The September Issues in Marrakech

[When I wrote this] I was supposed to be relaxing in a gite in the Atlas Mountains of Morrocco. The people who I met the previous Sunday and shared an evening meal with will have been doing exactly that after summiting the highest peak in Northern Africa, Mt Toubkal. Instead I am at home in London, having slept for the majority of the last few days.

There are a few times of year that are particularly difficult for me with my mental health: March/April and September in particular. I have a feeling that it is related to the changing seasons, and others have theories that it is a result of my daily stresses and goings on each time. It could even be related to historical events playing with my memory and emotions on a subconscious level. There really is no knowing of the exacts except for that they happen, and they happen at these times of year. After a number of years I have named them the Spring Bounce and the September Issue. I am not the only one to have such a pattern to their moods and well-being, it turns out that a lot of people, particularly those with mood disorders like Bipolar, struggle immensely at the onset of spring and autumn.

It could be a vast number of things but the experience feels familiar: moodiness, snappy encounters and a general grey scaling of everything: colours, smells and tastes. I need a lot of sleep: this means a long night and 1-3 naps during the day. I need a lot of cups of tea for soothing the soul, because is there anything that a cuppa can’t help with? I have a weird relationship with my appetite. I want sugar and comfort foods, yet at the same time everything tastes muted and I desire much less of it. I am slow. Speaking in sentences can at times be difficult because my words get muddled and I certainly don’t seem very capable of speaking and thinking at the same time. I feel like anyone who laughs within earshot of me is laughing at me after saying mean things. This has resulted in some stern stares to try and figure out the truth and if I need to confront them. Sometimes when this happens I turn around and no-one is there. The sun in the day may as well be night time all the time right now because that is exactly how it feels.

So instead of being up a mountain, hanging out and exploring I have been sat in my flat in London trying to minimise the effects of my mood on others as much as possible.

I was unsure about whether I should go to Morrocco or not and I went anyway with the theory being that I would never know unless I tried. Additionally, it could have gone very well or very badly. When I booked it in september, with the prior knowledge that i struggle at this time of year, I naively thought that having something to focus on and look forward to, and essentially distract myself would end a potentially self fulfilling prophecy of The September Issue’s reoccurrence. Of course, just as with the september issue of our favourite fashion magazines, nothing is going to stop the september issue from launching and being ever so extravagently big and jam packed with chaos, whether its mental health chaos or fashion chaos. I have had a brilliant summer, it’s in the top 5.

Even though I got to Morocco I had a break down on the sunday evening and walked home, having excused myself early from the group meal, crying. I decided to sleep and see how I felt in the morning however, after packing and prepping for the day ahead I just broke down crying. It would not stop. I knew at this point that pushing myself further would not reap any good results. When I cry like this, it is usually only going to get worse until I sleep extensively. It happened in Berlin last year, also in september, and at home. Even this morning, although apparently over nothing I cried and cried and cried until I eventually went to bed to sleep it off. No trigger. No cause. No reason. It just is.

Sometimes the right decision is not the one you want to make. There are many lessons yet to be learned. Even with potentially over doing it on the insight and reflection stance I will probably still make mistakes and much to my dismay, may never be fully in control of all of my mental health shenanigans. Sometimes when you live with chronic mental illness you have to make difficult decisions because ultimately, no matter how much I try, my illness will most likely always hinder me in some way. I won’t let it defeat me. I can’t. Instead all is can do is all that I will do, to keep working on getting what I want from life by working with my illness.

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How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908

Getting Active: Becoming a Kinetic Energetic

In the final stage of starting to get active the focus is on actually starting to move. Feel free to move in any way which suits you and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way when turning getting active into part of my permanent lifestyle.

This stage is called, Becoming the Kinetic Energetic.

Balance Ambition and Attainability

With running, it is tempting to go for straight for the big distances. A training plan says you can run a half marathon in 8 weeks, so why shouldn’t you? If you train hard you’ll get results quickly right?

Unfortunately, fitness isn’t always a direct correlative relationship of input vs results. We are human beings not machines: we can’t force out bodies to stick to a constant progressive plan as figured by an algorithm. Injuries happen. Overuse injuries and obtaining injuries from increasing your exercise load too quickly are very real – and are not something be ploughed on through in the name of ‘mind over matter’.

Our bodies do things that may not fall in line with our plans and ambitions. Being realistic with self expectations and self compassionate throughout your journey will harbour much greater results than literally beating your body up physically in order to run too far a distance in too short a time, or dead lift too many kilograms too quickly – and that’s OK.

I can however, make slow progress in line with how my body adapts. I can gain more than climbing higher grades and running faster miles from my journey. This way I maintain a level of ambition and sense of progress that becomes very enticing from exercising, whilst also respecting my body and capabilities. You can too.

Engage with Online Communities for your Activity

I don’t mean follow a bunch of Instagram models with chiseled muscle definition and a body shape that requires an unhealthy level of obsession to achieve. What I mean is, if you don’t know anyone who wants to get into your activity with you, go find your people.

One way of doing this is the web – Meet Up, and local clubs and Facebook groups are a great place to start. Engaging in an ongoing conversation with others like you about your journeys, encouraging one another is a great source or virtual community. Some members may be inspiring to you, and you never know, you may yourself inspire others.  You may meet up at an event and do it together – there are hundreds of people just like you who have done just that, and for as scary as that may initially seem – you’ll meet some bloody brilliant people.

Together we’re stronger.

Make it social

Working out alone can be a good time to clear your mind, focus on yourself and take time out from your day. For years, I ran solo, I went to the gym on my own, and I only climbed in a group because you kind of need someone to belay you – until I discovered bouldering could become a solitary activity also. I enjoy being alone, and know that not everyone likes being alone as much as I do.

For years I totally underestimated the value of working out with others, undervaluing the greater benefit of running with friends, and enjoying the company of other people in a positive space. Since this bomb has dropped, I regularly go to running crew each week.

It has become a place to forge friendships who share my passions. It has become a place to shake out the cobwebs of stagnation from a low mood in the company of others, a place to celebrate achievements of one another and a safe place of acceptance.

The benefit of human contact on a regular basis is something I never valued, until now. And as an awkward introvert who is usually immersed in swathes of social awkwardness I have found the fitness people, and the running crew to be a very non-judgmental and friendly bunch. It may not feel right with the first group you run, yogi or climb with, but keep trying – eventually a you’ll find yourself a you-shaped space to be the missing piece to a jigsaw of a crew you never even knew about before.

Embrace the Power of Post Exercise Mindfulness 

After a work out take time to sit, breathe and be mindful about how your body and mind are feeling. Just taking a moment to do so gives you time to reflect on where you’re at, how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Is something bothering you? Is there something you want to work on? Is there a niggle in your knee that needs attention? Or are you just feeling totally zen and absorbing as much of that as possible for a moment? Stop to smell the flowers.

Don’t Focus on Weight or Size

Weight loss is a viable goal for many but I would definitely never advocate obtaining a certain clothes size or goal weight to be the main or only reason for incorporating physical activity into your life. It is claimed that weighing yourself regularly can help with weight loss in numerous research papers.

However, focusing on weight alone can become very disheartening and a very damaging relationship with yourself. There is no self compassion or love in weighing yourself every day. This gives the scales too much power.

Use the scales if you need to but don’t enslave yourself to them. They’re a tool and deserve no power in your life beyond that. Be real with the scales and let them be real with you – and leave it at that.

Pushing your physical boundaries can be an emotional journey. Let it.

Pushing yourself, breaking yourself down in order to build yourself up is so much more than a physical journey. ‘Your body is capable, it’s your mind you have to convince’ and this can be a very complicated and windy path of self realisation and discovery.

Sometimes it will be a struggle, other times you’ll smash your own expectations and it’ll feel emotional. You may want to shout or cheer, or even cry – this is entirely OK. Emotions are OK, and pushing yourself in order to break self-inflicted boundaries and  achieving your fitness goals can be an emotional journey. Let yourself own it.

Stop believing in tomorrow. Start today

Tomorrow I’ll start running. Ok, It’s Wednesday and I didn’t go – I’ll start over on Monday. Next week is definitely the day I’m going to start going to the gym. I’ve signed up now, there’s no excuse, other than the excuse you’ll give to yourself when Monday comes.

Sound familiar?

Stop giving tomorrow so much power. The day is today. What can you do today to prepare yourself and take a step in the right direction? It might not be lacing up right now, but maybe it’s thinking of how you could start. Something may be in the way at the moment: work, study or commitments, so tomorrow may be necessary sometimes but put a deadline on it.

After a month of tomorrow’s start switching to today thinking. Tomorrow will be better from the actions you make today. Get yourself out there. Show yourself what you’re made of – and have a bloody good time doing it!


Other Posts in The Getting Active Series:

1. The Preparation Position

2. Find Your Mind

Cheer Dem at The British 10k 2018

The British 10k was a first for me. It wasn’t my first 10k, it wasn’t my first race and it wasn’t a first sub-60 PB. For a lot of people it has been all of these things. Instead it was the first Chasing Lights x Backpackers cheer zone I made it to and took part in. I think I enjoyed the cheer zone for this race much, much more than I would have possibly enjoyed to running it. A 10k route designed for smashing PB’s and being a sightseeing course is good and all, unless it’s 28°C. In which case I have a very strong suspicion that I would always find the cheer zone much more enjoyable than running.

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I’ve never made it to a Backpackers and Chasing Lights cheer zone before because of various reasons that are incredibly boring, from the usual anxiety to getting lost en route. Even with a smart phone and City Mapper it remains entirely plausible to take a wrong turn and wind up 3 miles away, apparently.

At the cheer zone there was music, whistles and cowbells alongside some very witty signs made by fellow crew members. With no shortage of high fives and good vibes for crew members, pacers and runners it was a real celebration of running in London. The Backpackers philosophy is to celebrate all runners who get out there and smash it regardless of times or pace.

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We are a pack at the back and we celebrate that. The pacers out representing did a great job of leading Joggier, Joggy and Walk/Jog and helping encourage people for whom time is not of the essence to keep going until the end. We believe in everyone and that they can do it. The people at the back for whom running 10K is not an easy distance to just knock out. Even more beautifully so many runners at the back of the pack have such varied and personal reasons for why they run.

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When the final pacer, Jarnail, came through the cheer zone with Helen (Hi Helen!) we all grabbed our stuff and walked the last kilometer together, as a team to celebrate her achievement. This seed of a nice idea blossomed very quickly into something that really was incredibly special. Helen was leading the pack whilst we donned our flags as super hero capes. Cheers, whistles and a megaphone siren accompanied our marching with some noise. Then we passed the marching band.

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The band took it upon themselves to join in. So there we are, Helen, Jarnail (Insta: themightysingh13) the walk/jog pacer and the cheer crew marching our way together through the final kilometer playing tunes like Rocky and Celebrate Good Times alongside Nav with the megaphone siren with cheers by onlookers and tourists who all cheered, clapped and celebrated Helen and her efforts to go out there and smash that 10K. It wasn’t fast but it was certainly done – and dare I say it, it was done in real style. Good one Helen! I’m glad we could cheer you through the final Km.

Hey! London Marathon, I’m Coming For Ya!!

Earlier this week, which day precisely escapes me, I had a sudden change of heart. I tried to defer my London Marathon entry until 2019. I had it in my head until this week that I was definitely going to cheer and not run this year. What I do remember about this decision making process is that it was at some odd hour of the night and I woke up friends and family to inform them of my sudden change in life choices.

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The next day, I honestly have no idea what day these events occured on, I decided to start pushing on the fundraising. I also dug around in my e-mails and realised my place hadn’t been officialy deferred. This seemed to be somewhat of a message from the nuiverse guiding me towards realising my personal legend (more about this later). It is my part in realising my personal legend to heed the signs laid before me – and so with confidence that the universe is colluding to guide me on the right path I decided to grab me confirmation email with my number on it and head over to the ExCel centre to collect my race pack and bib.

It’s been somewhat of a hectic week since. The excitment since going to the expo hasn’t really left me. I went back to my crew last week, another guiding message from the universe, and have been really welcomed back into the crew. (Honestly, there’s no love like crew love!). Everything was pointing me towards getting to that start line and that’s where I’m at right now. I have my race pack, bought a few essentials (read: high SPF bodyglide!!!) and everything is working out nicely. So what do I hope for on Sunday?

I hope I see more messages in the language of the universe because since embarking on my personal legend and listening to the language of the universe I feel more powerful than ever. I hope to enjoy the day and that it becomes the second day of 2018 to make the Top 10 of the year. I hope I am aligned with my feelings and let myself cry when i need to, laugh when i want to and generally have a bloody brilliant day. I hope I don’t cry so much that I can’t control my snot emissions. I hope I don’t get heat stroke and over heat. I hope I find the balance of hydration. I hope I can walk to the pub across from my home for the free Sunday Lunch they’re offering up.

Of course there are fears roaming around my brain’s white matter but right now I firmly believe that naivity is my friend. Let’s keep it that way until I hit the docklands part of the route notorious for breakdowns and seriously questioning life choices.

To sponsor me either follow this link;

virginmoneygiving.com/Monandthemarathon

Or text MVLM69 followed by the amount in £ to 70070

Example “MVLM69 £5” to 70070 to give £5

Thanks so much to everyone supporting me on this venture.

Running Naked Into The Unknown

Learning to run free and be free.

By naked Running I don’t mean with all my bits on show for the world, or suburban streets to see. I seem to have dropped off the edge of the running world somewhat lately.  I went to my last race and have not run so much since. You could say that I have become somewhat out of the habit. Anxiety has helped this happen and hasn’t been particularly supportive in getting my back on the road lately, or in getting out and doing things that need to be done either. I guess that’s how anxiety rolls. A self destructive little shit bag that gives no fucks to the nuisance and frustration that breeds in it’s wake.

So I haven’t been going out so much for a run, and have instead been mastering the skills of procrastination, avoidance and how to be unfairly self-punitive very well lately. On Saturday morning my friend kicked me out the door. I had watched my block tick tock past tiem to leave for ParkRun. I was gong to go for a run anyway despite having missed ParkRun because she hadn’t got any sleep due to my incessant snoring therefore getting out would give her some space to actually catch some Z’s. She woke up as I was getting ready because being a Saturday morning it took over an hour to get my kit together – side note, I need to tidy up! She said just go for a run anyway, you’re even dressed already, even a short run around the block and you’ll feel better.

A good pep talk is something she’s extremely good at. So without more hesitation, and seeing as I was dressed in my kit I went. I didn’t take my phone, or music and I didn’t set my watch to track distance or pace or time. Ergo the term free running that I’m using. There may be a name for this hat I’m unaware of, if so feel free to enlighten me.

I Just ran. Just me, the sun and fresh air. My legs carrying me around an unplanned route to “just do it”. Honestly, this is the sense that Just Do It helps because I wasn’t pushing my body too far physically. I wasn’t exhausted, I was just doing it to get out and just do something over nothing. This philosophy is something I want to bring back to my relationship with exercising.

Fuck stop exercising, start training. At the moment I’m in a such a place that just doing some exercise regularly is going to benefit me more than a training plan that will likely feel overwhelming with 1-2 weeks.

This is whole experience goes against every grain of my person. I am a massive planner and even though the unknown scares us all, I think some of us are particularly fearful of the unknown. Even if that unknown is going out the door for a run without a particular route in mind. I am better at this than I used to be and think that for an obscure and bizarre as this goal may be, this is something that working on could turn out to be very valuable for me because lessons and insights that we learn about ourselves in running often transcend into the bigger picture of our lives.

Maybe I can learn to let go a little bit – and the scary yet exciting aspect of that idea is that I’ve got no bloody idea where it’s going to take me, how it’s going to take me or when the end is. I’m going to guess there’s no end destination and that the process of going, being mindful and enjoying is probably going to be the more rewarding part of developing this new mentality. Here goes. A new goal of the most unstructured type I have probably every embarked on. In a calculated fashion maybe aiming to do this twice a fortnight is a good goal. The rest is unknown, and that gives me a butterfly sensation – not the exciting type- as I write that.

Maybe I can be as enthusiastic about naked Running as I was when I saw this photographer

Here’s to letting go. Here’s to exercising out of self compassion. Here’s to the unknown and whatever that may bring. *bites nails and looks around nervously*.

Cancer Research UK Tough 10, Box Hill

I was looking for some trail races a while ago. I like running. I love natural environments so it feels like a natural progression for me to take my running from the city to the trails.

For me personally there’s only so much city running you can do and feel inspired. There’s also the niggles you have to take into account like traffic lights, pedestrians that are waking, cars, bin bags, lamp posts… it’s a concrete jungle that leaves me feeling lack lustre at times.

To me my relationship with running feels like I would like it to progress as a way to get in nature, a method by which to explore the world and an experience that makes me feel very alive. Sometimes pollution fumes and sirens don’t quite do that for me. So I looked for some trail races and found the Tough 10 series by CRUK.

They rate the difficulty of their races by the number of trainers, 1-3. This race took part on Box Hill And was rated three trainers tough. Box Hill is known by cyclists and was one of the steepest ascents in the 2012 Olympic cycling events. The steepness of the ascent is quite brutal.

On the first ascent we climbed the steps by the stepping-stones. 270 stairs but not equal stairs, these are slippy woodland stairs which tend to be much more of a step than your average stairwell. I walked up and felt every breath and tiny oxygen atom mattered. Once at the top there were some flatter stretches, some down hill and a few more uphill.

I really enjoyed the variation of the terrain. I loved the views even though I’ve been and seen them before – there’s nothing more rewarding for climbing something than taking a breather to look around and admire the views you earned from the climb. The ground was quite slippy and I didn’t lose my footing.

I rolled my ankle once and didn’t go over or injure myself thanks, I think, to the ankle wiggling exercises I do before a run. Running on the slope down hill felt amazing when it was a gentle gradient. I felt like I could relax and my legs just carried me along. I felt so free and alive just running through the woodland. My legs just carried me and I breathed easy.

I honestly feel like I’m starting to get the going for a run to relax and unwind thing. It’s not always super hard work anymore – and it now is very enjoyable. I’m definitely going to be hitting up some more trails – it wasn’t as hard for me mentally as I expected it to be.

This race was 10k and I feel like I’m finally comfortable with than distance so now it feels like the right time to started increasing my distance up to 15/20km. Bring it!

I went to Kobox yesterday and although that was a 50 minute class it felt much harder mentally to stay in the class and push through despite being less time – I think this was because we did exercises by the wall as well as punching the bag and the exercises were weighted so I struggled quite a lot with them. Whereas I’ve been running more consistently for a few months now so my body is quite used to t by comparison to weighted squats, trunk twists and mountain climbers.

I mean I already established last week that my core isn’t strong enough and that I’ve lost some of the core strength I did have – and this class confirmed my thoughts further.

So here’s to getting my mojo back. Here’s to trail running being bloody fabulous. Here’s to increasing the distance and getting stronger in order to do this.