Paul’s Challenge – Riding to Combat Cancer and Mental Health Problems

This personal blog comes from Paul, Service Manager at Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind. I started working for Mind a couple of months ago and was made to feel immediately welcomed and valued by Paul and his team. It was clear from day one that Paul is one of life’s good guys, well-liked and respected and very good at his job. What wasn’t obvious was that Paul had just been diagnosed with cancer.

While waiting for his treatment to begin, Paul decided to take on a one day, 150 miles Coast to Coast cycling challenge from Whitehaven to Saltburn, a repeat of a challenge he had undertaken 10 years ago. Paul’s aim was raising money for Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, and also encouraging conversations about mental health and living with cancer.

Paul is a true inspiration and all of his colleagues believe in him and are behind him in his fight to come. It’s a privilege for me to be able to share his reflections on his ride, which I am sure will be a big help to others facing tough challenges in their own lives.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing, developed by the New Economics Foundation, sets out five ways to improve personal wellbeing. It can be used for maintaining both good mental health and good physical health. I hope that it connects with some of you and if you feel it may be of benefit to any of your friends then please feel free to share this post.

Connect

There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. I certainly felt this on this ride.

The messages of support and conversations I had as soon as I told people about my plans was the first thing. Then there were the people that gave their practical help on the day – friends Ian and Lui in the support vehicle, and cycling club mates Rob and Lee coming out to meet us for the latter part of the ride. Then there was Dave, who freed up his day to recreate our ride from 10 years ago; this was really big for me as it demonstrated the strength of his friendship.  I had planned this ride as a solo endeavour but having Dave and others along enhanced the experience; receiving messages of support throughout the day as we did the ride also helped us connect with people from afar.

Then there was the fabulous end – friends, family, colleagues and fellow cyclists here to welcome us and connect with us. What’s more, they were talking to and connecting with each other, in some cases people they had never met before, a really pleasing thing to see.  By doing this I have also reconnected with some people who I have lost contact with, or partially lost contact with from the past.

Be active

Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups. Exercise is essential for slowing age-related cognitive decline and for promoting well-being.

It stands to reason that this was a physical activity. From my point of view one of the most challenging things since becoming ill and then getting the cancer diagnosis was that I wasn’t able to do any, or much, physical activity for quite some time, around two months. So, a bit of a double whammy. Being able to plan, do a bit of training for and then finally do the ride was really beneficial for my mental health.

Take notice

Reminding yourself to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden awareness. Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being, and savouring ‘the moment’ can help to reaffirm your life priorities.

When I’ve had conversations with people with mental health problems over the years, savouring the moment can be difficult for them and I can certainly relate to that myself.  How much time do we spend haunted by the past and feeling anxious about the present or the future? I know I have.

On the ride there were quite a few moments where I lost myself in the moment, appreciating the stunning Lake District landscape, Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw mountain being notable examples; also our struggle over the rugged North Pennines, and finally coming home and realising that Teesside is a very beautiful place too.

This ride started in one of my favourite places, the Lake District, went past my favourite town, Keswick, and ended at the place of my birth, Saltburn – all moments to cherish and savour. Other notable take notice ‘live in the moment’ parts of the ride were descending towards Alston at speeds nudging 50 mph (good job I was taking notice here!), the descent of Saltburn Bank and, of course, the wonderful welcome (and not forgetting the chips, with scraps!).

Learn

Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life.
I had hoped to learn navigation skills on this ride as the bit around Barnard Castle was a little tricky, but as Dave was along I let him do this as he is better at this than me!

What I learnt was more about myself, what is important to me, and my relationships and friendships, rather than simply riding a bike from one point to another. I kind of knew this but the ride confirmed it for me. Cycling in the last few years has been more about the pure enjoyment, the people I meet and friendships I’ve formed rather than the performance aspects, which I was probably more focused on when I was younger.

Give

Participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy.

This ride was about bringing several aspects of my life and current situation together to do something positive in what for me at the moment is a pretty difficult situation.  I am really proud of the work that we do at Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind and I wanted to do something specific that linked this to our work with Macmillan Cancer Care.

This wasn’t just about raising money I also wanted to open up conversations and awareness around mental health and living with cancer.  I feel that doing the ride has achieved this.

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