Yorkshire woman re-writing the bucket list in bid for better mental health

Facing a mounting battle over her mental health, Gill Barker has rebuilt the bucket list to push past her self-doubt.

She had become isolated in her anxiety, she says, feeling every day as if she were trudging through the motions of a life devoid of joy.

But in a vow to escape her comfort zone, she has found herself an unlikely inspiration. And in doing so, has achieved far more than she ever could have imagined.

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"You don't grow in your comfort zone, and in a way you're not living," she says today. "You might fail, you might be brilliant, you've just got to try.

Gill Barker, who has created her own bucket list of challenges to improve her mental health while raising money for Leeds Mind and Yorkshire Cancer Research. Image: Simon Hulme

"I was going through the motions, each day the same but not really being there. The truth is, you can be fully functioning, but still struggling.

"We need to start normalising mental health, to talk as openly and easily about it as we do physical health."

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The 35 before 35 challenge

Gill Barker, 34, has created the bucket list challenge to push her out of her comfort zone with each task centred around physical or mental health. Image: Simon Hulme

It seems there is a bucket list for every major milestone, says Miss Barker, delivering a weight of expectation over what constitutes success.

To create a capsule wardrobe by the age of 30, to speak a foreign language, and to be in proud possession of your own home.

Miss Barker, in comparison, felt as if she were failing.

Watching the London Marathon in 2018, the 34-year-old from Wakefield had been struck by the strength of those taking part, and by their stories as to why.

Gill Barker, pictured on the race track at Leeds Trinity University where she works, is in training for her final task in the 35 before 35 challenge which will see her run, cycle and swim from the town of her birth in Kent to Leeds Town Hall. Image: Simon Hulme

On a whim, she set herself a goal, to complete 35 challenges by the age of 35. But they must all be for her health - be it physical or mental.

"My mental health had been neglected," she says. "I found I was isolating myself from friends, withdrawing. I felt I couldn't get out of the rut I was in.

"With a focus, I knew I could improve my mental health," she adds. "For me, it's about pushing my confidence.

"Even with a marathon, it wasn't about the running, but about the journey to get there."

Among the tasks in Gill Barker's 35 before 35 challenge was a scuba diving taster day.

Raising money for charity and improving mental health

Miss Barker, a former student at Leeds Trinity University where she now works in marketing, has completed a marathon in Honolulu, cycled up Mont Ventoux, and run 127 miles along the Leeds to Liverpool canal.

There has been abseiling and gorge climbing, scuba diving and surfing. But there have also been mental challenges, pushing past her greatest fears to speak on the radio.

"I'm doing these massive challenges, but for some people it could be something as simple as getting out the door, and that's a massive achievement for them," she said.

"Going out with friends was out of my comfort zone, it still scares me. I would rather run a marathon tomorrow."

Gill Barker, pictured at the top of Mount Snowdon as part of the 35 before 35 challenge.

As Miss Barker's 35 birthday approaches in March, she is preparing for her final task, running, cycling and swimming 260 miles from Kent where she was born, to Leeds Town Hall.

Through it all, she has now raised over £3,500 for Leeds Mind, and for Yorkshire Cancer Research.

"I feel like I'm finally getting there," she says. "But this isn't the end - I want there to be a legacy with a big event every year.

"It isn't a quick fix, but I'm definitely more positive than I was. I'm glad that I've come this far, and for all the support I've had, from family and friends and work.

"It has helped my mental health so much," she adds. "There were times when I wouldn't want to do it, but that's the point in pushing yourself.

"There are still days when I struggle. But I'm more aware of it, because of the journey I've been through."

Gill Barker is raising money for Leeds Mind and Yorkshire Cancer Research, to find out more about the fundraising, click here, or the challenge, click here.

Gill Barker, pictured in Hawaii after completing the Honolulu Marathon as part of her 35 before 35 challenge.
Gill Barker, pictured on a treetop task as part of her 35 before 35 bucket list challenge.