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Real life story of a strong man

It would probably be fair to say that Stuart Wadley from Tingwall is a larger than life character.

He's not only well known and respected within the local community as a successful businessman – having until recently managed his own security firm – but perhaps even more so as a nationally renowned power-lifter and strong man. In that particular field many would agree that Stuart's strength and competitive abilities are matched only by his affable nature.

Now this well known face is about to become recognised for a very different reason – as a positive role model for Mind Your Head. For behind Stuart's more often than not convivial, outgoing personality and resolute persona, he has – until now that is – harboured a somewhat darker secret, having only recently recovered from a protracted period of depression, which impacted on his life to a significant, near crippling, extent.

It all started in 2009 around the same time he was diagnosed with a blood clot on the brain – a condition which apparently can prove fatal in one out of five cases. “I'd believed for quite a while something was wrong,” says Stuart. “But due to the fact there was no quick diagnosis my anxiety levels were obviously building all the time too, and that ultimately triggered the depression I experienced.”

For Stuart his depression manifested itself in a very physical manner. Having spent over 20 years training in the gym and doing 'strong man' related activities, he suddenly found he could no longer do that. “I immediately lost a massive part of my life,” he says. “It was totally debilitating. I couldn't even help my wife move the couch around the sitting room.”

Given Stuart's will power and strength of character he decided to fight the condition on his own terms, given he'd always felt in control of his own destiny up to that point. “Previously I would have been one of those people who say 'What are you depressed about? Pull your socks up and toughen up for heaven's sake!!!!' But much to my shame I've subsequently found out that's not how it works. In all honestly it was a shock for me not to be able to do that.”

However he decided to fight on regardless, refusing offers of medication at the time. “I didn't want that kind of crutch; I still wanted to beat it myself if I could,” he says.

So how did he feel inside himself? “It's difficult to explain how it continually eats away at you and leaves you with such a feeling of hopelessness” he confides. “You get to the stage where you ask yourself 'am I able to carry on?'”

Stuart tried to stay positive, however, and says that the support of his wife, family and friends was totally invaluable. Simply being in a position to speak to them about it and have them listen was the most important thing for him. “I really don't know where I would have been without them,” he admits.

However, almost a year down the line from that, things had got no better for him. “During all this time I was still having to deal with my medical condition as well,” Stuart says. “I was getting no sleep and the anxiety attacks were, if anything, getting worse. I felt I simply couldn't cope anymore. I'd reached my lowest point, so I decided I did need to ask for help, but there was a waiting list of a year for mental health counselling. So, I reluctantly had to accept that medication was the only answer in the meantime.”

Eventually Stuart did receive counselling through the NHS, which he says was a massive help. Through that they were able to explain things to him and that helped rationalise things in his own mind. “Just being able to speak to someone about it and work through things was the most important thing for me,” he says.

Slowly but surely things began to improve for him. However, while still in the process of dealing with the issue – albeit from a 'better place' as he puts it – he bumped into Shona Manson, Chair of Mind Your Head, who suggested he would make a good role model for people in a similar position, given that so many men find it a difficult, potentially stigmatising issue and, as such, are very reluctant to speak about it or come forward to ask for help.

“We think Stuart's story not only highlights the issues surrounding depression and mental health issues in general, but also the likelihood of a positive outcome,” says Jacqui Clark of Mind Your Head. “This could prove hugely beneficial to others, especially men in this particular instance. We feel he's very brave to come forward like this.”

Jacqui goes on to discuss Mind Your Head's recently developed project called 'The Grubby Hut', where we visit largely male orientated work areas – such as engineering and fishing related ones – encouraging workers to talk about such issues, and feel that Stuart's experiences, via a focused poster campaign, could help underpin this approach.

Stuart for his part is philosophical on the subject. “I know for a fact some will look at the posters etc for the campaign and say 'Whit a big 'jessie', telling his greety story like this. But that's okay, let them speak away and make judgement – I'm no caring. If it can happen to me it can happen to anybody and if by doing this I can help just one person then it'll have been worth it.”

Stuart Wadley. A strong man in more ways than one.

Words courtesy of David Gardner / Photo courtesy of Malcolm Younger

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