I lost my father to cancer when I was only 10 years old, but at that age, I never really ‘dealt’ with it as such and life went on.
However, 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 just expecting a new healthy baby.
But the knots in her cord tightened and she was lost.
We were destroyed.
At the time we were put in touch with the charity SANDS (Stillborn & Neonatal Deaths), and while my wife found a lot comfort and help (She’s since gone on to retrain as a counsellor), I just couldn’t build a connection with the charity so didn’t really 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 really connect. I also had counselling and while that again that 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 just buried along with losing my father at a young age 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 that I wasn’t right, but was just 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.
I used to do a lot of walking/hiking in Snowdonia and had some great memories from years ago when I was in the Territorial Army (hence interested in the TV show) So when I told wife about the post I had seen on social media about the charity, she was the one that encouraged me to apply.
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 that 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 that 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 very minimal (I later understood why) so there were a lot of unknowns. So just 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 just go with the flow – I found this really important.
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 just being with people that get it. That understand what it is to lose, yet not be judged, no barriers and feel safe to talk, or not.
Yet that’s 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 one weekend 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 really mattered to me.
I literally changed over that weekend. I resolved that 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.
I came to the conclusion that I wanted to spend more time with my family and even made (what many have said to me is a mad decision), to take a career break from my job in the Police.
The charity is not just 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.
Where an I now today, less than a year I went on that weekend?
Well, I’ve lost 2.5 stone in fat, I now run 2 to 3 times a week. I took up karate so that I can spend time with my son, more and I’m a happier person. As my headspace is clearer, I’ve started to notice other opportunities and take on challenges that I would have been reluctant to do
I can now spend more time at home and I’m able to pursue my photography more, and that at least affords me a little income after the police.
I’ve also acted as a helper on a more recent weekend break, making new friends for life and helping others just like me. I now also give up time for the charity to help with their social media management and whenever I can tell and show people what a walk up a mountain did for me!
I’m proud to be an Ambassador for StrongMen