I have an (almost) one year old daughter. One of our favourite things to do is just before bath time we sit on the living room floor and read a story. The story book of choice at the moment is the gruffalo – ‘A mouse took a stroll in the deep dark wood….’

Here’s a story of something that happened to me recently.

I sometimes cycle to work, there are two routes I can take. The first route is the road, a very hilly but a smooth, well lit way to and from work. It’s about 6 – 7 Miles. The first half is all uphill and the second is all down. The second route is the Trail. This isnt a particularly rough route and it is more or less as the crow flies from my village to the industrial estate where I work. Its still over the same hill but the inclines seem a little gentler and it is a straight path with tunnels and bridges that go under and over the road route however the terrain isn’t a smooth.

99% of the time I opt for the road. It’s well lit, my bike doesn’t have suspension and if I have an accident there are normally people around to see.

I hadn’t cycled for a little while and towards the end of the day I was feeling a little tired so on my way home from work I had a really bright idea. I would cycle up the hill on the trail and at the top of the hill there is a section that crosses the road and I would go down the hill on the road. Perfect.

I very slowly rode up the trail avoiding dog walkers and horses everything was going well until I got to the top of the hill. Things were about to get easier however I thought my rear tyre could use a little air if I was going to be speeding down the hill. I put my bike on the ground and pumped the tyre up. As is took the pump back off the valve – SNAP – the metal valve SNAPPED IN HALF! Rubbish! I still had over 3 miles to go and I really wanted to see Imogen before bath time for her story.

I didn’t have spare inner tube or another means of getting home so I decided I was going to have to walk and push the bike the rest of the way. I was already on the trail and it is the most direct way of getting home so off I went.

As I approached the down hill the sun was just setting and I saw the opportunity for an Instagram picture of a sunset that would make me look great. So I took my phone out and snapped the picture thinking ‘I’ll instagram that bay boy later’.  I put my phone away and carried on walking.

About 15 minutes later it was starting to get dark. This is when I approached The Tunnel.

Before I go on, I need to give you a bit of back story. For any Geordies amongst us you may remember ‘Thunder Thursday’ back in 2012. Well when the heavens opened it turned the Trail into a river.

A few weeks after the floods I went to ride on the trail and the floods had literally carved out a riverbed into the Trail. At points there was 6′ holes in the track. It was crazy, I had to keep getting off and carrying my bike round holes. It was pretty dangerous!

One of the tunnels (the one in question) was really bad. There was fallen trees in there, huge, deep puddles and massive pot holes – If you imagine the tunnel scene in 28 days later but without the zombies and cars then you’re somewhere near. I had to walk through it pressed up against the wall of the tunnel holding my bike in the air (whilst pointing the light down so I could see) so I didn’t fall into a hole!

Back to my story. The Trail has been patched up and reinforced so it is now relatively flat.

I arrived at the tunnel and I could still see the path however the tunnel was in absolute darkness. There are no lights just the light from outside which was slowly fading.

‘No problem’ I thought as I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket which I had left the camera open the whole time and was now dead! Nevermind, Plan B, I’ll use my super bright rechargeable bike light on except I hadn’t recharged it!

I had three options:

  1. Go through the tunnel, trusting that the path had been filled in and was now flat.
  2. Walk back up the hill and find another route adding at least another two hours to my journey.
  3. I could do nothing. I could sit in the dark waiting for it to be light again.

I went with option one, if i wanted to get home to see Imogen before bath time and read her a story I had to press on. I very slowly and carefully through the tunnel. Taking one step at a time whilst trying to forget my past experience of the tunnel (and trying not to think of the rats) because it would only hold me back.

I got through the tunnel and kept going except I still wasn’t home. There was a number of short tunnels, still dark but a lot shorter making it a lot easier to navigate my way through.

I got home eventually. Just in time to read Imogen a story.

Why am I telling you this?

In my time walking home it got me thinking about my mental health.

Just like when I approached the tunnel, when I experienced the worst of my anxiety I was very ill prepared for it. I didn’t know it was going to happen. It took me by surprise.

I watched a TED talk recently about emotional Aid which really challenged the way I think about the way I think about my emotional health.

We try and catch things like Cancers when they are in the early stages to stop them from getting worse so why don’t we do the same when there are signs of our mental health being at risk?

Throughout my life there were more than likely things that lead to the moment where I had my first panic attack but I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t speak about my mental health. I just sat in my tunnel, too scared to move on because I thought I was too weak to do anything about it.

Eventually I got professional help and I was able to open up to some of my mates about it and get out of my tunnel. I still had other tunnels to go through but they were made much easier by having a friend to talk to.

If I had taken the necessary precautions in the first place I wouldn’t have found myself in that situation. If I had charged up my light and made sure I had a spare tube and maybe just made sure I had plenty of rest and ate well so I had the energy to cycle home.

For many years Men have just buried the warning signs because society has said ‘Real men just suck it up!’ and for many years we have done just that. The result of that is that more and more men take their lives because they feel that they can’t talk about their feelings.

The thing about talking about your feelings is that if you do it regularly, it doesn’t have to be a big dramatic emotional outburst. If we do it regularly, it should just be like any other conversation that we have – we just need to practice emotional health.

Don’t wait until you’re thrust into darkness with no clue as to what to do, take the time today to look after your mind.

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