Nick Bolding’s story

Nick is our third club member to share his experiences for #not2TUFF2talk. And what a story he has to tell. Read Nick’s account in full and find out why appearing to be strong isn’t necessarily the same as being strong, what it is like to come out with an autism spectrum disorder (or as Nick puts it neuro-atypical) and why its good that Tuffs are LMPs. Nick this is absolutely brilliant. Thank you. #not2TUFF2talk

Fact file

Name: Nick Bolding

Date joined: August 2017

Swim, bike or run? Run. 

Currently training for: Nothing specific.

First ever Tuff session: Wednesday night track session 9th August 2017.

What made you take the plunge and join? I’d got bored of ‘just running’, had done 3 sprint distance Triathlons and figured joining a club was the best way to improve my performance. 

Tell us about your mental health journey

Crikey! Where do I start? How much do I share? I guess a ‘potted history’ for context, then more detail about recent events?

Here goes…

Parents divorced when I was 11, I was bullied at school for being ‘chubby’, clever and a little ‘odd’. Mum married a bully (mental rather than physical) so my teenage years were (with hindsight) tough. Had a few close friends at college but lost touch when I went to University and never really ‘fitted in’.

Post Uni I worked a few different jobs but something was always a bit ‘off’… I ‘talked posh’ or ‘didn’t show the right amount of concern’ over an upcoming busy period – on the other hand I was very good at spotting ways to improve processes, had an eye for detail and was extremely diligent.

I ‘coped’ but never ‘thrived’ until I found myself in a Business Analyst role, where all my strengths were amplified and my weaknesses seen as fairly standard ‘quirks’ of ‘IT guys’…

Fast-forward a couple of decades and things got a bit ‘wobbly’:

  • 2010 my Dad was riding his motorbike and had a head-on collision with a lorry, leaving him with life-changing injuries
  • 2012 my wife was suffering from pulsatile tinnitus which was eventually diagnosed as being caused by a glomus jugular tumour. Cue 10 hours of surgery that left her permanently deaf in one ear and with lasting facial paralysis even after 2 years of intensive rehab
  • On the same day my wife was ‘under the knife’ my brother’s girlfriend was having the first of her spinal reconstruction surgeries (also 10 hours) – she and my brother needed support post-op, more than me and my wife, so that’s where Mum & Dad focussed their attention

(…pick up the pace Nick…)

Ok, more surgery for my wife, Dad has another bike accident – fell off when his ‘bad’ leg gave way whilst stopped and he fell on his ‘bad’ arm, breaking it (again) and bending the metalwork in it, my grandfather dies after a long fight with cancer, my aunt is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, brother’s girlfriend’s vertebrae crumbles due to the surgery and undiagnosed osteoporosis, another massive spinal reconstruction, wife starts having heart palpitations and is diagnosed with an ectopic heartbeat… there’s probably more, but I’m boring myself with this tale of woe!

What’s the point of all this? How does this relate to my ‘mental health journey’?

Good questions…

I guess the answer is that through all of this (and more), I was ‘the strong one’, I was ‘the rock’, I was the one who went to the scene of the accident and took photos to form part of the court case. I was the one who read the medical reports and asked probing questions. I was the one who made sure the nurse didn’t put drugs into a vein when they should be going up the nose and into the stomach. I didn’t cry. I was always ‘OK’… I was always the one about who people said “I don’t know how you cope with it all so well…”

Except I wasn’t.

Not really, I was just running up emotional debts that I tried to pay off with physical exertion. I started running just after my wife’s tumour diagnosis and ran my first sub-20 5k doing laps around the square near the hospital in London where she had her surgery.

But 5k soon wasn’t enough, I ran a marathon in 2014 to raise money for Facial Palsy UK, then another in 2015 (for myself) and another in 2016. It had got to the stage where I HAD to run just to try to stay on an ‘even keel’.

But I was just barely functioning, I got ‘called into the office’ at work, my personal relationships suffered. I was trying so hard, but still felt I was failing…

In the background to all this for a number of years there had been a recurring theme – comparisons to Sheldon Cooper in ‘The Big Bang Theory’, identifying with Christopher Boone in ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-time’ or Sam Gardner in ‘Atypical’ etc. etc.

Eventually I saw my GP, the result of which was a referral for an assessment for Autistic Spectrum Disorder… but that would take a minimum of 20 months to come through – I couldn’t wait that long, I was reaching a crisis point.

So at the beginning of this year I ‘went private’ and, to cut a long story short (I can hear the sighs of relief!) I was diagnosed as meeting the criteria for an ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder with low support needs’, formerly known as ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ (until it got ‘absorbed into the spectrum’).

An awful lot of things started making a lot more sense when viewed through the lens of ASD.

Six months on and things have improved, ‘coming out’ as autistic (though I prefer to think of myself as ‘neuro-atypical’ as it feels like it fits my lifelong sense of being ‘different from everyone else’) has been kind of a roller-coaster, a lot of people weren’t surprised, a few people seem to think it’s an ‘excuse’ not to try to tackle things I’ve struggled with.

I’m still on my mental health journey, but I now have a better idea of what my path to ‘good mental health’ might be. I can spot the ‘dead-ends’ and recognise which parts of the route I may find harder than others. A lot of things are still hard, but important areas have improved – relationships at home and work being the main ones. I’m learning to ‘be strong for myself’ but also to understand that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness and that while revealing vulnerability is scary, the rewards are worth the risk.

How does being part of Tuff Fitty help?

The physical exercise is a massive help – anyone who’s seen my recent post on Facebook will know how important the Wednesday track nights are for me.

In addition, the opportunity to socialise in a way that’s quite controlled is beneficial to me. It might sound odd, but the fact that there are ‘limited’ periods of chatting before/after the training (usually with the same people), plus it’s easy to stick to ‘safe’ subjects e.g. “How was your last race?”, “What races have you got coming up?” etc. greatly reduces the anxiety I often feel when interacting with people.

Finally, Tuffs are ‘LMP’ – Like Minded People, I feel I have more in common with ‘Family Tuff’ than most people I meet day-to-day.

Any advice for how the club and members could support you better?

Not really, everyone is very supportive.

The one thing I would say is to be mindful of ‘hidden’ issues people may have. Personally, I’m not keen on physical contact, particularly with people I don’t know – the ‘congratulatory hand-clasps’ at the end of a track session were hard for me at first, but I’m a bit better at them now (I think).

Any advice for potential members who might be struggling with MH issues?

You’re not alone, don’t be afraid to open up. You don’t have to share any more than you are comfortable with. Almost everyone I’ve opened-up to has shared that they’ve had their own struggles.

No-one thinks twice about speaking about and/or asking for advice on physical health issues – pulled muscles, torn ligaments, fatigue, fuelling strategies etc. are all common fare for members of the Tuff Tribe, mental health issues shouldn’t be any different.

Best moment in triathlon? Every time I cross the finish line

Worst moment in triathlon? Every time I run out of T2

What would you like #not2TUFF2talk to achieve? Be a ‘safe space’ where people can share their mental health issues without fear of judgement.

When did you first realise that Clive Harvey had a twin brother? I didn’t. I assumed that Trevor was a male relative of Clive’s due to the shared surname and familial resemblance. I assumed ‘brother’ based on the apparent age similarity. I did not assume ‘twin’ as they are (to my eyes) non-identical. I guess I know now…