Rob’s “It’s mental!” Everest Marathon Blog
Hi. My name is Rob Lippiatt and I live in Bristol. I am 35 years old and I work for South Western Ambulance Service. I have been married to Helen, a Staff Nurse at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, for four and a half years.
To put you in the picture, my blog is not a marathon blog about Mt Everest! It is about the huge challenge I have set myself! In May 2016 I am taking part in a marathon that takes place at Mt Everest base camp to raise money for a local mental health charity. This is the second hardest challenge I have ever faced and I am going to need all the help and support I can get! You may be thinking if that’s the second hardest challenge then what could be the hardest? Well, if I say that I have already climbed my own personal Mt Everest and it has taken the best part of 2 years, you may begin to understand. My chosen charity gives you a big clue and, yes, I have been suffering from mental health problems and it has taken a lot of courage for me to put this down on paper! Only my family and 1 or 2 close friends knew the true extent of my illness and the battle I have fought.
There was no ‘trigger’ to the start of my illness, it just seemed to slowly creep up on me. It was only when it started to impact on my daily living that I began to even consider that I may be suffering from a mental health condition. I had started to develop anxieties about simple day to day tasks, so much so that I began to avoid going out so that I didn’t have to deal with those anxieties. The turning point was when I went on holiday with my wife in the hope that some rest and relaxation would help. Whilst away from my home environment I realised that I was actually able to function quite ‘normally’ and from that moment onwards I knew that I couldn’t return to the despair that I had been suffering at home. I was finally able to admit that I couldn’t conquer this debilitating illness on my own.
It was at this stage that I told my parents that I had a problem. They suggested that my wife and I, together with our chihuahua Mabel, should come and stay with them so that they could help me. At this stage none of us knew what help I needed and what help was available for me. All I knew was that I couldn’t go on as I was! I eventually plucked up the courage to go to the doctor and in January 2013 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety issues, put on medication by my GP and signed off work. Little did I know that it would be a year before I was deemed fit enough by my doctor and employer to return to work!
Due to the nature of my anxieties my GP thought that I should try a type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There were long waiting lists for NHS help so I looked online for private therapists and eventually I came across Marga whose clinical diagnosis was that I was suffering from moderate to severe OCD. Initially I saw her on a weekly basis, then fortnightly and, as I improved, on a monthly basis. As a fundamental part of my treatment, she set goals for me. This form of treatment is known as ‘exposure’ treatment in that you have to meet your fears head on. After a couple of weeks of just talking, I was set a series of small but, for me, important tasks until she asked me to face my worst fear. This was going back to my house because I associated it with bad memories and the first thing she asked me to do was to go and collect the post. This may seem such a small thing to do but, for me, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It took every ounce of courage and self-discipline I possessed but I did it! The date was 6 June 2013, a date that is etched in my memory. However, I was in for a nasty surprise when I opened some of the post. I discovered that I had missed 5 mortgage payments! Previously, something like this would have sent me into a state of anxiety and I wouldn’t have been able to function, but I took a deep breath, phoned the mortgage company and sorted it all out. I was on top of the world! I gradually started to go to my house more and more and it was obvious that the inside needed a lot of TLC. I had been so ill that I had not bothered to keep on top of the decorating. We were still living with my parents and they suggested that before we went home, I should get our house redecorated throughout so that Helen and I had a totally fresh start. It was the perfect opportunity as we could get this done whilst still living at my parents. This was the spur I needed. I knew it would take a long time, as a mental illness seems to sap all your energy and plenty of rest is needed to recharge the batteries.
At this moment in time, I haven’t been to see Marga for the last year or so as she helped me a lot and taught me coping strategies, which I use to this day. The sessions weren’t cheap but it was money well spent. I was able to afford to pay, with financial help from my parents but there are many others who are not so fortunate. I feel that the therapy I received from Marga was one of the most valuable aspects of my recovery and it is terrible to think that some people are not able to have this opportunity due to financial limitations.
As well as the mental health problems I had to deal with, I was also suffering from the physical effects associated with a hiatus hernia. I was awaiting surgery for this. The trouble was, I had put on a lot of weight due to the fact that I was comfort eating and not exercising and I knew that my consultant could not operate unless I lost at least 10 kilos prior to surgery. I had always been fit and in good shape as I had run competitively for a running club. I was Bristol and Avon cross country champion four years running and had represented Avon at national level on many occasions. I had run the Bristol half marathon 3 times and the London marathon once. Whatever had happened to me? Thinking about all this didn’t help my depression but I knew that if I let it get to me I was going to be in a worse place than I already was. The only way forward was to tackle the problem head on and now that I was receiving help I felt able to do this. I started a strict regime of diet and exercise and before I knew it the weight was falling off. This achievement helped to build my confidence and I realised that having something to focus on really helped to take my mind away from my anxieties.
I was given a date in November 2013 for my surgery and I’m glad to say that it was a success. By January 2014 I was well enough to return to work. The South Western Ambulance Trust was very good in that they supported me throughout my time off. They arranged a staged return to work and I was initially assigned a mentor to supervise me when out on jobs. Luckily, my anxieties had never been work related so it was great to get back to doing the job I had always loved and I felt that my life was finally getting back on track!
In-between my shifts, the re-decorating of my house was going well. I promised myself that I would have it all ready for our fourth wedding anniversary which was at the end of September. I achieved this by the skin of my teeth and on the day of our anniversary, Helen walked into our newly redecorated home. Her face was a picture, she couldn’t have been happier! We are now living there very happily and at last are leading the kind of life most people take for granted. I am still on medication and suffer from the occasional anxiety issues, but I now have coping mechanisms and the anxiety is short lived.
Finally, let me take you back to the beginning of my blog. You may be wondering why I want to challenge myself to run the Tensing Hilary Everest marathon. I have always had a fascination with this particular mountain and the first social outing I had at the beginning of my recovery was when my wife, Helen, took me to Stamford’s bookshop in the centre of Bristol to hear a talk about a new book that had been published. Huw Lewis-Jones and the now deceased legendary photographer George Lowe had collaborated to produce a book called The Conquest of Everest to celebrate the 60thanniversary of the first ascent. The talk was amazing and, unbeknown to me, Helen bought a copy and had it inscribed with the words “Keep climbing the mountain, the summit is in sight”. There and then I made the decision to try and follow my dream of seeing Mt Everest for myself.
After doing a lot of research, I came across the Tensing Hilary Everest Marathon. I knew this was for me! So here I am! I have given you a warts and all picture of how my life has been for the last couple of years or so. I need to do this to have closure on a very difficult time for my family and me. I want to raise as much money as I can so that I can say that some good has come out of the bad and give it to a charity that helps young people who are in the grip of this affliction that can destroy lives!
1 IN 4 PEOPLE IN THE UK WILL EXPERIENCE A MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM EACH YEAR. YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU OR SOMEONE CLOSE TO YOU MAY REQUIRE THE HELP AND SUPPORT NECESSARY TO RECOVER FROM THIS CONDITION.
PLEASE DONATE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. THANKYOU.