Sharing the load
One man and his washing machine raised awareness for mental health
Would you take on the challenge of climbing a mountain? Would you be brave enough to do it with a washing machine on your back? In July 2017 Enda O’Doherty did just that, when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of Pieta House.
Ascending the mountain is a test in and of itself, but add the weight of a 40kg washing machine to the to the journey and the odds are stacked against you. Training for the climb left Enda “sore from top to toe” but he has had quite a few years to prepare. “I suppose really I’ve been training for the last five years. I got into triathlons and did a couple of those and I did two Ironman triathlons in preparation. It’s a mental test,” he says.
“My personal story is I am an alcoholic and as an alcoholic like a lot of people in Ireland I didn’t realise that I had depression, anxiety and a sleep disorder. I was medicating myself with brandy and whiskey. If I couldn’t sleep I’d have a big brandy, if I had an argument with someone I’d have a big brandy or a big whiskey and then the problem went away but that was only masking it,” says Enda.
“I’m dry now, 11 years, but I had no idea of how bad my mental health was and how much attention was needed. “So for me, when I stopped drinking my world fell apart.” Enda goes on to say that while he never attempted suicide, he certainly ‘contemplated’ it when he felt like he had no hope and what seemed like no way out. He says he promised himself to help other people if he got out of the dark place that he was in.
“I’m just an ordinary geography teacher and a motivational speaker, but the last few years have been an amazing journey. e reason I carried the washing machine, which was sponsored by Beko, is because this week in Ireland ten young people will die, with the main reason being they carried a load around until it took their lives. We’re saying to people, to reach out and ask for help. My life improved dramatically when I got help,” says Enda.
“The analogy of the washing machine and people struggling and going uphill really seems to catch their attention. They spontaneously laugh or smile and it’s a really good conversation opener, because the subject of mental health can be very dark and dismal. e simple message is to reach out and ask for help, to share the load.”
In July Enda, along with 35 others from all over the country - the majority of whom were women - left Dublin and headed to Tanzania in Africa. Each member of the team had raised €4,000 for Pieta House and another €4,000, which covered their expenses for the trip, came out of their own pocket.
“We chose that figure because the average cost of helping someone who goes to Pieta, who’s suicidal, is about €800 to €1,000 so when the people rang me to find out about the trip what I said to them was ‘I don’t want you to raise €4,000, I want you to save four people’s lives, that’s a privilege,’” says Enda.
“All of that money goes to the charity because we had no costs, we had 100 per cent profit. Pieta House were very concerned that I had the bar raised so high but when you set the bar high, I knew when I stepped off that plane in Africa I was surrounded by motivated people who really understood mental health in Ireland and the fact that we needed to make a difference.”
Enda says that despite their best efforts neither he, nor those who had travelled with him, were fully prepared for what was to come. “We left Waterford at 11 o’clock on the Monday morning and it was six o’clock on Tuesday evening when we got into the hotel, so that takes a lot out of you physically,” he says.
The next morning their ascent to the summit began. e expedition lasted 12 days in total: they spent four days travelling, six days to go up and two more days to descend. On day one Enda climbed what would be the equivalent of climbing Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry, almost five times in a row, in 30 ̊C heat and 100 per cent humidity. at night Enda didn’t sleep at all and on day two he began to experience altitude sickness.
“I passed out, I vomited, I had to get oxygen. But our slogan on the side of the machine became reality - share the load. e others on the trip had to carry the washing machine for me because I was barely able to get moving,” says Enda.
By the third morning Enda was so weak he struggled to lift a slice of toast and at this point he started to worry. “It sounds bizarre, but it took every ounce of energy. I couldn’t lift the toast off the plate it was so heavy, I had to cut it into little squares.”
Unfortunately, two hours before the summit Enda was so ill, he made the heartbreaking decision to turn around. This was brought on by Enda realising that for a brief period he could no longer remember his name and he had no concept of who he was. An experience which really frightened him but luckily Earth’s Edge, an Irish adventure travel company, a full-time expedition doctor and a full-time Irish guide had joined Enda and the crew.
“We were really, really, grateful to have them. At the point, I turned around they put an oximeter on me, which monitors the amount of oxygen in the body. I think my reading was 75 and at 90 in Ireland you’re admitted to casualty,” he says. “People asked me if I was very disheartened but to be honest, I was just so grateful for life and to be alive. It was difficult to say it but in truth if I kept pushing I was going to be in a really bad place.”
When Enda was unable to continue on, his team members took it upon themselves to carry the load for him and brought the washing machine to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on his behalf.
“I am very proud of being Irish and what I saw on that mountain was the essence of being Irish. We went out a team and we very much became friends and I would say we came off the mountain family. It literally is life changing and life transforming,” he says. “On the final morning, I walked over to my wife to give her a hug and she said, ‘If our kids have one per cent of your spirit, I’ll be happy’. People have said to me that I went through hell, but for that one per cent it’s worth it.”
In total €170,000 was raised for Pieta House and over one million people heard the message of sharing the load. Enda is slow to take credit for what was achieved and instead he is full of admiration for those who helped him, particularly the courageous women in his life.
“Everyone sees me as the guy with the washing machine but I couldn’t do it without the good people around me. People say that behind every great man is a great woman, in my experience that’s not the reality,” he says. “I have fantastic, inspirational women in my life, my wife and daughter, they’re amazing. In my life, all the great women are out in front showing the direction, giving help or advice. They’re never, ever behind me. I’m not an extraordinary person, but I do care an extraordinary amount.”