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How do you know when you are on thin ice?



For many people, ice is simply ice. But, like snow, it can take many forms and require different behaviours from those negotiating it. We can only imagine how fragile ice on the Arctic Ocean can be.


Take the ice beneath our feet for example. Ice can be invisible, it can be thick and supportive, or it can be thin and flimsy. We would need to negotiate each in a different way. We would need to know when we are on thin ice and would know to tread more carefully, taking smaller steps and looking out for potential holes or cracks. Or indeed, we could avoid it totally. Similarly, if we were on black ice, we may be aware it is there but would find it hard to detect and its effects could take us by surprise.


During my 2016 expedition to the North Pole, ice played an important part in our story and, at times, the success of our mission. I and the team were very aware of the different thicknesses of ice that we had to traverse. There were times when we needed to cross open leads, where the ice sheet had split and the frozen seawater below appeared. We had to consider the heavy weight we had to pull in our pulks; we had only our poles to help us balance and our skis to distribute the weight. Step by small step we negotiated our way as a team across, very aware of the danger if we were to fall into the -30 waters beneath. We talked each other through, we gave encouragement and we supported. The feeling of elation as we reached solid ground (ice) on the other side was palpable. And when ice produced cracks in the runway at Barneo, it delayed our arrival to The Arctic and the start of our expedition. This was likely due to the climate crisis and the reason we were there to document what we saw on the ice (in my book Plan D), but more of that another time. Why is this relevant to mental health?


We all find ourselves on thin ice at times when our mood dips or problems or challenges open up before us. The important thing is to know when the ice is thinning and how to move across it to a safer more secure place, or when to negotiate a different route because of potential dangers. No one wants to end up in the frozen water where our body will be unable to function.


If things become tough at times and you feel your mental health is suffering, the best thing you can do is watch out for the cracks, move around or across them with caution and use what is available to you and within you to move to a more positive place. The steps to the other side may need to be small; the process may be slow but if we do things right and in the right order then we will get to the other side.


We also need to accept the support that is available to us at times like these, just as we used our poles to keep our balance crossing the ice cracks. By listening to our team, family, or friends around us, whether giving advice or just moral support, we will gather strength and not feel so alone. Most of all we need to acknowledge that the thin ice is part of the landscape we tread, and we may have to tread carefully. Just knowing how to negotiate these challenges will make similar situations in the future much easier to tackle.


If you would like further details about my talks or workshops then please make contact me via the enquiry form.



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