It might surprise you that a mountaineer such as my self may write about Mental Health Awareness Week. People make assumptions in this world, and I’m afraid to say that many of them are wrong. “You must be rich”, “You can’t have a job”, You’re never at home”, “You just travel the world as you please”. If only they knew…
It was seventeen years ago today that Steven Ball, Antony Hollinshead and Myself began our summit attempt on Mt. McKinley. We felt fit, strong and well prepared. What happened is written in history, but it began the greatest journey of my life. The storm that almost froze us all to death in the night cleared, and by daybreak it allowed us to live. Steve took the bravest decision I have ever seen to fetch help, whilst Antony and I remained near the summit. I was the casualty, and felt a hinderance to my two companions, but they stuck by me and never left me alone. If they had, I think I’d have remained there forever.
My sister Amanda flew to Alaska to help care for me, and bring me home. In true British style I told the world that I was fine. It wasn’t until later on that I realised shock had taken hold of me. It didn’t leave for many months, and having my sister there made a world of difference.
The word ‘loneliness’ came up in conversation a few days ago with an old school friend. Neither of us had married, and before we knew it, we seemed to have parallel feelings about life. I bumped into another friend who spoke about the same problem. I wondered, ‘is it an age thing..?’ ‘Are we just a bit sad..?’ I wasn’t sure what I was missing, but my mind began to think.
Do I feel alone because I’m a bit of a disaster area when it comes to relationships..? (There’s nothing new about that in the world of adventure). In the past, I’ve been advised to go speed dating, get online, I’ve even been set up on blind dates by well-meaning friends. Only at a recent occasion, we’d only just got the hello’s out-of-the-way before I was told ‘theres a lovely girl here who would just be right for you..!’ Whats happened to humanity..? Have we become the machines of our machines..? Do we really need the digital world to keep our species going..?
Before I go any further, let me make one thing perfectly clear – I’m not after sympathy (an old saying, but you’ll find sympathy in the dictionary between s**t and syphilis). Any of you who know me well, will understand why. Sympathy helps people with issues initially, but it soon becomes malaise, pity and a feeling of apathy. I’ll not put up with any of these thoughts in my life. What I’m trying to do is understand how we work and how we can help each other.
Regardless of what people say or think, I have to work. I speak, write and mentor, but I’ve never been able to make a successful business of it. I’m not complaining, just facing facts. My work has changed over the years with numerous takeovers and I have been moved from part-time hours to work shifts. For some, they are wonderful. For others, they are awful. Working afternoons, brings peace in the mornings, lays in bed and time to get things done, but they’re useless when you desire company. Everyone else its at work, so you’re on your own. I’ve used them effectively, but have felt lost when there’s no-one there. I also work weekends, which have a similar effect, but I do get long holidays that allow me to adventure. It’s all about balance, after all, I still have bills to pay. I have friends who work from home and, at times, find that lonely. Others need the structure of an office or workplace to achieve their aims.
There’s always the thought that ones mans water is another mans wine. For some, company is something they crave, for others some time alone is important. The closing of a door is peace or a prison cell. Again, it’s all about balance.
Does society thing that most people who suffer loneliness are the elderly..? I would disagree. I think we have more communication in this modern world than we can cope with. We carry it our hands, we tap away at it remorselessly, and yet we really never speak. I wonder how many of you regularly call someone..? No I don’t mean via text, I mean with your voice..? How many of you write to friends..? Regularly meet friends..?
Some research notes that men suffer loneliness more than women. In my own experience, I’ve sat in bars, camped, climbed, walked and found myself lonely. I’ve lived in my hometown since I was born and still hardly see a soul that I know. On many a night I’ve come home and closed my door to the world, sat down, cried and gone to bed. This is, I think one of the issues. As a man, I’ve been brought up to have a stiff upper lip and not show emotion in public. Perhaps its a stigma that effects many men. Women seem to show their feelings easier and therefore bottle up less emotion.
I wonder how many of you have perused social media and seen nothing but other people’s enjoyment..? Everyone seems to be having a whale of as time, so when you’re down a little, how does it make you feel..? Research has found that almost seven million people in Britain suffer depression because of social media. My recommendation is to use it less and get out into the hills..! They’ve worked for me for many years. Being outside with the wind blowing into your face is the best feeling in the world, provided you’re at one with yourself. I’ve just brought a new bike and am loving the freedom of my local country lanes.
Loneliness can breed depression. Some say that depression can be treated with drugs. I know they help (had a few myself over the years), but they are not the answer. In my view, doctors give medication out to easily for the most minor of issues. People have an excuse and so the spiral goes. I’ve been accused of being confrontational in the past, but many of these people need a swift kick up the a**e and some help. The medical staff in Nottingham City Hospital gave me a fair few when I was recovering from surgery. At the time I didn’t like them, but looking back, they were the best thing that could have happened to me.
After surgery removed my frozen digits I was depressed. The hospital staff saw this and asked if I could receive some counselling. I was thankful of their help, but found the sessions disjointed at there was no structure to them. I paid privately and just seemed to go around in circles, so I gave up. It was here that I discovered the best cure in my world – public speaking. A horror to some, it allowed me to release my emotion onto a crowd of others in a way we all enjoyed. They were, and at times still are, my emotional sponge. I remember speaking in my home town of Belper, just after having my nose rebuilt. I talked about my Alaskan adventures, took my applause and broke down in tears. My cousin Laura sat with me in her arms for what seemed like an eternity. I’m thankful to have such a close family.
We all need to keep in touch. We all need to put effort in. I’m thankful to have close friends and family who love me, as I love them, but not everyone does. We need to work together as a people, a society, a nation, to help everyone. Yes, we all need some time alone, but we need people too. We need to converse, to laugh and indeed to cry as a people, not always as an individual.
Of course, these are my opinions and you might not agree, but I’d rather be back on McKinley, sitting close to the summit, freezing slowly to death, than be lonely…