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The concept of me trekking the Great Wall of China was initially just a passing comment from my brother who works for the Mental Health Foundation.
I had previously run the London Marathon for the Foundation and when they first got places to participate in the 2017 China challenge, he sent me the link saying, ‘you ran a marathon!’ I have never been one to decline a challenge, so a couple of weeks later I signed up.
My experiences with mental health are all too common
The Foundation is a charity very close to my heart. I have friends and family members who have experienced mental health problems – some of whom have managed to overcome these difficulties and some who sadly found it too hard to cope. On the one hand, I have celebrated with people who now have lives far removed from the problems they once faced and, on the other, I have attended the funerals of friends who felt there was no way out, nobody to talk to, no other option.
My older brother is a success story. He was diagnosed with bipolar when I was just eight years old. I was too young to understand what was happening, but I knew something was. We have always been close, and I remember worrying so much about him. As soon as I was old enough to understand, I researched mental health, trying to grasp what he was going through. Fast forward 22 years and he owns a house, has a wonderful partner, two amazing little girls, and a life of which most people would be envious.
Mental health should be prioritised in the workplace
In recent years, with the stresses of adult life, break-ups, make-ups and the constant pressures of living and working in London, I have had mental health difficulties of my own. I have always had mild anxiety, which worsens every now and again, and the life I lead – while I love it – can be detrimental to my mental state.
In my line of work, I see colleagues working 18+ hours a day, seven days a week, constantly putting themselves under pressure and striving for success, an extremely stressful environment which could break even the strongest and most stable of people. There is a great focus on looking after your physical health with the competitiveness of business only matched by the competitiveness of fitness. People in the office talk about the physical challenges they are facing and openly discuss injuries or the need to see a physio.
We need to challenge stigma to feel free to talk
However, things are beginning to change and the stigma surrounding mental health is certainly beginning to lift. There is still a way to go and this is where the Foundation comes in. The work they do to raise awareness and reduce stigma is invaluable, fighting for it to be acceptable to talk about problems and encouraging people not to be ashamed to seek help before they get worse.
They rely purely on public donations and grant funding, and I will continue raising money for them for as long as I am able.
Physical activity can really boost your mental well-being
It has been proven that there is a direct link between positive mental health and positive physical health. If I can create a fitness regime and stick to it, then my mood lifts incredibly. But getting to the gym in the first place is a struggle if all I want to do is stay in bed. It is a vicious circle.
I have found that having a challenge to work towards helps me massively. Once I had signed up for the Great Wall of China trek, I wanted to train as I didn’t want to fail. I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to succeed with my head held high.
The trek was tough and I was glad I had trained. I have never climbed as many stairs as I did in China. But the views at the top, over the Great Wall and the rolling mountains of the Chinese countryside are sights and memories which will be engraved in my memory forever. The feeling of pride and elation when you reach the summit, which a few hours ago looked so high it could have been in heaven, can only be compared to the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line of the marathon. (Maybe it will be matched by having children, but I am yet to do that – one day!)
At the end of every day, I felt proud of myself and what I was accomplishing.
On the Great Wall, I made friends for life
I met some amazing people who will be my friends forever. We pulled each other through. As with life, we all hit walls at different times. But it is admitting when you’re struggling and allowing others to help you - that is the secret. Actually, at times focusing on others helped distract me from the fact that I was panicking!
At the beginning of the trip, we were strangers but by the end, we were friends and confidants. We all started as a team and we all finished as a team.
Trekking the Great Wall of China is one of the best things I have ever done. Apart from giving me the chance to travel one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen, it gave me motivation and determination and it focused my mind on something which mattered to me. On top of all that, I raised a lot of money for the Mental Health Foundation. Win-win! I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Now… on to the next challenge!
If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.
Great Wall of China Trek
This exciting challenge is a unique opportunity to go on a life-changing adventure! This demanding but rewarding adventure will take you on a trek along the stony, steep and historic Great Wall of China as it winds through mountains.
Events and fundraising
Every pound you raise will help us tip the balance in favour of a world with good mental health for all.