As I sit here writing this I’m still full of disappointment that things didn’t quite go to plan on my challenge walk. However, the more I thought, the more I realised just how much I have gained from the experience. In September I took part in Trekfest, a 75km walking challenge across the Peak District that I wanted to complete to raise money for Beat.
I signed up over a year ago. I was nearing the end of my second course of outpatient treatment and after my discharge from ED services in December I found myself balancing very precariously between continuing down the road of recovery with all its potholes and simply falling back into the perceived ‘safety’ of my ED. Physically I had improved dramatically and, although far from resolved, my mental health had also seen significant improvement. My ED had been with me a long time and now it was subsiding I felt rather lost as to who I was and what I wanted to do. My confidence had suffered the worst. My employer at the time of my diagnosis was far from understanding and I watched a career I’d worked very hard for fall apart in front of me. I felt I needed a goal to work towards. There were the initial concerns from some that I might be aiming for Trekfest for the wrong reasons, but this was for that reason I chose the 75km. I’ve walked a lot in the past but never that kind of distance, and the distance itself would be challenging enough, meaning it was imperative I was healthy to take part. Choosing a charity was the easy bit. Beat has provided support for me, particularly since I left formal treatment.
My fundraising commenced with a difficult step, going public about my challenge and the reasons behind it with the local paper. I had been very ashamed of my ED but felt it needed talking about. I had suffered in silence for many years before seeking help, but I know there’s a chance I may have tried earlier if I’d realised there were others in a similar situation.
I set up a sponsorship page and began planning various fundraising events. As fundraising got underway I was overwhelmed by the support I received. I did a couple of cake sales at local events and work, undertook a bucket collection at Go Outdoors over one weekend and most popular of all, organised a Race Night with a difference... on Space Hoppers! Throughout this I found myself sharing my story and the confidence I was gaining from the organisation side of things was an amazing feeling. Friends and family who had spent a lot of time supporting me through my illness now worked alongside me to help make my crazy idea a reality.
Training for this challenge was also crucial if I was to stand a chance of completing it. Early on I signed myself up for other walking challenges over shorter distances and enjoyed weekends completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge and the Staffordshire Moorlands Challenge. I met so many new people, people walking for all sorts of different reasons and people of all different shapes and sizes giving things a go. Looking back, it seems amusingly ironic that I somehow found myself walking with a group of ladies from Slimming World at one point!
After a night camping (a bit of an ordeal in itself!), I stepped over the start line for the 75km apprehensive but determined. Following a week of beautifully dry weather, our walk picked one of the wettest days of the summer to take place. Having started at 9am, by 10am I was soaked. The worst was to come as I headed up and over Kinder Scout and arrived at a checkpoint several hours later to join hundreds of other saturated individuals. There soon came a point where even the best waterproofs start to falter but fortunately not my motivation. I walked with several groups of people, some doing the 50km, some the 75km and others the unimaginable 100km. As darkness descended the relentless rain continued as we made our way to checkpoint 4, just over 50km of the way round. The conditions were really beginning to take their toll. After 14 hours of almost solid walking, 13 of them in the wet, I was exhausted and beginning to feel unwell. At checkpoint 4 I regrettably made the decision to call it a day. In hindsight, I always knew this would be super challenging both physically and mentally but with the weather conditions as they were, it was more than I was able to manage at this stage in my recovery.
Disappointed? Yes, without a doubt, but on reflection also other things:
What is so clear is how much having this walk to aim for has aided my recovery. When I left treatment, I spent a long time being told to take care of myself, to take it easy, give myself time. I’m not knocking any of the advice I was given – in fact at the time it was all perfectly true – but the simple fact remained that I’d spent a lot of time being given advice and a lot of the decision-making process being made for me. When freed from ED services in December I still felt quite ill-equipped to deal with the real world. The process of recovery in itself was fragile – I was now alone in making my decisions. In signing up and preparing for Trekfest, I took a leap of faith.
Recovery is still very much a ‘work in progress’. Some days are better than others, but one thing’s for certain, taking part in Trekfest and raising money for Beat has given me the healthy goal I required to help me make the right decisions and keep following the winding path of recovery to date. Maybe I’ll even sign up for next year and complete it!