A Mental Coach

At last, back to some sort of terra firma with the blog and an opportunity to combine the Tour de France with mental health*. Argos-Shimano’s Koen de Kort has been writing a diary for the Financial Review during this year’s Tour and in his latest entry looks at the imminent loss of his “mental coach” from the team. What is a mental coach? de Kort eloquently explains the role Merijn Zeeman has played in his cycling. The way he describes Zeeman as a friend underlines the importance of having the right fit of people around you to support your psychological well-being.  So is de Kort weak or fallable? As he says:

I’ve found that a lot of people think that a mental coach is only beneficial for athletes with mental weaknesses, but I’ve come to realise they can help all athletes at any level.

Which just goes to show how none of us should be complacent about our mental well being and how letting others in can be beneficial.

Koen de Kort’s article can be viewed at http://www.afr.com/p/lifestyle/sport/cycling/koen_de_kort_diary_second_rest_day_PnGx0GOE6chenddGeslRrO

* Thanks to @melaniebbikes for bringing it to my attention.

Hidden Support

In the last week two things have happened which made me think.

The first was a receiving a text from a friend. She told me that a work colleague was suffering from work stress and was about to be signed off. She was concerned and didn’t know how to approach the friend so asked me for advice having been in a similar situation. I told her that when I was suffering from the same it was the impromptu contact by friends that got me. I suggested dropping her friend a text just to say hello and to let him know she was there if he wanted to talk.

The second was finding out that another friend was recovering (successfully so far) from surgery for bowel cancer.  I was shocked – I thought he’s had dental problem but this news explained a lot. He seemed upbeat but knowing what it was like recovering from illness offered. In doing so he responded: “One of the many positives about cancer is the HUGE impromptu support network that springs up around you.”

And so these 2 separate events combined in my head. They both made me think of what I had been through. The initial feeling of being totally alone when I was facing up to my problems followed by the development of a growing support network.  Much of this was based on friends but not always the friends you though it would come from and one of the outcomes to be prepared for in this is the loss of some friends. Yes, some people you thought were close turn out not to be so, to disappear in the time of need never to reappear. I have to make a distinction here too. I am not referring to those friends who find it difficult to react but who find ways to communicate, The “friends” you lose are those who disappear completely and never make contact. In my experience I didn’t lose a lot though.

It is fair to say that everyone finds it difficult at times knowing just how to react. And an immediate reaction isn’t always the best, nor is it needed or wanted.  But over a longer period of time there are many ways that support is offered. It starts with the small things – receiving a text, an email message or a phone call based around another issue but with a “how are you” dropped in are the small things that mean a lot. At a mechanical level it opens a channel of communication between you and them – and today there are so many ways to communicate, don’t shun the obvious. On a more psychological level it shows that they/you are not alone, that others have gone through similar and equally that there are others out there to share your problems with. And never forget that it can be an important distraction. I always start with seeing if someone wants a coffee as from my experience it a) got me out of the house, b) gave me a focus on something I like and c) created a space where you could talk about whatever you wanted, problem, distraction or both.

The support I received was invaluable and I hope that the people who are part of that network have felt valued. If you are the one suffering know that there are people out there who can help but you have to let them know – nobody can really read minds that well. And if you know someone who is going through the mill, reach out in a small way – it’s a bit like the acorn and the oak both the small start and the strong branches.

Need help? Yes, but not like that.

I must admit I first saw reference to this in the Metro, run under some nauseating yet attention grabbing headline. I saw it re-run in the Expressly Fail which never instills confidence that the article is what it might first seem. But then I saw a link to this video on the BBC website.

In it, Gail Porter talks to Radio 5 Live’s Phil Williams about being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.  It is a compelling listen. Not only does Porter talk about the shock and anger of the experience (her partner signing the forms to section her, the drugs and the two Jesus on her ward), she also highlights the difficulties for any one struggling with fragile mental health to express their needs and the failure of the health service to offer help in the way that it is needed by the recipient.  Let me pick up two of her points as something I can closely relate to.

Part of Porter’s sectioning related to a text she sent that she was feeling suicidal. To those who have not felt this way this evokes strong emotions: the feeling of wanting to end it all is equated with an executable plan and will to do so.  The law in this case certainly saw it this way and as such there is an urge to “protect” that person from the harm they are intending to do to themselves. But in all walks of life there are different degrees of feeling and intention.  As was explained to me, the feeling that you want to kill yourself is not the same as making plans to do so. What seems a subtle distinction on the outside is a huge leap for the person in that position.  Explaining this can be a huge relief, it was for me.

Yet explaining this is all part of offering appropriate help, support and care. As Porter also highlights, her partner was signing the forms out of love yet the response of the system seems far from this. She was taken to a secure hospital, given drugs and queued up to see a doctor.  I have expressed my views on the approach of the health service before but again this case highlights the way in which mental health problems must reach crisis point for the sufferer before help is given. Porter’s words illustrate this better than me rehearsing my own experience again (click here, here and here to revisit them if you so wish). For Porter, as with so many others, asking for help is difficult and is expressed in what the wider world sees as a worrying and inappropriate manner. And when the response is as harsh as this is it any wonder we hold it in through fear.

Of course, each individual has a different case and it would be inappropriate of me to suggest that we all suffer in the same way. But at the same time there are many shared stories of both the way in which talk about our problems is difficult and the failure of statutory authorities to provide effective help at an appropriate stage. As much as it is about individuals feeling less fearful of speaking out it is up to the health service to demonstrate that the help is there.

May the road rise with you

So my previous posts over the last week or so have been a bit negative, a bit flat which of course is strange given the nature of the Tour de France over the same period.  Once again I can’t quite put my finger on the reasons but whilst the rest o the world is wowed by the continued exploits of some of the best, committed and, some might say, insane sportsmen in the world I’ve been uninspired, fidgety and, dare I say it, bored.  How I’d love to be on the edge of my seat gripped by the action. Instead I just feel exhausted and flat, an underlying nervous tension eating away.  Perhaps this is to do with a lot of other things going on in life – the ongoing tensions over work, the feeling that I’m drifting and perhaps most of all the inability to switch off.  These were things that I thought I’d conquered but it just goes to show how life isn’t that straightforward. It’s a bit like Alberto Contador – he’s won 3 (possibly 2) Tours, 2 Giros and 1 Vuelta but yesterday showed his fallibility and weaknesses and of course the need to fight back.  So it is for everyone in different parts of their lives. The cynical amongst you might even point to the similarity in the absence of drugs in this comparison but let’s not entertain that for long.  So firstly a brief apology that I’ve been brining the mood down, secondly that there’s some work to do and don’t forget it, and finally that I still need that help and support both a pat on the back and a kick up the bum. Your help in the latter is very much appreciated.

Behind every champion is a great trainer

Following my post last Wednesday about lack of motivation/commitment/dedication, I thought I’d post this link from the Tour of Japan.  It was filmed by my Tour Ride partner @leadout during his time out there with the Rapha-Condor-Sharp cycling team.  I’m not sure it is the motivational methods that other family members would have written about during their times at Loughborough University but it did strike a cord with the approach I might need.  The words of wisdom @raphaj has to offer would be greatly appreciated in my build up and John, if you are reading, do you fancy offering to run me over on 26th September in North Staffordshire.