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Keeping my mental health on track

Wednesday, 29 June 2022 James

James, who is walking one lap of Silverstone for Mind, blogs about how sport and exercise have helped him cope with schizoaffective disorder.

When I think back over my life from infancy to now (31), I have always been keen on sport and exercise. They have played a vital role in helping maintain my mental wellbeing in so many ways.

Unfortunately though, they were not able to prevent me from having my first psychotic episode in 2016. This was triggered by extreme stress and a severe lack of sleep after coming out of a long-term relationship. It didn’t help that I wasn’t happy with my job at the time either. I also experienced a major relapse in late 2019/early 2020. This was then followed by receiving a new diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

“I feel very lucky that I will be walking around the famous Silverstone track as a Mind media volunteer.”

It took me a while to recover from both of these as they were such traumatic events, but one of the things that always made me myself again was being more active. I feel very lucky that I will be walking around the famous Silverstone track on 30th June as a Mind media volunteer, and it feels very fitting since walking has always done me so much good mentally.

Many of my favourite memories with friends and family involve long walks or hikes, some of them in nature which I find very therapeutic. The beauty of walking is you get to have deep and meaningful chats as you go, because you’re not as out of breath compared to running or cycling, for example. It can be a form of talking therapy for your mind, while your body is burning calories at the same time!

Benefiting from different sports

I have also discovered benefits from a bunch of different sports. Football is top of my list, as I get so much enjoyment out of it. I am part of a men’s mental health football group, and we regularly do our talking both on and off the pitch. We get the physical benefits from playing a match, but then we also have a peer support element where we talk about our mental health either together, or one to one with the staff who run the sessions.

I think men are generally getting better now, but we haven’t always been the most open when it comes to discussing our feelings. I am a firm believer that the more people you share with, the more allies you are likely to make. The beauty of sport is it gives us the chance to talk about something we have a common interest in, not to mention helping us to connect with new people. Without my love for sport, I would not have discovered my football group.

“I find it so useful that more and more public figures are now talking about their experiences of mental illness”

Football is not my only outlet though. I am able to look after my mental wellbeing through other things including yoga and meditation, as well as writing about my lived experiences. If you are struggling, I think it’s important to be open minded and try out a few different things to find what works for you. You might not want to tell the world about it, but sharing it with someone you trust – like a friend, family, colleague or GP - is better than keeping it to yourself, in my opinion.

One of my first steps to getting help was reading books, in the form of memoirs from people going through the same or similar condition as me. I also find it so useful that more and more public figures are now talking about their experiences of mental illness and poor mental health. As someone who follows football, it is comforting to see both Premier League and lower league men and women being more open, which is particularly important for young fans as it gives them role models and helps normalise talking about mental health.

This also applies to Formula One, as I have seen plenty of drivers speaking up in the media in recent years. I was pleased to see Lewis Hamilton discussing depression a few years back, and today it gives me great joy to see Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo being so involved in the McLaren Racing and Mind fundraising partnership. I feel truly honoured and humbled to be part of this opportunity, as I still have plenty of warm memories of watching F1 races with my dad as a kid. He is still obsessed with the sport and watches every race, so I will be thinking of him when I do my 5.9km around the famous Silverstone track.

McLaren leading by example

I really love how Mind keep coming up with unique fundraising initiatives like this, which are a bit different to the usual run/cycle/walk ideas you’ve seen before. It’s also wonderful to see more big brands like McLaren Racing joining the fight for better mental health and leading by example. I am sure this will be a huge success and I can’t wait to be part of it and see what else we can achieve together.

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