Living with mental health: Tim Lodge’s inspirational story
Having battled disability, depression and anxiety, canoeing made Tim Lodge feel equal. Born with talipes, ‘basically club feet’, Tim had the ‘worst case his surgeon had ever seen and has had 54 anesthetics to assist in correcting his disability.’
“I started canoeing when I was nine,” Tim explains. “I’d always tried to do other sports but they were difficult and I always felt different. Physically I looked different, particularly the way I moved and ran compared to other kids.”
Tim was operated on from birth, spending a lot of his school holidays in either hospital or plaster.
“From the age of 11 to 13 my feet where completely reconstructed, it took a year to do each foot. In the middle of this, I started a new school where I only knew two people. On my very first day I was in a wheelchair with a plaster soaked in blood.
“I felt alien to all the other kids, it was very hard to try and fit in and join in with the other kids. I was bullied, had my crutches kicked away and taken off me many times and spent some dark days in my bedroom at home.
“As soon as I sat in a boat, I felt the same as
everyone else for the first time in my life.”
“After this, I lost my Dad at 14 which was such a terrible shock and loss to me. It was something I didn’t really address or understand until later on in my life. Daddy was my rock, isn’t every dad to their son at that age? To lose him so suddenly was terrifying.”
How sport came to the rescue
It was after trying canoeing with the scouts that Tim fell in love.
“As soon as I sat in a boat, I felt the same as everyone else for the first time in my life.”
Growing up on a canal allowed Tim to canoe regularly. He quickly became a valued member of Wey Kayak Club in Guildford until the age of 16. When he went to college, however, the sport became a distant memory.
“I started at Godalming College and became a big part of the social scene there. I finally felt accepted, so much more than school, and was very good at partying and socialising, something that I would rely on for many years to come.”
Tim would go on to build his success on charisma, spending many years securing Senior Directorships in Sales and Marketing. Although his success was admired by family, friends and peers, Tim knew it was a cover to try and fulfil a void that he never understood.
He was stuck in the rat race with a bad diet, exuberant lifestyle and no clear vision of what he really wanted out of life.
“I was always striving to find
acceptance, success and that place of corporate
gratification, a place I would never find.”
It led Tim down some destructive paths and his lifestyle began to take a toll on his mental and physical health. Seriously overweight, Tim admits he ‘wasn’t happy and hadn’t been happy for a long time.’
“I suffered from a lot of depression and anxiety and used alcohol to combat that. I was always striving to find acceptance, success and that place of corporate gratification, a place I would never find.”
The phone call
On January 14th, 2013, he received a call from an old canoeing coach David Battershell asking if he wanted to take up the sport again as it had become part of the Paralympic programme.
That phone call changed Tim’s life.
“My life was empty when I received a call that gave me the biggest jolt I could’ve wished for. Sometimes you need a different direction and an opportunity came that had the potential to change everything.
“I am eternally grateful to Dave for thinking of me and making that call. It was a shining light. You get crossroads in life where things feel right and this felt right.”
Canoeing has allowed Tim to process the loss of his father – the man who guided and supported him through his disability at 14 – and his mother. The sport has also helped him to become more self-aware.
“If my mother had died pre-canoeing, I would have been a real mess. I’d be right at the end of a bottle of Jack Daniels. However, the way I’ve dealt with it now is incredible compared to how I would have done six years ago. That’s been great for me.
“It was a shining light. You get crossroads in life
where things feel right, this felt right.”
“I was, still am and always will be an anxious person that battles to feel self-confident. Being born with a disability will take its toll on you. Losing your father, who supported you through that disability from birth, at 14 years old, had a massive effect on my life. Being involved in canoeing has enabled me to accept my disability, accept the loss of my father and accept the loss of my mother. An active body settles the active mind.
“It’s difficult when you are really down and depressed, I’ve been there three or four times in my life and they’re dark times that I’ll always be very aware of.
“When I started therapy in my late 30’s, with a great therapist called Mike Mythen, my first task was to get out the house in the morning and buy a paper 200 yards down the road.
“What I’ve learnt in such a short space of time
can be delivered back to the workplace”
“I could only just about get myself down to the shop, I didn’t even read the paper. I was in a place where I couldn’t even face going outside.”
Lessons for the workplace
Tim makes a clear point, “What I’ve learnt in such a short space of time can be delivered back to the workplace. It can hopefully help people become more self-aware to improve their home and work life.”
Tim currently provides motivational talks and workshops, working alongside his former employer Rimilia Limited.
“The ongoing support from companies like Rimilia is so important for the growth of an athlete. I am forever grateful for their belief in me and ongoing support.
“Companies are seeing the benefit of understanding my journey and applying these changes in areas of mental resilience, self-awareness, self-development, motivation, focus and teamwork.”
The general attitude towards mental health in the UK has undergone huge change in recent times. Once a taboo subject, Tim believes “mental illness can now be viewed in the same way as a physical illness”.
“Companies are seeing the benefit of understanding my journey
and applying these changes in various areas
including motivation, focus and teamwork”
He also believes sport has been vital in his battle with mental health. Tim was selected to represent his country for the first time at the World Cup in Duisburg in 2015. After a Bronze Medal in the Mens KL3 200M event, Tim finished 8th at the World Championships in Milan.
“I was so proud to represent my country and to win a medal with my mother, sister and Michelle there. It was fantastic to see them in the stands when I was on the podium; something I will cherish forever.”
A new focus
After the 2015 season, Tim chose to focus solely on canoeing. He moved away from his previous life, relocating to the high performance centre in Nottingham.
As well as having to adapt to the training schedule of an elite athlete, Tim faced the challenge of living on his own. Having always relied on friends and family for approval, it proved to be a huge test. However, Tim found support in his fellow athletes, coaching staff, and Paralympic Champion Emma Wiggs, who is a ‘great inspiration and dear friend.’
“I learnt a lot in my time within the fantastic GB set up and will take it on with me for many years to come.”
During his time in Nottingham, Tim was also the source of inspiration for the athletes around him. He won the Jonathan Broome Trophy two years running, an award voted for by athletes for the individual that demonstrated the core values of the program the most.
Yet after missing out on selection for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the depression set in again. Tim began to question himself, feeling anxious about his lack of performance.
Many may perceive not making the team a failure, but Tim knew there was still more to come.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason. As well as learning so much about high performance sport, my time there taught me to spend time in my own company, something I had never been able to achieve in my hometown.
“Now, having moved home, I am able to rest and relax at home alone when I need to and find a healthy training/life balance. I’m making even more physical and psychological gains, so I am very excited about competing again next season.
“A lot of sport at this level is to do with your mental state. Now, I’m currently GB number two at National Championships 2018 and am setting my sights on Tokyo 2020.”
“It’s taken me five years to work out a way in which
I can do this, have a happy training/life balance and accept it.”
Just as attitudes towards mental health have changed, so too has the sentiment around the Paralympics and disability sport.
“2012 did it. It was massive for me because if London hadn’t been a success, canoeing would not have become a part of the Paralympic programme for 2016.”
There was ‘equal coverage, stadiums were full, it was on TV, in the papers, everyone was talking about it and the athletes became heroes.’
Off the back of the 2012 games, Tim believes more para sports are becoming integrated. In canoeing, able bodied and para-events all take place at the same time, with the event’s name changing to Sprint and Para Canoe World Championship to incorporate the para-athletes. They are treated as equals.
Away from elite competition, Tim is also Chair of the International Canoe Federation Athletes Committee and sits on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Federation.
Whilst Tim is now thriving, the transition to elite sport was not an easy one.
“Somebody said to me once, ‘well it must be easy for you, you’ve got your canoeing.’ It’s really not easy to change something you’ve relied on for so many years no matter how much you love it”.
Tim is up at 6am every morning, training two/three times a day, 6 days a week.
“The last six months, even with the passing of my mother in June, is where I’ve finally got it. I finally understand what I need to do to be my absolute best. It’s been such a vast difference to how I’ve lived my life for 25 years.
“Along with my devotion to my sport, which helps dramatically, I have been practicing a therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy since the spring with the help of Dr Matthew Beadman. This has enabled me to accept my anxieties and reduce the impact of my past destructive dependencies and behaviours.
“Some people might be able to go ‘right that’s it, I’m not going to drink, I’m only going to spend my time training and resting, I’m eating chicken breast and broccoli for the rest of my life, I’m sleeping nine hours a night and you’re never going to see me.’
“It’s taken me five years to work out a way in which I can do this, have a happy training/life balance and accept it.”
“If you look after the little things, big things come.
That’s my main focus. Now I’m at peace with my past,
I can really give this everything I’ve got.”
As well as therapy and sport, Tim believes that the people he has around him have been equally as important in his journey. ‘Without their love and support’ he wouldn’t have been able to go through it.
Tim’s time is now spent training hard, working in canoeing and spending quality time with friends, family and his 18 year old daughter, Niamh.
“On the face of it, I have always been looked upon as a happy, positive and confident person with a great career. I was always travelling, seeing great gigs and meeting lots of wonderful people but underneath there has always been a big hole that I could never understand or deal with.”
Tim acknowledges this adaptation in mentality and, ultimately, lifestyle as his biggest achievement. For the future, alongside qualifying for Tokyo 2020, his biggest goal is ‘to keep happy.’
From one call and one life-changing commitment, an uninspired, but still successful, city worker with a destructive alcohol habit has turned his life around.
“If you look after the little things, big things come. That’s my main focus. Now I’m at peace with my past, I can really give this everything I’ve got.”