I lost my father to cancer at a young age, but I never dealt with it as such and life went on. Then, in 2009 My wife and I lost our baby daughter ‘Scarlett’ at childbirth due to a double knot in her cord. There was no indication of any issues or anything unusual picked up on scans throughout the pregnancy. So right up until we arrived at the hospital, we were only expecting a new healthy baby. But the knots in her cord tightened and she was lost.
At the time we were put in touch with the charity SANDS (Stillborn & Neonatal Deaths), and while my wife found a lot of comfort and help (She’s since gone on to retrain as a counsellor), I found it difficult to build a connection with the charity so didn’t engage or get much from it.
Don’t get me wrong the work they do is fantastic. It was more about my mindset as a man (The stiff upper lip and manning up’) and the ability to connect. I also had counselling and while it was helpful for a while It was more like going through the motions from work to say they did their bit to help me and rubber stamp me back to being fit for work.
So, for me, things were buried and life went on.
I first became aware of the Strongmen charity through the SAS Who Dares wins TV programme and was following the show on social media. I saw a post on Instagram from Ollie Ollerton about a weekend away for people who had experienced emotional and mental health issues due to the suffering from bereavement.
When I saw this, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d been struggling a lot with my mood for some time, I was struggling at work and falling out with managers and colleagues. I never meant it to be personal, it was clear I wasn’t right but was labelled as ‘difficult to manage and not a nice person to work with. I’d also been diagnosed with low mood, depression and anxiety and had been prescribed medication.
From the outside it seemed like an odd thing to do – A group of blokes from all around the country who have never met before, nor had any prior contact with coming together and going up a mountain! Sounds crazy! The only thing in common is we had all suffered mentally through bereavement.
I have to admit I nearly turned around a few times driving up to Snowdonia the Friday of the first weekend. I had no idea what to expect or how I would be made to feel. Information about how the weekend would progress was kept to a minimum (I later understood why) so there were a lot of unknowns. So turning up was huge in itself!
And that was the point. Keeping the information to a minimum was deliberate as it removed any barriers to how the weekend progressed. It opened up impromptu conversations and the flexibility to go with the flow. I found this was an important part of the weekend.
There was no pressure to talk or share feelings or stories. It was all about the comfort of having a simple goal (climb a mountain) and access to plenty of space and fresh air. But for me, the most important thing was being with people who get it. The understanding of what it is to lose, yet not be judged, no barriers and feel safe to talk, or not.
Yet it’s exactly what we did. We talked and formed bonds, talked about our struggles and probably be the first time we were able to be vulnerable (especially) in the company of other men without feeling we had to put on our ‘stiff upper lip masks’
So, what did that 'reset button' do for me?
Well, it lit a fire in me. It helped me take real stock of who I was – Not actually a nice person! And what actually mattered to me.
I literally changed over one weekend. I resolved I would start to keep fit (trust me, while I did it, I was blowing out of my… you know where climbing Snowden!). Work out my life goals and set my priorities towards those goals. I started to learn a lot more about mindfulness.
The charity is not only about the weekends either, there is a growing community where we can catch up and have a chat if someone is struggling with anything and I mean anything everyone is a WhatsApp or phone call away. Plus there M2M peer Support where there is an opportunity to chat to a trained volunteer (Which I also do)
Well, I’ve lost 2.5 stone in fat, I now run 2 to 3 times a week. I took up karate so I can spend more time with my son, and I’m a happier person. As my headspace is clearer, I’ve started to notice other opportunities and take on challenges I would have been reluctant to do.
I’ve also acted as a helper on other StrongMen Weekends as well as a peer support volunteer helping other men like me. I also give up some time for the charity to support their social media management and of course photography!
…I can now tell and show people what a walk up a mountain did for me!
I’d appreciate it if you could pop over to the StrongMen Website and Social Media accounts and give them a follow, like and comment on their posts. The charity is still new compared other charities so spreading the awareness of how this charity can help Men and their family’s with Mental Health and bereavement support.
The charity is not about offering to counsel. It’s about a community of people working together to help each other and provide a safe support system around promoting good health and fitness as a way to deal with Mental Health, loss and bereavement.
I hope you would agree, it’s something worth supporting too.