Small steps, giant leaps, and extraordinary challenges
by Matt Coot
In 1961, John F Kennedy spoke of an “extraordinary challenge” to land man on the Moon within a decade. Before this, mankind had only made it as far as the orbit of the Earth. But, on 25th May 1961, the President of the United States declared that within ten years, we wouldn’t just go as far as the orbit of our planet, but would put human beings onto the Moon. It was indeed an “extraordinary challenge.”
This blog post isn’t about space or the moon landing. It isn’t about the geopolitical landscape of the Cold War and the Space Race. It isn’t about John F Kennedy, nor is it about Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. It is, however, about the extraordinary challenge that I have been facing in recent weeks.
I’ve been struggling. My mental health has taken another nosedive and I’ve been struggling with everything. I’m not exaggerating, I have struggled with every single small simple task or every large complicated task. One of these struggles has been the difficulty of leaving my house.
There is a medical term for this type of anxiety disorder, known as agoraphobia. To me, this term isn’t quite how I would describe what I’ve been going through. To me, it isn’t an avoidance strategy or coping mechanism to avoid places where I would panic or feel trapped. There is no conscious decision not to leave the house. It isn’t a decision to avoid places, it is rather a subconscious need to keep myself isolated from everything and everyone.
I was once involved with a student film crew during my university studies and we produced a short film about a character who suffered from agoraphobia. At that time, I did some in-depth research into the subject matter. It is a debilitating condition and I hope that anyone reading this who has the disorder, or knows someone with the disorder, will forgive me for using the term as a way to explain my current state of mind.
Today, I decided that I had had enough of letting people down and I have had enough of lying around in my pyjamas with poor hygiene and not doing anything apart from watching Scandinavian television dramas. I was lying in my bed in the afternoon and I was struggling with the realisation that this was the seventh day without leaving the house. I knew that if I didn’t do anything about that, then I would continue in this pattern and not leave the house for a very long time. It was then that I decided to set myself my very own extraordinary challenge.
I had to leave the house. There, I thought it, I set myself the challenge and I was going to do it. I had let down a friend earlier in the day and I was feeling guilty about it. This wasn’t the first time. But now, I was going to do something about it. So, I washed and got dressed. I put on my shoes and I told my parents, who I am currently living with, that I was going for a walk.
“But it’s raining,’ my mother said, looking out the window at the heavy downpour of rain. She was right, it was indeed raining and I couldn’t see across the Forder valley towards Trematon Castle. The castle, that I can usually see from my living room window, was shielded by a wall of rain. Did I really want to go out in this weather? Yes, yes I did.
I left the house. I went for a really long walk. Forty-five minutes later, after over three thousand steps (so said my activity tracker), I realised that I had no energy left and I was starting to panic about being in public. I sent a text to my chauffeur (read: my dad) to pick me up. I felt like I had failed.
Hang on a minute… failure? Because I had to ask for help? Well that’s ridiculous. You see I got into the car, soaking wet and shivering, and my dad turned to me with a smile on his face.
‘Well done,’ he said. ‘That was a great achievement.”
It was this, the praise from my father that broke through the self-criticism and self-doubt. He was right, it was a great achievement.
At the start of this post, I was talking about the extraordinary challenge that JFK set for landing man on the Moon within a decade. Eight years after his speech, a human being placed his foot onto the surface of the Moon.
Neil Armstrong said “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. That small step from the ladder to the surface of the moon was a simple step. It was just one small step, but it was something that meant a whole lot more to the entire human race.
Using Neil Armstrong’s phrase, I want to say that today I took “one small step for a man” but to me, it was a giant leap. Stepping outside my house might seem simple to most people, but to me it was one of the most difficult challenges that I have faced. Forty-five minutes of walking around town was an extraordinary challenge for me. I am proud that I have achieved this small, extraordinary challenge.
My message to you:
If you are struggling with any form of mental health issue, or you are close to someone who does, I want to say:
- You are not alone;
- There is no shame in asking for help;
- Take a small step and remember to count each small step you take, because each one is a massive achievement.