Taking The Challenge

 

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At the weekend my fiancée swam a mile in Loch Lomond as part of the Great Scottish Swim event.  He’s been training for a year and has seen his fitness, stamina and speed improve in that time.  Some of our friends thought he was a bit mad to do it, and some of them thought he was courageous.  In reality you probably need to be a mixture of the two!

It got me thinking about why people take on these sorts of challenges: climbing a mountain, swimming a loch, running a marathon, abseiling from a tall building.  For some people it’s about raising money for charity; doing what you can for a good cause.  Tony has raised, so far, over £500 for a small MS charity that provides support to MS sufferers and their families, though for him that wasn’t the prime motivator, it was more about the personal challenge.

Sometimes it’s good to have an objective focus for our efforts.  As someone who has multiple long term health issues, getting fit, and staying fit, is always a challenge due to my energy (lack of) and pain levels (high). At the start of the year I decided to challenge myself to run a 5k.  I chose the Loch Ness Marathon because it was far enough away in the calendar for me to stand a chance of achieving a degree of fitness and managing to put in some training time before the date, and also because I love their strap line: ‘If you have to put yourself through hell, you may as well do it in heaven’.  This applies to the gruelling rough terrain marathon, but for me it sums up my attitude to the 5k – any distance in fact- as I enjoy being out in the open to train.  I could have got fitter without signing up for a 5K race of course, but there’s something about setting a formal challenge that motivates me to achieve my best.  I guess a lot of people are the same.

The swim on the bank holiday weekend in Loch Lomond was a joyous affair.  There were people of every age, sex and colour.  Participation in these events is open to everyone who can complete the distance, regardless of any other factor, and that is also part of their attraction.  The oldest participant was 80 years old.  He swam a mile in under an hour.  I’m not sure of the age of the youngest participants, but there were certainly people there in there early twenties.  There was a great community spirit from both competitors and supporters, with everyone focused on the same thing: taking part.

For some people a 5K is literally a ‘walk in the park’, for me it’s a really big deal; for some people a marathon is hard and for others it’s relatively easy.  There were a high proportion of first-timers taking part in the swim, and I will be doing the Loch Ness 5K for the first time in September.  A lot of people decide to take action in their 40’s and 50’s.  With youth long gone and the prospect of getting old on the horizon, many people make the decision to get fit, take up a sport, take on a challenge, or otherwise shake up their lives in some way.  I have friends who have taken up cycling, rowing, dancing and running now they are into their 50’s.  I like to think it’s more than a fad, or worse fear, but more a life-affirming joy of living; knowing that we can hone our bodies into some sort of physical shape that makes it possible to swim lochs, cycle continents, climb mountains, for as long as we have the strength to do so.

People have always taken on challenges.  Some are more risky than others – mountain climbing or sailing around the world- but the essential reasons why people do these things are the same.  We do them because we can: the mountain is there to be climbed, the loch is there to be swum, the race to be run.  It gives us a sense of adventure and challenge; the adrenalin rush and the achievement; it instills some sort of discipline and routine and encourages us to learn lessons about ourselves – what motivates us and makes us tick.  We understand on a fundamental level that these things can be good for us both mentally and physically.  We know in our bones that we weren’t designed to sit still in front of gadgets for hours on end.  As it says on my fiancée’s t-shirt ‘if you think adventure is dangerous, try routine – it’s lethal!’ We are designed for thrill, challenge and adventure in the physical world – our ancestors are testament to that, and we are testament to the fact that sedentary stressful lifestyles are not what we are made for.  So, I would urge you to get out there.  Challenge yourself.  Do something adventurous; take a risk.  You will enjoy improved fitness and better mental health.  Find something you enjoy and you will come across others that enjoy the same thing.  There are clubs and societies and events up and down the UK.

If you’re struggling with health issues or have disabilities, there are still active things that you can do.  There’s a father who has pushed his disabled son through a thousand or more marathons in a specially designed chair; there are disabled athletes of every discipline.  And if like me, you are in pain and suffer with a lack of energy, aim for something small – a walk around the block, a length in the pool – enlist the help of a friend to support and motivate you.  We can all benefit from being outside and having a bit of excitement in our lives.

 

Happy adventures!

 

Support me here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Debbie-Mathews-Ruppenthal

Support Tony here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/theweeappshop

British Paralympic Association – Find  a Sport. http://parasport.org.uk/find-a-sport/?gclid=Cj0KEQjw3ZS-BRD1xu3qw8uS2s4BEiQA2bcfM9fbdHAiskWcx8FsaYR-fhYQo82Zf10zDUuZjGUbR6kaAje58P8HAQ

 

 

 

See Me

See Me End Mental Health Stigma

Invisible, long term and utterly devastating.  Mental illness, in particular depression in its various forms, is still very much misunderstood.  It’s 2 years since Robin Williams died.  The news shocked and saddened me – I’ve been a life-long fan – but I shouldn’t have been surprised.  No one is immune.  Depression isn’t choosy about who it picks: actor, football player, rugby player, teacher, police, stay-at-home mum, politician – anyone can be struck down and at any stage of life.  Some depression is situational. But for many depression comes often without reason or cause.  Depression isn’t always ‘about’ something, it just ‘is’.

Some people found it hard to understand how someone privileged could take their own life.  It’s an indication of the sheer desperation and desolation that many people with depression feel.  Wealth, family, fame, none of it can insulate you from the impact.  For many people with depression it’s the ultimate action of power against a foe which you have no control over, and no way of beating.  Hopelessness leads many down the same path.

As someone who has completed Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), and spoken to people who have lost family members to depression, it is clear that the action is not cowardly or selfish, as many claim.  The act of taking one’s own life may be a desperate one, but many people genuinely feel that their loved ones would be better off without them. Such is the feeling of worthlessness that this seems like a reasonable, logical option – the only option.

High profiles deaths like that of Robin Williams have done something to raise public awareness of depression, and that’s a good thing.  Far more needs to be done however, so that this invisible and destructive illness doesn’t take as many lives, and ruin somany more.  In 2014 (the most recent figures available) there were over 6500 recorded deaths from suicide.  The highest suicide rate in the UK in 2014 was for men aged 45-49 at 26.5 per 100,000.  Suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49 , eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. That’s a very scary statistic.  There’s plenty of research into cancer and lots of preventative advice about heart disease but comparatively little research and advice on depression and suicide.  It’s mainly left to charities like the Samaritans, Mind, and a host of smaller third sector organisations to raise awareness and provide advice and support.  Given the statistics, that isn’t good enough.  We have public campaigns on testicular cancer – an exclusively male killer- why not depression?  Whilst it may be true that more women are diagnosed with depression, it is also true that more women than men seek help.

See Me Scotland have had high profile campaigns to end mental health stigma but there has been no equivalent in other parts of the UK.  Isn’t it time we made a concerted effort to tackle this serious public health issue which is affecting men adversely?

In part it is a question of men feeling that they can’t talk to anyone and receiving negative responses when they do.  Being told to ‘get over it’ is a common response to depression.  Women may be more sympathetic in general, but it’s not really a ‘man thing’ to admit vulnerability, and being depressed is often seen as a weakness.  We need to get across the message that depression is an illness.  You wouldn’t tell someone to get over cancer or a broken leg, and no one with depression should be told to ‘get over it’ either.

Clearly this is a more complex issue than this brief piece can cover.  I would urge you to find out more.  Do the ASIST training so you can recognise the signs in friends, family or strangers. Find our more from the organisations mentioned here. Above all, be kind to your fellow human beings.  You never know what struggles they are going through.  Don’t assume because someone is a joker or the life and soul of the party that they are happy, that they are immune from depression.  Robin Williams was a brilliant actor, had a fantastic sense of humour and what looked like a perfect life, but he also had depression – and it killed him.

I am running a 5k as part of the Loch Ness Marathon at the end of September in support of Support in Mind Scotland, a small charity providing support to people with mental illness and their families.  If you feel you can donate something please go to my JustGiving Page. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Debbie-Mathews-Ruppenthal

Thank you for reading this.

 

Statistics courtesy of the Samaritans:

http://www.samaritans.org/about-us/our-research/facts-and-figures-about-suicide