Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fire Walk with Me | Putting my best foot forward for mental health

I apologise in advance – this post has almost nothing archaeological to it. However, I’d be very grateful if you would read it and consider sponsoring me in this charity endeavour.

How I'm afraid it'll go!
I have a very distinct memory, from when I was a very young child, of seeing a fire walker on TV. Even though the presenter explained the physics involved – that the feet aren’t in contact with the coals for any significant time, certainly not enough to induce a burn – it left an indelible image on my subconscious. Since that time - and despite all scientific evidence to the contrary - the concept of fire walking has, to me, been imbued with layers of romanticism and mystique. It has become synonymous with feats of bravery and exoticism … and … I suppose, with the passing years it has become fossilised in my mind as something that happens to Other People. Adventurous folk. Certainly not to me.

That’s probably where that one would have stayed – another entry in a catalogue of weird experiences that I might like to try, but certainly wouldn’t be seeking out anytime soon.

Then two things happened.

Firstly, I read Stuart Rathbone’s fantastic paper on, among other things, the issue of mental health in commercial field archaeology. The four and a half inch pointing trowel ... and the damage done is an immensely important piece, not least for being the first of its kind to openly discuss these issues for an Irish audience. Since it was published in September it has already had over 5300 views. The fact that the people reading this are from all across the globe, Ireland, the UK, the US, Europe, Asia, Australia, argues that it is of much wider significance and interest than a purely ‘local’ story. So much of it rings true to my own experience in commercial field archaeology on this island. It got me thinking about mental health issues not just in archaeology, but in the wider community.

Secondly, an email went about my place of work asking for volunteers to do a charity fire walk. I gave it a glance, thought briefly about it – and deleted it. True, it had immediately reignited (excuse the pun!) my childhood memories of dashing and quasi-mystical deeds, but I concluded that it wasn't really 'my thing'. I realise now that even though the email had been deleted, I was still thinking about it. It kept nagging at me that this was something good, something I should consider more seriously. I eventually rescued the email from the recycle bin and thought some more. It was only when discussing the topic in a team meeting I that admitted that I was 'thinking' about it, that the proposition took on a more concrete aspect for me. The simple act of saying it out loud galvanised my resolve. After that things moved pretty fast - by the end of the day, I'd replied to the email and volunteered. Within 48 hours I received an email thanking me for what I was going to do.

The purpose of this fire walk is to raise money for and awareness of the PIPS charity. Rather than attempting to paraphrase their role and mission, I’ll let them speak for themselves.:

[PIPS provide] Support services for people in suicidal crisis and those impacted by suicide including specialised support for young people bereaved through suicide and care services to help people engage successfully with long term mental health care.  We also have a bereaved families group which is a self help group for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
How it'll probably go! (I hope!) Source.

Taking part in this fire walk will support the PIPS charity and provide training for people in identifying and helping people in crisis. I realise all too well that it is often impossible to identify those most at risk until it is too late. At the very least it will play a role in the wider socialisation of the discussion about mental health and provide a means by which we can discuss suicide and related subjects that are still, if not taboo, then uncomfortable for many people.

But here’s the thing … I’ve been trying to convince myself that I will be doing good. I’ve tried to tell myself that I’ll be partaking in a rite of passage that stretches back to Iron Age India (c. 1200 BC). I’ve tried convincing myself that the physics is good and that it won’t burn my feet off (I’m short enough as it is!). I’ve also attempted to console myself that there is a powerful psychological boost waiting for me once I complete this. Right now (October 6th) I’m lightly terrified.

But I’m still going to do it.

If the thought of an overweight, middle-aged, recovering archaeologist facing his fears of being immolated in a flash of combusting leg hair, while trying to raise some cash for a deserving charity, isn’t enough to move you – I promise to post photographs of the event if I meet my target.

I’ve set myself the target of raising £500 for this cause and I would be immensely grateful if anyone reading this post would, please, donate even only a pound or two. It’s all due to happen on the evening of the November 7th at Queen’s University Belfast. I’ve set up a secure Just Giving account that you can donate to, if you wish – just click on the button at the end of this post!

Thank you!

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

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