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Notches for Life and Much More....

52 year old Sean Rainey (or ‘Walker Sean’ as most know him) has used his collection of Notches as an inspiration to help him in his walking challenges, and as a reminder of the journey he’s been on since being seconds away from taking his own life…

“I haven’t always been the way I am today. 4 years ago I was overweight, smoked 60 cigarettes a day, didn’t do any exercise and would run out of breath just going to the shops. But I was fairly content with life, and didn’t see any reason to change.

But that all started to change with a series of events in my life which led to my breakdown. At the time, I was living with my ex-partner and her daughter. We had invited her parents to come and live with us because her father had dementia.

I’m one of those people who tend to take on everyone else’s problems, so did everything I could do deal with her father’s illness. At the same time, my ex-partner was being bullied at work. I also had issues of my own. I had self-harmed at school and had problems with alcohol in my 20s. In short, trying to deal with everyone else’s issues meant I wasn’t really addressing my own problems.

So what happened?

I had the mother of all breakdowns. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was like being in a car wash and each flail hitting you. You just go down and down. It was just a darkness, with no way of getting out. It was very scary.

And when you have a breakdown, you don’t really think about whether you want to die, you just do it. I was living in Portsmouth at the time, so was surrounded by water and, as I can’t swim, I thought the quickest way of ending it all was to throw myself into the waves. So, one evening, I just jumped onto my bike and headed off. My phone went off 5 times that night, and eventually I answered it. It was one of my closest friends, who got out from me what I was just about to do. She tore strips off me and told me not to be so stupid.

That phone call made me take stock of where I was, and what I was about to do. But it wasn’t easy coming back as I was ill, had lost any fight within me, and, on top of that, I was getting bullied at work.  

How did you recover in the end?

I saw an advert to walk around the Isle of Wight, 106km. Although I didn’t think I could do the whole lot, I thought I might try to do half of it. At the same time, one of my closest friend’s mother had just died of cancer, so I offered to do the walk in memory of her, which I did, and raised £2,118. I did it in 11 hours and 50 minutes, and it broke me. But it felt great to complete the challenge and be able to raise that money.

As a result, a few months later I signed up to do another long-distance walk from Eastbourne to Brighton. I’d never seen Beachy Head and Seven Sisters, apart from in films, so it was great to see them for real, and although that walk also nearly broke me, it did allow me to access my inner strength, which was a real help for me at that time.

The following year, I did the Isle of Wight walk again, and also did a 50k in the Cotswolds. On that walk, I managed to help a woman who was struggling through it. I stayed with her and gave her blister packs, and she told me afterwards she couldn’t have done it without me. For me, that was really rewarding.

Helping others is something I have continued to try to do. I’m now a fully qualified mental health first aider and am also a Trek Master for Action Challenge. This means I help people through their challenges when they’re injured or struggling. It’s a real satisfaction to help. It’s just a way of giving back and giving thanks, because I didn’t die.

What is it about walking that appeals to you?

Walking is a type of therapy. You’re releasing good endorphins and when people walk, they open up, often telling strangers things they wouldn’t tell people closer to them. It’s amazing what people will tell each other within 10 or 15 minutes of starting to walk together!

What do people you meet on your walks think of all your tattoos?

Ha, yes, it’s a bit of a talking point, but they don’t seem to put people off. My love of tattoos goes right back to my childhood when I saw the Rod Steiger film ‘The Illustrated Man’. I just watched it and said, ‘I want that!’. So far, I’ve got about 85% of my body done, and most recently had my backside completed last month. All that is left is parts of my legs, a few small parts of my back and my sides. Then, I’ll only have my face left, but I don’t think I’ll go that far!

What have you got planned for this year?

The woman who saved my life is a runner, and she suggested I try running as well, so I started with a few 5ks, then went on to others such as the London Winter Run (10k), and the Worthing Half Marathon. This Spring I’m doing the Manchester Marathon.

Of course, I’ll be carrying on my walking. I plan to do Snowden at some point, having done Pen y Fan, Fan y Big and Cribyn in the Brecon Beacons before. I’ll also be doing the CALM Lost Hours walk again, after the success of last year’s event. CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is an initiative which aims to raise awareness of male suicide. It’s a major cause of death of males and, as I know, it’s a really scary experience, which often you just don’t see coming. It’s not helped by the traditional male attitude of stiff upper lip, and grin and bear it.

With all these walks and runs, I’ll continue to raise money for charity. Over the last 3.5 years, I have raised nearly £12k. I want to keep raising more.

What do Notches mean to you?

Notches are a great way for people who have done their challenges to clearly see and remember their achievements every day. Notches inspire them to other things. For me, it’s a bit more poignant. I got my ‘I didn’t die’ Notch as a reminder that I was seconds away from dying. But fortunately, I’m still here to tell the tale.