Jamie's Notes

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World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day. Thanks go to Giles for letting me know, and for sharing his experiences.

‘Mental health’ was never a phrase that I’ve associated with myself. I’ve always thought myself to be quite resilient. I took a bizarre pride in being able to work myself through situations clinically, rationally and logically. I was, I thought, secure in my own serenity. My wife, by the way, does not feel that this is an admirable quality.

My friend, Steve, took his own life this year. I hadn’t spoken to him for a while, and I had no idea he was suffering. My mother took her own life when I was ten. Mental health, whether our own or that of others, touches us all. Poor mental health can affect anyone. It is not a weakness, and we must talk about it.

Earlier this year, I started experiencing symptoms of what I later discovered was probably burnout. I felt anxious and couldn’t sleep. Basic tasks at work felt overwhelming. I was exhausted, and I hated my job. I felt a pang of dread on waking, and by the end of the week I was an anxious wreck. It took me until Sunday to recover, and then I’d begin the cycle again on Monday. I started to resent work and stopped giving a shit about any of it. I reasoned that it would pass, but it was getting worse. I knew, or at least a rational bit of me knew, that if something didn’t change, I was heading to a bad place. It was an odd feeling and I have never been able to work out the why of it. But I guess that’s the nature of these things.

I gave up my job as a manager and took up a secondment elsewhere. I feel much better. I was lucky to have options, and the mental capacity to take them, but I am now much more sensitive to how I am feeling, and acknowledging those feelings as something real. This was a tough lesson to learn for me, because it means that I’m not as mentally hardcore as I thought.

To those that are well: Reach out to your friends. Let them know that they matter and that you are thinking about them.

To those that aren’t: Talking helps. If you don’t have anyone that you can talk to, try your GP, or consider contacting one of the charities below:

Walking

I used to live in a small town where nothing was much more than an hour away on foot. If I didn’t walk, I cycled. I was in pretty good physical condition. That was until I moved to a small city, bought a motorbike and eventually a car. The car is an expensive luxury, but incredibly convenient. The downside is that it became my default way of getting around, and before long my jeans didn’t fit and climbing the stairs at work was more tiring than it should be.

Changes at work over the past couple of years have seen me driving a lot more than normal – around eighteen thousand miles a year and sometimes for four or five hours day. I basically became completely sedentary without realising. I did realise that I completely hate driving. Thankfully since the end of last year I no longer need to drive so much, so I started to think of ways that I could reduce my car usage further. I bought a folding bike, thinking that I could replace some petrol powered miles with foot powered ones. This was not entirely successful.

This week I tried to walk my commute. Google said its only two and a half miles, which seemed doable, so I marched past my car this morning and headed in the direction of town. My commute is not particularly interesting by car. It is equally uninteresting on foot. It takes me past a long row of terraced houses, a huge car park, a railway crossing, alongside the Victorian cemetery and then on to Spring Bank; a melting pot of takeaways, off-licences, newsagents and houses of multiple occupation. I discovered that there are a surprising number of drunk people around at 8am on a weekday morning. I was a bit scared that I was going to be robbed. It rained a little.

My carefully formulated plan was to walk to work and get the bus back. The singular flaw in my carefully formulated plan was leaving my debit card at home and being unable to obtain my bus fare. So I walked home too.

The journey was around forty minutes each way. It can take me longer than that driving at peak time, and I saved the money that I would have spent on fuel and parking. Theoretically, it’s a no brainer – there’s no practical reason to use the car on days where I’m working from the office. But the car still feels more convenient and it’s that psychological hump that needs beating down.

Anyway, I’m very tired and I need to iron my clothes for work tomorrow. I think I’ll go in the car. Best not overdo things.