Duncan Whyte – Ambassador Blog 1Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a rather big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabulous fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on
that couch watching mind-numbing sprit-crushing game shows, stuffing plastic junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, wasting your last in a miserable home nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, messed-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life…. But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else.
The immortal words of Edinburgh’s very own down and out poet Mark Renton in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. It is both aspirational yet empty, safe but frightening and an attritional social commentary on the spiritual pitfalls of western consumer capitalism. It doesn’t fail to strike a chord within me and is a monologue which only resonates with greater efficacy 23 years later.
In the year of the films release, I was a 14 year old schoolboy, desperately wanting to fit in and hopelessly failing, longing for my days in the Scottish education system to cough me up so I could reset, start again, find my way, find myself. For as long as I can remember, I have always been painfully shy. I remember regularly going into a local sweet shop with my younger sister who very eloquently conversed with the shopkeep with lyrical ease to create her bespoke 10p mix whereas I pointed and nodded awkwardly in order to fill those small white paper bags that only seem to be the packaging of choice for such confectionary conveyers. As puberty took its grip, I further withdrew into the safety of my shell and the concept of just being able to make it to adulthood was a defined goal. Then everything would be ok. A job, big television, friendship, family, kids…. This seemed like a pretty satisfactory objective for a young man who was the only male in a single parent household in the last throws of conservative Thatcherism to aspire to.
I did well at school and left with a suite of qualifications that left me in the very fortunate position to be able to go to University. I was lucky to be learning about something I was passionate about and there were a range of experiences such as flat shares and part time employment that supported me to integrate into society through the things I had learned, realisations that I had had and through some great people I met. I developed some coping strategies to manage social situations with less shame and embarrassment and to all ends was making my way in the world, if a little ungainly. I even had the electric tin opener and CD player to prove it.
Upon finishing my higher education, I had moved through a few relationships, meandered from job to job and got a bit lost. It was time for a new path, a new city, a fresh start. It was here I found my vocation, met the woman who would become my wife and is what I consider to be one of those sliding doors moments of my life. I embarked on a career, started paying into a pension, took out a mortgage, got married, and went on holidays although sadly I have never owned a shell suit to match my suitcases. This is definitely still a life goal. Over the years I had found a range of ways to get by, to overcome the introversion, nervousness, shyness and inhibition. Some healthy, some not so much. It took being confronted about this by my partner that Ied me to first seek help. I rang the GP and made an appointment. I wasn’t sure if I would actually go or not but I did. It was hard. We talked things over. It was then I discovered that I suffer from anxiety. Something that everyone experiences from time to time and is a natural and necessary part of the human condition but what for some people can be chronic and life affecting. What I had mistaken for shyness or social ineptitude was actually a disorder that explained many things. Regular feelings of unease, overanalysing trivial events, playing over and over worst case scenarios in my head in the lead up to future occurring’s in my life, feeling restless, trouble sleeping and an underlying sense of panic. With medical help I accessed a range of different support strategies including cognitive behavioural therapy (wasn’t for me), medication (made me feel worse) and face to face counselling (useful but limited to a finite number of sessions due to strains on our NHS). However, like Ewan MacGregors character in the film, I chose something else. I chose running.
I had always been a very active individual. I dabbled with running a little at University as a means to stay trim as my student diet threatened to catch up with me. I enjoyed it as it gave me a sense of purpose, provided an ideal excuse for further procrastination from my studies. This however was without a soundtrack as CD players were feckless to run with (even with the latest shock protection technology of the time) and MP3 was yet to revolutionise how we all listen to music. So I returned to running again in my early thirties. Mental health whilst still having an aura of stigma associated with it is certainly not the taboo subject it once was and much great work has been done to break down barriers in relation to this. Mental health is a topic I talk about a lot in my work and which as a result I have learned a lot about and I have grown to understand myself, my condition and how to manage this more effectively. Upon lots of reading up on the positive impact of physical activity on mental wellbeing, and on taking advice from the health services I had been supported by, I decided to get myself a pair of trainers and go for a run again.
I run most evenings and find this to be a cathartic way to wind down after a busy day. I can mull over the day that has been and the one that lies ahead in a fixed time period that allows me to free up my mind at other times to focus on the things that matter, my family. Running helps me be a better dad, husband, friend and colleague. I don’t always find running easy and motivating myself can be a challenge at times. However, I invariably feel better after having stretched my legs, body and mind and the sense of release and satisfaction post run always rewards in ways that I found other pursuits don’t. I like to enter organised events as they give me a target, something to aim for, a purpose to it all and undertaking mass participation events gives me a genuine buzz. I enjoy running shoulder to shoulder with other runners each with their own reasons for running and I have found there to be real solace and a sense of community amongst those who beat the street. I have found runners come in all shapes and sizes, every age, gender and cultural demographic are represented and from all diverse walks of life. The running community excludes no one and embodies a set of values that I have found provide a sense of belonging which sometimes sadly rarely exists in other facets of modern day living. I have medals to reflect my participation in 5k’s, 10k’s and this year at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, I completed my first half marathon.
I am taking part in the Men’s 10k in Edinburgh this year because of my love for the city and my passion for supporting Men’s health and in particular male mental wellbeing. My grandparents live in Granton, not too far from Renton et al. in Trainspotting and I spent many a school holiday exploring the city’s streets. They are wonderful people and I visit them with my own children regularly. Furthermore, through my own experiences and through my work I have come to learn that men are less likely to talk about their mental health and men are less likely to access support than their female counterparts. Suicide is the leading cause of death in males under the age of 49 in Scotland and events such as the Men’s 10k can put the spotlight on such issues and demand a wider open dialogue about how such statistics can be turned around. I feel honoured to be chosen to be an ambassador for the Men’s 10k in Edinburgh 2019 and hope to see many of you reading this at the start line on November the 3rd on the Royal Mile.
In my next blog, I will reveal the charity that I will be running for in the event, what motivates me to run and keep running and what I have been upto in order to get myself ready for race day.Inspired? Watch, read and enjoy more content from our fantastic crop of 2019 Edinburgh Ambassadors at mens10k.com/edinburgh-ambassadors. If you’ve not yet taken the leap, secure your spot on a Men’s 10K start line this year at mens10k.com/mydetails.