In 2013, a close friend of mine committed suicide. It came out of the blue and was the last thing I expected when I picked up that phone call. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that such an easy-going and likeable guy, like Andy, could see no other solution to the problems he was facing. One of the ways I dealt with what happened was looking for ways to support other men facing the same battles to help them to realise there are other solutions. It was during this process that I heard about CALM.
Over the last four years, I have set myself two physical challenges to raise money for CALM: 5 duathlons in 5 days and the Stockholm Marathon.
This time around I wanted to set myself an even tougher test, a year-long goal, which would require commitment, perseverance, a willingness to push my body and mental toughness to the very edge.
I’ve picked 12 challenges to complete across 2018 (see more here), covering over 900 km, 145 hours of exercise (probably a lot more!) and burning 106,000 calories (any excuse to eat more doughnuts). I want to prove that an averagely fit person can set themselves goals far bigger than they thought possible, and embrace challenges that often make us nervous and scared – pushing my body and mind to places it will want to quit and stop moving.
For me, the mental test sits at the very crux of why I’m taking on this challenge.
Although as a society we’ve become better at talking about previously taboo subjects like suicide and mental health, we still have a long way to go. There is still reluctance for people to talk about the internal battles they face on a daily basis, often keeping everything bottled up instead.
CALM is dedicated to preventing male suicide, a hugely prevalent issue, as young men (under 45) make up 75% of total suicides in the UK. One of the causes behind this is the stigma associated with talking about our emotions, especially amongst men. Phrases like ‘man up’ are still thrown around, leading many men to believe that taking about mental battles, life challenges or emotions is somehow not manly.
I saw what this stigma can lead to in 2013 as the scale of the challenges faced by my friend only came to light after it was too late to help him. He felt like he couldn’t open up to anyone and the weight of the demons he tackled internally was overwhelming. This is often the cause of why people see suicide as the only way out. As part of this challenge I have decided to add a 10kg weighted vest to some of the events I complete, as a symbol of this emotional burden.
As well as raising money for CALM, I want to use this challenge as an opportunity to raise as much awareness about this issue as possible.
I spent a long time wondering whether I could have changed Andy’s mind, if I could have said or done anything differently. But I realised that only by encouraging people to start talking more openly about suicide and mental health, will we remove the stigma surrounding these issues. Only by raising awareness of the incredible support networks that exist, will we be able to allow young men to reach out before they see no other option.
So please do donate, please share, but please also think about what little things you can do in your everyday life to break down this stigma and help those around you open up.