After a month of riding his folding bicycle for the charity Rethink Mental Illness and sharing mental health tips each day, Daniel Cattanach looks back on what he’s learned from his experience.
by Daniel Cattanach
I really like those "How it started… How it’s going…" photo comparison posts that have been doing the rounds. From the funnies, to the emotional and thought-provoking ones. And, as ever, I’ve greatly admired the work of my comms peers in the public sector who’ve taken the format and put it to good use.
I had hoped to do the same with before and after photos of my Feels On Wheels charity cycling challenge. However, given that I only began my attempt to ride 100 miles on 1st October – and I was set to complete it just 31 days later – I didn’t think that anyone would see much of a difference between my appearance at the start of the month and how I looked at the end of it (except for having my hair cut, maybe).
It has been quite a journey though – as I shared one line of mental health advice per day and pulled them together to create a bespoke song. Therefore I thought that I should share my thoughts on the things that I’ve learned over the last five(ish) weeks. I’m going to try to impart this knowledge in the way I know best; through cycling-themed puns.
1. Get a handle on the situation
In mid-September, I had an attack of anxiety brought on by the Covid-19 situation and the increasing nastiness that I was seeing across "social" media. My natural instinct was to try to hide away from it all. But I wasn’t convinced that stewing over it would do any good. Therefore, I figured that it would be better for my mental health (and hopefully other people’s mental wellbeing) if I attempted to confront the negativity with positivity. I turned to trusted comms peers Darren Caveney, Sally Northeast and Georgia Turner for sense-checking and moral support before I committed to the idea of "Feels On Wheels". Their kind words and generous donations (including my wonderful branded cycling shirt which I wear with immense pride) helped to keep me on the right track – especially through the bumpy times.
2. Be a good spokesperson for others
Like a lot of comms people, I much prefer being behind the scenes rather than front and centre. I gave up on my childhood ambition of becoming the next Philip Schofield a long time ago. However, I realised that if I wanted to encourage other people to talk about mental health then I’d need to overcome my camera shyness and share my thoughts via video. It can be good to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time, and I think that this was one of those occasions. The experience made me consider what I was going to say each day and how I would frame it, which has helped with my comms learning.
3. Don’t saddle yourself with too much
None of us are superhuman; there’s only so much that we can deal with. We need to take care that we don’t overload ourselves. This could mean not overworking to the point of burnout, switching off from the news and social media at weekends/ Sundays (I really can’t recommend this enough), and just generally taking time out from the hustle and bustle of life at the moment – giving ourselves the space to gather our thoughts and hopefully ease our mind.
4. It’s okay to switch gears
Sadly though, there came a point, about halfway through my month-long challenge, where I was pushed too far outside of my comfort zone. After experiencing verbal abuse and feeling threatened by the confrontational behaviour of a motorist on one of my early morning rides, my anxiety kicked back in with a vengeance. I closed in on myself and cut short my ride to do a subdued "Feels On Wheels" piece to camera from my sofa. Despite trying to empathise and consider how the man’s own mental health struggles may have cause him to lash out, I couldn’t help but feel hurt and scared. I also felt guilty for putting off getting back on my bike until late into the following day – like I was letting everyone else down for not keeping on going. As I gently took my time and eased back into it, I reminded myself of one of the l lines of advice I’d spoken: “It’s okay to be not okay.
5. Be part of the chain reaction
The brilliant cycling shirt that Comms Unplugged and comms2point0 made for me (did I mention how much I love it?) features a bike chain motif, designed by the very excellent Alive With Ideas. This reflects my thinking about sharing our mental health concerns with others. I’ve only been able to share my feelings because other people around me have done so too. I reckon that we’re all part of an ongoing cycle where we listen to each other and help one another out – someone helps you; which, in turn, gives you the strength to help someone else; then they can support somebody, and so on. Then, the next time you find yourself struggling and need someone to look out for you, the support network is even stronger and you’ll find yourself benefiting from being part of the chain reaction.
6. Sound your bell when you need to
There were many times that I needed to ring my bell to let someone know I was there – either to avoid startling them or to ask them to give way. Similarly, there are times when should let others know that we are there for them or we need their help to overcome the obstacles we face. So don’t be afraid to make a sound – especially if you’re worried about someone’s mental health and you think they may be struggling to make themselves heard.
I really do hope this experience has helped, and continues to help. Okay then, for those of you who’ve stuck with it, here’s the nostalgia trip:
How it started…
How it’s going
Thank you so much to everyone who has joined the journey; offering words of support and encouragement, as well as helping to raise over £460 for Rethink Mental Illness to continue helping people who are suffering with severe mental health issues. If you’d care to donate then please check out my JustGiving page.
Even though I’ve reached the end of the month (and my 100 mile target), I think I may keep going with my cycling and offering words of advice – just maybe not every day. For the time being though, I’ll head out one more time for this incarnation of #FeelsOnWheels and I’ll share the bespoke song I created, in a link below, on Saturday 31 October. I hope you’ll find it a treat.
Daniel Cattanach is a senior communications officer working in regional government. You can say hello to him on Twitter at @DanielCattanach
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Pics by Daniel