Being pro-active about your mental health – jogging for the soul.

We are all recognise the concept of the value of routine exercise for physical fitness. Some people run, others swim, still others go to the gym and workout. Even if you are closer to your couch than you are to 5K today we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

…we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

As we entered this pandemic in the Spring of 2020 a thought came to me. I would need to be proactive about my mental health. Here in the UK we are within months of the other side of the pandemic, and am reviewing how well my approach has worked for me. Whilst considering this it came to me that whilst there are many messages about being proactive about keeping physically fit, I’ve heard little said within the mainstream media or from the NHS about being pro-active with our mental health.

I’ve heard little said…about being pro-active with our mental health.

Chances are that ignoring your physical health will shorten your life more than ignoring your mental health, but in terms of quality life years I’d suggest that the latter is at least as important. So what did I do to keep myself mentally stable during this crazy time?

  1. I acknowledged my needs and weaknesses and worked out how I could address them.

It’s hard to admit things about yourself of which you are not proud. In my case I needed to be honest about the value I get from routine. I might like to present a different face to the world but I needed to admit to myself that the requirement to be ‘at work’ at a specific time each day, and the sometimes routines tasks of work life were something that where important to me.

Also I needed to admit that I am mentally fragile, I’m not the resilient super hero that, as a man, I would like to be or paint myself as. I needed to acknowledge the need to act to preserve my mental and emotional stability.

2. I was purposeful about building the ‘connections’ which are most important to me.

I wrote in an earlier post about the excellent book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. In this he lists key facets of our life such as our connection to nature, connection to friends and four other key connections within our life. I know that for me that my connections to nature, God and friends are all particularly life giving.

The beauty of being purposeful in maintaining these connections is that it’s not like training for a race. It’s not painful or dull exercise which we are motivated to do simply because of the end goal. Maintaining connections is about doing things which we enjoy which have the co-benefit of a positive effect on our mental well-being. In my case I made time to phone my friends to make up for the loss in face to face contact. I made sure that I got out into the countryside regularly, even if that was just an evening stroll in the local park. Finally, I focussed more on the disciplines of my faith. The connections which are most important to you may well be different to those most critical to me.

3. I learned how to recognise and express my emotions in a healthy way.

You may or may not relate to the Christian centred teaching of Chip Dodd. Like many American Evangelicals he says in a chapter what could easily have been covered in a paragraph, but there is gold in them there hills of words! To summarise what he says: (1) Our emotions can be distilled down to a small number of underlying feelings; (2) We can express these feelings in positive or negative ways. Let’s start with the negative/s – we can internalise those feelings leading to a negative expression, or we can transfer those feelings to others which is neither good for us or nice for them. The positive approach is to express them in a helpful way. Let’s look at just one example, which Dodd calls anger (and I prefer to call passion).

Let’s say you come home to a messy kitchen. You could shout at your spouse, but we all know that this would not end well for either of you. You could calmly express that it makes you sad to see the kitchen in a mess after you’d cleaned the house at the weekend, or you could discuss how a kitchen cleaning rota might be arranged. You have a choice of how you express and resolve how you feel. You don’t have to try to make your problem someone else’s problem, instead you could be an agent for change.

A good summary is this – bottled up emotions tend to come to the surface eventually and when they do its rarely in a good way. Transferring your emotions (like anger) to someone else does not resolve the emotion, it simply moves it to someone else with some added bad feeling with it. Recognising and expressing your emotion well leads to good and healthy outcomes.

Perhaps not all the above approaches are ones you can relate to, but for a better and sustained quality of life think about what you can do to actively promote your mental health and start working on it. In my experience it leads to a whole lot of benefit at very low cost.

Four days along the Cleveland Way.

Family Weston had planned a week on the Llyn Peninsula during this autumn half term. Walking some of the coast path, building sandcastles on the beaches, enjoying fish and chips with rolling accommodation provided by our wee camper-van. We were all looking forward to this when the Welsh Assembly decided to ‘circuit break’ and repel all boarders. Additionally Lancashire gained Tier 3 COVID status which encouraged us to stay within the county.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in Lancashire with nothing to do!

We decided to divide and conquer the problem. Mrs W and Junior would do fun day trips from home and I would be allowed to run away with my lightweight backpacking gear to a beautiful yet isolated location. Yes it was to be outside the county, but I was still complying with the spirit of the restrictions, I would be isolated. During the original period of ‘house arrest’ in the Spring I’d spent a several days planning some multi-day walking routes as a way to dream of good times post COVID. I must now have enough routes scoped out to last me 3-4 years. Looking at my options and cross checking them with the weather forecast led me to choose to walk the inland section of the Cleveland Way, which runs along a Scarp Edge from Sutton Bank then tracking North and North East to Guisborough. After a link to the coast it follows the sea South again, but my walk was to terminate at Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

Day 1 – Sutton Bank to Osmotherley : 13.5 miles / negligible height gain.

I drove across to the NE on the morning of day one, knowing that I should not start walking too late if I wanted to finish the day before I ran out of daylight at around 1700. I found what seemed to (and proved to) be a safe parking spot near the top of Sutton Bank which saved me walking up from Cold Kirby (Plan A) so I was able to make a flying start to the day. It was a little hazy and overcast but the views were still good.

I’d love to go back on a sunny day. I think I will take Junior when I do as this section of the Cleveland Way would make an excellent father and son walk in a year or two’s time. The route traced the edge of the bank making for easily walking but with the benefit of elevated views over the Vale of York. The colour of the autumn trees was a delight.

It had been touch and go as to whether I would be able to do this walk because I had badly strained my neck doing some ‘extreme decorating’ a few days earlier. Prayer and a cocktail of strong painkillers kept me going however. I was most grateful for this outcome. Because of the uncertainty of how I would manage backpacking I opted to end day one in a campsite in Osmotherley, rather than my initial planned stop above the village on Beacon Hill (as an aside, there were at least three good wild camping spots near the top of the hill, albeit that you’d have to carry all your water up with you). To complete this pampered experience I’d booked into the Golden Lion for dinner that night. Both the food and the beer was excellent. Hobgoblin Gold is a surprisingly good and interesting ale to come from a subsidiary of the Marston’s mega-scale brewing group. It uses the NZ hop Nelson Sauvin at a level where it’s flavour is unmistakeable. Very nice, as was the food. I commend this hostelry to my readership!

Day 2 – Osmotherley to Bloworth Crossing : 15 miles / approx 600 m height gain.

I got started at 0800, knowing it would be a challenge to get to my end point (high on the moors) before I lost daylight. It was dry until 0900, but at least I’d topped the climb back to the top of the ‘bank’ before I had to deploy my Goretex. The threatened rain didn’t amount to much but did hide me in cloud from late morning to early afternoon. The heaviest rain was due for lunchtime but I had heard of a cafe at Lord’s Stones designed for walkers along the route. I nipped into this and avoided the only downpour of the day. It was very windy by this point and thus it was good to be indoors for my lunch-stop for once.

Mid-afternoon brought me to the Wainstones…

Then it was on to Clay Bank where the CW coincides with AW’s Coast to Coast. I have fond memories of camping on Clay Bank back in, ahem, 1993 and marvelling at the juxtaposition of views. Moorland heather in one direction, and the Middlesborough petrochemical works in the other. Time was marching on and I hoped I would find water at the pass between Clay Bank and Greenhow Moor. As I write this I’ve checked again, and there is a stream shown on the map just below the tourist view point. Had I been able to find this (I could not) there was a beautiful flat patch of grass within the viewpoint car park which would have made a perfect tent pitch with a grand view. However since I could not find the stream, I reviewing the map again and figured my best option was to walk on to my originally planned end point at Bloworth Crossing. There was now just 15 minutes before sunset (1630) and 7 km / 200 m height gain still to be tackled.

I was glad to be walking solo, so no one could complain that I should have picked up more water at the cafe! Thankfully the path was wide and clear to follow, and for reasons I could not understand it never actually became pitch black. This despite walking in cloud, with no sight of stars or moon.  My research had shown me I’d get a good pitch at Bloworth Crossing and that water was available there. As I walked in the increasing darkness I started to enjoy the pleasure of a night hike and noticed my hearing becoming more acute. I didn’t need my head-torch because the track was pale, heather borders dark and the residual light was still oddly present. I kept hearing the burbling of water, and when I knew I was within 30 min of my proposed end point I investigated each embryonic stream with torchlight. Then I found gold, well more like clear whisky coloured water, right next to the path. It was Bloworth Slack.

For this trip I’d bought myself a Sawyer ultra-filter with the hope of a range of benefits. I’ve covered this in another post, but suffice to say I was really pleased at how it took out the peaty taste which is ubiquitous to such streams. I was soon at the crossing and found my patch of grass (not so common on heather moorland) and started looking for the best spot on which to pitch. Part of my method was to judge the volume of squelch I heard when I stepped on the area in question. I was tired and this was a guessed method but turned out to be inspired. In the morning the ‘slightly squelchy’ areas I had located had morphed into a stream.

The potential for this would have been obvious in daylight, but that was a luxury I didn’t have. In the end my pitch was more level and less muddy than the pukka campsite of night one.

Day 3 – Bloworth Crossing to Highcliffe Nab : 12 miles / approx 400 m height gain

Although I was only at 390 m, I awoke amidst the cloud. My day started, however, with the delight of being able to taste the subtle flavour of bergamot in my tea unalloyed by the taste of the water.

It’s not a single malt, honest!

People who haven’t seen or used 21st century backpacking gear think I’m having a rough hard existence when I go on walks like this. Little could be further from the truth when I can make a brew without leaving my down sleeping bag, comfortable on a self inflating Thermorest, , sheltering within a 1.2 kg highly robust Swedish tent having sated my previous days appetite with excellent food (my favourites thus far being from Mountain Trails or Activeat ) which is light and just needs re-hydrating, creating no washing up.

But back to the story. I was on the trail by 0800 and soon the combination of a subtle drop in altitude and a raising cloud base meant I was again afforded excellent views.

I opted to simply enjoy the view I had of Roseberry Topping and not climb it this time with the aim to having a day guaranteed to end with daylight to spare. My weather app warned me to expect the wind to gust to 50-60 mph by the early hours of the next day. I needed to be sure to find a good sheltered spot. My planned stopping point next to a crag face sounded promising so I yomped on. Highcliffe Nab is both in itself very attractive and affords fabulous views all along the coast from Sunderland to Staithes.

Rather than pitch for the view, I used the hollow at the West end of the crag which would protect me from the forthcoming southerly winds and any variation in their direction +/- 45 degree’s that might occur. It was a great wild camping spot which I’d recommend outside of peak summer when the popularity of the spot with local youth might detract from the experience as they may then yield the wrong kind of wildness!

Day 3 – Highcliffe Nab to Saltburn-by-the-Sea : 12 miles / approx. 100 m heigh gain.

The morning did yield the promised high winds, but I was my sheltered spot was scarcely affected. I had been asleep by 8pm the night before, so rose early and was on the trail again by 0730. The woods above Guisborough were a riot of colour.

The section from the A171 to Skelton was mundane and muddy, and I prayed that the day would end well so as not to make this as the lasting memory of the day. It did! Once out of Skelton the path enters a linear park running the full length of Saltburn and only disgorging you in the town some 200 m from the sea.

It was a delight to see the sea, a fitting end to many a walking or cycling tour and the promise of excellent fish and chips to celebrate. Reviews suggested that the Seaview Restaurant served the best in town, and having now been there I have no reason to disagree. The only rain of the day came as I was having my early lunch with a beautiful view of the sea and the cliffs of the second, coastal, half of the Cleveland Way.  This would be a walk for another day. It had been a superb four days, with only half a day of light rain to contend with. The cloud hid some of the views, but not enough to spoil the walk. It proved an example of a walk at height with very little actual height gain, so I hope to come again for an adventure with the rest of the family when Junior is a little older.  It has a high reward to effort ratio which I know should work well for them.

COVID diaries – Month 5.

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First day of term selfie

It occurred to me last week that it’s August and that we’ve been under the cloud of COVID for five months . It feels like the thick end of a year has passed and I’ve missed it. For us, a few significant steps have been taken towards regular life again in past few weeks. I was called off of furlough in week 21.

Two weeks after that Mrs W’s work rota returned to it’s pre-lockdown pattern again, meaning she is back on call for the first time in five months. She says she prefers working the odd all-nighter to extra time in the day. I fully understand her point of view, but it wouldn’t work so well for me.

The purpose of this diary is to ensure that I don’t forget how this period has been and so that in years to come I can look back to what happened and how I felt about it at the time. As I said, I’ve now been back at work for just over three weeks after four months away. It’s the longest intra-job hiatus I’ve ever experienced and whilst initially it was odd to be back in the brewery, the big thing that has hit me is tiredness. Sometime in the four months I’ve been away, someone seems to have worked out how to get more that 9 gallons of beer in a firkin! Surely that must be why they are a lot harder to lift now that they were in March? Jesting aside, brewing is a very physical job and whilst I’ve been lucky to be able to do lots of good hill walking and keep fit, my ability to heft 50 kg casks about has clearly rather reduced due to lack of practice.

Another shock to the system this week was to find that the brewery is cutting back of staffing and four of my colleagues will very sadly be leaving us. I’ve been spared, so it looks like hard work and enthusiasm has carried me through again. In a small close-knit team whoever doesn’t make it through the process will be missed. In this role it’s the quality of the company of my colleagues rather that the technical challenge which is a key pleasures of the role.

At home all the DIY jobs, even those I’ve been putting off for 10 years have been completed and I’ve even added a new alpine crevice garden to the front of the house to hide an ugly manhole cover out front.

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Childcare is another oddity. Clearly it is more difficult, but it looks like Junior’s school are using this opportunity to work reduced hours for reasons which are impossible to link back to COVID itself. So whilst I’m back at work, I’m on short hours. This does help me easy back in however, so there is a silver lining. How the new term, in three weeks, turns out is something we are watching with interest. The gap between the best and poorest performing children will only have widened, with committed parents having covered all of the planned syllabus and more, with those at the other end of the spectrum having done nothing at all. We wait and see if those at the top are left to get bored whilst the focus goes on those who need to catch up, the reverse or a healthy balance.

Roughing it…

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Welcome to Rough Hill, the summit-ette at the Western end of Pendle. At 315 metres it stands some 242 metres short of The Big End but it still has much going for it: a trig point; views down into both the Ribble and Calder Valley’s; it’s far enough, yet not too far from the Nick of Pendle; there is a nice flat grassy area to take a tent and finally it’s somewhere I’d never yet been despite over 75 ascents of Pendle.

DSC_2688Mrs W and Junior joined me on the walk out to see what the excitement was all about and to enjoy the trig point.  I wanted to regain my connection to nature, have some peace and quiet with a beer and a book and chance to enjoy my relatively new ultralight tent and sleeping bag combo. Being able to get all my overnight gear easily into a 35 L day-pack was rather fine.

Once again I found that despite a night time low of 9 C and a good douse of rain that I had no condensation issues in the Enan thanks to just a light breeze. I can also report that a can of Siren-Craft Yulu nicely complimented the view. I think I must try their peachy (pentyl-propanoate producing) yeast with an Earl Grey infusion but swap out the lemon zest for grapefruit. A project for the brew shed.

Moon rising over the Calder valley

Moon rising over the Calder valley

Whilst I woke to a white out, patches of sunshine started to appear in the valleys as I was striking camp giving some lovely highlighted views.  It was a great 12 hours and not really roughing it at all.

Monkey Business

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Whilst I was on my long walk across Cumbria, Junior we enjoying himself at Go Ape.  Whilst clearly he gets his good looks from me [ 😉 ], his lack of fear of heights must stem from his mother.  I could not have done what he did!

 

Mini Man’s Micro Adventure

It was coming to the end of our weeks holiday and Junior seemed envious of my solo unsupported walk along a four day section of the Coast to Coast path through Cumbria. A sunny evening was forecast so I suggested he might like to go for a wild camp with his Dad. His eyes lit up, so we packed up his rucksack and repacked mine. His with the light voluminous items to make it look good and full and mine with the rest. I’d had a walk planned and plotted for this opportunity and Mrs W dropped us off around 1630 on the far side of our closest fell.

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I had arranged in advance to camp in on the fell-side field of a farming friend of mine which I knew had a glorious view across our valley. The walk in proved just the right length to be fun and adventurous but not a massive undertaking / effort for Junior. This needed to feel like an adventure which was fun, not difficult. We soon had dinner reheated which was followed up by hot chocolate and ‘emergency biscuits’ – I forget what the spoof emergency was this time. How many six year-olds get use of a Thermorest and a Mountain Hardware sleeping bag I wonder? It should certainly have been a more comfortable experience than my first few years of camping. Not that this was his first time, but it was the first walk where he carried most of his own kit. I remain very impressed by his Deuter Fox 30 rucksack, very comfortable, adjustable and well equipped for a child’s sack.

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We were both asleep shortly after 2100 and work just before 0700. The bliss of camping out. The early hours brought heavy rain, but we were all but packed up ready for when this stopped by 0900. We killed time reading a couple of chapters of Roald Dahl, his author of the moment. Then we just had to drop the tent and walk down to the base of the valley to the village shop in our neighbouring community and await a lift home from Mrs W. A really good end to a week of week of outdoor adventures.

Recording memories

This time of house arrest gives one a lot of time, and sometimes I’ve been able to put it to good use doing things I should have got around to many weeks / months or even years ago.  One of these way to make good my lack of photographs of our wonderful moggie and faithful companion, Henry.  And what did Time Berners-Lee invent the internet for if it was not for the sharing of cat photo’s?

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COVID diary – week 7

dsc_1134Everyone on the Weston Front has remained well so far, we are blessed by the sunshine and home school seems to be going well.  I did spend the whole years school resources budget on one topic though.  An introduction to coding, by way of Bob the (Lego) robot.

The whole concept is very well thought out and seems ideal for 6-9 year olds.  We’ve learned about variables, triggers, flags and sub-routines in a really fun way.  To get a better insight into what’s possible take a look at the video’s of Bob’s antics on my Flickr Feed.

I would not want to do a ‘Facebook Front‘ post and suggest that everything is rosy.  I am finding motivation hard when I’m not home schooling and it is frustrating to remain in limbo as to whether we will get away on holiday this year.  It’s true we have not got a foreign trip planned where we will lose deposits etc, but we really did (and still do) hope to go to Shetland at some point during the sunnier part of the year.  Nathan is missing interacting with his friends too.  Video calls are good, but no still no substitute for the real thing.

What I want to leave you with this week is the best advise I’ve yet seen on surviving ‘house arrest’ which comes in the form of a allegorical video from James Veitch. But note that really it should come with a ’16’ certificate!

An alternative approach to manage the Coronavirus outbreak?

A friend showed this article to me and I thought it made some excellent points from the alternative medical perspective of the veterinary profession.  It’s well worth a read. So good I forwarded a copy to my local MP and to Matt Hancock.  There’s a low chance it will ever reach them, physically, less so intellectually but you’ve got to try.  I’ve included below as a pair of .jpg files.  You could also download as a pdf from here.

The article first appeared in the Vet Record and was written by Dick Sibley of West Ridge Veterinary Practice and Joe Brownlie formerly of the Royal Vet College.