Of Mountains and Minds is a podcast sharing stories from those who have been through a life-changing endurance event, transition or challenge. It shines a light on exeriences that might inspire or help others planning a change or just dealing with the highs and lows of being human. In our British culture, sometimes we struggle to talk openly about the things that matter and connect us to others. This is an experiment to test the appetite for more conversations about everything from finding motivation and the realities of big adventures to mental health, unconventional career changes, parenthood, grief and loss.
A conversation with Jennie Agg
1:30:00In this special bonus episode you can meet Jennie Agg. A talented writer, journalist and blogger, Jennie works primarily in women’s health, expertly informed by her own personal experiences. She has been through a torrent of loss in the past five years. Since enduring a miscarriage four years ago, just days before her 12-week scan, she has suffered three more devastating pregnancy losses. She had repeated reassurances that nothing was wrong and struggled to understand the why of it all. Jennie is a powerhouse of knowledge on recurrent miscarriage, and shares her honest perspectives, growth and struggles through her stunning blog, The Uterus Monologues. She also shines a light on the experiences of other women with their own miscarriage stories by curating guest monologues. As we recorded, in the depths of Covid-19 lockdown, Jennie was eight months pregnant with her fifth pregnancy and excitingly I can report that she gave birth to a beautiful little baby boy, Edward, in July. Both mama and son are thriving and healthy. Congratulations Jennie! We talk about everything from the lack of open conversation about trying to conceive and the isolation that can result, to the unintended consequences and fallout of people’s reactions to miscarriage. Thanks to Jennie to opening up about the detail of recurrent pregnancy loss, which is just the tip of the iceberg in her writing and awareness-raising, shifting us towards a more supportive, stigma-free culture.
A conversation with Jo Love
52:04Meet Jo Love this week, for the final episode in series seven. Jo is determined to shine more light on the all too common yet devastating challenge of post-natal depression, and advocates for more support for mothers going through it, as well as other still-stigmatised mental health conditions. Jo is an award-winning mental health campaigner, writer and speaker, standing up for the whole spectrum of mental illness that so many women struggle with through the major phases of life, especially motherhood. A former laywer, Jo worked in London for many years, living life at a whirlwind pace and slowly becoming affected by the aggression and stress in modern lifestyles. Jo has suffered with depression and OCD since she was young, and when she became a mother five years ago her mental health began to crumble dangerously, to the point she felt suicidal and began making plans to end her life. Jo tells us about how her OCD manifested, through dermitilomania, obsessive checking and compulsive, intrusive thoughts. A highly distressing and debilitating cocktail of conditions. With searing honesty, she shares what the darkest days of her post-natal depression were like, and what it took to start the road of recovery – which is far from linear and is a lifetime mission. We also explore the power of dismantling core beliefs stemming from childhood; the sanitisation of mental health and experiences that are still stigmatised and misunderstood; the loss of self that can manifest through motherhood; and recovering from the trappings of perfectionism.
A conversation with Kevin Woods
1:06:57Kevin Woods is no stranger to the hills and mountains. He’s fresh back from covering all 282 Munros in just 97 days, straight through the Scottish winter and as the Covid crisis spread like wildfire across the world. This was his fourth round of Munros, and he’s not yet 30. (If you’re not from these parts, Munros are mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet high, some situated in deeply remote terrain). Kevin is a winter mountain leader and a true man of the mountains. He’s also a talented filmmaker and musician, and guides folk around mountain routes across Scotland when he’s not pursuing his own hardy ambitions in the hills. He’s an all-round open guy, his climbing led by a true and authentic love of these mountain environments rather than an ego-led pursuit of records. When we spoke, he was already planning his return to the hills after lockdown, just a few months after completing his fourth round. We got into a deep dive on what his intense three months in the mountains was like – the suffering, the joys, the solitude and the daily stresses and questioning as Covid hit. Kevin also gives his insight into the planning and logistics of a non-stop winter round; the brutality of the north west highland storms he fought through; the days he feared might be dealbreakers; his start in mountain leading; and his attitude to risk-taking and safety. Watch this space for the film Kevin is producing about his winter adventure!
A conversation with Angela Samata
1:08:18Angela Samata became a widow at 32, after her partner Mark died by suicide. There were no warning signs that he was depressed or suicidal. After talking to him on the phone, Angela arrived home just 15 minutes later, opening the door to find he had taken his life. They were 15 minutes that turned Angela’s life upside down, and the life of their two young kids, transforming them into a family that had gone through one of the most seismic, extraordinary experiences. Having been the one to find Mark, Angela was also thrown immediately into a new lived experience with shock and trauma at its core. Since then, Angela has produced a sensational documentary with the BBC on suicide, meeting communities of people affected by suicide. She’s also developed a vital training programme to support learning on suicide prevention; a short 20-minute guide on what to do if someone you know is feeling suicidal. All in the show notes on ofmountainsandminds.com. Please watch, share and pass on to whoever you can, especially those supporting people with depression or other mental illness. Angela is infectiously passionate about many things. She’s a mental health campaigner, sharing her reality of suicide with the media, various committees and NGOs to bring about change. She’s also immersed in the art world, working with galleries such as Tate Liverpool. As if this wasn’t enough, she’s a star sourdough baker, check out her amazing creations on Instagram! As well as her own very personal experience of grief, trauma and learning, we got into a deep dive on the practice of quality listening; the learning that emerged from filming her BBC documentary; supporting children and young people to express their grief; and the need for more action and change around the issue of female suicide.
A conversation with Freddie Bennett
1:26:22Welcome to a conversation with truthteller, adventure seeker, ultra runner, Ironman athlete and Dad Freddie Bennett. We got together for this chat in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. A time when Freddie was home teaching his kids, working and supporting his wife (a doctor). So thank you Freddie and family for giving up 90 minutes. This is a conversation about what can take root in the mind as a result of stress as a child and the legacy it can leave inside as an adult. Freddie was born with severe asthma and regularly rushed to intensive care. He was protected in a bubble and felt apart from his classmates. At home, life was often fraught with conflict, heavy drinking, discontent and a sense of instability; Freddie often felt the storm cloud of arguments brewing, before chaos ensued. Here, he openly shares a frank insight into his younger years, and how the legacy of stress tracked into his early career, where he sought stability and money to escape the chaos of childhood. But through his years in management consulting he was gripped by imposter syndrome, feeling constantly like a fish out of water, gasping for breath and belonging. He realised he had one talent – drinking. Freddie doused his insecurities in alcohol, drinking to feel part of the team. He became known as a legend and felt a belonging. Yet internally, “fun time Freddie” became crippled with anxiety and paranoia, which he buried deep within himself. A pattern of life that led to dates with deep depression and contemplation of suicide. Freddie also tells us about the reality of his life in lockdown; what his rock bottoms looked like; the difficulties of asking for mental health help the second, third and fourth time round; the transformation in his life from giving up alcohol; and his 2021 endurance plans. Thank you Freddie for teaching us about your life.
A conversation with Dave Chawner
1:32:18Let me introduce you to Dave Chawner. Dave is a legend in my eyes after our conversation. He’s a best selling author (Weight Expectations: One Man’s Recovery from Anorexia), award winning comic and mental health campaigner, who manages to bring upbeat vibes and humour into conversations about serious life challenges. We got together (remotely) deep in the COVID-19 lockdown to talk grief, mental wellbeing, eating disorders, recovery and writing. Dave shared a little about the life experiences that have shaped his mindset today. In his late teens he fell into the grips of anorexia, although it took many more years to accept support and acknowledge he was ill. It was fascinating to hear his refreshing perspectives on discovering actionable new coping mechanisms, long-term recovery and a heap more. He’s truly a shining light when talking about such serious issues, championing brutal honesty, real talk and empowerment in recovery. We also explored the culture of congratulation on weight loss and appearance in our western world, the surprising gifts taking root after an eating disorder and the guilt that can accompany them, and the painful process of writing his book. This guy is supremely funny and warm and I’d recommend you all to go check his writing and comedy out through the show notes on ofmountainsandminds.com.
A conversation with John Drake
1:16:49In this week’s episode we are talking grief, trauma, terrifying experiences in the Sri Lankan jungle, PTSD, life in conflict zones and the unusual experience of lockdown on a small island. Meet my friend John Drake. We went to school together on the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland; hung out as unsure teens. John is a wonder; one of the most intelligent people I know, and also kind, empathetic and self-deprecating, with a wicked sense of humour. Since we left school, John has lived a lot of life. After studying Politics and Arabic, he settled in London working with ex-SAS guys and intelligence analysts, before becoming a Head of Intelligence. He travelled from conflict zone to conflict zone, and spent extended periods of time in locked-down countries such as Iraq. During his university years, he spent time in the Sri Lankan jungle during the civil war, where he was attacked by an aggressive elephant that had killed six villagers, a sad result of human communities encroaching on wildlife habitat. John developed PTSD after this terrifying experience, a legacy that would stay with him for years. Then, five years ago, John lost his Dad suddenly and traumatically and was thrown into a new normal, grief characterising his every day, coupled with a resurgence of PTSD. We got into a conversation on grief and life that felt more like a chat over coffee than a recorded podcast. John shared his perspectives, with a good slice of humour thrown in, about everything from lockdown life, martini-making and sea baths on a small island to the trauma of his Dad's death and the immeasurable importance of talking therapies and CBT. Please share with others in your world.
A conversation with Rachel Kelly
1:04:31In this episode you get to meet Rachel Kelly. Rachel has a boat load of experience in depression and finding her way out through multiple strategies, from good nutrition and "mood food" to writing, poetry and breathing practice. She is a bestselling author of four books, a public speaker and a mental health campaigner, working with charities such as Rethink Mental Illness and SANE. Rachel has developed a vast knowledge of the science of depression and mental illness, from the role of our neuro transmitters to the powerful mind-body connection. She shares her unique and hard-fought methods for staying calm and mentally well as we talk about life during lockdown and what it’s meant for her. We travel back to 1997, when Rachel was knee-deep in a high-stress job in the newsroom of The Times, working all hours on deadline after deadline to please editors. We hear about her sudden depressive break, during which she felt so unwell that suicidal feelings crept into her mind and she was left screaming in pain. In the 90s, depression was a misunderstood stigma, and Rachel tells us what speaking up and accessing help was like, as well as the self-care strategies she has devised over the years to help manage stresses and triggers. Rachel is a bright light of knowledge and sound, actionable advice for those working on staying mentally well. Her latest book ‘Singing in the Rain: An inspirational workbook’ could not be more relevant to the time of global crisis we're living through - go check it out.
A conversation with Chris Bombardier
1:03:06Welcome to a conversation with the incredible Chris Bombardier. Chris was born with a severe form of haemophilia, one of a variety of bleeding disorders affecting people around the world. Growing up in the back garden of the mountains, in the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, Chris did not let his condition hold him back from his passions. From a young age he played baseball and threw himself into skiing, ski mountaineering, rock climbing and mountaineering. Yet being born in a developed country with access to good healthcare doesn’t mean it's been an easy ride. Staying healthy involves a constant onslaught of infusions and regular bleeds, sometimes involving hospitalisation and always involving pain. Chris also has a needle phobia, which adds another layer of struggle when it comes to his treatment needs. Through the years he’s battled with depression which is rooted in feeling different from others, and meeting other communities of people living with bleeding disorders has helped him move past this. Inspirationally, Chris took his love of mountaineering to new heights, quite literally, when he decided to climb all Seven Summits, starting with Kilimanjaro in 2011 and culminating in a gruelling expedition to the roof of the world, Everest, in 2019. Driving his achievements in the mountains is the singular hope to raise more awareness for others around the world who were not so fortunate in the postcode lottery; those born with bleeding disorders in countries like India and Nepal, who face the fate of misdiagnosis, disability or death due to a lack of essential healthcare and medication. Chris tells us about the impacts of haemophilia on his life and mental health; the medical care required; his love for the outdoors and self-sufficiency; the challenges developing countries face in treatment for bleeding disorders; the greatest difficulties and joys of the Seven Summits; and how haemophilia actually helps him in the mountains. We also talk about the work of his Foundation, Save One Life, in developing countries, and what it's been like to be in a spotlight of profile from time to time. Thank you Chris for helping us learn about this. Please watch out later in 2020 for his Everest documentary, Bombardier Blood.
A conversation with Rebecca Rusch
1:12:10Meet Rebecca Rusch. Someone who has used her own life experiences to drive positive change in the world. Rebecca lives in a beautiful mountain town in Idaho. The outdoor world is her church. A multiple world champion and master of many sports, from mountain biking to white-water rafting, adventure racing and climbing, Rebecca was crowned the Queen of Pain by Adventure Sports magazine and was also in Outside Magazine's top 20 female athletes. Put simply, she’s a pro at suffering. Yet Rebecca is also a human being who, like all of us, struggles to get out the door for a ride or run some days. She puts herself out there in brutally tough races, and faces up to challenges and dilemmas shared by endurance athletes, whether its navigation or fighting through adverse weather. Her “why” is not to win at all costs, but a much deeper exploration of self and connection. Rebecca is a writer of beautiful stories about her lived experience; including through her memoir, Rusch to Glory, and a brilliant TEDx talk. Last year, she launched an award-winning documentary film called Blood Road, which follows her 1,200 mile journey deep into the jungles of Vietnam and Laos, along a trail littered with unexploded bombs, to find the spot where her father was shot down in the Vietnam War. Our conversation covers goal-setting during Covid-19 lockdown, self-compassion in racing, Rebecca's pre-lockdown experience at the Iditarod Trail Invitational, her evolving relationship with suffering, those life-changing days on the Ho Chi Minh trail, grief and finding new purpose from her father's death, through her Foundation.