James Martin
James MartinImage by: Morgan Hill-Murphy
James Martin
22 February 2021

Mo Bro James Martin on finding light at the end of the tunnel.

6 minutes read time

Back into the Tunnel

"‘Not again. I really don’t know if I can handle it again’.

I am very aware of the feelings that signal another bout of deeper depression and I could feel them, very vividly. Like so many during this pandemic, I have been challenged on many levels and life in itself has been very difficult, and these returning thoughts were definitely not welcome.

I live with persistent depressive disorder (also known as Dysthymia) and find life quite a challenge, even during the good times, because finding enjoyment can be tough, with persistent thoughts telling me that I do not deserve them or that they will end quickly anyway.

And during the bad times? Well that is when the feelings of hopelessness, being unworthy and even suicidal ideation come in. The worst time? Well that was 10 years ago when I suffered a complete breakdown and was on the path to suicide before some fortunate interventions. But I learnt a lot then, spending months in intensive treatment and learning how to live with my depression better than I had been doing. And I have been putting those lessons into practice every day since. There have been some real challenges along the way, but I have won through and come out of the tunnel each time.

But this time it felt different; and not in a good way. This time I was not approaching it without all of my coping mechanisms and I was scared. I did not know if I had the strength this time.

Challenged to the core

2020 was undoubtably the most challenging year I had faced since my breakdown. I was furloughed for months and then made redundant after 25 years with the business without so much as a thank you or any form of gratitude redundancy payment. I turned 50, had a bit of a health scare and suffered a hernia which required surgery. In addition, I have two daughters who were supposed to be taking A levels and GCSEs this year. I am sure stories like this have not been unusual over the past 12 months but for me the challenges were overwhelming because they shook my foundations.

My main coping mechanism, which is exercise and especially running, had been taken away by the hernia. I did what I could but that became less and less until the surgery in October and then the recovery period became longer because of the mental battles as much as the physical. And it took away my ability to raise funds in my usual way for Movember.

My routine had just gone. Routine is massive for me but that evaporated in a day. I was flapping in a wind of uncertainty and I was not in control.

My illness was being questioned. One of the hardest things about living with my depression has been other people’s attitudes to me and my illness. I have faced discrimination, been written off as worthless and been overlooked. But by far the worst is when someone tells me that I am just making things up; and that was happening to me now.

In addition, I had a bit of a health scare; experiencing a number of symptoms of prostate cancer and speaking to my GP, having to go through for a couple of tests which eventually turned out negative.

There is light

Fortunately there is a positive side to this. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is only a distance pinprick of light. And in no small part, Movember has a so much to do with it.

Let me start with the prostate. As a Movember Community Ambassador, I have spoken about the need to get checked at the age of 50, especially if there are any symptoms. My initial reaction was that of a typical bloke, ‘it is nothing and they’ve got better things to do’. But I instead I practiced what I preach and I got checked and when the PSI test came back inconclusive I got the further tests because they were simple and necessary.

And my mental health? Well it has taken a real battering and it is as fragile as it has been for sometime but Movember was there again, in the shadows like a good friend it has become. The Community Ambassador group was a new set of friends, who checked in on me and listened, without judgement and without prejudice. LIFESAVERS!

I have talked to people too. Not huge amounts because although I tell people to do this regularly as I know how much it helps, my illness makes this very tough to do. But I have talked to a couple of very close friends and to family members. As I said, I have always known how much good this does, and this year has again proved its effectiveness. It is a game changer and no matter how small the conversation might be, no matter if the other person does not say a word, it is always a weight lifted from my mind and makes me a little more at ease.

" It is a game changer and no matter how small the conversation might be, no matter if the other person does not say a word, it is always a weight lifted from my mind and makes me a little more at ease. "

I have sought professional help, yet again - through my GP and my local CMHT. My GP really has been magnificent and she checks in on me at regular intervals, as she knows that sometimes it is really difficult to make those calls. This is something that I know I will probably have to do for the rest of my life (due to my particular illness) but it doesn’t make it easier. You know the thoughts guys; ‘Don't want to be a burden’, ‘they have enough to deal with’, ‘it is not that bad, I will get over it’. Well, let me clear all that up…You are not a burden, the professionals want to help and if you seek their help you will get over it quicker.

Putting it simply, my coping foundations during this year have comprised of Movember’s encouraged acronym ALEC…Ask…Listen…Encourage Action…Check in. It is so simple and it is something that we can all remember so that we can seek help or give help at any time. You don’t have to be a counsellor to help a mate, you just need to be available, non judgemental and willing to listen actively.

I am back running again and that always makes me feel more at ease, although the walking and just being outside in nature is a very close second. Physical activity of any sort can make a massive difference and so can sitting outside watching the world. And I have a goal for this year too. I am going to be attempting to run the Race to the Stones, a 100km ultramarathon, in aid of Movember - please donate if you can: https://uk.movember.com/mospace/1457006

Finally, I have trained as an i-act instructor and have set up my own mental health consultancy, Walking the Walk (https://walkingthewalk.uk), to help businesses understand how to deal with mental wellbeing better, learning from my many years of personal experience and helping them to set up processes and policies to ensure that people can be themselves at work every day. A percentage of profits from Walking the Walk goes to Movember.

There are many battles to come, I know that, but I also know that there are people around me who have my back, who care and will keep me with my head above water; my mates. And I know that I must keep putting all the things that I have learnt over the years into practice.

There is always light at the end of the tunnel; never give up on that!"