Mental health counsellor Sheila McMahon’s challenge to step out of her comfort zone to help save lives comes to an end.
Here, in Stress Awareness Month, we look back at her inspirational and emotional journey to encourage more people to talk about suicide and learn how to help those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
How it all began
It was back in October 2021, that Sheila McMahon, who is a registered qualified Counsellor, delivered a talk on mental health to her partner’s motorbike club – the Lichfield Advanced Motorbike Group (or LAMG).
It was a milestone moment, as it was their first face to face meeting in the pandemic’s wake. Having worked throughout the outbreak, Sheila was incredibly mindful that more people were experiencing suicidal thoughts and she wanted to encourage the LAMG bikers to watch her free 10-minute video on ‘How can I help someone who has suicidal thoughts’.
At the time the video had around 100 views.
Knowing that the topic of suicide could be an uncomfortable watch for some, and that Sheila was asking them to step out their comfort zone, she was prepared to do the same.
The challenge is set
So, Sheila set them a challenge. If they watched her 10-minute video, she would step out of her comfort zone too and learn how to ride a motorbike.
And FE News has closely followed her challenge – FE News | Mental health counsellor faces fear head on to help to spread an important message
While Sheila was a seasoned pillion passenger, having been out on the back of her partner’s bike many times, the idea of learning to ride a motorbike solo terrified her.
However, the knowledge that her video could potentially save lives, helped her face her fear.
She started with baby steps.
To help get her in the right mindset, Sheila borrowed a bicycle to practice her balance, (after all, she hadn’t even ridden a bicycle for 25 years!).
As a stand-up comedienne, Sheila also channelled her sense of humour when she dressed up in motorbike gear, and practiced staying upright on the bicycle in the car park of the Mile Oak community centre – and she turned a few heads in the process!
The journey begins in earnest…..
Then came Sheila’s first ever lesson on a 125cc motorbike. Having got to the centre early, to try to help steady her nerves, Sheila found herself overwhelmed with fear, tears streaming down her face.
As a counsellor, Sheila knew only too well that her fear was out of proportion with the task ahead.
But the prospect of that first lesson had been the catalyst for a trauma she had buried to resurface.
She remembered being in a car crash, where the driver, instead of pressing the brakes, put their foot on the accelerator, causing the car to spiral out of control, crash into a telegraph pole, spin through the air, and land, upside down, on the road.
Already very aware of how powerful the throttle is on a motorbike, this memory caused her to fear that she could also lose control and crash.
But, despite this fear, and the tears, Sheila climbed aboard a 125cc bike following the advice of her instructor that ‘the bike will only go as fast as you tell it to’. So putting her trust in the instructor’s hands she took the next step.
Sheila’s rollercoaster journey continues
As time went by, Sheila’s lessons became less daunting, and she even started to enjoy them – something that she never expected to happen.
Then it was time for her Compulsive Basic Training, or C.B.T.
It was December, and the weather was wet and cold – in fact it was so cold at one stage her hands went numb and she had to temporarily stop the C.B.T test to get them to work again! She feared her stopping to do this might have caused her to fail but it was the opposite.
Her instructor was not only impressed by her initiative but that she’d been able to recognise the situation was becoming unsafe for her. And….
Congratulations are in order…..
…. Sheila, passed her C.B.T. that day.
Impressed by her commitment to biking, her partner Mark had already invested in a 125cc motorbike for her. So, it was onwards and upwards, as she enjoyed the freedom of being on two wheels with him, but now under her own steam.
When the LAMG saw that Sheila had stuck to her word, they were motivated to watch her video on ‘How can I help someone who has suicidal thoughts’ and viewing numbers rose by 50 views, much to Sheila’s delight.
Sheila had achieved her aim, and could have stopped there, but…. driven by the prospect of inspiring even more people to watch her potentially lifesaving video, she continued with her challenge. She spent the next nine months practicing on her 125cc – including clocking up an impressive 400 miles around the peak district with her partner.
Time for big bike lessons….
Roll on September 2022, and Sheila persuaded herself to progress to learning to ride a big bike. Again it proved very daunting prospect at first, as she found it very different to having lessons on such a big bike – a Honda 650cc in Sheila’s case.
But with the sound advice of other bikers that she’d find it easy to get used to a bigger bike, as it’s much steadier than a 125cc, she focused on the next challenge ahead.
Still fearful, she donned her trademark hi vis vest that reads: ‘Suicide, it’s time to get talking’ to help to inspire her to keep going by reminding her of the reason she began the challenge.
The next step was the theory test in November 2022.
Despite studying the highway code, and reading a book on everything you need to know to pass a bike test, she felt underprepared having only had chance watch a few sample videos of hazards.
But on the morning of the test she decided she would stop worrying, enjoy it and view it as practice run. And….to her surprise she passed with flying colours!
Bring on the J-Lo
January 2023 saw Sheila start her big bike lessons on a Yamaha MT-O7, 689cc. It didn’t look too dissimilar to her 125cc, just a bigger version.
And Sheila felt an instant and positive connection when she saw its number plate was ‘J Lo’ – as one of her favourite songs is J Lo’s ‘On the floor’.
Lessons continued up until March, when it was time for her to tackle her Module 1 test.
Not 100% confident she would pass first time, she took the mindset, once again, to treat it as a practice run. And surprise, surprise – once again she passed.
Then, things started to ramp up. At the time with just one Module 2 lesson under her belt, she was offered a rare opportunity to take her test the following week.
While it all seemed so overwhelming, and such a lot to remember, she managed to book in two more lessons – including one the morning before the test – and decided to go for it.
Although it was probably not the best advice for Sheila, she took on board what fellow bikers had said which was to ‘Just keep in mind that everybody on the road is out to kill you!’.
On the morning of the Module 2 test, her preparatory lesson went well, everything seemed to fall into place, and she felt positive that she could pass.
Failure is part of the process
And all had been going well in the test, until she was asked to pull over for the 3rd time – not that she’d done something wrong, it’s something the examiner asks you to do many times.
The weather conditions were not good, as it had been raining a lot, so when Sheila pulled her bike over and was told to move forward slightly, she put her foot down, slipped on a wet drain and mud, dropped the bike and she rolled onto the path.
Although shocked, she’d seen other riders drop their bike many times in lessons, so she got up ready to carry on. Dropping the bike had been something Sheila had feared, but now felt relieved, as she knew all was OK with her and the bike was OK.
Unfortunately, Sheila was unable to carry on with the test – as it transpired dropping the bike was an instant fail.
Needless to say, Sheila was gutted.
Back at the test centre, Sheila was able to see the funny side as she thought, ‘Well, if you’re going to fail – why not do it in style!’
Her friend and fellow learner passed, and she was delighted for him. But when they went to leave, he had a puncture. That meant that in the end Sheila would ride pillion home on the back of her instructor’s bike, which led to a few laughs to say the least…..
Remembering how big her partner’s BMW bike was, Sheila threw her leg over, nearly taking her instructor and her bike with her to the floor!
Both were belly laughing as they had been many times during the lessons.
Riding down the A38 was another amusing moment…..with the wind so loud it was difficult to hear, and her instructor had mistakenly thought Sheila had confessed to wetting herself whilst behind her. Sheila even admits herself, that with her strong Irish accent, sometimes she needs an interpreter, to understand herself too!
The re-run meltdown
With the 10-working day wait to do her Module 2 test again, it was another 2 weeks before she could test again, but she kept working hard in her interim lessons.
But on the day of the test something unexpected happened.
Sheila had a complete meltdown.
And she decided to record herself during this episode to share with others here.
Knowing how outwardly confident Sheila can be, she wanted people to know how genuinely scared she had felt at times during this process, and how much it had been the reason why she was doing the challenge that had helped her keep going.
It had been a lightbulb moment on the day of the retest that led to her meltdown.
She had experienced a flashback to when she was nine years old and had fallen off a bike and onto the other side of the road. As her head hit the tarmac road, she fell unconscious for a few seconds, and when she woke, she could see the wheel of the car inches away from her neck. Luckily, the oncoming car had stopped in time, but it was a terrifying experience.
On the morning of the test, this was an epiphany, as Sheila realised that it was not just the previous car crash that had created all her fear, as she had thought, but the previous bicycle event which was the deep-rooted cause of her fear.
She knew she didn’t have to go through with the Module 2, and she could stop at any time, but her reasons for doing the challenge far outweighed her fear and so she pressed on.
The journey might be at an end…but it’s also a new beginning……
Sheila went on to pass her Module 2 test that day – the second time around.
Her free video on ‘How can I help someone who has suicidal thoughts’, continues to inspire racking up 350 views to date – which is 250 more than at the start of her challenge.
Now Sheila hopes that by sharing her story, she might inspire even more people to watch her 10-minute video and potentially save lives.
You can watch her video on YouTube here or alternatively you can search for “Ep 1: Suicide Pt 6 how can I help someone who has suicidal thoughts” in YouTube itself.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in