The human spirit
When I look back it’s a strange world - as a child I was not the most confident, a real scaredy pants if I’m honest. I was petrified of heights and above all else swimming pools, and anything to do with sticking my head under the water. You might ask why I joined the Navy after university - but it was a bit of a family tradition. Doing the submarine escape tank (free ascents from 30 and 60 feet and then in a suit from further down); the helicopter dunker - strapped in, upside down under water in the dark; or a job clambering up ship jumping ladders or being winched into helicopters were my stuff of nightmares.
Somehow, supported by training I hacked my way through. It made me believe a little in the indomitable properties of the human spirit, but also the support that came from comradeship and shared experience that is the Navy.
I look at my daughter - Harri - in an oddly analogous way. The horrors of her challenges - the anxiety, the intercepted overdoses, the panic attacks, the anorexia - are way way beyond anything I have faced. Far beyond. But she is still here and fighting through, fighting every day. It doesn’t get better - maybe, hopefully more manageable. That is the very real indomitability of the human spirit. The same is true of all those who speak (or don’t, or can’t, or maybe are not yet able to) of their challenges.
The support Harri has had from the charity YoungMinds is fundamental in enabling her to do this. It’s like the comradeship and support that exists in Navy life but possibly even stronger. The value is literally her life - it’s why she is still here. Simples. Most of all now she is able to speak out about her experiences - the tyranny and stigma of mental health. I so hope it makes other people have a little hope, that it shows others that this is real - it’s not a reality TV show; it’s not made up. It is foul and beastly. I try my best to support and help and offer a parental view as all careers and parents do; but only those who experience it first-hand really know what it’s like and it’s important to listen to them.
Land’s End to John O’Groats
So here am I am - at Lands’ End with a bike heading to John O’Groats. I am not sure how long this will take. I am not entirely sure whether it’s a good idea - I am older than and not as fit as I would like to think I am. If I’m honest I am “training as I go”. I finally forced myself into doing it by getting my friends at Palantir Technologies to sponsor me, and I’ll try not to let them down, nor Harri and YoungMinds. It’s for a stupendous cause so here goes.
There is a bit of selfish reason to all of this. After this long old journey at the grand old age of 57 I find myself challenged by the dementor called mental health problems. As a parent/carer you try very hard – but when you see the constant effect and effort by those you love suffering it, however hard you try to be positive and buoyant and optimistic it sometimes just sucks the hope out of you. You summon up your unicorn or whatever to fight it off and try to find normality whatever that is. I have tried my very best over the recent years to be a good father, to be a fair manager/leader at work, to support my friends and colleagues, and others who I know and love, and are challenged every single day in horrendous ways. The paradox for me to sometimes be stood on the edge of that dark abyss when I least expected it – I thought I was always stronger than it. That’s why this journey is selfish; for me to try and recover a little perspective and get that unicorn charged up. But actually, it’s much, much more if at the same time I can raise money for all those who suffer in silence, and for who YoungMinds are the voice and the charity who will help them realise their potential, which is all of our futures.
If you would like to show your support for Chris as he cycles from Land's End to John O'Groats, you can donate via his fundraising page.