Walking and talking back to mental health

I’m feeling anxious. For anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression, this isn’t a welcome feeling. I’ve had a busy few weeks.  I walked […]

I’m feeling anxious. For anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression, this isn’t a welcome feeling.

I’ve had a busy few weeks.  I walked 26 miles through London, at night, as part of the Moonwalk for Breast Cancer Research. And this Wednesday, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week and the Lord Mayor’s Green Ribbon Campaign, I will talk to MullenLowe Group employees about the journey I went through to find my own purpose, the path to which was a grueling encounter with clinical depression.

So if it’s anxiety building, why do it? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, right?

Well, a year and two months ago (I am counting), on the eve of International Woman’s Day, I woke up and found myself unable to walk, even get out of bed. I was in the firm grip of debilitating Clinical Depression (CD), despite a perfectly normal working day before. CD is very much a physical illness (yes in your brain) that remains stigmatised and indeed misunderstood, especially at work.

Today, I feel stronger and clearer about who I am and what I need to do to live a healthy and happy life. It took a small army of family, friends and doctors to get me back on my feet. During my two months off work, I was grateful for two bits of practical help that may help you if you’re suffering: a book called Depression, the Curse of the Strong that explained this morbidly fascinating journey I was on and gave me hope; and the Heads Together campaign that happened to launch at the time. The latter helped me embrace the notion that talking about mental health is therapy and nothing to be ashamed of.

Which brings me full circle to why I volunteered to talk about my very personal story on 16 May. I was positively overwhelmed by the encouragement and support I received when I shared my CD journey with a bunch of great female strangers at an Aspire Women’s Leadership event. Better still, many said my coming forward helped them feel more able to talk about and tackle CD for themselves. I’m hoping my colleagues will find me sharing my story, similarly helpful. And I hope in a small way to contribute towards destigmatising poor mental health, particularly in the workplace (where only 2% of people talk to HR about mental health, according to Heads Together’s research).

In addition to the wisdom gleaned through books, friends and charities, my time off work took me on a journey of self-discovery and there were a few things that particularly helped me find my renewed purpose. On day two, my friend Linda popped round with a pot plant and a card. It read “Nicky, take some ‘me-time’ and stop and smell the flowers”.

So every morning, I’d drag myself out of bed and walk my son to school observing the natural beauty around me. This may sound like a simple exercise but when you can’t put your left foot in front of your right, never mind face mothers at the school gate, trust me, it’s an achievement. Thereafter, I’d carry on walking. I’d walk in Bushy Park. I’d walk to the coffee shop. And I’d walk to the next village. I’d walk, walk and walk.

On my walks, I’d observe the simple things that I’d forgotten to look out for. Particularly, the cherry blossom that had started to bloom. And that’s the story behind the blossom photograph that sits on my Twitter page. It signifies the day I first started to feel happy; the day the fog began to lift and I felt I could get out of the hell I was experiencing. I’d reached rock bottom and I was on my way back out to the top.

Training for the Moonwalk has taken these walks to the next level. I feel fierce with every mile I tick off. Two weeks ago I walked half a marathon and last weekend I walked a full one to celebrate my aunt’s fierceness, Zia Renata, who survived a mastectomy and kidney cancer within five years of each other.

So even though I feel anxious, slightly terrified about the week ahead, I’m embracing it. Because talking about my Black Dog experience and coping mechanisms may help someone avoid it. And walking the Moonwalk takes my ‘walking fierceness’ forward to supporting the fight against cancer.

Just walking and talking. Simple, but they can make all the difference.