Personal stories of reclaiming life from mental ill health

Andy: River of mindfulness

I love being on the water. I just have this affinity… Swimming, boating, sea scouts, kayaking…

Since we last met, I had a massive dip where I got signed off work… [I was at] the point of shaking and almost hiding in a room. If it wasn’t for Anne, I’d have been stuck in my room. As it was, I was forced to go out for walks and things, which were good for me. [I saw] the GP and the first thing we did was to increase the medication I was on. But not to the point of earlier in the year when I had side effects. Tried that for a week, didn’t make any difference. So she tried me on a second medication, apparently based on adrenaline, to go with my first one. So a different brain chemical, and it’s worked. Five times trying different meds this year, well last year, and at last we have one that works.

 The medication helped. So did the mood diary I started when I was doing the stress and mood management course. I’m still keeping up everyday, well most days. I catch up a day or two later. I’ve got into a few apps and things for mindfulness where I do breathing exercises to calm my mind down. If I can’t sleep or if I’m feeling it’s a bit too much, I’ll go away and do some breathing exercises to calm down. I’m now four weeks into an eight-week self-esteem therapy group.  Which has actually been, really, really good. In December [when I started the group], I didn’t know whether I was going to walk back into a classroom ever again, and now I’m itching to be in the classroom… Chatting to people all over the world about different teaching techniques, swapping ideas, back to the person I was before. I miss my classes and I miss doing the things that I was doing.


My [sickness] certificate runs out next week but I’ve got to go to occupational health and then have a meeting back at school, which will include a health review, as I’ve had quite a long time off and I’ve had some time off with mental health in the past. Anne is coming to the meeting with me, as is one of my heads of department. There’s a group I’ve joined at the moment called the BD Amigos and we are four people who have been signed off at various points.  One’s gone back to work. The other three of us are still off. I’m actually feeling a lot better, I’m doing a lot more. I’m definitely in the right place. I’ve gone from being down, to flat, to normal. So yeah, that’s where I’m at.  We’ll see how the meeting goes and what the recommendations are from occupational health. I don’t know if I can do anything else on top of what I have been doing to get better. The difference between now and the end of November is phenomenal and we’ll just take it from there.

Bits and pieces with family… J, who got mentioned in the last post, has had some incidents which led to a lot of trauma last week for Anne and me and quite a lot for him.   He’s now living in some supported housing, which is a new adventure, and which we hope he will make the most of. It’s the right place for him. He wanted to try living independently. It’s got 24 hour support, and the aim is to get him into a project when he’s 18. This will give him some of those life skills… but in the meanwhile we are allowed to go and see him. Encouraged to do so. So we’ve been down to see him a couple of times and we are back for a meeting next week. We are the transporters of netbooks and skateboards and more skateboards and more skateboards because [it’s] one of his favoured skating places. So that’s hopefully going to work for him. See how it goes from there.


I used to do kayaking when I was a teenager with scouts in Kent, on the sea, and we used to do some of the local rivers in east Kent. At one point when I was about 16 or 17 somebody from my mum’s school was making kayaks, so my parents got a fairly cheap kayak made for me. I then had a little wheeled trolley [to transport it] and I used to go and annoy all of the tourists in the high street with my kayak, stopping the traffic and kayaking on the sea. Then I’d walk the mile and a half home.  I loved it because I love being on the water. I just have this affinity… Swimming, boating, sea scouts, kayaking…  Then I had a big gap from it because I moved away from living by the sea.

 Then this summer, we’re in Devon and behind our cottage, there is the river. And at the end of the street was a canoe and hire centre  so  I went kayaking with my youngest.  We saw heron down by the water line and cormorants, all sorts of things. We saw some people learning to paddle board and fall in, which was quite funny as we sat there and watched them.   He has dyspraxia , we’ve tried different things together but usually there is such a gap between what we can do and it doesn’t work well.  This was better because he can sit there and I can paddle.  Which worked in some ways. So we decided we’d  buy a kayak  as a family because he could then go out with me, J could then go out if he was around as well.

 So, you know, I came down here to the lock because the river is non-tidal. There’s always water. It’s easy to paddle on, you don’t have to watch out for the tide. The first time we came, we had to buy a day ticket, but apparently they have an annual pass which is a lot cheaper.    We had a good time, it was nice and warm (we bought the kayak in late August). I like nature, I like water  and I went [kayaking] three times in December. Once it was a nice sunny day so I thought I’d go out a bit further and I ended up going to the end of the river, which is 7 miles away, and then I came back – 7 miles the other way – so I did 14 miles in a day and I didn’t ache for several days afterwards. Which I was really surprised about. I was in the water for about 5 hours with some breaks.

The kayak just fits in the back garden. So I’ve got this red and orange kayak partially hidden behind the garden table. I can lift it out on my own and because I have a seat which fits in the middle of the kayak I can use it on my own. I’ve got fitter from lifting the kayak. It’s worked my upper body from going kayaking and when you paddle 14 miles it hurts your thighs as well and I get to be out in nature, I get to be out on water, I get to see swans and other wildlife. The 14- mile kayak ride is a bit like doing mindfulness for about 5 hours, because once you get into a rhythm with paddling and resting from time to time, that’s the only thing you have to think about. You can sit back and enjoy and just take in the scenery, look at the animals on the side, the occasional buildings, and it’s great. Been out in the sun, been in the rain, it doesn’t matter.


It lets me zone out. It means I’m exercising, which I’d got out of the habit of doing. I started running again at the end of the year, 3-mile runs. One of the other BD Amigos has started running again, he’s doing a mixture of jogging and walking and sort of building it up. I used to run a lot so I went out thinking, ‘Right I’ll try to build it up, 3 miles, time doesn’t matter, I just want to do the distance.’ Managed it, felt OK. So that week I did a second 3-mile run. Last week I did one. This week with J’s issues, running has gone out the window. Because of coming down today, I’ve done some kayaking so I’ve done some exercise. Been walking on quite a few days, down to country parks and so on. So yeah, I’ve got two types of exercise that I enjoy and again and they get me outside, don’t involve me going into a gym. I just need to keep that up because the exercise is one of those things that disappears when  I’m stressed but it’s one of my best de-stressers.

I will continue to do my exercise [and] things that give me time to myself. The idea is that Anne and I get out and do walks, most weekends we try to have at least one walk. If C’s at the scouts we go for a walk on the seafront. If we go down and see J, we try to do it so it links to having a walk on the seafront as well. We like to go to country parks; C likes to stay at home on his computer. Especially as he’s getting a new one soon for his birthday. So he’s quite happy that we go out. The kayaking is good because on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I can get myself up relatively early. I usually come here for an hour or two, sometimes more, and it’s time when the rest of the family can be doing their thing and I just get out. And I always come back relaxed, I haven’t come back stressed from it once. The neighbours just think I’m nuts! ‘Why are you going kayaking in the middle of December?’ Cos I want to. It’s just me on the water, relaxing and exercising.



Andy: River of mindfulness