonds which have been formed and that the lack of training, fundraising and so on does not mean that the forum for supporting one another is lost. Most importantly, I hope I continue to feel able to contribute to the discussion about mental illness and suicide, in a small way. Ultimately, I hope that the experience of being part of Mind 3000s becomes an integral and important of part of my life, which informs and shapes it, rather than an event which stops at the finish line.
Until next week,