Guest Blog by Dan Lloyd, SVP, Operations

I embarked on this year-long, alcohol-free journey in order to raise awareness for mental health, inspired by the important work carried out within the Diversity Foundation. Whilst the experience so far has been mixed, interesting and thought-provoking, I’ve reached a point now where I want to begin to focus on my own mental health.

This is the longest that I’ve stared at the screen thinking about how to approach a blog post. While I want to write honestly and openly about what this means, it’s an unnerving step to talk about one’s own mental health. It makes me feel much more vulnerable than I’d anticipated!

Thanks to Covid, it’s been two years since I’ve been home to see my family. I’m conscious that honesty about my own emotions is crucial to finding the right balance for successfully navigating difficult times like these.

This past year, I have dealt with an increasing amount of anxiety; the fear of distance away from loved ones took hold and I really felt the miles between us. If I were to describe simply what was at the root of this anxiety, it was the question of ‘what if’ – what if this happened, or what if that happened?

I felt terribly guilty for moving away from my home, friends and family, but acceptance of this fact is key. Friends and family didn’t want me to move (well, I hope that was the case!), and I was absolutely going to feel guilty about that at some stage. Guilt is something that every adult experiences at some point in their life – we feel guilty about how we spend our time, our money, how often we call home or spend time with our loved ones, whether we’re ‘good’ friends or partners, whether we eat the right food, whether we drink too much (tick)… the list goes on and on. The thing is, we can’t let guilt get in the way of all those other decisions (I feel guilty about sniffing a chocolate bar and then eating a piece of broccoli when on a diet, but I still do it!), so why should this decision be any different?

I have learnt that we have to take time to understand why we feel a certain way, and it’s crucial to communicate this. My line manager recently made an excellent point by asking ‘how are you?’. Of course, the instant response is ‘I’m fine’, but he pushed and asked how I really felt. We have to normalise and remove the stigma attached to mental health and be free to say, well, today, I’m not ok…

A year into my move to the U.S., I contracted Covid. I was very poorly for nearly four months and at one point, I was genuinely worried that I might not make it. It was unusual for me to think this way. Why? Because nine years ago, I faced cancer and embarked on BEP treatment, otherwise known as ‘last resort chemo’. That’s a story for another time but needless to say, I beat cancer. The journey was rough on all aspects of my life, but not once did I give up or feel unable to fight. Covid, however, unexpectedly brought out some new, difficult feelings.

My experience during the pandemic challenged me to take a look at my own mental wellbeing and find out what works for me.

There are endless ways to focus on mental health and by truly understanding this, you can begin to explore the many options available to you. For me, humour works, but I will say that my humour is genuinely not masking how I feel – I honestly feel that I am a very funny guy 😊. The British in me functions with an unusually high degree of sarcasm, and I like to exercise that regularly.

To sum up, this year has taught me that I need to undergo a mental health MOT – to continuously care for myself and grow by approaching my own mental wellness with an open mind and, above all, making an honest evaluation.

It has taken me over a week to complete this blog, as I’ve had to keep coming back to it in order to document exactly what it is I want to say. This blog has been a stark reminder as to why I am doing this.

Now, I’d really like to hear from you! I would love to try out some of your suggestions for managing your own mental health and what helps to promote a healthy headspace. Over the next few months, I will put your suggestions to the test and keep you updated on my progress. Please do feel free to email me at [email protected].

If you’d like to support Dan in his challenge and make a donation, no matter how big or small, head to his JustGiving page.