The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

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The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

In 2013 it was advised to me that doing some exercise could help me with my mental health, the associated weight gain with my medications, and in general. Never did I imagine on that first run in 2013 did I think that 5 years later I would be walking up the same streets to the start line of The London Marathon. South East London has been my patch for almost a decade and in my lack of preparation for the marathon I didn’t know the route. I only saw it fully on some handouts at the expo, and my response was to think “oh wow, hmmm…” and proceed to not look at it again. I felt that having naivety on my side in regards to how long 26.2 miles really was was helpful. Sometimes, not knowing w hat you’re about to get yourself into can help diminish the pre-race anxieties of “shit, what have I just dove headfirst into”. This won’t work for everyone, but in this instance it worked well for me.

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Fully clueless to what I was about to do. Naivety was my friend at this point!

 

It was when I got off the bus with my Dad to walk up as it turned left onto Lee Terrace that the trip down memory lane began. Running up from the bottom towards Blackheath for the open space to run in was the initial plan when I started running. I got half way up before finding myself sitting, a flurried hot mess on the pathway up to blackheath and fervently googled “Why can I taste blood from running?” and “Why do my lungs burn so much from starting running?”. I sat there for a good while longer than I had been moving for and decided that I needed to take another route to exercise. I walked up to the grass on blackheath and decided to just move for 20 minutes with my music on. Cue, waving arms, and some jumping around, some dancing and just getting some movement into me. It was on the 3rd session of this that near marker 1. on the picture below that I tripped over a branch and found myself hobbling to A&E with a gash in my knee and needing stitches. When I say I NEVER thought 5 years ago in my clumsy attempts to get some exercise into my life that I would be walking those same routes and roads to The London Marathon start line. The moral of this story is, just move. Just get going in any way that feels right to you at the time. By starting, you never know where the journey will take you. Maybe it’ll take you to A&E in a wonder woman top needing stitches, or maybe it will take you to start lines, views and adventures you’ll never have guessed you would. Maybe, as in my case, it will lead to both. Don’t give up.

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For the first 8 miles, the absolute privilege of running The London Marathon and it being on my patch really served as a distraction from the momentous task that was ahead of me. It was very cathartic to be running quite literally through memory lane, acknowledging the good and the bad memories.

I spent the majority of my head space during the first 8 miles reminiscing on my journey over the last 9 years in London. How this journey has shaped me, open my eyes, taught me brutal lessons, and saved my life. To the people of Lewisham, thank you. To the places that have brought me a lot of joy, purpose and good life lessons, like that people aren’t always mean or operating with ulterior motives, Thank You. Even the memory of my first mental health crisis that landed me in hospital, and the first time I got sectioned, without these experiences I would not be who I am today. From the bad good can come. This trip down memory lane felt like closure on some of those experiences and chapters in my life.

Mental illness can be brutal. Without these memories though, I wouldn’t be studying something I am so passionate about from these experiences. I wouldn’t be volunteering in community projects to help others on their journeys. I wouldn’t have had my eyes open to the importance of practicing non-judgmentalness. Some of these memories are difficult ones but sometimes it is exactly those difficult memories that are the most important for growing as a person.

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The heat was brutal at this point. My most tired photo from the race -a mile just past half way.

The result? The first 8 miles were the most important for me. I really think this 8 miles of reflection time gave me the drive to bloody well enjoy the journey I was on to the finish line, be grateful for everything I have endured and survived and really just enjoy the pure act of being very alive that running is.

The rest of the markers and their associated milestones and memories are listed below: Continue reading “The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane”

The (Virtual) Big Half

The Big Half was on the 4th March. It was a while ago now. So far ago that a virtual option was initiated because many people couldn’t travel to the start line because of The Beast From The East, and yesterday we had a great day of sun and warmth. In order to count, the half effort had to be completed and up loaded by Sunday 11th March.

The same weekend as The Big Half, Bath Half was cancelled. My Dad had signed up for that so we would have been running a half at the same time at different races, somewhat of a cool coincidence. After a few weeks of excited and nervous talk neither of us wound up running that Sunday. We agreed though, to complete our half efforts virtually together – him in Devon and me in London. So the following Saturday that was our plan. We set off around 1 with a drop in phone call at the start, somewhere around half way and after we finished. Our pace and fitness levels are in a similar region so when we did touch base at the halfway point and the end, we had both completed a similar distance, and finished in close time to each other.

I didn’t plan my route for this. I was volunteering on Saturday morning in Archway, so that was my start line. I glanced at the map and chose a direction. I had a rough route planned, with the destination of direction being home. At Camden I changed my game plan as I stumbled along the canal pathway. In Camden it was busy but as I pushed along the canal path it became more spacious, less crowded and quite pleasant.

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I’ve rarely been on the canal path in London. I’ve dipped on it here and there but I’ve never run along it. It was good, something I’d recommend and a lot of other people probably would considering the amount of people you see running them online and in real life. It’s ideal ground for distance or a quick jog because it’s flatter than a pancake. The scenery is a contrast to London’s usual smoggy buildings and over-packed roads. Then when I checked the map to see if I was still going to be in London if I kept going, read: the flyover motorway gave me in the inclination I was running pretty west, I realised it was time to leave the canal path. After some snaking through Ladbroke Grove, I hit the parks that touch edges with each other from Hyde Park to Green Park with some laps, then St. James’ Park before heading towards London Bridge along the South Bank.

“Running 13.1 miles on Saturday after volunteering turned out ot be the most relaxing day of the week.”

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Totally pooped on the train home!

It was a perfectly (un)planned distance route for a half, starting at Archway and finishing right outside London Bridge station – my fast track homeward bound. I had a lot of uni work on around this time, and trying to juggle studying with doing other img_4221things to relax is a balance I’ve not yet mastered. I’d spent a lot of time watching TV because that seemed like what people do to relax. I was wrong. I don’t run as frequently as I would ideally like myself to (a goal in the making), but running 13.1 miles on Saturday after volunteering turned out to be the most relaxing day of the week – and t

his is what I need to keep reminding myself when I decide to sit in my chair and watch TV.

Now my first half marathon medal of 2018 is hanging on my rack, exactly where it should be.

Why I Didn’t Run The Big Half, But Will Still Complete It

Today was the day of The Big Half in London.First of all a massive well done to everyone who got out there and ran today. Well done to everyone who smashed a PB and to everyone who didn’t and still ran. So many people ran and so many people keep saying they had a tough race and wanted it to be over quite early on, and still they pushed on and finished. The outlook on the conditions was uncertain throughout the week and luckily the forecast was accurate that the snow in London had melted and we had a relatively usual March day of weather.

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Source: thebighalf.co.uk

I had signed up a while ago with a local resident discount because my borough was one of those featured in the route. For some reason I really thought it was going to be a local race that was not going to be a really big event. Then Mo Farah was announced to be running it along with some other international professional athletes. And the name remained as The “Big” Half. And literally every single person that I follow on social media who runs, i.e. the vast majority, were also due to be running the race. With this in mind, I began to get nervous about the sheer size of the event.

I’m not too good with big crowds except for on good days. I just don’t like it. I get overwhelmed. Often there are times when the tube is too much, and rooms full of milling people are a problem, and just lots of people in a compact area are, you guessed it, a problem. Sometimes they’re not a problem at all, but I find race starts at big events particularly difficult because there’s a lot of people and you have to do bag drop, and get ready and try and go to the toilet 2-3 times in a short space of time where there are loads, maybe thousands of others doing the same, where oftentimes the queues eat into the start gun and it’s just panic central, with an extra of tears included free of charge.

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Source: thebighalf.co.uk

This is something I probably need to bear in mind for future half bookings until I’m at least super comfortable with the distance so that is half the nerves dealt with already. However, The Beast from the East has brought yet another surprise perk to my life in that they are accepting virtual entries because so many people were unable to manage the travel to get to the start – because people signed up all over the country and not just in the featured boroughs as I initially thought, because it was actually a pretty huge race and not a wee little local thing – so that’s the plan. All is not lost. I’m going to cover the 13.1 miles on Wednesday and submit the Strava data on a route that I get to choose.

In the meantime I’m probably going to get a whole lot of sleep in my tank because I’ve got some form of cold battling it out with my immune system right now, and that won’t be helpful for getting myself around 13.1 miles with my legs and jelly babies alone.

 

 

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*.

Lifting The Dirt on Clean Eating with Hear Me Raw by Daniella Isaacs

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Last night I went to see Hear Me Raw. It is a one woman autobiographical show by Daniella Isaacs about her journey into the wellness trap. She documents about how her obsession about being healthy became an unhealthy obsession that instead of helping her to live her best life, hindered her from living at all.

She describes and delves into the depths of orthorexia, which is categorised as an eating disorder that stems from trying to be as healthy as possible. Lifting the lid on social media heroes donning restrictive diets and excessive exercise in order to be your best you and how everything isn’t always as it seems. I’m sure most of us are guilty of making our social media outlets a highlight reel. Instagram  never shows the full truth of our lives, and for some who are dominating the influencer circles as ‘health gurus’ are actually very unhealthy.

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Source: arcolatheatre.com

She doesn’t cut corners in her production and really gets into the grim reality of health bloggers being so ‘healthy’ that they’re unhealthy. Punishing treadmill sessions and ginger shots, snorting turmeric and forcing matcha products of all varieties down. She actually chugs some crazy ass smoothie that she makes as an example, seemingly without gagging or vomiting, which was very impressive but behind the impressiveness of such a feat is the reality of people forcing themselves to drink horrible concoctions, taking shots of health juices and not letting any form of perceived toxin into her body whilst flushing out as many toxins as possible. FYI, flushing out toxins and avoiding toxins in your food is largely based on bullshit. If your liver and kidneys are well, then you’re dandy.

Lifting the dirty on clean living is a topic that is being spoken about more and more. It’s a topic we need to keep talking about because there’s crazy dollar to be made from products promising health in an age dominated by lifestyle related disease. However, it is important to remember that health is a means to live your life and if the pursuit of health hinders you from living your life, going to events because you don’t want to face the food there, from seeing your friends because instead you feel you need to go to the gym or using food and diet as a means of gaining control in your life, or fulfilling some emotional void then maybe your healthy lifestyle isn’t as healthy as you think.

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Source: arcolatheatre.com

There’s so much bombardment of unhealthy health culture, especially on social media, that using a multitude of mediums to challenge health culture in a variety of ways will hopefully reach as many of those who need to hear it as possible. There’s podcasts and blogs and health professionals pushing the message – a play is a new way and it worked really well. I enjoyed Isaac’s performance and really loved her cutting the bullshit method of delivering.

It would be great if a version of this could go on TV and reach the masses, in the meantime however, if you were considering getting tickets to see the show I’d urge you to definitely go. It is showing until the 24th February at The Arcola Theatre in Dalston, London. After that, due tot he success I hope she does more shows to spread her message far and wide.

Ditching The Weighing Scales For Good!

How I moved away from compulsively weighing, through the weight anxiety to finally ditching my scales for good.

My set of scales are pretty standard and I’ve had them for years. I don’t even remember where I was in my journey with food when I bought them. I’ve read many times that an important step in recovering from an eating disorder is to get rid of your scales. There were a few reasons as to why I’ve resisted taking this step.
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Initially it was because I know banishing them from the house would not stop me from weighing myself or ease my anxiety when I was still recovering. I knew that I had to get to a place of using them less and placing less importance on their result with them around. Otherwise I would just buy another set, or would obsess when I went to someone’s house who had a set. It just didn’t feel like the right approach for me at that time.

Once I was more recovered I was put on medication that affects weight. A third of people on Quetiapine in the long-term develop diabetes and become overweight enough to negatively impact physical health. I was anxious about this happening to me and how not feeling in control of my appetite and weight could potentially trigger old behaviours. I did gain weight each time I went on Quetiapine.

Despite this, I stuck it out and have been taking it for the longest time that I ever had previously. Finally, I decided that the positive effects of Quetiapine outweigh the weight gain, and potential metabolic alterations it can cause. The decision to push on with taking it despite weight and appetite changes that at times felt bordering on out of control is that those side effects have eventually subsided. Who knew? I have stopped taking Quetiapine many times previously out of fear and anxiety of potentially feeling out of control with my appetite, and the unknown. Each time, I get very unwell again. It’s just a general shit show.

14 months later and I am not scared anymore. I’ve adapted. Yes I gained weight and ironically since I’ve stopped weighing myself regularly or trying to control my diet in any way there have been no drastic changes. I’ve pretty much stayed about the same and in this time, despite being near my highest weight I am more comfortable with my body than I have ever been.

Possibly due to some radical acceptance being practised. Ultimately though, this disproves my earlier theory that I had to monitor my intake and weight because of my medication. It also proves that my body has a way of adapting, staying well and maintaining some form of homeostatic harmony.

According to the BMI chart I’m probably still overweight, and I’m also pretty healthy. Most would agree that the BMI is an outdated and archaic measurement of health but it’s still used. There’s another myth disproved by my own experience, that BMI is important. I could play Bingo with previous misconceptions at this rate!

I fend off infections and illnesses well, I exercise, I enjoy it, I’m not unfit, I eat pretty balanced and I’m partial to a pain au raisin lately. Yeah I’ll look at food labels sometimes to see if it’s particularly high in sugar or saturated fat but it is more of a glance over to understand the composition of different foods. It is not the be all and end all, just more of an awareness about what’s in my food choices.

In general I feel the need to follow the path I’m advocating.  No hypocrisy, no secrets, and full transparency.It’s time to listen to my body. It finally feels like the right time to take such a  step. I feel confident that I won’t buy more in a panic or feel lost without them. This is a pretty big step and hopefully perhaps the final one in moving completely out of eating disordered behaviour, comforts and rituals.