Mo MacKenzie: Shake It All About

Mo gives an insight into how physical exercise has helped with his mental health whilst working in a high pressure job.

person running through a wood

I am a trained medical professional, but that doesn’t stop me having mental health problems. Just because it is ‘our job’, that doesn’t give me an invisible protective armour for mental fitness. So to protect myself, I exercise. That doesn’t mean joining a gym, being in a group or paying money, but purely physically moving in my own world.

I have worked in the NHS since 1999 and every year my workload gets busier. But 3 years ago, I crashed mentally. I became a patient, which was the biggest stumbling block to get over for me personally. I have listened to many patients struggle with mental health issues and given the best advice I can with my professional head on, but I struggled to hear the advice.

My role in the NHS was as a paramedic, which I always dreamed of doing since childhood. Not many people do their dream job, so I am very lucky. Yes, I saw some wonderful sights and met some amazing people, but I also saw some things I never want to see or experience again. So why do I hang onto the negative outcome ‘incidents’ and not the times everything went well and a life was saved. This is still something I struggle with. I currently no longer fulfil this role of a paramedic but will always have the memories.

So what happened? The answer I have found is that I stopped moving, physically and mentally. I used to run and cycle a lot to deal with my stressful workload.  It was my time to empty my head into the fresh air. I relaxed mentally and would go on a journey whilst out running/cycling, no route in mind just a time-frame of effort. When I had finished my effort, I would have the immense feeling of a light head space. This feeling would last for as long as I was in control of the event. But like most working professional people, my daily workload is never really under my control. So I started not exercising as much, due to my work conscience overriding my personal needs. This lead to my mental fitness stopping as well, which I didn’t realise at the time.

But I do now.

I feel you need time for yourself, and moving or exercising is, I feel, the best way. Do what you want to do, run/walk/cycling/climb/dance/garden/build. Just make sure you can escape. I have run marathons and cycled hundreds of miles, and I remember all the positive feelings it brings. So replacing the negative work stress or failures and focusing on the positive exercise-induced feelings is what I need to do. The feeling of being on your own, mentally, yet in the security of being close to civilisation is an awesome feeling. Being up high in the Peak District, but being able to see Sheffield, or seeing part of Sheffield you know from a different angle, is truly an uplifting mental thought.

You don’t need to be physically fit to be mentally fit, nobody can see into your mind, so don’t let them deter you from enjoying physical movement. But you do need to be mentally fit to cope with mental health issues, so get out and relax, and enjoy your surroundings either on foot, on a bike or on a mountainside.

Get out.

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