I was recently asked if I’d do an interview for regional television covering the North West of England. They were doing a series of interviews about mental health with a short 3 or 4 minute clip being shown during their evening news program and the full interview being available via their website.
They decided they wanted 1 of the 5 interviews to be about mental resilience and I was very flattered to be told that I was the first person they thought of for that subject, partly because I’ve done other interviews for them previously.
The interview itself just felt like I was chatting with a friend. The interviewer is a seasoned veteran and it showed!
Seeking help is a sign of strength
It’s always hard when you’re asked to explain how horrifying an incurable cancer diagnosis is. “How did you cope with that?” Well, in all honesty not very well for the first 18 months. I’d been given a worst case prognosis of 2 years and spent the first 18 months as if I would die after 2 years. I realized that I’d lost the joy of living through the fear of dying.
Then my Sister, aged 54, was admitted to a hospice for end of life care for breast cancer and I was having some other problems in my business life and I spiraled downwards into a very dark place. Ultimately I admitted to myself that I needed help and I sought some counseling which was a great help. Most of us aren’t really very good at seeking help but I realized that doing so was a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness.
Living for the good moments
“How was the news broken to you and what did you do next?” On the telephone in quite bizarre circumstances. I was a 15 minute drive from home and drove home in floods of tears to break the news to my wife. My first reaction was to push her away because I couldn’t look after her anymore. Cue shock from the interviewer: “You did what?”
“How did you learn to cope?” Once I got through the first 18 months I realized that I had to change my thinking and since then I’ve tried to get joy out of every single day, live for all the good moments, live for my family and grandchildren. Don’t get me wrong I still have the inevitable bad days when I’m drawn back to the darkness.
“How do you bring yourself back from the darkness?” I try to think about things that give me joy. I try to get out and exercise. Go for a run or a walk and enjoy the day, listen to the bird song and observe the beauty of nature. Or read a book, listen to music. I guess its effectively distraction technique.
Finding my inner strength
“You must have great inner strength especially given some of the amazing running challenges you’ve taken on. Where does that come from?” I’m convinced that it comes from my upbringing. We were brought up on a council estate with very little money. Regularly having to hide when the rent collector came calling.
My parents divorced when I was 11 and I brought up my younger siblings for the next 5 years in which time I never saw my father. Watching my mother single handedly keeping the family afloat, doing 3 jobs and working all the hours god sent just to keep food on the table gave me an incredible inner strength and work ethic. If she could do that uncomplainingly, then I could achieve anything and be everything I wanted to be.
Think about the things that give you joy
“What would you say to someone who is struggling with life/illness about how they can cope better?” When you’re feeling low think about the things that give you joy in life, think about living with cancer and not dying of it for example. Think about the things that are positive in your life.
In closing, I think we all ultimately have very deep inner strengths that we can call on in our hours of need. I’m grateful for mine but I don’t think I’m remotely unique. If you’re struggling, please search deep inside for that inner strength and live life to the full!