A year ago today I undertook the biggest challenge of my life and without sounding melodramatic, it changed my life.
I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of Team Wales to undertake Mind’s inaugural 3000s which comprised of a 24hr trek climbing 15 mountains in the green green grass of home; Snowdonia. In classic Michelle fashion, I was having a low day and decided I wanted to do something positive and make people proud of me, so I signed up, not really thinking I’d get a place and not really realising what it was I was signing up for. The hook was that the Welsh team would be captained by Matt Johnson. Having seen him bare his soul on This Morning earlier in the year talking about his battles with mental health, it sparked a conversation with my mum; up until that point I hadn’t really been completely honest about what I was going through. Seeing this successful, charismatic face talking about such deeply personal things in front of millions gave me the confidence to speak out and I wanted to say thank you; and what better way than helping him raise money for such a wonderful and vital charity like Mind.
I remember getting the email telling me I’d been successful and going into sheer panic. 15 mountains. 24hrs. How on earth was that going to be possible? But of course my stubbornness prevailed (I am a Taurus after all) and I decided it would be fine. I’d practice. How hard could walking be?! And the fact that a lot of people told me I couldn’t possible do it meant that not doing it wasn’t an option. So I spent the following 8 months fundraising, freaking out and not really doing that much walking….and then freaking out some more.
The fundraising was tough; I wanted to make as much money as possible, I wanted to feel like I gave it my all and ultimately made a difference. Every time I set myself a target, I got to it and then wanted more. Quite how I have any friends left on social media after all the incessant begging I don’t know, but thanks to everyone’s generosity and belief I raised £4,000. And as I sit here today, I’m still overwhelmed that people resonated with the cause so much and put their money where their mouths were. As a team we raised £70K and I’m so very proud to have been part of that, knowing what a difference to lives it would have made.
As the support kept rolling in, I felt it was only fair that I was completely honest about my mental health struggles so I pretty much laid bare everything I was going through, everything I had been through and all that was in-between. As daunting as it was at the time, it was one of the best things I ever did. Yes, some people might have cringed at the sight of me talking about how I used to self-harm, how I take antidepressants, how I fell apart but in my mind, if it helped one person feel a little better about their situation then it was worth it. I even went as far as speaking to the press and going on TV and it didn’t feel like a big deal at all – which is quite ridiculous given that I get a panic attack just getting on the bus sometimes!
When my mum dropped me off at the hostel the night before the trek, I felt like a child before dropped off on their first day of school, I knew it was all down to me from then on in and it was fight or flight time. Thankfully my fear was short lived, I was quickly introduced to Camilla and Karen from Mind and I felt heartened and ready to take on the world. A feeling that was only bolstered when I met Matt for the first time whilst we went live on Welsh TV. Now, I might have done my GCSEs in Welsh, but I hadn’t really spoken it properly in 15 years so in my mind that was the biggest challenge of the whole weekend, but we got through it and watching it back (my mum has it saved on Sky+ obvs) you’d never have known!
We all bonded very quickly and by the end of that night, it felt like I’d known many of them for years. So many shared experiences – it was so refreshing to be in the company of people that just ‘got it’. And that was something that sticks in my mind most about the whole experience – how close we all became and what an invigorating feeling that was, especially as I’ve found it so hard to maintain friendships and make new ones over the past few years, for fear of disappointing people. We were all on the same level, no matter where we came from, what we did for a living – we were all in it together and there for the same reason.
The trek was of course hard. Harder than I could have ever imagined at times, but every second was worth it, even the blisters and dodgy hip. It sounds corny, but it was a journey. I found myself doing things I never thought possible, I found strength, I found my resilience and I learnt such a lot. The conversations I had with people will stay with me forever; the word hero is bounded about far too much, but those people I shared the mountains with were true heroes. They all had their own experiences of mental health, whether it be personally or through a loved one and they all gave everything they had and battled all kinds of things, both physically and emotionally. I felt humbled and honoured to have met them and to now call them friends.
We couldn’t have asked for a better captain than Matt. From the moment he met us all, it was clear to see that he was really invested in the challenge, the cause, and us. He united us as a team and kept everyone’s morale going throughout; always there with a wise word or a little pep talk when things got tough. Whereas some would have come along and expected special treatment or kept themselves to themselves; he was one of us and made us all feel special and deserving.
Life hasn’t been a bed of roses since, but the one thing that’s changed is that I now know my own strength; I know that despite people doubting it, I am strong. We might not feel it some days, but living with a mental health problem takes real strength and courage.
Whenever I’m having a bad day and starting to doubt myself, I picture myself at the top of Snowdon smiling, and I remember anything is possible.